Members of a group of activists who stole material documenting the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) surveillance against Vietnam War opponents have come forward, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
“It looks like we’re terribly reckless people,” John Raines told the Times. “But there was absolutely no one in Washington — senators, congressmen, even the president — who dared hold [FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover to accountability. It became pretty obvious to us that if we don’t do it, nobody will.”
Raines and his wife, Bonnie, were part of a group of eight protesters organized by Haverford College professor William C. Davidon for a break-in at an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania. With the statute of limitations expired for them to be prosecuted, five of the group’s members shared their stories with journalist Betty Medsger, who reported on the aftermath of the burglary for the Washington Post, despite then-Attorney General John Mitchell’s protests.
Medsger also received documents stolen by the “Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI,” as the group called itself, that detailed the bureau’s tactics, including surveillance focusing on Black college student organizations and efforts to “enhance paranoia” among anti-war protesters.
“When you talked to people outside the movement about what the FBI was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,” another member of the group, Keith Forsyth, told the Times. “There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.”
Another document contained a reference to the bureau’s Covert Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which monitored not just opponents of the war, but public figures from various realms of life. The program was also revealed to have sent a blackmail threat against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ordering him to commit suicide. COINTELPRO was later discarded after public and political criticism.
The case was closed in 1976. But more than 20 years later, John Raines told the Times, he revealed his involvement to Medsger in a passing remark while they were having dinner.
“Our youngest daughter, Mary, was there,” Raines said. “And I said, ‘Mary, you really ought to know Betty, because she was the one that we sent all those documents to.’”
A book by Medsger detailing the heist is scheduled to be released this week.
Watch the Times’ report on the break-in at the FBI, as posted online on Tuesday, below.