Seth Rosenfeld: The FBI's Vendetta Against Berkeley

Roundup: Talking About History

Seth Rosenfeld was for many years an investigative reporter for The San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle. This essay is adapted from Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power, to be published next week by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Curtis O. Lynum, the special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco field office, rang the bell by the front door of the governor's mansion in Sacramento. By his side stood Glenn A. Harter, his top domestic-security agent. They had been summoned by the new governor, Ronald Reagan.

Waiting on the portico of the century-old grand Victorian that gray Monday morning in January 1967, Lynum felt some trepidation. He admired Reagan, but secrecy was crucial. He was carrying confidential information about the student protests that were disrupting the University of California's Berkeley campus and making headlines across the country. He had intelligence about Mario Savio, who had been a leader of the Free Speech Movement and was Berkeley's most notorious campus agitator, and Clark Kerr, the president of the university.

Reagan had been sworn into office just two weeks earlier, and within days contacted the FBI and requested help with "the Berkeley situation." Lynum got the call at his San Francisco office. He immediately notified J. Edgar Hoover at headquarters and recommended against meeting with Reagan—the controversy at the university was just too politically sensitive—but the director ordered him to go ahead.

During a fiercely contested gubernatorial campaign, Reagan had seized on the problem of campus unrest, and it became his hottest issue. Back at Eureka College, in Illinois, he had joined in a student strike as a freshman in 1928, and even helped lead it, but these Berkeley protests were different. He was disgusted with the sit-ins, strikes, and pickets lines of the Free Speech Movement, with the drugs and sex at the dance held by the Vietnam Day Committee in a campus gym to promote anti-war protests. He declared that "beatniks, radicals, and filthy speech advocates" were proof of a "morality and decency gap" at the center of the state's Democratic Party....

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Ed

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