The ‘dan­ger­ous, para­noid rad­i­cals’ of another day

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

They warned against un­stop­pable en­croach­ment by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and were branded “rad­i­cals.” They openly protested and wore funny clothes.

They be­came para­noid and sus­pected the gov­ern­ment was spy­ing on them be­cause of their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs. Fear­ful of a new tyranny, they in­voked the Found­ing Fa­thers to de­mand free­dom.

They feared for their pre­cious chil­dren and the di­min­ished lib­erty this cor­rupted Amer­ica would hold for them.

So they gath­ered in se­cret and vowed to take ac­tion. They plot­ted to over­throw the evil regime.

It all sounds like a tea party gath­er­ing of black he­li­copter cra­zies in Roswell, N.M., plot­ting the next rev­o­lu­tion. Just ask any reporter.

Or maybe a Ron Paul-tard con­ven­tion, or a Sarah Palin mo­tor­cy­cle rally. Thank God that Home­land Se­cu­rity is keep­ing close tabs on th­ese dan­ger­ous mil­i­tants.

Ex­cept, th­ese peo­ple were noth­ing of the sort.

They were John and Bon­nie Raines. Keith Forsyth. And Haver­ford Col­lege physics pro­fes­sor Wil­liam Davi­don.

To­day, they are old. Davi­don is dead. But in 1971, they were anti-war hip­pies, hell­bent on forc­ing an end to the war in Viet­nam. In protest­ing the war, they caught the creep­ing eye of J. Edgar Hoover and his do­mes­tic gestapo. The thugoc­racy ran li­cense plates, spied on cit­i­zens and smeared good peo­ple.

Over­whelmed by griev­ances against their gov­ern­ment, the mad hip­pies took ac­tion. They broke into an FBI of­fice in Me­dia, Pa., and stole suit­cases full of files from the of­fice. At a safe house, they ex­am­ined the records and were stunned to learn the ex­tent of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s abuses — at least the ones the gov­ern­ment kept records on.

The dar­ing group of bur­glars be­gan mail­ing the ev­i­dence to var­i­ous re­porters around the coun­try and thus be­gan the un­rav­el­ing of one of the most shame­ful regimes ever sanc­tioned un­der the Amer­i­can flag.

In a video pro­duced by Retro Re­port for The New York Times, sev­eral mem­bers of the group this week re­veal their iden­ti­ties. Mrs. Raines de­scribes a protest rally where agents took pic­tures of not only her, but also her daugh­ter sit­ting on her shoul­ders. Though they were risk­ing ev­ery­thing, the Raineses be­lieved it was a small price for free­dom.

“We knew the FBI was sys­tem­at­i­cally try­ing to squash dis­sent. And dis­sent is the lifeblood of democ­racy,” Mr. Raines says.

Pretty sure I saw that line on a poster at the last tea party event I at­tended. Sadly, though, it is hard to imag­ine two groups — tea par­ty­ers of to­day and hip­pies from the ’60s — who would find less in com­mon with each other.

When did free­dom in Amer­ica be­come some­thing that di­vides us? How is it that to­day lib­erty is so mis­un­der­stood, so of­ten ig­nored, taken for granted and in­creas­ingly used only as a hol­low word to at­tack those with whom we have small, petty po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences? And when did deep wari­ness of gov­ern­ment con­trol be­come some­thing to be mocked?

What the Raineses and their crew did in 1971 was clearly il­le­gal. It was dan­ger­ous. And had they been caught, they rightly would have been pun­ished.

But we should be grate­ful to them for risk­ing ev­ery­thing and thank­ful that they got away with it. And we should al­ways re­mem­ber that it is only free­dom that unites us here in Amer­ica. And in­stead of mock­ing those who fight for it, we should whis­per a prayer of thanks un­der our breath.

Charles Hurt can be reached at and on Twit­ter at @charleshurt.

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