Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Occupy This: Crazy Tom the FBI Provocateur

As weird as the 1960s became, Crazy Tom stood out. He set fires and started fights on the Stanford campus, supplied guns and explosives to fellow militants, and staged hold-ups "to support the Revolution." He also created a secret mountain-top training camp and bomb factory to groom would-be urban guerrillas, from young, mostly white Maoists to the secret Black Panther army trying to free Soledad Brother George Jackson from San Quentin Penitentiary. Then, in February and March 1971, Crazy Tom Mosher put on a suit and tie, brushed down his wispy blond hair, and testified in secret before the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. According to his sworn testimony, the revolutionary terrorist had worked all along for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its state counterpart, the California Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification (CII).

In his testimony, Mosher warned of a growing campaign of revolutionary sabotage, terror, and guerrilla war, which had already left a trail of violence and murder across Northern California. The Senate published his tale at taxpayers' expense, while Reader's Digest ran a first-hand account of his experiences, "Inside the Revolutionary Left." As Mosher and the senators told it, he had been an informant, passively watching the illegal violence of the Left and reporting to the authorities to help them enforce the law. As those of us who knew him had seen for ourselves, he had created much of the terrorist violence he now condemned.

At the time, I was an anti-war activist at Stanford, increasingly burned-out, cynical, and without too many lingering liberal illusions. Yet I would never have suggested that the FBI or other police agencies had paid Crazy Tom to shoot guns on campus, set fires, or run a guerrilla training camp. More likely, I figured, he had created his own chaos, while selling his handlers whatever bullshit he could get them to buy.

I was wrong. On March 8, 1971, just as Mosher was about to testify, a group calling itself the Citizen's Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into the Bureau's office in Media, Pennsylvania, and "liberated" over 1000 classified documents, which they began releasing to the press. The purloined files included the hitherto secret caption "COINTELPRO," shorthand for Counterintelligence Program. NBC's Carl Stern then filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act, and in December 1973, a federal court ordered the FBI to make public its clandestine COINTELPRO memos.

One of the memos caught my eye. In May 1968, Director J. Edgar Hoover had secretly authorized the FBI "to expose, disrupt, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the New Left's opposition to the Vietnam War and support for black liberation. "Expose, disrupt, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" are terms of art, and none of Hoover's underlings could have doubted what he was telling them to do. Far from enforcing the law or protecting our First Amendment right to protest, the FBI would use against us the classic techniques that the Czarist secret police and its European counterparts had used for centuries, that the FBI had perfected since the post-World War I Palmer Raids, and that the CIA and military had for years directed against foreign foes. Our Crazy Tom, it appeared, was looking like far more than a self-propelled provocateur.


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