INFILTRATION OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
"You must enable the government to control the governed;
and in the next place, oblige it to control itself."
BATTLING COMMUNISM ON THE HOMEFRONT
THE FBI'S ASSAULT ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
THE FBI TARGETS THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT
VIOLENCE IN CHICAGO IN 1968
THE PEACE MOVEMENT AND THE FBI SQUARE OFF IN 1969
VIOLENCE CONTINUES INTO THE 1970s
BATTLING COMMUNISM ON THE HOMEFRONT
BATTLING COMMUNISM ON THE HOMEFRONT
WORLD WAR II. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI since 1924, was faced with the task of hunting down subversives beginning in 1939. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the director to provide the executive branch with "pure intelligence" as well as to accumulate preventive intelligence for future use during wars. This led to postwar electronic surveillance, mail openings, and other covert operations. By the end of World War II, the FBI budget gobbled up about 45 percent of that of the entire Justice Department.
Hoovers priority was to monitor the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Immediately following the war, approximately 80,000 Americans were card-carrying members of the party. In 1946, the "Communist Index" was created. The bureau began to piece together information on as many members of the CPUSA as possible. The following year the Loyalty and Security Program was passed into law. This authorized government boards to investigate the loyalty of federal workers.
In the wake of the McCarthy hearings, more legislation was passed by Congress. The Emergency Detention Act of 1950 declared the FBI to be the agency with congressional authority which could determine which Americans could be incarcerated in the event of a national emergency. The same year the Subversive Activities Control Board required communist groups as well as other action organizations to register with the government.
By 1953, the FBI had complete checks on over 6 million Americans suspected of corroborating with the CPUSA and other "subversive" groups. The FBI worked alongside congressional antisubversion committees. In the next three years, federal authorities used the Smith Act of 1940 to bring 42 indictments against party members, and some CPUSA leaders were deported.
However, in 1956, the Supreme Court handed down a decision which hampered the FBIs investigation of alleged subversives. The court ruled that simple advocacy -- such as membership in the CPUSA -- was not punishable. Yet Hoover solicited the approval of President Eisenhower to pursue his crusade against the CPUSA. The FBI expanded its domestic intelligence operation, setting up COINTELPRO -- the counterintelligence program. Five programs eventually were created under this umbrella, the first and most significant being CPUSA COINTELPRO which was set up in May 1956. CPUSA COINTELPRO ordered FBI field offices throughout the country to investigate citizens who had ties to the communist party. The FBI was to monitor, analyze, and infiltrate the CPUSA with the ultimate goal of destroying the party.
Between 1956 and 1970, CPUSA COINTELPRO carried out 1,388 programs with about 30 percent of them being turned down. Approximately 40 percent of the agencys operations involved sending anonymous and inflammatory information to groups and individuals; disseminating information to the news medium to publicize various "subversive" organizations; contacting the employers and credit unions of suspected party members in order to discredit them; directly contacting the groups and telling them of their questionable activities in the hope of intimidating them; and infiltrating various CPUSA groups with FBI agents.
In 1961, the second COINTELPRO operation was created and directed at the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). SWP COINTELPRO had only 46 operations directed at the SWP and the Youth Socialist Alliance. In 1964, the White Hate COINTELPRO was set up, and this targeted the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi Party, and the National States Rights Party. Three years later the Black Hate COINTELPRO was established. Twenty-three FBI offices were set up throughout the country with the mission to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" various left-leaning groups which were designated by Congress. These included the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Nation of Islam, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Deacons of Defense and Justice, and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). Black Hate COINTELPRO carried out 301 actions.
By 1971, membership in the CPUSA had dwindled to approximately 3,000 members, many of whom were undercover FBI agents. And the term "COINTELPRO" was still unknown to the American public.
The first attempt on Martin Luther Kings life came in January 1956 only several weeks after he led a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Someone threw a bomb onto the porch of his home, and no one was injured. On January 27, 1957, an unidentified gunman fired a shotgun blast into the front door of his home, and again there were no injuries.
In September 1958, King was first arrested and charged with loitering while on his way to Montgomery. Two months later, while signing copies of his book, Stride toward Freedom, and he was stabbed in the chest with a letter opener which barely missed his heart. He was hospitalized for 13 days in Harlem.
Soon after King led the Freedom Rides in May 1961, a mob of 1,000 angry whites menaced King while he held a meeting at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, and the National Guard was summoned to escort him back to his home. In September 1962 a self-professed neo-nazi twice struck the civil rights leader in the face, but King refused to file charges. The attacker was fined $25 and sentenced to 30 days in jail. Several months later, Kings car was egged as he drove to a Harlem church.
In 1962, the FBI began an investigation of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) and of King. The probe fell under the category "Communist Infiltration" (COMINFIL).
Following a Ku Klux Klan meeting in May 1963, an explosion ripped through the motel where King had registered earlier in the day. Later that evening, a group of night-riders hurled dynamite from a speeding car, demolishing the home of A.D. King, the oldest brother. Five months later, a massive explosion destroyed the all-black Atlanta 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls.
In August 1963, Hoover was alerted to the SCLCs August 1963's March on Washington. The FBI director authorized the Domestic Intelligence Division (DID) to investigate the covert elements of the civil rights movement. The director decided on a counterintelligence program aimed at discrediting Dr. Martin Luther King. Hoover expanded the parameters of COINTELPRO, using the special unit to attempt to destroy the civil rights leaders reputation and his influence within the black community.
For the next five years, DIDs primary goal was to destroy King and to immobilize the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). FBI agents recruited as many high ranking civil rights officials as possible. However, the agency failed to land moderate leader Roy Wilkens. The executive director of the NAACP. If the agency could bring down King, they hoped to replace him with a conservative Republican black lawyer, Samuel Pierce Jr. of Manhatten. Pierce was not an activist in the civil rights movement, and the FBI never told him of their plans.
In 1964, Hoover approved of a plan in his efforts to dethrone King. The FBI fabricated a tape-recording about Kings alleged sexual activities in the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. They mailed the tape and a threatening note to the civil rights leader at SCLC headquarters in Atlanta. The note was meant to panic King into committing suicide.
In June 1964, King was informed of an assassination plot against him but still led a SCLC demonstration to protest racial segregation in St. Augustine, Florida. King charged police with brutality after they used cattle prods to attack people who attempted to desegregate a hotel. Six months later, King attempted to register at an all-white hotel in Selma, Alabama and was punched and kicked by a member of the National States Rights Party. The attacker was fined $100 and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.
While King led a demonstration on the South side of Chicago in August 1966, he was struck in the head by a rock. He continued to march and then someone threw a knife at him and struck him in the neck.
KING PUBLICLY DENOUNCES THE VIETNAM WAR. By 1966, more and more anti-war sentiment was spreading throughout the country. However, King refused to attend peace rallies and refused to hold public dialogue on the Vietnam War. He believed that it would be contentious to add the war to his agenda, since that would undoubtedly jeopardize his relationship with President Johnson. Kings primary goal was to fight for economic justice and that overshadowed secondary issues such as the war in Vietnam. By the mid-1960s, most blacks looked upon King as the greatest civil rights leader, primarily as his result for lobbying for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, by years end, the budget for the War on Poverty was slashed by $500,000 and community action programs were sliced by 33 percent.
In March 1967, King made the decision to publicly disclose his anti-war sentiments. On April 4, he spoke before 3,000 people at New Yorks Riverside Church to oppose American involvement in Vietnam. This created a backlash among almost all the traditional national black leaders, and some began to distance themselves from the civil rights leader. Additionally, the media and federal government pounced on opportunity, criticizing King for taking an anti-establishment position and meddling in foreign affairs of the government.
THE FBI STEPS UP SURVEILLANCE. Hoover and his top lieutenants escalated their political warfare against King. Six days after his Riverside Church address, DID responded by sending letters to the White House and high ranking government officials accusing King of embracing communist ideals. The FBI concealed a microphone into a hotel room where King stayed. According to the Justice Department, agents picked up conversations which indicated sexual activity. However, the agency was not able to conclusively say that it related to King, and one could barely detect his voice. Hoover decided to send the tape to the SCLC and to Kings wife. First, he ordered the FBI to improve or doctor the tape so that Kings voice could be easily understood.
Hoover theorized that King would be emotionally weakened from a subsequent confrontation with his wife. So the FBI director ordered a letter be sent to King which was interpreted to mean that he would be publicly exposed if he did not commit suicide within 34 days. The letter was sent exactly 34 days before King was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The day after King received the letter, he told Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young that he could never again trust the FBI to protect him.
By the end of 1967, Hoover was alerted to Kings plan to stage a non-violent march on Washington D.C. At the beginning of January in 1968 Hoover advised 22 field offices of the plans. When he learned that the SCLC began to recruit for the Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC), he directed the field offices to escalate the agencys activities among ghetto informers. Operation POCAM was the fits time that the FBI activated its Ghetto Informant Program (GIP). Hoover continuously provided the White House with a steady flow of information about activities in the black community.
At SCLC headquarters in Atlanta, the FBI used its spies to infiltrate the organization. Jim Harrison, the comptroller of the SCLC, was a paid informant at $10,000 a year since 1964. He furnished the FBI with financial statements as well as travel and protest plans. On January 4, 1968, Hoover secretly ordered his field offices to conduct background information on all SCLC activists who were recruited by the PPC. The FBIs Rabble Rouser Index -- a list of civil rights protesters who were a threat to "domestic security" -- was compiled. Within a month the FBI completed a list of names of SCLC recruiters with no history of violent behavior in over 17 major cities. In addition, Hoover attempted to recruit more SCLC leaders to become FBI informants. FBI agents posed as journalists who interviewed civil rights leaders in order to obtain more information about future activities. Hoover also had agents photograph "militant and aggressive looking" protesters at rallies and have their pictures along with stories depicting them as violent aggressors published in newspapers.
The FBI also compiled a list of Washington-based organizations which endorsed the PPC. These included the Interreligious Committee on Racial Relations, the Council of Churches of Greater Washington, the Cooperative Lutheran Parish Council, the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, the Potomac Presbytery. The Baptist Ministers Council, the Greater Washington Unitarian Ministers Association, the local chapter of the NAACP, the Black Student Union, the Washington Teachers Union, the National Association of Social Workers, and SANE.
THE MEMPHIS GARBAGE STRIKE. The February 1968 Memphis garbage strike of 1,300 workers attracted little national attention until King enlisted his support. Unknown to him, the FBI continued its surveillance of him and others in the Memphis community. Even the local NAACP executive director, Maxine Smith, provided information about local racial matters to the Miami field office, attempting to sensitive the FBI to the grievances of blacks in that area. Striking because of low wages and poor working conditions, the vast majority of them were "unclassified" workers, meaning that they were not covered by workmens compensation.
King spoke to a crowd of 15,000 at Memphis Mason Temple. However, it was Rev. James Lawson who emerged as the most influential figure in the strike, making him the prime target for FBI surveillance. The Memphis field office recorded the names of high school truants and distributed them to the Secret Service and intelligence services of the various branches of the armed forces. When an anonymous source informed the local authorities that Lawson was planning a trip to Eastern Europe to attend a conference ion Czechoslovakia, the FBI upgraded his file from "Racial Matter" to "SC" ("Security Matter - Communism"). The local police department created the Domestic Intelligence Unit (DIU) or local "red squad" which collected and evaluated information on the sanitation strike.
The blame for the riots was placed on the Black Organizing Project (BOP) in Memphis. The purpose of the BOP was to reach the older bitter adults in Memphis black community. The activities of the BOP included an activities center, local cooperatives, schools which taught black history and art, and a training program to improve employment for the citys black youth. The BOP attempted to use the strike to gain leverage within the black community of Memphis.
In March, between 10,000 and 15,000 blacks assembled at the Clayborn Temple AME Church in Memphis. Violence erupted and stores were looted and burned. A 17 year old was killed by police, 50 protesters were hospitalized, and 125 were arrested. Damage was assessed at over $400,000. The governor sent in 4,000 National Guardsmen and Memphis was shut down with a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The FBI seized on this opportunity to lash out against King as a man of peace and non-violence. Anonymous letters to newspapers depicted King as a "hypocritical, demagogic, faint-hearted scoundrel who fled the scene of a riot he provoked by his own heedless actions."
The Memphis Commercial Clarion included an article which castigated Kings tactics. The newspaper stated: "Yesterdays march, ostensibly a protest on behalf of the citys striking sanitation workers, was generally considered to be a "dress rehearsal" by Dr. King for his planned march on Washington, April 22." Another article read: "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis to star in what was billed as a dress rehearsal for his April 22 Poor Peoples Crusade on Washington. By his own nonviolent standards, the rehearsal was a flop."
The DID drafted a letter which was distributed to various news groups. It read in part: "Martin Luther King, during the sanitation workers strike in Memphis, Tennessee, has urged Negroes to boycott downtown white merchants to achieve Negro demands. Like Juda leading lambs to slaughter, King led the marchers to violence, and when violence broke out, King disappeared." Another letter distributed by the DID read: "Martin Luther King, Jr. today led a march composed of 5,000 to 6,000 people through the streets of Memphis. King was in an automobile preceding the marchers. As the march developed, acts of violence and vandalism broke out including the breaking of windows in stores and some looting. This clearly demonstrates that acts of so-called non-violence advocated by King cannot be controlled. The same thing could happen in his planned massive civil disobedience for Washington in April."
THE POOR PEOPLES CAMPAIGN. Following the Memphis garbage strike, the SCLC prepared for the Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC). The violence in Memphis along with the assassination of King made the SCLC more determined to shift its focus from confrontation to persuasion. Resurrection City in the nations capital was to be a community of love and brotherhood.
Resurrection City was declared officially open on May 13 when workers began to erect shelters at the rate of one every 15 minutes. But Resurrection City was poorly planned, poorly timed, and poorly led. It was a failure from the very beginning. When King led SCLC demonstrations, the media were treated with respect. When reporters at Resurrection City asked questions, they were harassed by camp officials and frequently walked away. Bernard Lafayette, the national coordinator of the PPC, told the media that they needed $3 million to complete their project, he was asked to specify how the money was allocated. He could not come close to justifying that $3 million was needed to build Resurrection City.
Hoover vehemently objected to Resurrection City and proposed that the demonstrators should be evicted or prosecuted, but he was overruled by Attorney General Ramsey Clark who believed that their non-violent actions were protected under the Constitution. Under Clarks orders, the Justice Department coordinated all negotiations with the PPC leaders. But Hoover continued with his surveillance of the residents of Resurrection City. His agents still reported on not only the events at Resurrection City but on racial activities through their informants in ghettos across the nation.
On May 24, Hoover instructed his field offices to prevent subversive elements from using the PPC to further their own "nefarious purposes." Agents were stationed around the perimeter of Resurrection City and reported on demonstrations. Hoover used agents who were given fictitious press passes to infiltrate the camp. He further penetrated Resurrection City by authorizing the use of an expensive informant coverage program. Military intelligence became the single most important component next to the FBI.
Under General William Yarborough, the Army conducted an unlawful surveillance program. Army Security Agency (ASA) vehicles were equipped to intercept radio transmissions and monitored civilian radio traffic in its surveillance operation. All SCLC communications were intercepted and passed on to the FBI and Secret Service. Military agents joined members of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Park Police, and FBI to overlook proceedings at Resurrection City. The Army also used fictitious media passes to cover PRC news conferences. The MPDs "red squad" took mug shots of the members of Resurrection City and sent undercover officers into the camp.
The PPC staged the May 30 a Solidarity Day rally, similar to the 1963 March on Washington which focused on the nations poverty and hunger problems. Th demonstration around the Washington Monument was non-violent. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people -- depending on if the FBI or the PPC was counting -- attended the rally. However, the mood of the crowd as compared to seven years before was very sedate.
After five weeks of sputtering around, marked by sporadic demonstrations, the PPC tried to refocus on other issues. Leaders attempted to energize Resurrection City by turning their attention on the politics of hunger. Their non-violent philosophy began to unravel. SCLC leader Ralph Abernathy threatened a "racist Congress" with escalating PPC demonstrations if his demands were not met. One hundred marchers met at the Agriculture Department, but violence broke out and demonstrators returned to Resurrection City. Chaos, violence, and arguing broke out within the camp Steady rains poured down for a week. A riot nearly broke out in West Potomac Park.
Abernathy sought a dignified way to withdraw from Washington D.C. On June 24, federal authorities shut down Resurrection City. It was a dismal failure. The SCLC had failed to mobilize the nations poor and powerless.
THE ASSASSINATION OF MARTIN LUTHER KING. While preparing for the second Memphis King was struck down by an assassins bullet. The five year covert and illegal COINTELPRO operations against King came to an abrupt halt. The news of his murder incited a wave of arson, looting, and sporadic sniping in more than 100 cities from coast to coast. Buildings near the White House were burned, and blacks rioted in the nations ghettos. President Johnson dispatched his Labor secretary to meet with white Memphis leaders to bring an end to the garbage strike. Ten days later an agreement was reached, the strikers were given virtually all their demands.
After the King assassination, police found a package rolled up in a bedspread in front of a store across from the murder scene. It consisted of a briefcase and a box containing a 30.06 rifle, binoculars, and various personal items. Ironically, it was the FBI, which originally was assigned to destroy King, now investigated his murder. The FBI laboratory concluded that the rifle and binoculars had James Earl Rays fingerprints on them, ballistics tests revealed that the bullet was fired from that rifle.
Rumors of a conspiracy quickly spread. One scenario centered around the sudden removal of Edward Estes Redditt, a black Memphis Police Department (MPD) detective, who was assigned to Kings security detail for the second march in Memphis. But FBI agent Frank Holloman relieved Redditt of his duty at the Butler Street Firehouse Number Two on the afternoon of April 4 because there were two reported threats on his life. Redditt protested his removal but MPD superiors insisted that he go home for his safety. This raised the allegation that Kings security was stripped away from him just hours before he was assassinated. In addition the only two Butler Street firemen, Floyd Newsum and Norvell Wallace, were also removed from their duties less than 24 hours before King was killed.
On March 10, 1969, James Earl Ray entered a prearranged plea of guilty in Kings murder. There was no public testimony; no witnesses testified; no evidence was presented; and there was no defense counsel to rebut allegations against Ray. A life sentence was handed down to Ray.
Questionable circumstances into Kings murder persuaded the Congressional Black Caucus to press the House leadership to support a resolution for the creation of the Select Committee on Assassinations to examine the facts behind the assassination. This was the only body which investigated the murder of King. The committee concluded that "covert action programs have been used to disrupt the lawful political activities of individual Americans and groups to discredit them, using dangerous and degrading tactics which are abhorrent in a free and decent society. ...The sustained use of tactics by the FBI is an attempt to destroy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., violated the law and fundamental human decency." The FBI underscored the refusal of the FBI to make available to the select committee its most extreme programs to destroy King. Even after his death, Hoover continued its attempts to discredit him and his widow, Coretta Scott King. The FBIs Atlanta office ran a counterintelligence action against her, but Hoover determined that the time was not right to take action against her. Hoover wired Atlanta: "The Bureau does not desire counterintelligence against Coretta King of the nature you suggest at this time."
In addition, the investigation by COMINFIL into Kings activities came up empty. The FBI failed to find any evidence that King was a member of the Communist Party at any time during the bureaus investigation.
Years later, Ray recanted his confession and hinted at a conspiracy. He died in prison last year while serving a life sentence.
More than 30 years after King's assassination, a jury in a wrongful-death civil case ruled that Loyd Jowers, a former Memphis cafe owner, participated in the conspiracy to murder the civil rights leader. In December 1999, the jury concluded, after deliberating for four weeks, that Ray did not fire the shot that killed King. The jurors also said that "others," including "governmental agencies" were part of a conspiracy. The jury awarded the King family the damages they had sought: $100, which the family says it will donate to charity.
In 1968, Jowers owned a restaurant opposite the motel where King was shot and just below the second floor rooming house from which, according to Ray's confession in 1969, Ray fired the single shot that killed King. In a 1993 television interview, Jowers claimed that he had hired a Memphis police officer to kill King from the bushes behind his restaurant. Jowers said he was paid to do so by a Memphis grocery store owner with mafia connections.
Ironically, the King family was represented in the case by William Pepper, who had been Ray's lawyer. The King family maintained that Pepper's version of the assassination was the one that got at the real truth behind King's murder. Pepper maintained that federal, state, and Memphis governmental agencies, as well as the news media, conspired in the assassination.
After an eleven month investigation, the Justice Department concluded in June 2000 that there was no evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate King. As reported in the New York Times (June 10, 2000), the 150 page report said, "We found nothing to disturb the 1969 judicial determination that James Earl Ray murdered Dr. King." The investigation found no credible evidence to support allegations in recent years from Jowers and former FBI agent Donald Wilson, and earlier from Ray himself, that a mysterious "Raoul," later identified as "Raul" -- or others, including federal agents, police, or Black ministers, participated in a plot to kill King.
THE FBI'S SURVEILLANCE OF KING'S SUCCESSOR. Just a month after King's assassination, the FBI launched an investigation of Abernathy. According to files obtained in July 1999 under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI ordered a probe into Abernathy's life on April 22, 1968. The memo stated that they hoped to find any "immoral activities" -- previously used to discredit King -- in Abernathy's life. The memo asked the Atlanta FBI office to search its files for "background information" on Abernathy and to begin to follow all his activities "through established informants and sources." The files suggested that the FBI wiretap his conversations.
On April 29, 1968, the Atlanta FBI office reported, "Little information has been developed regarding promiscuous activity on the part of Abernathy." The memo called "the bureau's recent request for information dealing with immoral activities on the part of (Abernathy)." The Atlanta office noted that FBI headquarters in 1964 had been sent transcripts from a 1958 Alabama court case in which a woman accused Abernathy of having "normal and abnormal sexual relations" with her when she was 15. It also noted that Abernathy had contact with a woman in San Francisco in 1965 "that suggested a degree of affection between them." The Atlanta office also said, "Our limited knowledge of Ralph Abernathy suggests he might have had some extramarital experiences. The memo concluded that the office "supports the conclusion his experience has been extensive or may be continuing."
In May 1968, Hoover ordered the Washington D.C. field office to check out allegations that Abernathy was "involved in illicit relations with white women" and that he had been "beaten by five Negroes who surprised him in bed with a white woman." The office was unable to confirm any aspect of the allegation.
In 1970, Vice President Spiro Agnew called Hoover to complain about Abernathy's "inflammatory pronouncements." Hoover wrote that Agnew "said he thought he was going to have to start destroying Abernathy's credibility." On the next day, the FBI sent Agnew a report that included "information about sexual immorality, Abernathy's luxurious accommodations during the Poor People's Campaign and his support of the Black Panther party."
The bureau released 1,169 pages of Abernathy files, in contrast to its 16,000-page pre-assassination file on King. There is no evidence in the files that Abernathy ever was the target of an FBI wiretap. The FBI terminated its investigation of Abernathy in 1974.
THE FBI TARGETS THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT
By the early 1960s, the "old left" was losing its momentum, as many left-leaning college students engulfed direct activism and some radicalism as a means to reach their goals. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the focal organization of the "new left," began to gain momentum. Just outside Chicago in 1962, the SDS drafted the most widely-read document of the left, the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society. Led by Tom Hayden and Al Haber, the SDS statement read: "As a social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation." The document advocated a student-based and multi-issue umbrella organization aimed at social and political equality across the country.
Other left-leaning groups also popped up in the sixties. These included the Student Peace Union, the Campus Americans for Democratic Action, the National Student Christian Foundation, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
But the SDS remained in the forefront. In April 1962 the FBI began its crusade against SDS. The agency collaborated with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate various left groups as well as individual members. The following year the FBI began to infiltrate various SDS chapters in order to compile files on their members.
Student membership in SDS chapters began to increase on college campuses. In 1963, the SDS sponsored the first anti-Vietnam demonstrations which were highlighted by the Easter Peace Walk in New York City. This occurred after President Kennedys assassination while the public fervor for war was at a 70 percent positive rating.
Violence on college campuses first erupted at Berkeley when the University of California regents announced their decision to terminate the solicitation of funds for off-campus activities in September 1964. The next year the university rescinded their ruling, and Chancellor Clark Kerr announced that the demonstrators were "identified as being sympathetic with the Communist Party and communist causes. The Berkeley Free Speech movement quickly gained momentum and soon spread to other college campuses. By mid-1965 it was estimated that the 52 SDS chapters were operating on college campus nation-wide. In addition chapters of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Northern Student Movement appeared on college campuses. The first teach-in was staged at the University of Michigan.
SANE protests were led by Dr. Benjamin Spock, and in April 1965, 70,000 people converged on New York City. A day after the New York City demonstration, Hoover issued a statement: "What I want to get to the president is the background with emphasis upon the communist influence therein. Five weeks later SANE held another rally at Madison Square Garden.
In the first five months of 1968, ten college campuses were fire-bombed. On April 26 alone, one million students boycotted classes. One hundred thousand demonstrators marched on New York City the following day. And over 221 demonstrations occurred on 110 college campuses in the first half of 1968. The hardest hit campus was Columbia University where fighting broke out between students and police. In April the FBI employed 8,700 agents nation-wide to monitor demonstrations and to infiltrate various organizations.
The FBI director described the anti-war demonstrators as "half-way citizens who are neither morally, mentally, or emotionally mature." Hoover said that the SDS was "one of the most militant organizations" in the United States and that "communists are actively promoting and participating in the activities of this organization." The FBI began to increase its surveillance network of student activities. The last of the FBIs COINTELPRO operations was introduced in 1968 and lasted for three years. The objective of the COINTELPRO-New Left operation was to stem the tide of the growing anti-Vietnam movement throughout the country. From 1968 to 1971, the New Left operation involved 285 actions. Hoover authorized the New Left COINTELPRO to target anti-war groups and individuals. Special agents were told that the "new left" represented a "subversive force ... with no definable identity" and that it "had strong Marxist, existentialist, nihilistic, anarchist overtones" and "was a threat to the security of the United States."
In early 1968 the Justice Department indicted the Boston Five -- Marcus Raskin, director for the Institute for Policy Studies; Yale chaplain William Sloan Coffin; Benjamin Spock; and student leader Michael Ferber -- for conspiring "to counsel young men to violate the draft laws."
The FBI employed several strategies in its attempt to counter the "new left." The agency distributed pamphlets with obnoxious pictures of demonstrators; attempted to instigate rivalries among student leaders; created the appearance that many student leaders were FBI informants; sent letters to university leaders, donors, legislators, and parents depicting demonstrators as advocates of drugs and free sex; arrested members on marijuana charges; attempted to show hostility between the SDS and other "new left" groups; and sent anonymous letters.
The FBI wrote anonymous letters to the parents of students who were photographed at anti-war rallies. Parents of University of Houston students received a photograph of their child with a letter which began: "I feel that you should be advised that your son, who is a fellow student at the University of Houston, has recently been engrossed in activities which are detrimental to our country, our efforts in Vietnam, and our common desire for justice, but are extremely detrimental to himself."
The FBI also wrote to public schools where University of Houston alumni, also photographed at demonstrations, were applying to teach. One anonymous letter read in part: "She was well-known as a radical and trouble-maker while a student at the University of Houston. ...As you can see this girl certainly is not the person to be in charge of and teaching youngsters in yours (sic) or any other school system."
VIOLENCE IN CHICAGO IN 1968
In January 1968, anti-war protesters met in New York City to make plans for the Democratic convention in Chicago. They included Rennie Davis, director of the Center for Radical Research; Jerry Rubin; David Dellinger of Liberation magazine; Sidney Peck; Tom Hayden; and Carl Oglesby. Though no strategy was devised, various protest groups agreed upon non-violent tactics in Chicago.
In February, National Mobilization Committee held meetings in Chicago with the predominantly black rights groups of SNCC, CORE, and the National Rights Association. Their objective was to combine black and white alliance in Chicago. This was of paramount concern to Hoover who wanted to keep the two races separate. The next month 200 leaders of several protest groups met outside Chicago. Some included Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, William Pepper, David Dellinger, and Daniel Berrigan, and several FBI informants were in attendance. In May Hoover ordered his field offices to immediate report about its "present informant and source coverage on each campus."
A month before the Democratic convention, the FBI continued its disinformation campaign. Hoover ordered his field office in Cincinnati mailed anonymous letters to the United Campus Crusade Fellowship (UCCF) and other Protest groups in Ohio. The letters read in part: "You and a number of other committed Christians are being alerted in this matter because action is needed before the new school year starts to prevent further danger to the minds of our youth. ...You are urged to request church authorities to make an immediate thorough review of UCCF structure aimed to insure it is being used to fulfill a Christian purpose." The annual SDS convention was held at Michigan State and was attended by 550 delegates, some of whom were FBI informants. Hoover also tapped into phone conversations of some of the protest leaders.
The FBI and Chicago Police Department coordinated efforts to squelch the protesters when they arrived for the Democratic convention. Mayor Richard Daley announced that the Chicago Police would have 11,900 officers working twelve hour shifts throughout the week of the convention. Governor Samuel Shapiro order 5,659 heavily armed National Guardsmen to active duty in Chicago. Over 2,000 FBI agents, Secret Service agents, and federal marshals were assigned to the convention area.
The FBI began to target the most prominent protest groups: the SDS, the Southern Mobilization Committee to End the War, the National Mobilization Committee, and the Chicago Area Draft Resisters. Hoover ordered field agents to hook up with the IRS to determine if student leaders had filed tax returns or filed previous fraudulent returns. FBI agents infiltrated "new left" groups and kept in constant contact with paid undercover operatives. Some undercover agents learned that some groups had planned to seize an entire television network at Convention Hall and were able to prevent the take-over. After a woman protester was arrested, FBI agents found "battle plans" in her purse. Protesters planned to block the main streets leading to the convention center so that Democratic officials would be forced to use helicopters to reach the conference.
Field agents disrupted plans of the National Mobilization Committee to house protesters for the week. Agents duplicated forms used by the committee to solicit housing for the demonstrators and distributed them to the protesters. Only when they showed up at these fictitious homes did they know that they did not have a place to stay.
The first wave of protests began downtown Chicago on August 25 and eventually moved to Lincoln Park. Violence broke out between the protesters and the police. The two sides once again clashed in Grant Park. By this time, the number of protesters had grown to 10,000, and the police presence numbered 300. In addition to the demonstrators who were struck, the police clubbed 21 reporters and photographers. The weeks toll included 192 injured police officers and 81 police vehicles were damaged. One protester was killed, 425 were admitted to hospitals, 200 were treated on the streets, and 668 were arrested.
After the convention, Hoover publicized the arrests of the protesters. The FBI sent anonymous letters to school officials and parents at various colleges throughout the country. One letter which agents wrote read in part: "I am writing to you with a great deal of reservation in which your son or daughter has become involved at San Diego State College. I, too, have a son at San Diego State and can appreciate your concern. ...You son or daughter has joined and is active in a New Left movement known as SDS." ...I cannot believe that you, as a parent, can condone this type of influence over children in a state supported school."
The PLP was expelled from the SDS after the Chicago Democratic convention. The PLP was left with the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), RYM Two, and the Weathermen. And the Worker Student Alliance was trying to acquire the national identity of the SDS. In New York City the FBI sent inflammatory anonymous letters to each of the groups, pitting one against the other.
THE PEACE MOVEMENT AND FBI SQUARE OFF IN 1969
By 1969, the FBI increased its manpower in its bid to neutralize the peace movement. Forty-two of the agencys 59 field offices focused on the "new left." Thousands of special agents and undercover informants were actively involved with COINTELPRO. The NMB met several times to plan a series of protests in Washington D.C. to coincide with Nixons inauguration on January 20. FBI agents countered by carrying out a disinformation campaign. In Cincinnati, the agency made anonymous phone calls to SDS leaders to confuse them and transportation companies about "the cost of transportation and the time and place for leaving" for the nations capital.
Two days before the inauguration, NMC leaders held workshops to plot their strategy, and undercover agents were able to determine their plans. The following day 8,000 protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Washington Mall. On Inauguration Day 20,000 protesters lined the streets of the parade route. The FBIs field office in Washington D.C. knew that NMC leaders would use walkie-talkies to coordinate their demonstration activities. Pretending to be NMC officials, agents used their frequencies to provide them with misinformation and confusing orders hoping to disrupt their activities.
The number of demonstrators was to small to make an impact, and subsequently the NMB was castigated for its poor planning. The FBI jumped on this opportunity to write an anonymous letter to "new left" groups and various leaders. The memo "ridiculed the inaugural activities of the National Mobilization Committee and the work of its chairman, Dave Dellinger." FBI informants reported on the widening rift between the SDS and PLP, so the agency distributed pamphlets describing SDS leaders of misusing their funds.
The FBI also initiated a program designed to further undercut the SDS. Undercover agents were told to disseminate information to BPP members that the SDS was comprised of chauvinistic students who strongly opposed the BPP. In Chicago the pamphlet, "Into the Streets: A Handbook for Revolting Kids," was anonymously mailed to parents, schools, and civic organizations depicting protesters as spoiled children. In June an anonymous letter was sent to top SDS officials accusing them of refusing to hold a national convention because of the fear of the Progressive Labor Worker Student Alliance (WSA). When the SDS planned a late summer convention in Chicago, FBI agents notified law authorities and convinced the Chicago Tribune to print articles depicting the peace group as fractionalized. One newspaper headline read, "Red Unit Seeks SDS Rule." The SDS then decided to hold their convention at the University of Texas, but the school refused to rent them buildings. The FBI then learned that the peace group would try Albuquerque. However, agents quickly contacted the citys police chief, city manager, and media, and university officials denied the SDS use of their schools facilities. The SDS also planned on holding a convention at either Penn State or the University of Pennsylvania, but FBI agents immediately informed school authorities who refused to rent buildings to them.
Undercover agents attended a May meeting at the University of Houston and learned that the protesters were planning to infiltrate and disrupt business and industrial firms in the area. The FBI handed out pamphlets depicting the SDS as a radical group based on anarchy. In Pittsburgh the FBI mailed letters to 35 anti-war organizations in the vicinity. The letters undermined the credibility of the areas leading publication, Pittsburghs Peace and Freedom News, stating that it was influenced by the CPUSA.
The FBI stepped up its anonymous letter-writing campaign. At Michigan State University, the agency wrote an anonymous scathing letter to the parents of a SWP member. Her father was a brigadier general in the Army. After 30 students went on a hunger strike at Oberlin College, agents wrote anonymous letters to their parents. A letter read in part: "I am writing to you in hope that, as Johns parents, you may be able to persuade him of the lack of wisdom in becoming part of a hunger strike by Oberlin students in protest against the Vietnam War." The FBI wrote an anonymous letter to the NMBs New York City office, ridiculing its leader, Dave Dellinger. When the agency learned that the NMB planned a July 4 demonstration in Cleveland, it immediately made plans to disrupt the rally. Agents wrote inflammatory postcards to SDS members in Baltimore where it was hoped that their parents would read them. The cards congratulated them for their activism at the Chicago Democratic convention and for their participation during the riots.
Hoover encouraged more fictitious letters to parents of students affiliated with the SDS. In Los Angeles the FBI used fictitious letterhead stationery which read, "Concerned Educators and Parents, Los Angeles, California," and sent to their parents scathing letters detailing their radical behavior with the SDS. An instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was identified as a faculty SDS member, and through clandestine FBI efforts his contract was not renewed.
Baltimore agents also tried to drive a wedge between the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the SDS. Anonymous letters were sent to members of the BBP portraying the SDS as a "corps of elite white chauvinistic students who would like to exploit the BPP." When rumors floated that the BPP and SDS would ally with each other, the FBI interceded and were able to publish articles in the BPP newspapers asserting that the SDS were being used by the SDS.
The NMB planned more frequent rallies and demonstrations for the summer of 1969. In the summer 84 fire bombings occurred on college campuses, 10 incidents of arson took place off campuses, and several high schools were torched. Four thousand students were arrested and 1,000 were suspended from schools across the nation.
In May, the 400 member Weather Underground broke away from the SDS. The radical group had chosen their name from Bob Dylans "Subterranean Homesick Blues" song where a verse read, "You dont need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." In October the Weather Underground struck in Chicago, destroying various businesses and an Army induction center. This was followed by 19 bombings across the nation. Targets included the Capitol Building, government buildings in Pittsburgh and New York City, and recruiting and draft centers. The emergence of the Weather Underground came on the heels of Nixons Vietnamization announcement, that he would gradually withdraw American soldiers from Southeast Asia. However, this moderate declaration had no impact on the "new left."
By the end of the summer, the strength and influence of the peace movement began to diminish. The SDS mailing list had dwindled to 70,000 members across the nation. The SDS was banned completely from Florida Southern, St. Bonaventure, Colorado State, Kent State, Arizona, and Maryland. NMB meetings became more secretive and private. Key leaders were reluctant to discuss their plans for fear that undercover agents were nearby. The most powerful arm of the peace movement, the SDS, began to decline. In the fall the SDS attempted to hold a convention at Case Western Reserve University or Bowling Green State University, but field agents notified school authorities who subsequently refused to rent space to the peace group. The SDS planned a National Action for Chicago in October and November, and the FBI did everything to cancel the activities.
However, new anti-war groups popped up: The New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (New Mobe) and the Vietnam Moratorium Committee (VMC). The first objective of the VMC was to mobilize for what they hoped would be the largest national protest on October 15. One-third of American colleges were represented at the teach-in, vigil, and rally. One hundred thousand protesters marched at Boston Common, 250,000 in New York City, 100,000 in Chicago, and 50,000 in Washington D.C. The VMC appealed to the moderate youth in the country, and by August the group received the endorsements from various members of Congress, officials in colleges, and civic groups.
Protests continued through the summer and fall of 1969. Three thousand students protested at the Century City Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, and 10,000 marched in downtown San Francisco. By the end of the summer, 2,00 By the end of 1969 there were over 80 fire bombings at induction centers, Selective Service headquarters, ROTC facilities, and government buildings.
By the fall, 2,000 agents were investigating the "new left" movement. The FBI conducted 271 law enforcement conferences on dealing with violence and civil disobedience. When Hoover thought that field offices were not thorough, he immediately sent them scathing letters. The Knoxville office received a memo from the FBI director criticizing them for not pushing University of Tennessee officials to clamp down on the SDS on their campus. The Denver office received a letter stating that its agents were not aggressively following COINTELPRO operations. Similar letters were sent off to Oklahoma City and Los Angeles field offices.
In November, over 100 moderate and radical organizations met simultaneously throughout the country. The March against Death in Washington D.C. was attended by 46,000 protesters. One-half million people attended the Washington Monument protest. One hundred thousand marched in San Francisco.
VIOLENCE CONTINUES INTO THE 1970s
In January 1970, firebombings continued. ROTC units were hit by arsonists at the University of Wisconsin. Even though the VMC folded in March, the peace movement did not slow down its efforts to force an end to the Vietnam War. The SMU with the help of New Mobe orchestrated a nation-wide student strike on April 15. The turn-out was the largest since the Vietnam Moratorium Day rally: 25,000 in Chicago, 20,000 in San Francisco, 60,000 in Boston, 35,000 in New York City, 8,000 in Seattle, and 8,000 in Detroit.
In Seattle, the Weathermen stepped up radical activities, and in San Francisco several of its members were arrested. Weathermen raided the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia and caused $1,500 in damage. In Los Angeles, UCLA professor Angela Davis was the target of surveillance by the FBI, and in New York agents continued to fill Abbie Hoffmans file with more information. Two professors were targeted by the Mobile, Alabama field office. In Houston, agents infiltrated YSA meetings. High school students in Iowa City were pressured into dropping out of a SDS chapter which they had just started. At the University of South Carolina, students staged a "hunger strike" at the student center, and eventually 36 were arrested. In Boston agents arrested four SDS students charged with trespassing at the organizations national headquarters. The Philadelphia field office stepped up its surveillance of members of the Weathermen. In Indianapolis agents targeted the president of the student body at the University of Indiana by sending letters which stated that he was a lieutenant in the BPP. The New York City field office targeted "new left" students who had gone to Cuba to work in the sugar cane fields. Newark agents broke up a "sit-in" at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Director Hoover increased the level of surveillance and undercover operations. Hoover assigned over half a dozen agents to evening shifts "in areas heavily traveled by the new left community." The New Left COINTELPRO, the FBIs largest investigative arm, was still operating covertly for its third year. The Atlanta field office reported that two major factions joined forces: the Socialist Workers Party/Young Socialists Alliance and the Atlanta Revolutionary Youth Movement/Students
for a Democratic Society. Hoover approved anonymous letters be sent to members of the RYM. They read in part: "How can you RYM people be so naive and gullible as to continue to let the Trots run the whole show their way. ..."
In Buffalo, FBI office attempted to stall the anti-war movement by sending anonymous letters which Hoover hoped would widen the rift between the Youth against War and Fascism (YAWF) and the SDS chapter at the State University at Buffalo. In Detroit, the FBI wrote letters to the regents at the University of Michigan and succeeded in the firing of several professors associated with the SDS. In Indianapolis, anonymous letters were mailed out, attacking "the SMC national and regional leadership for the way it dominates college students within its membership. When the University of Minnesota granted a permit to the YSA to use school facilities, the FBI immediately intervened and wrote anonymous letters to city leaders to cancel their conference. The Pittsburgh field office targeted an economics professor, who had a "very long record of disruption," at the University of Pittsburgh.
Beginning in the fall of 1969, friction began to develop between the SWP, YSA, and the New Mobe. Informants reported that YSA and SWP elements were infiltrating New Mobe on a regular basis and that they were creating more havoc as the months went by. The New York City field office wrote anonymous letters to further disrupt the "new left" by a "direct attack on the influence of the SWP."
In April, Nixon finally announced that American troops were moved into Cambodia. New Mobe leaders met and planned a massive demonstration at the nations capital. Weeks later, on May 4, several National Guardsmen fired 61 bullets into a group of demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio. Four students were killed and nine more were wounded. Five days later New Mobe held a rally near the White House. Over 130,000 students demonstrated, but it was highly disorganized and ineffective. Two weeks later the last meeting of the steering committee of New Mobe took place in Atlanta. The SWP and YSA slowly began to drift apart.
In the fall of 1970, Hoover continued to step up his fight against the "new left." In September the FBI director issued The Report of the Presidents Commission on Campus Unrest as well as An Open Letter to College Students." Hoover also approved a proposal to provide high school principals with information on radical elements so they can "resist the encroachments of the SMC and the YSA." In November Hoover appeared before the Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee and sought additional funding for the FBI. At the meeting Hoover accused the "new left" of plotting to dynamite government buildings and to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The "new left" continued its efforts to bring a halt to the war. On October 31, the National Peace Action Council coordinated demonstrations in 20 cities nation-wide. On November 15, the National Coalition against the War, Racism, and Repression held a rally in front of the United Nations building.
But the "new left" was unable to orchestrate further demonstrations which were anywhere the size of the two great peace offenses in the fall of 1969 or the Cambodia invasion/Kent State murders uproar in 1970. The momentum of the "new left" began to sputter.