FBI Mayhem

One reason the FBI may now be alarmed about having its records investigated is that it has so often done things that would seem unbelievably foolish if they hadn’t also led to people being terrorized, and in some cases shot at. The FBI’s campaign against Peter Bohmer and his friends in San Diego was such a case. It is also one of the few in which both the accomplices and the victims of the FBI have talked about its criminal activities.

Much about San Diego makes it a friendly place for the FBI—the huge naval base, the retired military officers, the sun-worshiping businessmen who belong to patriotic organizations, the many local friends of Richard Nixon. Peter Bohmer was an anomaly there from the moment he arrived in 1970 to teach economics at San Diego State, a local unit of California’s state university (not to be confused with the larger university branch near by at La Jolla). He was then a mild-mannered young man of twenty-eight, with dark curly hair growing to his shoulders. He had been a teaching assistant at MIT and Harvard, and just before arriving in San Diego had spent two months in jail after taking part in an antiwar sit-in in the MIT president’s office. Once an apolitical student of mathematics and economics who had briefly done work for the US Navy, by the end of the 1960s he had become a Marxist radical, had worked with the SDS, the Black Panthers, and the Welfare Rights Organization.

The FBI naturally knew about Bohmer after he arrived, had a dossier on him; it told Howard Godfrey, one of its San Diego informers, about him. By exploiting the antagonism of these two men, the FBI created a great deal of lawlessness and violence in San Diego.

I met Bohmer several months ago in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he is working on his doctoral dissertation and living with some like-minded students in a drafty clapboard house, where the walls are covered with revolutionary graffiti and posters. Bohmer told me how his life had been threatened in San Diego before he had been run out of town; still, he said, he wanted to return to Southern California to continue his political work.

Howard Godfrey is about the same age as Bohmer, and, like him, soft-spoken and reserved in manner. Short and slender, wearing dark-rimmed glasses and neatly clipped blond hair, he describes himself as a Goldwater conservative and a communist-hater. He was a city fireman in San Diego and now works for the state fire marshal in Sacramento, having also been forced to leave San Diego.

Godfrey went to work for the FBI in 1967 after he was arrested on a San Diego freeway. He had, he told a reporter, been cut off at an access road by a hippie, whom he chased and finally forced to stop. While he was pointing a pistol at the scared young man, a highway patrolman pulled up and put Godfrey …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.

Letters

San Diego Mayhem April 29, 1976