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Harrisburg: The Politics of Salvation

I believe, along with many of the Bucknell and Lewisburg people, that the government’s story is untrue, that Boyd Douglas was a plant from many months back—not necessarily a plant to keep watch on the Berrigans, but to infiltrate the general campus and prison complex in a small university town with a tiny but fairly vigorous antiwar community. There are simply too many unanswered questions, which remain all the more obscure because of the defense’s decision not to call any witnesses.

How could a high-school dropout with a criminal record of violence and three evasions, who had emerged from maximum to medium security in the spring of 1969, be the only one of Lewisburg’s 1,400 inmates admitted to the student release program that same year? (The only prisoners admitted to the program during the preceding two years were two disbarred lawyers in minimum security.)

Without an intimate connection with FBI and prison authorities, how could Douglas get access to the highly classified prison records which he brought Professor Drinnon between February and April? These included photocopies of his list of convictions, of the ethnic breakdown at Lewisburg Prison, and of special processing orders for Philip and Daniel Berrigan which Douglas brought to Drinnon before Philip had even arrived at “The Wall.”

Why has the Justice Department clamped a heavy lid on Douglas’s federal records? Why were other crucial FBI memos on Douglas never released to the defense?

One of the most interesting theories is that the government offered Douglas the privileges of being an informer in order to silence his suit against the National Institutes of Health, which had ended in a $15,000 settlement too measly for Douglas. (The defense suggested in court that he had scratched his scars to initiate the suit.) Other theories argue that he was a CIA or a CIA-FBI informer of the kind common to many universities. Still others speculate that he was originally a Federal Bureau of Prisons-FBI plant assigned to survey the community of antiwar resisters at Lewisburg and their supporters outside the wall, and only later enlisted to run down Daniel Berrigan.

In the first political impersonation of his life—that of the convict eager to work in the antiwar movement—Douglas was quickly and remarkably successful in making his way into the Berrigan milieu. Within a week of the priest’s arrival at Lewisburg on April 30, 1970, he had not only talked with Berrigan but had become a trusted member of Berrigan’s inner circle. Meeting daily with Berrigan in prison, Douglas also met at Bucknell with Elizabeth McAlister, Neil McLaughlin, Anthony and Mary Scoblick—all of whom visited the campus from time to time. He talked even more frequently with Joseph Wenderoth, who had decided to serve as liaison man between the Bucknell community and the Catholic left at large. Wenderoth made the hour and a half drive from his Baltimore parish to Lewisburg every fortnight or so during that spring and summer to meet with Douglas, and evolved what he thought was a deep friendship with the convict.

It is possible that Boyd Douglas, a master at fraud, could have deceived a group of trusting religious people at any moment in the past years. But the cunning of government and of informer were sharpened by a curious historical coincidence: Boyd Douglas had infiltrated the Catholic left at its moment of greatest disarray, and was able to exploit its bitter confusion. In May and June, 1970, after the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State killings, the peace movement in general was in a mood of desperation. The Catholic left in particular had been thrown into a state of turmoil when one Berrigan went underground and the other was finally imprisoned, held incommunicado in a maximum security cell. Many Catholic radicals were beginning to sense the futility of the draft board raids which they had been the first to carry out. The raids were being ignored both by the government, which did not wish to dramatize their frequency by prosecuting them, and by the satiated press.

There was also the growing realization that the tactics of 1968 had brought pitifully little change. The mystique of bearing witness by going to jail was also losing its force. Many of the men who had sacrificed their freedom had come out of prison with shattered marriages, shattered lives, lost to the Movement. About ten of the original draft board raiders, including Mary Moylan of the Catonsville Nine, had chosen to go underground and were at large, extolling a new strategy of underground action. The Catholic left was attempting alliances with militant ethnic and student coalitions which did not share the Catholics’ views on nonviolence.

It is in this period of great dishevelment that the Berrigan milieu had entered into discussions about new methods of escalation, attempting to evolve nonviolent but more dramatic methods of sabotage than were offered by the previous draft board raids. And it is in this setting of desperate confusion that Boyd Douglas, only months after he arrived at Bucknell, was able to participate in the rambling colloquies that Philip Berrigan and his friends had initiated about several bizarre methods of action. Prominent among these was a discussion—which, however extensive, never seems to have gone beyond the investigative stage—concerning the possibility of destroying heating tunnels in Washington, DC, federal buildings. Later, as we shall see, he was able to report to the FBI an even more ephemeral fantasy about kidnaping Henry Kissinger.

Boyd Douglas is remembered by the peace people at Bucknell as a mild-mannered, quiet, pleasant though occasionally moody man who always wore dark glasses. To Philip Berrigan’s friends he was a desperately needed link to the imprisoned priest. Inside The Wall this convict who bicycled out of jail every morning seems to have become the priest’s alter ego, a substitute for his lost freedom. Amiably meddlesome, perpetually offering his services, constantly producing more than he was asked for, a real Movement busybody, Douglas instigated many of his Catholic friends’ conversations about antiwar actions. He also organized many of the visitors’ meetings at Bucknell which would later be cited in the indictment of the Harrisburg Seven as conspiratorial acts.

It is interesting to note that the person most heavily implicated by Boyd’s testimony at the trial, next to Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister, was Joseph Wenderoth, Douglas’s most frequent visitor. Whereas Mary and Anthony Scoblick, who came to Bucknell only two or three times, were the least implicated of the group, along with Eqbal Ahmad, who never came to Bucknell at all, and never even heard of Boyd Douglas until after the indictment came down. It was a most untraditional conspiracy. Eqbal had never even heard of the tunnel project until after the indictment. “Why didn’t you tell me about that idiotic tunnel idea?” he asked Joseph Wenderoth when they met after the indictment. “How could we, Eq,” Joe had replied, “we were never serious about it.”

VII

However tortured 1970 may have been for the Berrigans’ friends and the Catholic left, it was the cushiest year of Boyd Douglas’s life. After a decade of impersonating at great risk, he could, for the first time, impersonate with no risk at all under the government’s protection, and even be paid for it. For the first time, lying offered him unmitigated freedom. Besides, he must have liked the campus’s Movement life, with its easy access to pot, liquor, and chicks—three important ingredients in Douglas’s periods of freedom. For Douglas’s talent for sexual seduction seemed as great as his gift for role-playing. According to a Bucknell professor, Douglas “prided himself on being a cocksman.”

In Bucknell’s small antiwar community Douglas shrewdly used his girls to build himself up as a Movement hero. He told them that he was serving sentence for conspiring to blow up an army convoy in the California desert, and that he had been given away by a girl friend turned informer. He explained that he had received his scars in a jeep in Vietnam from an explosion which had killed his best buddy. He gave one of his girls, Jane Hoover, Willard Gaylin’s book In the Service of Their Country, and told her that part of it was about him. (“I felt that this was a good thing to tell the Movement,” he would testify in court, “that I was involved in political crime rather than in criminal crime.”) His political lies were mixed with many others: He had been a football hero at Ohio State, he had cancer and six months to live and wished Jane Hoover to marry him and give him six months of happiness.

Living an 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. life at Bucknell, where he ate his meals at the Phi Lambda Theta fraternity, Douglas became a big man on campus by talking profusely about his antiwar activism and his friendship with Philip Berrigan. He also had an off-campus apartment, which he shared with a draft card burner named Tom Love, asking no rent. Douglas took easily to Movement sloganeering. He wrote a letter to Susan Williams, a Rochester activist, in which he described himself as “a committed nonviolent revolutionary who believes in strategic sabotage” (signing the letter, “Take care—right on—peace—Boyd. P.S. Please destroy this”). In his notes to Movement persons he also copied slogans from Elizabeth McAlister and Philip Berrigan which he had acquired from studying their letters, such as the phrase “Z lives.” When asked in court what it stood for, he ventured: “Zorro.”

Throughout the months of 1970 when he was informing on the Berrigan milieu, Boyd Douglas would report his findings to a trio of Lewisburg FBI agents: Richard Rogers, Philip Morris, and Delmar (Molly) Mayfield. Mayfield, a tall, mournful, beaten-faced man of thirty-seven who looked fifty and whose wife was a leader of the League of Women Voters in Lewisburg, was Boyd’s “handling agent.” Boyd and Molly—who referred to FBI headquarters as “SOG” (“seat of government”)—were each other’s meal ticket. Molly had recently been transferred from Philadelphia to Lewisburg, hardly a promotion. He seemed to relish this first important assignment as a great boost to his career, and said on the stand that he hadn’t been bothered by Douglas’s criminal record.

As for Boyd, he would pressure Molly to get him as much money as possible from the FBI headquarters (the funds were paid for “information on crimes against the United States”). Molly would pass on Boyd’s requests. The FBI would then wheedle them down by a large percent, as in its payment for the disclosure of the Rochester draft board action, for which Boyd had asked $2,000 and received $1,500. In this soukh where they bargained over the price of others’ freedom, Boyd knew that he was getting the raw deal, and kept a few cards hidden up his sleeve. In October, 1970, Boyd wrote Molly a letter asking for $50,000 tax free and an honorable discharge from the army in exchange for his services. When the government released this embarrassing letter during the trial, defense lawyers speculated, out of court, that Boyd had kept a copy of the letter and had been threatening to release it himself, with some form of blackmail toward the government in mind. Boyd’s letter read, in part:

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