Six years after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request for FBI files on me, I finally received the FBI documents from the early 70s, now housed in the National Archives, that detail the agency’s infiltration of the anti-war movement when the US bombing of Vietnam polarized the country over an imperial foreign policy little debated today.
Perusing the redacted documents (no dark smears, just blank boxes where informants' names once lingered) made me and my dear husband Buddy chuckle because these FBI informants misspelled my name as Marcie a few times, falsely identified me as having a boyfriend named Harold (uh, no), said I had plans to go to Germany (never) and explained the "pretext" upon which they called my parents on separate occasions pretending to be a long-lost friend of mine from New York wishing to get in touch with me.
“Where was I?” they wanted to know.
“Oh, she’s about to begin a semester at UC Berkeley.”
My parents never suspected these “friends” were informants.
I vaguely remember my parents telling me about these “friends” from New York. I vaguely recall how I racked my brain trying to remember such "friends.” So long ago. I was seven years old, twirling hula hoops and making Ajax cakes in the basement, when my family moved from suburban Great Neck, New York to the poor side of Beverly Hills, California.
Who did I still know in New York?
When I initially submitted my FOIA request, I was told the only files the FBI had on me were from decades ago. Had I not done anything worthy of their attention since then? I was insulted, only to learn later that efforts to track socialists and anti-war activists under the FBI administration of the notorious J. Edgar Hoover were dampened (no files on me after 1973) when the Socialist Workers Party, parent of the Young Socialist Alliance, identified by the FBI as “Troskyites,” successfully sued the FBI for harassment and constitutional rights violations over a period of 18 years.
I qualified as a dissident of interest to the FBI after attending (with one of my besties from Beverly Hills High School) the 11th annual Young Socialist Alliance conference in blistering hot Houston in the summer of 1972, and later my fleeting involvement in the New American Movement (NAM) and on the steering committee of the Provisional Committee of the United Defense Organization (PCUDO), organized to defend a myriad of political prisoners, including Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, who released the Pentagon Papers documenting US crimes in Southeast Asia: the overthrow of South Vietnamese leader Diem; expansion of the Vietnam War to include secret carpet bombings of Cambodia and Laos, and lies, lies and more lies told by the US government.
I was inspired by my brother Barry's anti-war activism at Berkeley and my parents' opposition to the Vietnam War. I remember my father, his thunderous voice, shouting at my sister Danielle's boyfriend when he wanted to enlist. (He never did).
Thus inspired, I had volunteered as a legal worker on the Pentagon Papers trial in downtown Los Angeles, scouring microfiche docs in the bowels of the LA Library to prove that the "classified docs" released had already been published in the press, and perusing LA neighborhoods to see if prospective jurors had political signs in front of their homes. I wanted to champion Ellsberg and Russo as noble truth tellers after hearing Russo speak in the auditorium of Beverly Hills High School about their middle-of-the night xeroxing of thousands of pages of classified info, only some Top Secret, while working as analysts at RAND in Santa Monica. The charges, under the unjust Espionage Act, were dropped and a mistrial declared when it was revealed the FBI had wiretapped Ellsberg and White House operatives had broken into his psychiatrist's office.
I was relieved these courageous men (Ellsberg, now in his 90s, calls for the elimination of US ICBMs) would not go to prison for the rest of their lives, but I was also selfishly sad because the trial, the preparation, was exciting and we were going to expose the government's crimes to the world and put the U.S. war criminals on trial!
PCUDO, (remember I was on the steering committee) was formed as a political defense committee to also raise public awareness about Gary Lawton, a Vietnam Veterans Against the War member framed on murder charges (hung juries) and Billy Dean Smith, a soldier from Watts ultimately found not guilty of fragging and killing his officers in Vietnam.
In reading the docs I learned the FBI had opened files on 100 of the CA YSA conference attendees (most from LA, I was the lone attendee from BH). My file bounced around from the LA to SF offices of the FBI, which unearthed zero on me when they investigated my non-record with the LAPD, county sheriffs and BH Municipal Court.
I was proud to learn (a faded memory, if even that now) of my chairing a meeting at age 19, in 1972, of 30 people at my BH parents' home for the development of the New American Movement (NAM), which the FBI identified as an organization under the leadership of "old line Communist Party USA members and New Left activists" with the radical objectives, as Buddy jokingly pointed out, not of overthrowing the US government but of opposition to imperialism, Nixon's economic policies and support for the equal rights of women and minorities (Here we are 50 years later, same old).
Included in my FBI packets were details about a Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) rally in Monterey Park (marked as "Disruption of LA VVAW Report"), and a beautiful heartfelt letter from VVAW hero Sam Schorr (wish he were still with us) imploring supporters to donate to the anti-war soldiers “to bring the truth about the war in IndoChina to the American people.”
There was also mention of my speaking engagement at the Jewish community center in West LA. I was there to publicize the Pentagon Papers trial, to talk to young people, high schoolers, about the criminality of the war.
What the files missed was that I was so nervous at the Jewish community center, feeling the weight of ending the Vietnam War upon me, I could barely breathe, had a near panic attack, only to be rescued by another bestie from BHHS who comforted me, told me "You can do this, you can!" and I could, I managed to speak somewhat coherently about the Pentagon Papers trial.
The FBI files also reference my attendance at another trial, that of Billy Dean Smith at the Fort Ord military base in Monterey, CA.
The docs reveal the FBI had sent infiltrators into over a dozen VVAW chapters: Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, El Paso, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New York, Portland, San Antonio and San Francisco.
There's one largely illegible hand-written report on former Marine anti-war hero Ron Kovic, which I strained to read because most of it was cut off in the xeroxing. Ron is a wonderful friend who was always there for me when I ran for Congress against "the best Republican in the Democratic Party" Jane Harman and her pro-Iraq War record. After returning from Vietnam in a wheelchair, Ron inspired virtually half the country to mobilize to end the US war on Vietnam. Later, I would introduce Ron, via cell phone, to my 11th grade Emanuel Arts High School English class immersed in his book, “Born on the Fourth of July.” Some of my students were thinking of joining the military, at least they were before hearing Ron’s voice, his story of trauma and awakening.
Props for Ron, VVAW and the guy at the UC Berkeley Registrar's office for refusing to give the FBI detailed information on my major, coursework, achievement level, any "administrative actions" (discipline) etc., telling the snoops if they wanted those details they needed my written permission. LOL. (I found the Registrar employee on Facebook and sent him a "thank you.")
In reading the docs, I was impressed at the ambitious coalition organizing of the Pentagon Papers Project, Indochina Peace Campaign (Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda), New American Movement, and Provisional Committee of the United Defense Organization. Its mission was to “build toward a massive broadly-based national organization united to defend political prisoners and other victims of racist repression.”
Meetings I chaired or attended outlined plans for a three-month anti-war campaign to blitz 10 sections of Los Angeles with leafleting, guerrilla theater and speaking engagements to raise awareness about political prisoners vilified for their opposition to the war in Vietnam, an illegal and immoral war that finally came to an end when Congress defunded it with the passage, over President Nixon's veto, of the War Powers Resolution of 1973. The resolution came after hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters marched in the streets and U.S. soldiers in Vietnam refused to fight, even stopped wearing their uniforms in protest.
The war ended, thankfully before Nixon ordered the nuclear bombing of Vietnam, something he contemplated but rejected fearing anti-war protesters would march right into the White House and come get him. Tragically, those most responsible, former presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and others in high places, even higher now, were never held to account for their war crimes that left 3 million Vietnamese dead, sent 60,000 US soldiers home in body bags and burdened returning vets with illnesses–Parkinson’s disease, neuropathy, bladder cancer– from exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide the US sprayed on Vietnam to clear the vegetation, making it easier to kill the VietCong guerilla fighters in the jungle.
This lack of accountability for war crimes sits at the core of our country's reckless foreign policy that allows "leaders" to crusade for other wars and bombings, such as the invasion and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the complicity in the Saudi war in Yemen, the US/NATO bombings of Kosovo and Libya, and the latest proxy war in Ukraine.
Marcy Winograd, Coordinator of CODE PINK CONGRESS, is a long-time anti-war activist who served as a 2020 DNC delegate to Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Marcy's activism began in high school when she marched against the Vietnam War and later joined the defense team of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. A retired English and government teacher, Marcy blogs about militarism and foreign policy at LAProgressive.com.
Originally published at LA Progressive