On December 21, 1970, in the White House’s Oval Office, the King of Rock n’ Roll Elvis Presley met the leader of the free world President Richard Nixon. Nixon didn’t invite him. Elvis invited himself. He wanted to offer his help to the President in combating the drug problem in America, warn him about the Beatles, and fight communism. He was also hoping to obtain a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) to become a “Federal Agent at Large.” Lest the reader think this is some crazy Elvis myth or hoax, the U.S. National Archives has devoted a website to that auspicious meeting.
To put this meeting in context, let us briefly recount some of the significant events that occurred in 1970 with the Vietnam War, war protestors, and rock musicians. During Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, he pledged to end the war as soon as possible, but did not offer any detailed plan. Understand that trying to end the Vietnam War was like … well … trying to end the Vietnam War. It was a political and military Gordian knot. A factor in Lyndon Johnson declining to run for reelection in 1968 was because he knew he failed the task. During Nixon’s first term, the war dragged on with no end in sight, and protest heightened. On May 4, 1970 four Ohio University students were killed, and nine were injured, when the Ohio National Guard opening fire during a campus protest. This event prompted widespread outrage among the American public, and inspired Neil Young to write “Ohio,” which was recorded by Crosby, Still, Nash & Young and released in June 1970. The song mentions, and condemns, Nixon by name. From 1964 to 1970 hundreds of songs against the Vietnam War had been written by rock musicians. Yet Elvis, the King of Rock n’ Roll, greatly admired Nixon and was clearly on board with his policies. Elvis’s mind space was in a much different place from his rock peers. He was actually part of the “silent majority,” which most rock musicians despised.
The meeting between the King and President begins on December 20, when Elvis and his friend Jerry Schilling were on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Elvis scribbled a six-page letter to Nixon (on American Airlines stationery) asking for a meeting. He begins by telling the President how much he admires him and then expresses his concern about “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], Black Panthers, etc.” He infers that these left-wing countercultural groups are under the spell of communists. As he says later in the letter, “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.” As Schilling recalls, “The pages weren’t pretty—Elvis’s penmanship was somewhere between a doctor’s and grade-schoolers’—but right away I was impressed with the tone of the writing. Elvis was being humble, respectful, and sincere, and was offering his services to the President to work as a kind of ambassador between the rock-and-roll subculture and the government.”
The next morning at 6:30 am, Elvis and Schilling pulled up in a limousine to the Northwest Gate of the White House. They gave the guards the letter, who in turn gave it to Nixon’s Special Assistant Dwight Chapin and Nixon’s Deputy Counsel Egil “Bud” Krogh. Krogh happened to be a big fan of Elvis. Krogh and Chapin made the meeting happen. They convinced Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman that Nixon would benefit from meeting Elvis. Krogh eagerly drew up an agenda with talking points for the President. He was present for the entire meeting and took notes of what was said. At 11:45, Elvis arrived at the White House with a present for Nixon, a World War II Colt .45 pistol with seven silver bullets in a commemorative wooden case. Naturally, the gun was held by the Secret Service and later given to the President. At 12:30 pm, six hours after giving his scribbled letter to the guards at the White House gate, Elvis walked into the Oval Office. As Susan M. Doll writes, “Presley’s success and fame were of such proportions that he had access to the President of the United States on extremely short notice.”
Nixon warmly greeted Elvis, who was dressed in a black suede suit, unbuttoned white shirt, purple velvet cloak, gold-plated belt, and amber-tinted sunglasses. Elvis showed Nixon pictures of his wife Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie. Elvis asked if Jerry Schilling and bodyguard Sonny West could come into the Oval Office. In they came. Nixon gave them tie clasps with the Presidential Seal and brooches for their wives. Photographs of the proceedings were taken by White House photographer Ollie Atkins. His snaps of Nixon and Elvis shaking hands in the Oval Office are among the most requested photographs in the National Archives. The meeting ended with Presley giving the President, who was definitely not a hugger … … a big hug. Of this, Krogh comically wrote, “President hugging was not … a common occurrence in the Oval Office.” Later that day, Elvis got his narcotics badge.
During the meeting, when Elvis was stressing how he could help with the war on drugs, he started talking about the Beatles, brainwashing, and communism. As Krogh wrote in his notes from the meeting, “Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme. The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise. The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest. Violence, drug usage, dissent, protest all seem to merge in generally the same group of young people. … [Elvis] also mentioned that he is studying Communist brainwashing and the drug culture for over ten years. He mentioned that he knew a lot about this and was accepted by the hippies. He said he could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him in his drug drive. The President indicated again his concern that Presley retain his credibility.”
Krogh later wrote in his book, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, “I didn’t have a clue what Elvis was referring to. … From the look of surprise on the President’s face when Elvis said this, I was convinced the President didn’t know what he was talking about either. Maybe there was an element of jealousy in Presley’s comment as by the time of the meeting with the President, the Beatles were the hottest rock group in the world and had eclipsed Elvis in popularity for some younger fans.”
Elvis had met the Beatles face to face just once, on the evening of August 27, 1965 in his mansion in Los Angeles. The meeting was described by most of those present as somewhat stilted and underwhelming at the beginning, then looser as the night went on. Elvis did like many of the Beatles’ songs, and covered five of them, “Yesterday,” “Lady Madonna,” “Hey Jude,” “Get Back,” and “Something.” When Elvis met Nixon on December 21, 1970, the Beatles had already broken up months before in April, when Paul McCartney publicly announced that he left the group.
Elvis was right about the Beatles’ use of drugs, and that drug addiction was a problem among American youth. He was also right about the Beatles’ stance against the Vietnam War. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were on the vanguard of the protest movement. But where did Elvis get his notion that the Beatles were anti-American, and were being used by communists to brainwash young Americans? Nixon found this incredulous, as did Krogh, who wrote, “I could see the President was having a hard time, as was I, in following the linkage between Communist brainwashing and the drug culture.”
It is possible that Presley got his ideas from David Noebel’s books, especially the pamphlet Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles. Noebel was an author, professor, minister, and founder of Summit Ministries who claimed in several books that communists were using the Beatles, other popular musicians, and mass hypnotism to bring about a communist revolution in America. We devote a whole article to Noebel’s books in the next article to be released. Perhaps Elvis got his ideas from a book that Noebel himself references numerous times, Edward Hunter’s Brain-washing in Red China. Most likely, Elvis got his ideas from three books by J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit, A Study of Communism, and J. Edgar Hoover on Communism.
Hoover was the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from its inception in 1935 until his death in 1972. Elvis was a big fan of Hoover, calling him the “greatest living American.” On December 31, ten days after he met President Nixon, Elvis and his entourage went to the FBI building with the intention of meeting Hoover. Elvis showed the officials there the badge he got from President Nixon and told them that he had read the three books by Hoover mentioned previously. And as he did with Nixon, he brought up the Beatles. M.A. Jones, chief of research at the FBI crime records division, wrote in a memo dated January 4, 1971 to Assistant FBI Director Thomas E. Bishop that Elvis, “is of the opinion that the Beatles laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with the young people by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music…” After a tour of the FBI headquarters, Elvis left the building without getting to meet Hoover. On the day of Elvis’s visit, Jones wrote in a memo, “Presley’s sincerity and good intentions notwithstanding he is certainly not the type of individual whom the Director [J. Edgar Hoover] would wish to meet. It is noted at the present time he is wearing his hair down to his shoulders and indulges in the wearing of all sorts of exotic dress.” Thus, the President was willing to meet Elvis but the FBI chief was not.
As we mentioned earlier, it may strike many readers as strange that Elvis would be so eager to offer his help to President Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover to resist the influence of the counterculture. Rock music was clearly a countercultural phenomenon. Rock musicians positioned themselves against authority figures, against traditional attitudes, and against “the system.” In his early years, Elvis was regarded as a social degenerate and a rabble rouser by conservative Christians. Yet in his personal life he was a conservative. He loved to sing Christian gospel songs and was very patriotic to his country. Although most musicians in the counterculture revered him and counted him as among their greatest influences, he did not align himself with them. Content with, or perhaps trapped by, his fame, he contributed little to the musical culture of the 1960s. He played few concerts and spent almost the entire decade making over 25 films. As Charles L. Ponce de Leon writes, “By training and disposition, Elvis was an entertainer, not an artist. … To experiment in the manner of Dylan or the Beatles was simply not in his nature.”
Another reason why he never aligned himself with the counterculture was his service in the Army from 1958 to 1960. He had little patience for war protestors or draft dodgers. Before he wrote his letter to Nixon on board the American Airlines flight, Elvis and Schilling met several soldiers who were returning home from service in Vietnam. Elvis told Schilling to give one of the soldiers $500, all the money they had on them. Perhaps this meeting was part of the reason why Elvis was so eager to speak out against the war protesters to Nixon.
Another twist in this story is Elvis’s connection to drug use. He saw drug abuse as a major problem in America and wanted to do something about it. Cassandra Peterson, who achieved fame as horror movie hostess Elvira, Mistress of the Dark said, “He was so anti-drug when I met him [in 1969]. I mentioned to him that I smoked marijuana, and he was just appalled. He said, ‘Don’t ever do that again’.” Yet from his Army days in the late 1950s, and especially during the 1970s, Elvis abused numerous prescription drugs such as amphetamines, morphine, Quaaludes, and codeine, and became addicted. Presley’s wife Priscilla wrote in her memoir, Elvis and Me, “Elvis was an avid badge collector. He had detective, police, and sheriff badges from all over the nation and the narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him. In Elvis’s mind that badge would give him the right to carry any prescribed drug he had on his person. The badge would also give Elvis and his Memphis Mafia the right to carry arms. With the Federal Narcotics badge he could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”
Sadly, Elvis’s sentiment in his letter to Nixon, “I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse…” was all too true. Elvis’s addiction to prescription drugs was a contributing factor to his early death in 1977 at the age of 42. Reflecting on meeting Elvis in 1965, Ringo Starr said, “The saddest part is now, years and years later, we found out that he tried to have us banished from America, ‘cause he was very big with the CIA and everything. That’s very sad to me, that he felt so threatened, that he thought, like a lot of people, that we were bad for the American youth.”
Elvis never did nab any war protestors, draft dodgers, drug lords, or commie rock musicians. Marty Lacker, a member of the Memphis Mafia, said that Elvis was completely sincere and serious about wanting to serve his country by rooting out communist sympathizers in the counterculture. “But,” as Lacker adds, “I really think he wanted to meet Hoover and get an FBI badge.”
 The meeting between Elvis and Nixon was dramatized in the 2016 film Nixon & Elvis written by Joey Sagal & Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes, directed by Liza Johnson. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment 47677, 2016, DVD.
 “When Nixon Met Elvis.” National Archives website, Nixon Presidential Materials. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/nixon-met-elvis/main.php
 Elvis Presley, “Transcript of Elvis Presley’s letter to President Nixon,” When Nixon Met Elvis, National Archives website, Nixon Presidential Materials. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/nixon-met-elvis/assets/get_transcript.php?doc=1.1; “Handwritten Letter from Presley to Nixon, Undated,” The Nixon-Presley Meeting, The National Security Archives website, The George Washington University. http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nsa/elvis/docs/doc1.pdf
 Jerry Schilling, with Chuck Crisafulli. Me and a Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley (New York: Gotham Books, 2006), 213-214.
 Egil “Bud” Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon (Bellevue, Wash.: Pejama Press, 1994), 12.
 Susan M. Doll, Understanding Elvis: Southern Roots vs. Star Image (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 174.
 Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, 37-38.
 Bud Krogh, “Memorandum for the President's File from Egil “Bud” Krogh, Re: Meeting with Elvis Presley, 21 December 1970.” National Archives website, Nixon Presidential Materials. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/nixon-met-elvis/assets/get_transcript.php?doc=3.1
 Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, 35.
 “The Beatles Meet Elvis Presley,” The Beatles Bible website. https://www.beatlesbible.com/1965/08/27/the-beatles-meet-elvis-presley/
 Ernst Jorgensen, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music: The Complete Recording Sessions (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998).
 Krogh, The Day Elvis Met Nixon, 36.
 David Noebel, Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles (Tulsa, Okla.: Christian Crusade Publications, 1965).
 Edward Hunter, Brain-washing in Red China: The Calculated Destruction of Men’s Minds (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951). Hunter wrote extensively about American POWs being brainwashed by communists during the Korean War, and he popularized the term “brainwashing.” His claims were later shown to be unfounded by a 1956 U.S. military investigation. See Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War. Pamphlet no. 30-101 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of the Army, 1956), 19, 27, 51.
 J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It (New York: Holt, 1958); A Study of Communism (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962); J. Edgar Hoover on Communism (New York: Random House, 1969).
 The FBI Files on Elvis Presley, ed. Thomas Fensch (Woodlands, Texas: New Century
Books, 2001), 144.
 The FBI Files on Elvis Presley, 145.
 The FBI Files on Elvis Presley, 43-44.
 Charles L. Ponce de Leon, Fortunate Son: The Life of Elvis Presley (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 156.
 Schilling and Crisafulli, Me and a Guy Named Elvis, 212-213.
 Cassandra Peterson, in Ruthe Stein’s, “Girls! Girls! Girls!: From Small-town Women to Movie Stars, Elvis Loved Often But Never True,” SF Gate (August 3, 1997). http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Girls-Girls-Girls-From-small-town-women-to-2814423.php
 Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, with Sandra Harmon, Elvis and Me (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1985), 287.
 Ringo Starr in The Beatles Anthology, series director and writer, Bob Smeaton, producer, Chips Chipperfield, director, Geoff Wonfor. [London]: Apple; [Los Angeles]: Capitol Records, C9 7243 4 92975 9 3, 2003, episode 5, 20:06-20:29. In mentioning the CIA, Ringo most likely meant the FBI.
 Marty Lacker, from Alanna Nash’s, Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations from the Memphis Mafia (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 504.
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