“The FBI’s antics were a sideshow. The main drama was elsewhere.”

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The FBI’s quest to undermine that which it does not understand is nothing new.

While Steve Wasserman’s review of Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power by San Francisco Chronicle’s Seth Rosenfeld is largely critical, what he argues with is the delivery and not the importance of the topic. Statements like those by Mario Savio of the Free Speech Movement rallied J. Edgar Hoover to urge his men to dig deeper despite uninteresting albeit comical findings:

“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!”

Although student movements of the time were distracted or altered, the general banner causes are still carried today with the government in hot pursuit. Savio’s words would ring true for current anarchist activists being imprisoned for ‘staying silent’ at their grand jury hearings. Leah-Lynn Plante, the most recent to be jailed, described federal officers ransacking her home, taking especially the most dangerous items: computers, books, pamphlets, and journals.


Caroline Kangas calls both Seattle and San Francisco home (though she currently resides in the latter). She recently received a mouthful of a liberal arts degree from the University of San Francisco and can be found selling pirate supplies at 826 Valencia or wandering the streets with her diva of a french bulldog, Elle. More from this author →