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.
The FBI spent more than $1 million trying to block the release of the secret files on which Subversives is based, but Rosenfeld compelled the bureau to release more than 250,000 pages, providing an extraordinary view of what the government was up to during a turning point in our nation’s history.
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 Seth Rosenfeld
Seth Rosenfeld was for many years an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, where his article about the free speech movement won seven national awards. He lives in San Francisco.
Former San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter Rosenfeld explores the many ways in which J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI undermined the rights and especially the privacy of American citizens in his efforts to undercut the many protest movements that emerged at the University of California, Berkeley, in the ’60s. Hoover had long been concerned with events at one of the country’s greatest universities, and as the decade progressed, the FBI utilized increasingly devious cloak-and-dagger methods to address those concerns. In addition to Hoover, Rosenfeld focuses on other significant figures, interweaving their stories into his larger narrative. Mario Savio, the star-crossed leader of many of the student movements, drew much of Hoover’s ire. He also drew the ire of Ronald Reagan, an outspoken critic of the left in Berkeley who, upon assuming the governorship of California, created the perfect conditions for his friend and ally Hoover to step up his already pervasive investigations. Caught in between was Clark Kerr, the liberal and often-visionary president of the university who became a target of scorn from Savio and the student left as well as from Reagan, Hoover and the right. One of the subtexts of this masterfully researched book is Rosenfeld’s yearslong struggle to gain access to the relevant FBI documents, a fight that reveals the extent to which the FBI knew how explosive and embarrassing this story could be to the government. In an appendix, the author details that struggle, which “resulted in the release of the most extensive record of FBI activities concerning a university during J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure, and the most complete release of bureau records on Ronald Reagan.” – Kirkus Reviews
Student ‘Subversives’ And The FBI’s ‘Dirty Tricks’
NPR Book Review – August 21, 2012 (Excerpt)
In 1964, students at the University of California, Berkeley, formed a protest movement to repeal a campus rule banning students from engaging in political activities.
Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover suspected the free speech movement to be evidence of a Communist plot to disrupt U.S. campuses. He “had long been concerned about alleged subversion within the education field,” journalist Seth Rosenfeld tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.
So Hoover ordered his agents to look into whether the movement was subversive. When they returned and said that it wasn’t, Hoover not only continued to investigate the group but also used “dirty tricks to stifle dissent on the campus,” according to Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld’s new book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power, details how the FBI employed fake reporters to plant stories and shape public opinion about the student movement and even managed — with the help of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan — to get the UC Berkeley’s President Clark Kerr fired. [Read the full article...]
The Hunters and the Hunted - ‘Subversives,’ by Seth Rosenfeld
The New York Times Book Review – October 5, 2012 (Excerpt)
America never got over the ’60s. The deep social divisions that emerged during that decade remain, for the most part, the divisions that define modern American politics. The battle lines are still so painfully visible that 50 years after the beginning of the Vietnam War and the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley, the presidential race this year will come down to a contest between a former community organizer pilloried for supposed ties to ’60s radicals and a former Stanford student who protested against campus antiwar demonstrations.
Moreover, the current culture war being played out between watchers of Fox News and readers of The Huffington Post is really the same old ’60s argument, pitting social conservatives’ unshakable faith in American exceptionalism against the progressive insistence that there’s something dark and violent at the core of American hegemony. These two sides have painstakingly constructed competing versions of recent American history, leaving us without even a common set of historical facts to debate. [Read the full article...]
THE SABRINA STRONG SERIES by LORELEI BELL