Threats against Rev. Billy Graham revealed in formerly secret FBI documents

Rev. Billy Graham, the Charlotte-born evangelist known as “America’s Pastor” who died at 99 this year, led a public life that could have been a dangerous one.

The FBI has released close to 500 pages of previously secret files on Graham that feature copies of letters threatening Graham and other U.S. leaders, including then-President Gerald Ford, former President Richard Nixon, members of Congress, the CIA, and the FBI. The files show the FBI’s investigation into each threatening missive, including fingerprinting letters and envelopes.

“We are sending a copy of this letter to that phony preacher man Billy Graham — he is as wicked as the CIA,” one letter addressed to Graham and U.S. leaders, from March 4, 1975, reads, as first reported by WSOC. “We are fed up with such wickedness in high places and it time to kill all the CIA men. Old phony Graham don’t preach on CIA from the Bible because he don’t know his Bible that well,” the letter continues, as reported by WXII.

A copy of the letter was sent to Graham’s organization.

The letter was written in cursive on lined paper and was addressed “to who it concerns.”

An FBI investigation showed the letter was written by an Iowa woman who a judge said was mentally ill, according to the files. The woman’s name was redacted in the file.

The FBI files show an associate of Graham’s reported that a letter had been received at Graham’s office while he was out of state “threatening the life of President Ford, Graham, members of Congress, FBI and CIA agents.” The files also reference another letter Graham received in Montreat, North Carolina a few months earlier, that appeared to be written by the same person.

The letter sent to Graham’s office was forwarded to the U.S. Secret Service and an FBI lab, the files show.

A letter from Graham’s associate (whose name was redacted in the files) says he or she doesn’t think the letter received at his office in his absence “should be taken too seriously ... but it is a threat since they are wanting to kill all the FBI and say ‘we’ll kill Billy Graham.’ ”

The files also show that the FBI investigated someone who allegedly sent a threatening letter to Graham in the early 1980s.

The FBI determined the letter was not a credible threat to Graham, the files show, and the FBI ruled that the author of the letter was a person who required “psychiatric help.”

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News & Observer reporter Abbie Bennett is a charter member of the McClatchy Carolinas real-time team. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and has won awards for her investigative, politics and breaking news reporting.