'Subversives' takes a deep and troubling look at Reagan's handling of the civil unrest in Berkeley in the 1960s.
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All came to a head in People’s Park, “where – six months before the violence at Altamont and a year before the killings at Kent State – the end of the sixties would begin.” People’s Park was a university-owned parcel UC Berkeley wanted to develop as a soccer field. But city residents and students resisted, instead seeking a “park to be a cultural, political freakout and rap center for the Western world,” according to the April 18, 1969 Berkeley Barb.Skip to next paragraph
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That May 15, Reagan had what Rosenfeld calls a “showdown,” setting law against demonstrators. By the end of the day, at least 169 people had been injured; no officer had been shot or seriously hurt, but more than 58 civilians were, 51 by police birdshot – or buckshot, which killed San Jose laborer James Rector and blinded Berkeley carpenter Alan Blanchard. Reagan put Berkeley under martial law.
Subsequent probes by state authorities and President Richard Nixon’s Justice Department absolved Reagan of responsibility for the tragedy. “The police didn’t kill the young man.... He was killed by the first college administrator who said some time ago it was all right to break the laws in the name of dissent,” Reagan told a Republican fundraiser a week after the incident.
The People’s Park chapter is the climax of “Subversives,” a book bristling with information. Rosenfeld also reveals Hoover’s role in covering up the friendship of Reagan’s son, Michael, with the son of mobster Joe Bonanno; the FBI chief’s hiding of details about his daughter Maureen’s love life; the way California’s informer-ridden, right-wing media built support for Reagan against incumbent Governor Edward Brown; and Reagan's character assassination of Clark Kerr, perhaps the most complex figure in the book. Kerr continued an academic career after being fired as UC Berkeley president in 1967. Kerr died in 2003 at 92. Hounded by Hoover, Savio is the book’s troubled lighting rod. He died in 1996. He was 53.
Hoover died in 1972 at 77, Reagan in 2004. He was 93.
In his Appendix, Rosenfeld says files he pried loose “show that during the Cold War, FBI officials sought to change the course of history by secretly interceding in events, manipulating public opinion, and taking sides in partisan politics. The bureau’s efforts, decades later, to improperly withhold information about those activities under the FOIA ate, in effect, another attempt to shape history, this time by obscuring the past.”
Profound thanks to Seth Rosenfeld for outing the truth and speaking truth to power.