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 under arrest. Richard Huffman, then an assistant to California’s attorney general, told me the FBI asked him to drop the charges against Godfrey, and that his office, as a matter of routine, agreed to do so.
Godfrey is a Mormon. After his arrest, he told a reporter, he went for advice to J. Clifford Wallace, the president for the San Diego area of the Mormon Church, and later a federal judge. He has also said under oath that he sought out Wallace because he had been “approached” by some “right-wing radical individuals.” According to Godfrey, Wallace arranged for him to meet Special Agent Eugene Olson of the San Diego office of the FBI, also a Mormon.1 In fact, during the late 1960s a group of Mormons, of whom there are many in San Diego, were largely in control of the FBI’s San Diego office. When Godfrey agreed to become a paid FBI informant, he slipped into a familiar Mormon atmosphere. He was told to report to Special Agent Jordan Naylor, another Mormon.
Godfrey has testified that his first assignment for the FBI was to infiltrate the Minutemen, a secret organization of right-wing militants dedicated to combating communism by force. The Minutemen collected arms and explosives, practiced with them, saw themselves as protecting the country from a communist takeover. Whatever he learned about them Godfrey was told to pass on to Naylor or to agents working with Naylor. Godfrey has said under oath that he phoned the FBI office almost every day and was paid, in addition to expenses, a cash fee which varied according to the FBI’s estimate of the value of his information. His fee sometimes amounted to as much as $250 a month, no small supplement to the salary of a city fireman.
More important to Godfrey, however, was that he enjoyed his work. He liked the Minutemen, felt at home dealing with guns and explosives, and threw himself into their programs enthusiastically. Since his FBI friends never made him feel that the Minutemen were an enemy, he was not bothered by any sense of conflicting loyalties.
Godfrey apparently shifted his attention from time to time to left-wing dissidents, but here he was more hostile. According to an investigative report on file at the California Superior Court in San Diego,2 he boasted to friends that he had infiltrated the headquarters of the Peace and Freedom Party in 1968 and had stolen a large number of its records. If that boast were true, the routine procedures followed by FBI informants would have required him to deliver the records to the FBI. According to the same report, Godfrey also engaged in some free-lance harassment of a local theater when it showed I Am Curious (Yellow)—he was, it seems, as emotional about pornography as he was about communism.
The San Diego office of the FBI appears to have been pleased with Godfrey—pleased enough to give him bigger jobs after May 1968, when it received J. Edgar Hoover’s general order to prepare for a major campaign against the New Left. In his now well known COINTELPRO memorandum, Hoover wrote, “The organizations and activists who spout revolution and unlawfully challenge society to obtain their demands must not only be contained but must be neutralized.” As the Department of Justice has since revealed, this was actually the fifth in a series of COINTELPRO operations directed against groups of domestic dissidents, the four earlier ones being against the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, “White Hate Groups,” and “Black Extremists.” The model for the program, the Justice Department has said, was the campaign against the Communist Party initiated during the McCarthy period.
Specifically, Hoover’s memorandum said,
The purpose of this program is to expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize the activities of the various New Left organizations, the leadership and adherents…. In every instance, consideration should be given to disrupting the organized activity of these groups and no opportunity should be missed to capitalize upon organizational and personal conflicts of their leadership.
It is true that the memorandum instructed all FBI offices that “no counterintelligence action may be initiated by the field without specific Bureau authorization.” Nevertheless, according to the Justice Department, during three years, out of 381 proposals that were submitted, 285 such authorizations were granted for actions against the New Left. The Department also claims to have no record of any proposal from San Diego, and that all the FBI’s “Counter Intelligence programs” were terminated by 1971.
Yet one recently released FBI memorandum, specifically concerning the disruption program directed against the Socialist Workers Party, says: “In order to eliminate paperwork wherever possible, it is recommended that captioned disruptive action be discontinued as a program. In the future the disruptive action against the SWP will be handled on an individual basis as deemed appropriate” (my italics). Issued in October 1969, this memo says, in effect, that the FBI’s Washington head-quarters did not want to take direct responsibility for certain COINTELPRO activities in the field, preferring to leave them to the discretion of the agents in local offices.
But here the FBI’s San Diego office was in difficulty; for the New Left barely existed in San Diego—there was nothing resembling the Haight Ashbury colony in San Francisco; nor had aggressive SDS chapters been organized on the local campuses. Plenty of servicemen passed through San Diego on their way to Vietnam but there was as yet no visible antiwar activity in the army and navy. San Diego did not even have a black or Chicano problem that anyone seemed to worry seriously about. Like any other conscientious bureaucracy, however, the FBI’s San Diego office was in search of something to do. Its agent in the Minutemen turned his attention to a modest left-wing underground newspaper, The San Diego Street Journal.
The Street Journal not only brought news of the antiwar movement and rock music to San Diego. It was also the only local paper that published extensive and critical reports on powerful right-wing local figures, most notably President Nixon’s friend, the banker C. Arnholdt Smith. In spite of its small circulation, it was regarded as obnoxious by prominent city officials, as the police and the FBI were no doubt aware.
Godfrey told some of his friends and later admitted to a reporter that he took part in the campaign of harassment and destruction against the Street Journal. In November of 1969, bullets were fired into the empty office. Several weeks later the pressroom was burglarized, and 2,500 copies of the paper were stolen. Not long afterward, the windows of a bookstore which sold the Street Journal were broken by lug nuts fired with a slingshot. On Christmas Day, the Street Journal was broken into again and paint was poured over its machinery, causing $4,000 in damages. In January of 1970, a car belonging to a staff member was firebombed. If the purpose of all this activity was to drive the Street Journal out of business, it succeeded, although a new underground paper called The Door soon started up. The Door was also subjected to systematic destructive mischief.
The San Diego Police Department never succeeded in solving any of these crimes, even though Minutemen stickers were occasionally left at the scene. In fact, one member of the police department’s Internal Security Unit, commonly known as the “Red Squad,” was later identified as an infiltrator of the Street Journal, and on the night one of the bombs exploded he was the last person to leave the office. Another member of the Internal Security Unit is known to have applied pressure on the landlord of the Street Journal’s premises to evict his tenants. Godfrey himself later testified that, while disrupting the Street Journal, he was an undercover agent not only for the FBI but for the San Diego police, though it is unclear whether he received money from both.
By the spring of 1970, the Street Journal had folded, but the pressures from Washington on local FBI offices had become much more intense. The Nixon administration was infuriated by the protests against the Cambodian invasion, embarrassed by the Kent State and Jackson State killings. In June, Nixon met with the chiefs of the federal intelligence agencies and demanded an end to the turmoil. The immediate result was the so-called Huston Plan, which Nixon approved and which was circulated on July 23. It included this order: “Coverage of violence-prone campus and student related groups is to be increased. All restraints which limit this coverage are to be removed” (my italics). Nixon has said that the Huston Plan was rescinded a few days later, though no document has ever been produced to support that contention. Whether it was rescinded or not, the subsequent work of the FBI in San Diego corresponds very closely to the program it called for.
Near the end of the Cambodian summer of 1970, Peter Bohmer arrived to start teaching at San Diego State. Before he left Cambridge, one of the last comments to appear in Bohmer’s FBI file in Boston said that, in spite of his having been convicted for taking part in the demonstration at MIT, his
activities at MIT do not indicate leadership on his part or any advocacy of militant activity…. Investigation has shown that he appears to have no propensity for violence. In light of the above investigative results, no further investigation is being recommended at this time.
In October 1970, while the FBI’s Boston office was still inquiring whether Bohmer might be involved in new disturbances at MIT, the San Diego office learned from an informer that he had become one of the better known dissenters at San Diego State. By January of 1971, Bohmer was active enough on the San Diego campus for the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego office to request a full field check. A file on him was soon assembled, including the following reports by the FBI’s spies on the campus:
Peter Bohmer is associated with the Radical Students Union…with an estimated membership of 15-20 individuals. The purpose of the organization was given as political—to struggle for democracy. Information available does not indicate that the RSU is affiliated with any national group. Membership is indicated to be open to all San Diego State College students upon approval of a majority vote of the members present.
Peter Bohmer is listed as the faculty advisor of the Radical Action Tribe (RAT), a political-social action group…with an estimated 50 members.
Bohmer is the leader of the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ) which is planning a May 5, 1971, demonstration in San Diego…to combat racism, poverty, repression, and the Vietnam war.
Bohmer, an Economics Professor at SDSC, reportedly openly lectures his students on radical economic theory. He is an open sympathizer of socialism and advocates working against the United States form of Government, and the overthrow of the United State Government, in order to achieve socialism in the United States. He is reportedly a strong Cuban sympathizer.
Bohmer said he lives in a political commune with several people who work for the People’s Peace Treaty, an anti-war agreement drawn up between members of the National Students Association in the United States and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam along with several other anti-war factions in both countries.
Peter Bohmer qualified nicely for “counterintelligence” under the standards set by the FBI director, COINTELPRO, the president, and the Huston Plan. He was no Tom Hayden or Bernardine Dohrn or Mark Rudd but, if the Bureau’s San Diego office had to produce a resident left-winger to help it perform its mission, Bohmer would do. By the spring of 1971, a campaign against him had begun, as the following report of a conversation with Bohmer in his FBI dossier makes clear:
Peter Bohmer claimed that he was threatened in connection with his taking part in a demonstration at a Bank of America located near San Diego State College. He said that a man with a friendly voice called him at his residence in Ocean Beach and said, “If anything happens at the Bank of America demonstration, we’re going to rip you off….”
Bohmer said he received the first call at 10:30 a.m., followed by another at 12:30 p.m., at which time he was attending a rally at the University of California at San Diego…. Bohmer said the second telephone call was taken by another member of the commune, at which time the caller said, “Tell Peter that if anything happens, he will be shipped back to MIT in a box.”
This entry in the FBI’s file ends with Bohmer’s observation that the caller knew enough about him to refer to his past history at MIT. What the caller really said, Bohmer told me, was: “If anything happens at the Bank of America, we’re going to kill you with a bullet through the back of your head.”
Whether Godfrey himself made this particular call is not clear; but he has admitted under oath making frequent threatening calls to the Bohmer house (some of these, according to an investigative report on file at the San Diego court, were also obscene). Bohmer reported the death threats to the San Diego police, who apparently did nothing.
The FBI’s “counterintelligence” efforts in the Bohmer case were not confined to the activities of Godfrey and its campus informants. In the spring of 1971, a student publicly charged that Bohmer had discriminated against him in class for having conservative political views. After a discussion among Bohmer, the student, and college administrators, the charges were amicably dropped. Shortly afterward, however, according to the statement of a secretary who worked in the college administration office, FBI agents visited college officials twice with the announced purpose of discussing Peter Bohmer.
What the agents said, or recommended, is not precisely known. But on October 5 Bohmer was informed that he was being charged under the California Educational Code with unprofessional conduct, i.e., soliciting funds in class for the Soledad Brothers, coercing students to adopt radical views, “politicizing” the content of his courses, and favoring “Third World Movement” students. When Bohmer denied all the charges, he was informed that he had the choice of resigning or facing secret disciplinary proceedings.
Bohmer chose to challenge these accusations publicly. To defend him, students and faculty members established the “Committee to Stop the San Diego Railroad,” which immediately began circulating a petition demanding open hearings on the charges against him. On October 28 the committee sponsored its first rally, which culminated in a march on the administration building, and a demand that Acting President Donald E. Walker appear to explain the university’s position. A week later 700 students assembled on the steps of the administration building for another rally, and several students who invaded the president’s office to present a petition were turned back by force. By the beginning of December 1971, the normally placid campus of San Diego State was much disrupted by the controversy over Peter Bohmer. The FBI could congratulate itself on the self-fulfillment of its prophecy that he was an instigator of turmoil.
During the summer and fall of 1971, the FBI and Godfrey became occupied with planning for the Republican National Convention, which was scheduled to be held the following August in San Diego, Richard Nixon’s “lucky city.” In the Washington office of the Committee to Re-elect the President, Gordon Liddy had been hired to take charge of security. Liddy proposed an elaborate and expensive plan that included mugging squads, kidnaping, sabotage, blackmail, and break-ins to safeguard the convention. Meanwhile, Donald Segretti was in San Diego for the CRP, recruiting likely people to control “troublemakers.” A disaffected friend of some of the Minutemen later swore under oath, and also informed the Ervin Committee that
…on at least two occasions, to the best of my knowledge, I was present when Godfrey conferred with Segretti at 1509 Harbison Canyon Road in San Diego County during the summer of 1971 prior to the official announcement of San Diego’s being selected as the Republican Convention site.3 [Segretti denies having met with Godfrey.]
In his book on Watergate, Jeb Stuart Magruder wrote, “We had information that antiwar groups would hold massive demonstrations during the convention, and San Diego was particularly vulnerable because of the thousands of indigenous antiwar activists in Southern California…. We were receiving estimates from both local police and from several federal agencies on the possible size of the demonstrations. One estimate was 100,000 demonstrators, which was bad enough, but we also had an estimate from Liddy of 250,000 demonstrators, which if true would have meant almost certain violence, on an even greater scale than Chicago.” In response, according to Magruder, the CRP approved a scaled-down version of Liddy’s plan.
Bohmer and his friends had, in fact, organized a San Diego Convention Coalition to organize protest demonstrations, chiefly against the war; but they would have been surprised if they had learned of the numbers the Republicans were predicting for them. The coalition was composed of a small group of amateurs, almost exclusively San Diegans, working out of the weather-beaten old house in which Bohmer lived. Like the Republicans, they did not want another Chicago; they feared that their plans would be taken over by outsiders who would pack up and go home after the convention, leaving them to face the consequences. Tom Hayden and Jerry Rubin both volunteered their services and were asked not to come to San Diego. Nor was Bohmer one of the insiders of the Convention Coalition, partly because he was busy defending himself against the charges at the college. The FBI, however, continued to regard Bohmer as central to a plot against the convention, and remained determined to “neutralize” him.
During the same weeks that the Convention Coalition was taking shape, Howard Godfrey was busy carrying out the most important work he had yet undertaken as an FBI informant. The Minutemen were fading as a national force—partly because of feuding among their leaders—and the San Diego unit had disintegrated. In September, Godfrey took on the task of rounding up some of his old Minutemen colleagues, along with a few Mormon friends, to form a unit of what was called the Secret Army Organization (SAO).
The SAO’s objective, Godfrey has said under oath, was to establish anticommunist “combat teams”—sixman cells for urban guerrilla warfare—though the entire San Diego unit never had more than nine members. Its regular income was modest enough—$5 initiation fee, $3 monthly dues for each member, plus an occasional small donation. Thanks to the generosity of the FBI Godfrey was able to see to it that the San Diego unit had additional money to meet its expenses; some of this expense money, he later said, was used to pay for explosives. Godfrey became state commander of the SAO as well as its San Diego County commander and state intelligence officer; and until the end no one in the SAO seems to have known he took orders from the FBI.
Between mid-November 1971 and early January 1972, the SAO steadily harassed Bohmer. SAO stickers with rifle-scope cross hairs were attached to the door of his office at San Diego State. A car was set on fire in front of his house in Ocean Beach. He received repeated phone threats. On Christmas Day the caller said, “Wish Pete a Merry Christmas. It will be his last. This is the Secret Army Organization.”
On December 27, Bohmer received in the mail a copy of a so-called “Secret Army Organization Special Bulletin,” later circulated widely, which described with considerable accuracy his antiwar activities at Cambridge. It also stated, “For any of our readers who may care to look up this Red Scum, and say hello, here is some information that may help.” There followed his address, phone number, and physical description, with the statement, “In case any of you don’t believe in hitting people who wear glasses, to be fair I guess we will have to tell you he wears contact lenses.”
Howard Godfrey later admitted under oath that, though he did not write the bulletin, he took charge of printing and mailing it, and was reimbursed for his expenses by the FBI. Bohmer brought the bulletin to the San Diego police, who could find no leads for pursuing the case.
During the night of January 6, 1972, Howard Godfrey was driving around Ocean Beach in his 1969 blue Rambler, his SAO colleague George “Mickey” Hoover seated at his side. According to Godfrey, they were conducting routine “surveillance” for the FBI of dissident activity in the neighborhood. They passed Bohmer’s house, he said, and “saw people coming and going, lights go on and off. In other words, we could see evidence that there were people there.” Godfrey testified under oath that, while he was driving, a nine millimeter Polish Radom pistol which he owned came loose from beneath the seat where he had hidden it and, to make sure it did not become enmeshed in the foot pedals, he handed it to Hoover. As they made one of their passes of the Bohmer house, Godfrey said, Hoover stuck his hand out the passenger window and fired two shots. When he tried to fire a third, according to Godfrey, the pistol jammed. Godfrey said he then stepped on the gas and sped away.
Bohmer was out that night, at a basketball game. But Paula Tharp, a woman in her early twenties, was there. Like the other members of the commune, she had long been active in the antiwar movement. As she stood silhouetted against the living room curtain, she remembers hearing a crackling noise, followed by another, then feeling a sharp pain in her elbow. The others dropped to the floor. Tharp looked down to see her elbow covered with blood, and collapsed. Her shattered elbow took months to heal, and will never be restored to full use.
Steven L. Christensen, a Mormon from Utah, was by then Howard Godfrey’s FBI contact. He later said that after he read of the shooting in the local newspaper the next day, he phoned Godfrey to find out whether he was involved. When Godfrey acknowledged that he had been, Christensen told him to bring him the gun. Godfrey did so, along with the light-colored corduroy jacket which Hoover had worn that night and which Hoover was afraid could be used to identify him. Christensen took the weapon home and put it underneath a couch. His wife, he said, later gave away the jacket to the Salvation Army.
Paula Tharp, who now works as a clerk in a San Diego hospital, told me that detectives from the local police department called on her several times to ask questions about the shooting. But they were clearly more interested in discovering whether she had former friends or lovers who might have shot her than in exploring the threats from the SAO.
Paula Tharp was no stranger to law enforcement authorities in San Diego. After she became active against the war, her father, a retired navy commander living near by, was approached by FBI agents to apply pressure on her to become an informer. He was told, she said, that if she did not cooperate she faced years in jail. In fact, a few weeks after she was discharged from the hospital, Paula Tharp was arrested during an antiwar demonstration for “battery of a police officer.” The chief witness against her was a patrolman against whom she had filed a complaint for manhandling in 1969. Tried a few weeks later, she was convicted of hitting her victim, with the very arm that had been shattered by the bullet.
Peter Bohmer also continued his antiwar activities, and the police kept after him, while apparently ignoring the threats to his life. They had first shown interest in him in the spring of 1971 when the trouble at San Diego State began, arresting him at his house on a weapons charge, which was later dropped for lack of evidence. In May of 1972, a large group of demonstrators fruitlessly attempted to stop a freight train loaded with supplies for the Vietnam war. Bohmer was one of the few arrested and charged with a felony. In June, he was again arrested on trespassing charges at a hearing on the ROTC and paid a $50 fine for disturbing the peace.
Bohmer’s case at San Diego State came to a head toward the end of 1971, by no coincidence the time when the SAO’s attacks on him became increasingly vehement. Support for Bohmer among the faculty and students at the college continued to be strong, but the University of California administration plainly wanted to get rid of him. A closed hearing on the charges against him began on December 1. Late that month, before its results were announced, Donald E. Walker, the acting president, fired Bohmer as of the next academic year. When the board cleared Bohmer completely, Walker appointed a second investigating committee from the American Association of University Professors, which cleared him a second time.4 Walker then reversed his decision and reinstated Bohmer, but was in turn reversed by Glenn Dumke, chancellor of the state university system, who ordered a third set of hearings. Again Bohmer was exonerated; but Dumke announced, nonetheless, that Bohmer would not be appointed for the fall term. Thus Bohmer, by the end of the semester, was both out of a job and charged with a felony that could bring him a term in prison.
By contrast, in late 1971 and early 1972, Howard Godfrey and the SAO were flourishing, unhindered by either the San Diego police or the FBI, which, as its own files show, was kept closely informed about the SAO’s activities. In addition to shooting Paula Tharp in January, and making life generally difficult for Bohmer, SAO members slashed tires, damaged the homes and offices of other left-wing dissidents, firebombed another car, telephoned obscenities and death threats, glued SAO stickers with their cross hairs on windshields, conducted intimidating “surveillance” at antiwar demonstrations. Godfrey seems increasingly to have used his own notions of patriotism in his SAO work. In the last week of February, when Nixon left to visit Peking, SAO posters with the message “Nixon: Wanted For Treason” began to appear, cross hairs included, on power poles in the San Diego area.
The same man who reported Godfrey’s meeting with Segretti has stated under oath that he heard Godfrey suggest plans for killing not only left-wing demonstrators at the Republican National Convention but Richard Nixon himself.5 This charge has not been confirmed, however, and the SAO files released by the FBI reveal nothing about it. Still, such wild stories may not be so far-fetched after all. The San Diego police later rounded up a huge supply of weapons, ammunition, and explosives from SAO hiding places—a supply so formidable as to leave little doubt that the SAO had grandiose schemes in mind.
What led to the roundup, and the demise of the SAO, was its bombing of the Guild Theater, a “porno” establishment near the college, on June 19, 1972. The bomb was set by William Francis Yakopec, a neighbor of Godfrey’s and a fellow member of the Mormon church, whom Godfrey had himself recruited into the SAO. Godfrey has admitted under oath that he knew of Yakopec’s plan to bomb a porno theater, supplied him with the bomb, taught him how to use it, and told the FBI about it in advance. (The FBI files include an informer’s report, apparently from Godfrey, on plans for other bombings of pornographic theaters.) The bomb, which exploded a few minutes before 7 PM, was set under the stage and blew debris throughout the theater. No one was seriously injured. In the audience, presumably in the line of duty, were a lawyer from the city attorney’s office and two members of the police department’s sex squad.
After the Guild Theater was bombed, and the lives of three city employees endangered, San Diego authorities seemed to conclude that matters had gone far enough. In any case, Chief of Police Raymond Hoobler suddenly abandoned the department’s policy of indifference to the SAO. According to Richard Huffman of the San Diego district attorney’s office, Hoobler warned the FBI that he would give embarrassing information to the press if the FBI didn’t cooperate in breaking up the SAO. The department’s Red Squad had worked closely with the FBI office and it already knew who was in the SAO. Red Squad officers went to the FBI office and insisted that its informant in the SAO be produced. A few days later, Godfrey showed up at police headquarters and started to talk.
Yakopec was the first to be arrested. Godfrey then proceeded to tell everything he knew about the SAO’s illegal arms in the San Diego area—arms that he later testified were partly paid for with FBI money. He took the police to the vacant lot behind Yakopec’s house and his own where the police confiscated military explosives, blasting caps, and a rifle. He also directed them to a plank in Yakopec’s bedroom, under which the police found SAO propaganda, a hand grenade, and several loaded weapons. In the next few days, his information led the police to confiscate a collection of pistols, rifles, shotguns, land mines, mortar rounds, tear gas, and a flame thrower, along with several thousand rounds of ammunition, fifty pounds of gunpowder, and assorted literature on how to build mines and booby traps. Before the sweep was finished, a dozen men—SAO members and their friends—had been arrested and charged with such assorted crimes as attempted murder, possession of explosives, perjury, and receiving stolen property.
On July 5, more than two weeks after the theater bombing, Godfrey began to talk about the Tharp shooting; he revealed that Special Agent Christensen had kept the gun that Mickey Hoover had fired. Patrolman Rubien Brandon of the San Diego Red Squad later testified that an FBI agent and two lawyers from the district attorney’s staff were present when Godfrey said this. Brandon and FBI agent Earl Petersen went at once to Christensen’s house, where Christensen produced the weapon from beneath his sofa.
Five days later Christensen was no longer a member of the FBI. Pensioned off, he went into exile in the crossroads town of Kanosh, Utah (population: 319), deep in Mormon country, where he currently lists his occupation as “storekeeper.” Godfrey was disposed of less quickly. He stayed on the FBI payroll until October 1972, almost four months later, when he testified at Hoover’s trial for shooting Paula Tharp, reporting almost daily to his new contact, Special Agent Petersen, another member of the Mormon church.
Why didn’t the FBI fire Godfrey right away? In Washington, a decision had been made to reveal as little as possible about the San Diego FBI office and its informants during the SAO trials. Godfrey was carefully coached before delivering his testimony. Christensen, summoned from Kanosh, was accompanied on the witness stand by a representative of the US attorney’s office, who announced to the court exactly what his man could and could not say. Asked by Mickey Hoover’s lawyer why he didn’t turn the incriminating gun over to the FBI earlier, Christensen said that this would have identified Godfrey “prematurely.” He then was interrupted by the federal lawyer, who said that if the judge insisted on an answer he would have to teletype Washington for approval. Hoover’s lawyer then agreed to ask Christensen no further questions.
Hoover and Yakopec were both convicted of major felonies and sent to state prison, Of the other SAO people, some were fined and some given probation, while some had the good luck to have their cases dismissed. None could have been charged, much less convicted, without the testimony of Howard Godfrey. Indeed, as Hoover’s lawyer commented, “If it weren’t for Godfrey, these guys would have met over the backyard fence to complain about liberals and taxes. Godfrey was the catalyst. He made them what they were.”
Howard Godfrey was never charged with any crime for his SAO activities. Nor was any member of the FBI, though Christensen lost his job. When the FBI refused to have anything more to do with Godfrey after the SAO trials, the State of California and the San Diego Police Department paid to move him to Sacramento, where he is now working for the state fire marshal as a law enforcement officer.
Godfrey now insists that he was exploited and then betrayed by the FBI. His lawyer, Richard K. Turner of Sacramento, told me, “The FBI loved what Godfrey was doing. They blessed it and told him it was great. He was taking orders like any FBI agent, like a civil servant. They thought what he was doing was fantastic. Then they dumped him and now they want him to take the rap for them.”
Richard Huffman was mainly in charge of the SAO prosecutions. I asked him why no official action was taken against the FBI, when it was known to be the real power behind Godfrey. “These guys,” he said, “were frightening the people of this community. Our concerns were parochial: to put a stop to the Secret Army in San Diego. We didn’t cover up for the FBI. We just took on the problem that was most immediate to us.
“I was able to make a criminal case against the SAO people, but not against the FBI. I couldn’t have proven FBI involvement without testimony from Godfrey, and that would have needed corroboration. You can’t take on establishments without evidence, and when you get the evidence the problems first start. You’ve got to fight with grand juries and judges and police and the rest. You don’t have to go to the lofty levels of J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon to see how it works in cities like ours. We could have taken on the FBI, and probably let the SAO slip away. Or we could take on the SAO. From our point of view, we did the best damned job we could.”
Ironically, in late 1972, while Huffman was prosecuting the SAO cases in one set of chambers in the San Diego courthouse, his colleagues in the district attorney’s office were prosecuting Peter Bohmer in another. Bohmer was convicted of the felony charge of “obstructing a railroad” and committed to the state prison at Chino for ninety days of “psychiatric examination.” After thirty-five days in Chino and two more weeks in the county jail, Bohmer emerged with a recommendation that he be given no more time in prison. The judge sentenced Bohmer to three years’ probation, to last until March 1976, with the condition that he take part in no more political demonstrations.
That, presumably, should have been the end of the Peter Bohmer story, but it was not. Bohmer was hardly deterred from his mission to change society. While on probation he did not go to demonstrations; but, with the ending of the Vietnam war, he became a leader in several radical groups concerned with Third World issues, and with minorities and women at home. His principal headquarters was the Center for Radical Education, a converted fraternity house near the campus where meetings and classes were held, as Bohmer put it, “on the injustices of contemporary society and the need for socialism.” Meanwhile, Bohmer consulted regularly with lawyers on an appeal from his conviction, on a suit to reverse his firing from San Diego State, and on various complaints against the San Diego Police Department and the FBI.
By now Richard Nixon was no longer president, J. Edgar Hoover was dead, and the campus at San Diego State was quiet once more, but the San Diego police and the San Diego office of the FBI did not change their minds about the menace of Peter Bohmer. Six days after he was released from jail, he was again arrested by the San Diego police, who charged him with a variety of drug and weapons offenses. All the charges were dropped, but they provided the judge with grounds for adding extremely tough conditions to his probation. An FBI agent named David Von Bockern seemed to be assigned personally to Bohmer, and frequently came to question him and his friends. The FBI has a full file on Bohmer’s activities during this period, provided by an informer who infiltrated several of his radical groups. Employed by both the FBI and the San Diego police, the informant was named John Rasppery.
Having blown his cover some months ago, Rasppery was no longer an active informant when I arrived in San Diego in December, and was willing to talk. Now unemployed, he met with me in a seedy coffee shop downtown. He said he had always wanted to be a cop, but he had been thrown out of the police academy. He agreed to become an FBI informer because he needed the money and found the prospect exciting. He volunteered to share his information with the San Diego police, he said, in the hope of having his standing restored. But he became angry with the FBI because it dropped him when he was no longer useful. Nor was he ever rehired by the San Diego Police Department.
Rasppery said his instructions from the FBI were to infiltrate the Center for Radical Education to “get” Bohmer. He was ordered to report on who attended meetings, what was said, contacts with other left-wing groups, the sources and amounts of funds. At the center, he checked through Bohmer’s mail, most of which he delivered directly to the FBI. Bohmer recalled later that Rasppery frequently tried to persuade him to attend political demonstrations, which would have been a violation of parole. The FBI, according to Rasppery, was particularly interested in Bohmer’s sex life, which he found to be rather uninteresting. The San Diego office of the FBI, Rasppery said, was convinced that Bohmer was part of a communist plot, and that if he disappeared the radical movement in the city would die. While the San Diego Police Department wanted him to be more careful, he said, FBI agents were urging him to be more violent.
His FBI contact, Rasppery told me, “really wanted me to kill Bohmer.” I had no way of judging whether Rasppery was lying when he said this; but the San Diego FBI office has admitted that he was once in its pay, and I saw no reason to believe that his story was wholly invented. His FBI contact “was a real zealot,” Rasppery went on. “Two or three times he talked of doing away with Bohmer, and if the FBI had given me the gun, I’d have killed him. Bohmer liked to walk alone on the beach at night. It would have been real easy. But they wanted me to take the rap, and I wouldn’t. I didn’t like Bohmer, but I wasn’t going to kill him on my own.”
Bohmer got out of San Diego before any more serious violence took place. In August of 1975, the judge summoned him to his chambers. Having found Bohmer’s behavior unsatisfactory, he would find him in violation of probation unless he left San Diego. Bohmer told me that his lawyers considered the judge’s proposition unconstitutional, but that he decided to leave rather than have the threat of prison hang over his head any longer. So like Godfrey and Steven Christensen, Peter Bohmer moved away. He now lives in Amherst on loans from friends and hopes to get a fellowship for the next academic year. A number of well-known radical economists have circulated an appeal to help him.
Last January 11, FBI Director Clarence Kelley was asked by ABC-TV whether the Bureau had been involved in any way with the SAO. “We did not sponsor it, did not engage in and did not condone any terroristic activities or anything in violation of the law,” Kelley answered. Reminded that the SAO had been known to commit bombings and burglaries, Kelley was asked, “Has the FBI ever knowingly encouraged or given aid to any groups which used such tactics?” Kelley answered: “They certainly have not.”
Kelley’s position is consistent with that of his predecessor J. Edgar Hoover, and with that of the San Diego office. None of them has ever officially acknowledged the FBI’s relations with the SAO, and all have denied that FBI activities have led to violent crimes being committed. The facts on the record in San Diego, and in other cities throughout the country, prove otherwise. Nor is there any convincing reason to believe that the FBI is not carrying on similar activities today.
Note on sources: Much of the information for this article comes from public records of the grand jury proceedings and the trials which followed the Guild Theater bombing. The records of these trials are filed with the court clerk of the Superior Court of San Diego County, in San Diego. Of principal interest are: People of the State of California vs. William Francis Yakopec (October-November 1972) and People of the State of California vs. George Mitchell Hoover (October-November 1972). The trial of Peter Bohmer in connection with the antiwar demonstrations at the railroad tracks is filed as People of the State of California vs. Peter George Bohmer et al. (October-December, 1972).
One useful source is the report prepared by the Hicks Investigative Service in San Diego and submitted to the court by the defense in the Yakopec case: it can be found in the probation files of the case in the San Diego Court. Lawyers for the principals made available to me formal statements that were taken, some under oath, for appeals and civil suits in connection with these events. The deposition of Jerry Busch cited in this article was made on February 12, 1974. It was submitted to the San Diego County Superior Court in support of the application of Calvin Fox, one of the convicted SAO members, for a writ of habeas corpus.
Some of the information I have mentioned can be found in back copies of The San Diego Street Journal and The Door. Otherwise, the story was largely ignored by the press for some three years, perhaps because, before Watergate, it seemed unbelievable.
Recently, the ACLU in Los Angeles filed a suit in Peter Bohmer’s behalf against the FBI and other defendants. Among the material the Justice Department was forced to release under the Freedom of Information Act were the FBI dossiers on Bohmer and the SAO which I have cited. Although much is deleted from them, they are indispensable for understanding the FBI’s methods. The Justice Department has agreed to defend the many government officials named in the ACLU suit but not Godfrey.
Neither the San Diego police nor the San Diego office of the FBI will discuss the episode. It seems likely that they will provide fuller information about these events only under subpoena from a congressional committee. The special congressional committees to investigate intelligence abuses, under Senator Church and Representative Pike, both had jurisdiction over the case. Church’s staff looked into it briefly, then dropped it.
HIRSHHORN MUSEUM TO FEATURE CARICATURES BY DAVID LEVINE
“Artists, Authors, and Others: Drawings by David Levine,” an exhibition of sixty-five pen-and-ink drawings of cultural figures by David Levine, will open Thursday, March 4, at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
This is the first exhibition of Levine’s caricatures devoted entirely to the arts rather than politics. Four unpublished drawings will be included along with examples of works that Levine has published in The New York Review and elsewhere since 1965.
The exhibition, which will remain on view through June 6, will be circulated nationally by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service after its showing in Washington.
March 18, 1976
J. Clifford Wallace was named to the federal bench by President Nixon in 1970. In 1972, having established a reputation as a law-and-order magistrate, he was promoted by Nixon to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If one is to believe The Washington Post and The New York Times, he was among the candidates most seriously considered by President Ford to fill the Supreme Court seat recently vacated by Justice William O. Douglas. For Godfrey’s testimony about the help Wallace gave him, see the reference to the Hoover trial in the note on sources at the end of this article. ↩
By the Hicks Investigative Service. See the note on sources. ↩
From the deposition of Jerry Busch. See the note on sources. ↩
The AAUP committee concluded, for example, that “while Bohmer’s actions [during campus protests about his case] may at times have been injudicious, he did not encourage violence nor did he advocate unlawful activity.” ↩
From the deposition of Jerry Busch. See the note on sources. ↩