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Ernie Lazar spent decades shining a light on conspiracy groups, building an archive serving millions

For decades, Ernie Lazar quietly pursued important pieces of American history that otherwise would have been lost to filing cabinets and eventually — if not made public — government shredders, with a particular focus on the FBI and John Birch Society. He died earlier this month after a long illness, but his work and public collection have served journalists, documentarians and the public to understand the power of the paranoid fringe in American politics. With a final missive to a group of fellow requesters he alternately mentored and commiserated with, he capped his 40-year FOIA journey with a simple exhortation:  Please keep up the fight to make our country live up to its ideals!

The Washington Post's Brian Murphy chronicled Lazar's fascinating journey in an obituary:

His first request for U.S. government records was drafted on a portable typewriter in the 1970s. Then over more than four decades — and 9,000-plus letters — the archive built by a reclusive former California civil servant, 1970s disco maven and tireless document sleuth named Ernie Lazar grew to over 600,000 pages from the FBI and other agencies.

The world of Mr. Lazar’s trove is full of suspicions, double-dealings and opportunists. There are references to informants and surveillance, groups on watch lists and Americans viewed as “un-American,” far-right propagandists and suspected leftist “rabble rousers” in an FBI dossier.

Bit by bit, Mr. Lazar also helped shed light on some fundamental questions — essentially who was doing what to whom — including much of the 37 years of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spanning the 1950s Cold War paranoia, the civil rights showdowns and the rise of nativist groups such as the John Birch Society.

Read the Post's full obituary as well as one by Sam Roberts at the New York Times, and dive into Lazar's collection hosted at the Internet Archive.

Explore the Lazar FOIA collection
The update 

▶ Settlement reached in FOIA suits over FBI posing as AP reporter: Lindsay Whitehurst, reporting for the Associated Press, shares that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will be awarded attorney's fees to cover its long-running suit regarding access to information on the Bureau's impersonation of an AP reporter. 

Justice Department, GSA working on common standards for FOIA tech: Justin Doubleday, reporting for Federal News Network, shares an update from OGIS and the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy on an effort to standardize some of the technical underpinnings of how federal agencies handle FOIA.

FOIA finds  & top docs 

For The Record was written by Michael Morisy and edited by Betsy Ladyzhets.

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