The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power
“In 1977, The Daily Californian, Berkeley’s student paper, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents bearing on FBI surveillance in Berkeley during the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1981, Seth Rosenfeld, then a Daily Cal reporter, started reading those files that the FBI turned over. He published some initial reports. Later that year, having observed how many files were missing or blacked out (“I wondered whether the bureau was America’s biggest consumer of Magic Markers,” he writes), he filed an additional request for “any and all” records on former UC President Clark Kerr, former Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio, and more than a hundred other individuals, organizations, and events. Five lawsuits, many more Magic Markers, and 30 years later, he had succeeded in retrieving more than 300,000 pages of records, a federal judge having ruled that the FBI had no legitimate law enforcement purpose in keeping them secret.”
-Todd Gitlin, FDL Book Salon

Tonight, Mike and Mark speak with Seth Rosenfeld, who spent 30 years researching and writing this groundbreaking book.

Subversives traces the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures at Berkeley during the 1960s: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile radical Mario Savio, and the liberal university president Clark Kerr. Through these converging narratives, the award-winning investigative reporter Seth Rosenfeld tells a dramatic and disturbing story of FBI surveillance, illegal break-ins, infiltration, planted news stories, poison-pen letters, and secret detention lists. He reveals how the FBI’s covert operations—led by Reagan’s friend J. Edgar Hoover—helped ignite an era of protest, undermine the Democrats, and benefit Reagan personally and politically. At the same time, he vividly evokes the life of Berkeley in the early sixties—and shows how the university community, a site of the forward-looking idealism of the period, became a battleground in an epic struggle between the government and free citizens.

Part history, part biography, and part police procedural, Subversives reads like a true-crime mystery as it provides a fresh look at the legacy of the sixties, sheds new light on one of America’s most popular presidents, and tells a cautionary tale about the dangers of secrecy and unchecked power.

About the guest:

Seth Rosenfeld is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. He was an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle and has won the George Polk Award and other journalism honors.