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Subversives: The FBI's War on Student…

Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's… (2012)

by Seth Rosenfeld

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    Freedom's Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s by Robert Cohen (Tsoys)
    Tsoys: What happened to Mario Savio after the Free Speech Movement of 1964-65? This biography, with selection from Savio's speeches, provides a partial answer, and serves as a sequel to the book Subversives.

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Seth Rosenfeld’s Subversives, an exposé of J. Eager Hoover and the FBI’s secret campaign called COINTELPRO designed to track and/or ruin thousands of Californians, is both intense and gripping. Rosenfeld names a rogue’s gallery of FBI surrogates, and co-conspirators, including Governor Ronald Reagan, Edward Meese (Reagan’s Chief of Staff), San Francisco reporter Ed Montgomery, Vice-Chancellor Alex Sherriffs (the mole in the U.C. Berkeley Administration), Herbert Ellingwood (Meese’s go-between to the FBI about Reagan’s plan to harass Berkeley targets with code and tax violations), Major General Glenn C. Ames (National Guard Commander responsible for gassing homes, stores, a hospital, and students during the People’s Park troubles), Sheriff Frank Madigan (whose guards abused People’s Park detainees at Santa Rita Jail), and Richard Aoki (FBI agent provocateur who armed the Black Panthers before a confrontation at Sather Gate). There are more, but these named above show how wide and high this conspiracy went. Sprinkled with telling quotes from interviews and documentation, Subversives author Rosenfeld names FBI initiatives, digs up the who, what, when, how and where of secret contacts, and confirms findings by interview, research and over two decades of Freedom of Information requests and lawsuits filed on the FBI to cut through the lies and get at the truth.

Power corrupts. Secrecy breeds contempt for others, and Hoover had a lot of both to hide. If an unsuspecting individual disagreed with Hoover’s politics, that person was tagged communist or subversive, assigned a numbered data file, and tracked without decency or due process. Often interrogation, covert political manipulation, espionage, harassment, smear campaigns, and job loss resulted. Rosenfeld covers early events, beginning with the avuncular, but two-faced and ambitious Ronald Reagan, who informed for the FBI on his Hollywood “friends” while President of the Screen Actors’ Guild. A blacklist resulted, ruining livelihoods. Reagan’s own arrogance, intolerance, and disrespect for others would set the scene for the1960’s, when then Governor Reagan continued his pattern of betrayal, using a web of cooperative and secret information sharing between the Governor’s office, FBI, police, military, and highly placed moles in educational institutions such as U.C. Berkeley.

Both Hoover and Reagan held the University of California, Berkeley in particular enmity, and Rosenfeld shows their interference to be systemic and extensive. Think working to deny tenure or remove professors, fire administrators, spy on non-violent protestors, curtail student speech, arrest those opposed to the Vietnam War, and mow down the People’s Park gardeners. The FBI amassed secret lists and reports, paid informers, did black bag break-ins, invaded privacy to copy private documents, set up wiretaps, spread disinformation and smear campaigns; and fed information gathered under-the-table to Reagan, who cooperated with police and called up national guard soldiers to perform the heavy work at the University and city of Berkeley--arrests, beatings, shotguns loaded with birdshot (for wounding) and buckshot (to maim or kill), even using a helicopter to spray tear gas. Those whose opinions did not embrace far-right politics, were in for a Kafkaesque investigation at best, and/or treated to martial law, arrest by cops right out of an storm trooper scenario (Santa Rita Jail 1969); and at the worst, to face a life-threatening encounter with the business end of a bayonet (People’s Park 1969). If not on life support, civil rights were on the critical list.

Rosenfeld had the investigative chops to drill down through years of FBI obfuscation to uncover enough misconduct to file four FOIA requests and lawsuits to force the Bureau to disgorge a room full of files exposing the sad truth. Disturbing, maddening, at times horrifying, Subversives is riveting read for anyone concerned about civil liberties and our democracy. A new appendix to the 2013 edition discusses the Freedom of Information lawsuits filed in support of this book. Contains extensive footnotes. Lists of organizations and people interviewed. Indexed. Highly recommended.___Val Morehouse, Reviewer. ( )
  Tsoys | Feb 12, 2014 |
"Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power" by Seth Rosenfeld

The F.B.I. is the national political police. If there is one lesson that the uninformed reader should take from Seth Rosenfeld's "Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power" it is that the FBI has acted as the national political police with its own agenda from the beginning of its existence. J. Edgar Hoover's main goal for the FBI was not to fight crime but to set up the framework for police state-like spying on all leftists and liberals that he believed were a threat to capitalism and right-wing cultural values. One only has to read such books as "Enemies: A History of the FBI" by Tim Weiner, "The F.B.I. and Martin Luther King Jr." by David Garrow, and the many books about COINTELPRO and the FBI's repression of various civil rights groups, including the assassination of Fred Hampton, to know that the FBI often devoted more resources to fighting political dissent than it did to fighting crime. In fact one of the more interesting points of Bryan Burrough's best selling book "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34" is that Hoover's focus on high profile bank robbers was, for him, largely a propaganda coup, a high-class advertising campaign meant to legitimize the FBI which was widely seen as anti-union and anti-immigrant.

The second historical fact that should be clear after reading this book is that Ronald Reagan was a rat. He set himself up as an FBI informant from the mid-1940s onward, making sure that a number of his fellow actors were blacklisted, and he never hesitated to use the FBI's vast network of political rats, informants, and agents provocateurs. The FBI used Ronald Reagan and Ronald Reagan used the FBI for mutual political gain for more than 40 years. The relationship between Ronald Reagan and the FBI was symbiotic during the major periods of his political life -- his presidency of the Screen Actor's Guild, his time as a shill for General Electric (where he picked up much of his ideology), his campaign for Governor and his Governorship, and through his later political campaigns for the presidency. Reagan used the FBI to spy on his political enemies and the FBI used Ronald Reagan to further its political agenda.

The important principle to glean from this historical fact is that if a national political police exists then it will promote the politicians it prefers. A relationship of mutual promotion of power will develop between certain politicians and the national political police that will distort the politics of any republic, It was thus with the FBI and it will be so again. And it is the same with all "intelligence" agencies, i.e. spy bureaucracies. Any republic that wants to preserve itself as a free and open republic would abolish spy bureaus such as the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

The third historical fact to glean from Rosenfeld's "Subversives" is that there was a concerted effort by spy agencies, right wing politicians, and owners of big capital to wage war against the open system of free tuition at the University of California.

A book needs to be written on the war against the University of California system and against free and cheap tuition in public colleges and universities in general. It is a little known fact that cheap or even free public college education was destroyed during the 1970s and 1980s and has left students with little choice but to start their working lives in debt to the banks and with little choice but to work off their debt by being employed by bosses they often hate. Such a book on the war against public universities would take into account all the related histories, not only political but also cultural and broadly economic. What is known is that a large portion of the capitalist class looked at free tuition at places like the University of California and the City University of New York as a threat to their power and control. Thus a number of leaders of big corporations opposed free tuition in the name of "fiscal responsibility" ... for the students, not the cities and states. The idea was that students from the working class and lower middle classes should not have it so easy and they should have more limits put on their choices in career. The many lawyers who chose to work for the poor and in working class neighborhoods was especially disturbing to the men in the think-tanks of the capital classes who wrote reams of studies of the situation. Future workers should be tied to fiscally conservative personal finance and the way to do this was to make college students pay more of their own way. Eventually this meant tying college students to bank loans and thus limiting choices to graduates and excluding many would be "radicals" (i.e. the sons and daughters of minorities and workers) from college altogether. In the meantime the culture wars allowed politicians who agreed with the anti-free tuition capitalists to portray the campuses as orgies of sex, drugs and radical politics. It was during this same time period that colleges were opening up for the first time to people other than white men. First Jews, the Irish, and Italians, who by the late 1960s had been granted the grace of "whiteness", entered the universities in large numbers for the first time and then black, brown, and yellow "minorities" were finally taking advantage of cheap or free tuition. The opening of the universities to these largely lower-middle class and working class groups is what led to "the crisis of social control" in the colleges. Even more than such incidents of democracy as the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement the opening of the universities to minorities and women frightened the capitalists because they realized that they would have to find a way to deal with these people when they came to apply for jobs in their industries. If you look at the history of the time it was precisely the civil rights movements in the 60s and 70s, including the fight for the rights of women to be full participants in society, that scared the governors and presidents of university education. They feared losing control of the campuses which were no longer functioning in their traditional role "in loco parentis", i.e. as guardians of the sexual and cultural lives of the young adults on campus. The anti-Vietnam War protests got all the publicity but it was influx of women and minorities that caused most of the anxiety and changes in daily campus life. Something had to be done, both for the peace of mind of university administrators and the economic satisfaction of the future employers of the college students. Both administrators and capitalists both agreed that the problem was social control.

These were the some of the economic and cultural conditions that set-up to the movement to de-fund higher education in public schools across the U.S. When the 1970s came along and the stagnation of capitalist profits became more and more a factor in western capitalist politics, the war against free and cheap tuition at public colleges and universities began to snowball. This is a history that needs to be written.

A small sliver of this story is told in "Subversives: The FBI War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power" by Seth Rosenfeld, but it is an important part of the story. ( )
  JerryMonaco | Jul 2, 2013 |
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"The university is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas."__Clark Kerr.

"Obey the prescribed rules or pack up and get out."__Ronald Reagan.

"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"__Mario Savio.

"This presents the Bureau with an opportunity..."___J. Edgar Hoover.

"These accounts of the F.B.I.'s malfeasance are a powerful reminder of how easily intelligence organizations deployed to protect freedom can become its worst enemy."__New York Times Editorial.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374257000, Hardcover)

     Subversives traces the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures at Berkeley during the 1960s: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile radical Mario Savio, and the liberal university president Clark Kerr. Through these converging narratives, the award-winning investigative reporter Seth Rosenfeld tells a dramatic and disturbing story of FBI surveillance, illegal break-ins, infiltration, planted news stories, poison-pen letters, and secret detention lists. He reveals how the FBI’s covert operations—led by Reagan’s friend J. Edgar Hoover—helped ignite an era of protest, undermine the Democrats, and benefit Reagan personally and politically. At the same time, he vividly evokes the life of Berkeley in the early sixties—and shows how the university community, a site of the forward-looking idealism of the period, became a battleground in an epic struggle between the government and free citizens.

     The FBI spent more than $1 million trying to block the release of the secret files on which Subversives is based, but Rosenfeld compelled the bureau to release more than 250,000 pages, providing an extraordinary view of what the government was up to during a turning point in our nation’s history.

     Part history, part biography, and part police procedural, Subversives reads like a true-crime mystery as it provides a fresh look at the legacy of the sixties, sheds new light on one of America’s most popular presidents, and tells a cautionary tale about the dangers of secrecy and unchecked power.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:15 -0400)

"A narrative report on the FBI's covert involvement with future President Ronald Reagan, radical Mario Savio and liberal university president Clark Kerr to suppress the 1960s student movement at Berkeley reveals J. Edgar Hoover's campaign of planted news stories, illegal break-ins and other acts designed to undermine the Democratic party." - Publishers description.… (more)

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