It's the evening of March 8th, 1971, Keith Forsyth emerges from his parked car carrying a large briefcase. A cold wind sends a pile of leaves fluttering in the air and Forsyth gazes around the streets of Media, Pennsylvania. Tonight, the town seems practically empty and Forsyth grins, empty streets are a good thing, especially with a massive risk he's about to take. Forsayth glances at his own reflection in the window. His long blond hair is now cropped and his beard has been shaved clean.
He's wearing simple, black framed glasses. He looks like a square, not an activist, and he can't help but laugh. This disguises better than he possibly could have imagined. Forsayth then heads back down the block and stops at the corner. There he scans the four story building across the street, which looms ominously in the dark night.
For months, he's memorized every detail of this building. It houses an FBI field office. Right now, Forsayth is going to break in. Forsyth begins crossing the street when he hears footsteps approaching, he turned to see a man walking toward him carrying two six packs of Budweiser. Hey, buddy, got to work just in time, huh? Yeah, in time, for one thing. Time for what? You kidding me? The fight man to fight Muhammad Ali.
Joe Frazier of the fight. Yes, of course. Going straight home wouldn't miss it for a second. The man stares at Forsayth with a look of suspicion. Then he smiles and throws a couple of punches into the air. The Budweisers rattle in his hands. Boy, that's going to be a good one. Frazier is going to clean Alli's clock. Forsayth pauses. He knows he should let this go, but he can't. I'm rooting for Ali.
Are you kidding me? How could you be against Joe? He's from Philly. He's a real American, not Ali. Man dodged the draft. Won't fight in Vietnam. I don't care how good he is. That's no hero. He's not a patriot. I don't know about that. If Ali thinks this country's not fair and the war is unjust, well, and if he breaks the law to make things better, that's the most patriotic thing he can do.
Stranger's eyes narrow, his face turns a dark, crimson, and right away, Forsayth knows he said too much. Now we need to get away from this guy before it's too late. Man snarls and takes a step toward him. Better smarten up now. And you're right. You're right. I think I'm just tired from a long day of work. Time to go home, crack open a bar just like you for a moment. The man continues to glared forsight.
Then he turns, shakes his head and walks off Forsayth. Exhales deeply, waits for the stranger to round the corner. They take several deep breaths, looks back at the FBI field office across the street. What Forsyth is about to do is highly illegal, in a few minutes, he'll reach the front door of the FBI office, he'll pick the lock and leave the door open. He'll then flee as fast as he can. His partners will then soon arrive and they'll pull off one of the biggest heists in the history of this country.
They'll steal files from the FBI and show the world everything the bureau has done to undermine social activists to task that could land Forsyth and his partners in prison for years. But he stands by his ideals. He's willing to break the law in order to expose great injustice. So he takes another deep breath. And Forsayth crosses the street. Approaching the FBI office, he leaps up a set of stairs and hurries toward the entrance. He sees the front door and then his body starts to shake.
There's no turning back now. Just a few seconds. You'll need to do the job that he spent months practicing. It needs to flawlessly because this entire plan and maybe even the future of this country lies in his hands. American scandal is sponsored by Monday Dotcom. I've got a small shop, me and two employees, but a lot of collaborator's writers, researchers, producers, the ad ops, people like that who remind me that I have to write and record this and my team is much bigger than me and my employees or the boundaries of any one organization.
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From thundery, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is Americans Skin. Illegal wiretaps, forgery, intimidation and violence, these were staples of an FBI program known as COINTELPRO, which operated in secret from the mid 1980s to the early 70s. COINTELPRO was overseen by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, one of the most powerful men in the country. Hoover held staunchly racist views and was intent to destroy activists and civil rights organizations who he saw as a threat to the country.
He resolved to use whatever tactics would accomplish this goal, even if they were illegal. COINTELPRO didn't only target those who fought for racial justice. The FBI went after a broad range of activists, including those who believe the U.S. should pull out of the Vietnam War. Throughout the 1960s, as protesters marched in the streets, the FBI used covert tactics to silence demonstrators. Some activists grew suspicious about the FBI. That included a 43 year old physics professor and peace activist named William, David and David and would develop an audacious plan to hold the FBI accountable for its actions and together with the help of seven other antiwar activists.
He led an operation that would fundamentally change the FBI and the future of America. This is episode for The Heist. It's late 1970, Bonnie Raines stares out the car window as her husband drives through a neighborhood in Philadelphia with a crisp fall evening and bright yellow leaves drift toward the ground. This time of year always makes Raines want to curl up under a warm blanket. But tonight, she's feeling anything but cozy and relaxed. Reigns and her husband, John, are on their way to see a friend who sounds like he's in trouble.
The man's name is William Davidson, and with an urgent tone in his voice, he called and said he had a question, something he couldn't ask over the phone. He had to speak with them in person. Now, as Raines approaches David's neighborhood, she hopes everything's OK with her friend. Raines has known David and for several years, he's a physics professor who's been at the center of Philadelphia's antiwar movement. He's soft-spoken polite, and that means people often underestimate him.
It's something that Raines knows all too well. As the car around the corner, she looks down at her wedding ring. She knows that to most people, she seems just like another mom from the suburbs with a young face and a pretty smile. And while she does love her family, deep down, Raines feels something else and almost overwhelming outrage at the violence and injustice in the world. She's taken action, marched in rallies, but still she knows she needs to do more.
She can't stand to live in such an unfair world. Soon, the car comes to a stop in front of a two story brick house, the front door opens and David and comes out to greet them, his salt and pepper hair glinting under the street lights. After a quick reading, they step inside into David's living room. Immediately, he lowers his voice and says there's something he needs to talk about. Raines exchanges a nervous glance with her husband, David, and takes a deep breath and says he believes the FBI is trying to undermine the anti-war movement.
J. Edgar Hoover speaks out against demonstrations. Rumors are flying that activists are being spied on and David and has started seeing strange people at rallies questioning protesters and taking photographs. John Raines snorts with laughter. He says he's heard these stories, too. There's no evidence of a big government cover up. They're just conspiracy theories, David Ainata said. He says it's true. There's no proof, no proof yet. But he wants to know once and for all if the FBI is spying on peaceful protesters because if it is, the bureau could be capable of even worse abuses of power.
David and pauses and then says he needs their help. Rein sees her husband nodding. A request like this is no surprise. After all, the two both oppose the war and they both see themselves as activists. John even joined black protesters on the anti segregation freedom rides. And so Rain smiles and says they would be happy to protest the FBI. Everyone just needs to name the time and place. But David and gently shakes his head and he says it's time to do something more than just March.
It's time to take real action. He lowers his voice even more, and then he asks what they think of burglarizing an FBI office. Raines and her husband look at each other, their mouths hanging open in shock. Then Raines turns back to David and and explains that you don't steal from the FBI. It's their job to catch thieves. David Anon's, he admits the heist will be risky, but that's the only way to get their hands on the FBI's internal files.
Those files will spell out any secret operations the agency is conducting against protesters. And once they have the evidence, they can publicly expose the FBI.
For a moment, Rain stares at David and in disbelief what he's describing as an impossible task sounds dangerous, even stupid, a suicide mission. And yet she can't ignore a feeling bubbling up inside her. It's a hint of admiration, David, and maybe a professor, but he doesn't let that label define him.
It didn't stop him from flying to Vietnam to speak out against the war just miles from the battlefield. She knows that everyone could learn a lesson from William.
David Reines decides to answer for herself and her husband. She says that she and John will need time to discuss the matter. David Anon's, he says they should certainly think it through. What he's proposing is illegal. If they're caught during the burglary, they could be killed. And if they're caught after the burglary, they could be sent to prison for life. Raines nods her head. She fully understands the risks. She and her husband then rise and head toward the door.
As they step out into the cool autumn air. Raines turns back and locks eyes with David. And once more, she didn't give him a firm yes or no. But looking at David and knowing everything he's done to protest the war, she doesn't have to fool herself. She knows the answer already is stealing from the FBI will protect the peace movement, and that's what they'll do. It's a Saturday afternoon, a few days later, William Davidson sits on a bench in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.
He watched his family's fishing down at the river and children running across the grassy fields. He turns and looks at the woman sitting next to him, Susan Smith. And David didn't just ask her the same question. He asked the Raines's and several others. But Smith hasn't answered yet. She's just sitting there staring out of the river. Her arms folded tightly over her tan overcoat, David and sits and waits. He's desperate for an answer, but he doesn't want to rush her.
He knows that none of this can be taken lightly. A few minutes pass and finally, David, and can't wait any longer. Well, what do you think, Bill? It's stealing. That's what I think. Stealing is unethical. Doesn't matter who's doing it. Wow. I'm surprised to hear that coming from you. And why is that? Why? Because of everything we did last year. Susan, I know, came alongside me and the two of us broke into those draft board offices, as Susan, I know, stood by my side and the two of us burnt those draft files.
She's a real activist that Susan so unwilling to break the rules to keep those kids from getting shipped off to Saigon. That was completely different. And, you know, what you're talking about now is way more serious. You don't you don't even know if we're going to find anything in what we're stealing. Yeah, you may be right, but this is a desperate time for a desperate country. And you know what they say about desperate times, but you can't just barge into an FBI office in the dead of night and hope for the best.
You have to spend months casing the building, figuring out who goes in, who comes out and when and where you need a getaway vehicle and a rendezvous spot. And David and laughs What is so funny? You're proving my point, Susan. Look at you. You're paid for this. You need to be on the team. But why, Bill? Why this? Why now? David and gazes across the sunny park. It's full of happy families enjoying their simple good lives.
And yet, David and can't help but grimace because he knows that inside the government, there are sinister forces at play. Government agents actively trying to undermine everything that makes this country worthwhile. David and turns back to Smith. The FBI is out of control. They're prolonging the war in Vietnam, I'm sure of it. They're spying on dissidents, trying to suppress us, trying to stop us from taking a stand, even though we're allowed to. It's our right.
You're telling me that doesn't bother you? Of course it does. Then help me prove it. Smith sighs Ampicillin, Bill. If it were if it were anyone else, I'd say no. But I trust you. And if what you're saying is true, then this Braken is the right thing to do. It is. Susan. Yes. Thank you. So when do we start? Next week. The two rise and David and Smith in a hug, she still seems tentative and withdrawn, but he knows it might just take some time.
The more she learns, the more she'll come around on this plan soon. The two head in opposite directions, David, and walks at a rapid pace. Is mine now churning with Smith on board? The team is nearly complete. It's time to plan the perfect heist. It's December 1970, William David and climbs a steep staircase and feels cold, air rushing to fill his lungs. He swallows the frigid winter air, feeling invigorated and alive. And as he reaches the top of the staircase, his eyes adjust and he looks around his dark and drafty attic.
Inside, there's a couch, folding chairs, a couple large card tables and a group of seven people who he's recruited for this mission. Right now, they're waiting for him to begin the meeting and to lay out a plan for this very risky task. David and takes a seat and surveys his newly formed team. It's a team that seemingly overnight has become a formidable group. In addition to himself, Susan Smith and the Raines's. There's also Keith Forsyth, a man who knows his way around a lot.
He proved that during their recent raid of a draft board office. Next to Forsyth is Ron Durst, who also took part in that raid. Judy Feingold sits perched nearby on a chair next to Durst. She's 19. One of David's friends, and looks more nervous than anyone in the group, David and knows that this will be her first major act of resistance. And then there is Bob Williamson, an activist who dropped out of college to protest the war.
David and knows this is the perfect mission for a veteran protester like Williams. David and clears his throat with his back straight, he summons what he hopes is a commanding tone. He tells the team their goal is simple. They'll break into the FBI office in the town of media. There, they'll steal files that document the bureau's top secret activities. They'll probably be incriminating. And so the group needs to move fast and get them out to the public because the American people deserve to know if their government is spying on protesters who exercise their legal right to free speech.
David and Cesar heads nodding Good. He thinks they're still on board, David and continues and says that tonight they need to map out all of the details of this mission. But then Judy Feingold interrupts him, her eyebrows furrowed. She asks why David and recruited them for this mission if he didn't already have a plan in place. David and starts to answer, but is again interrupted.
Bob Williamson chides David and he says he didn't sign up for some half baked plan. He doesn't want to go to prison any time soon. The group begins murmuring in agreement David and feels a blood drain from his face. This meeting feels like it's spinning out of control. David decides he can't let that happen. So he speaks up, tells the group that this is what the movement is about, not top down orders from some man in power, but people making decisions together as equals.
Sometimes it gets messy, but that's how you make a better world. The group is silent for a moment, and then Bonnie Raines speaks up and tells David and that she's in she likes his approach as long as everyone else does. David and watches as the others nod their heads and say they're on board to a wave of relief washes over David and and he thanks everyone for their willingness to be part of something so important. He then continues saying that first things first, they need to pick a day for the burglary.
Judy Finegold pipes up and says she has an idea. Every guy she knows has been talking about this big boxing match happening a few months from now in March. Muhammad Ali is fighting Joe Frazier David and squints and asks why a boxing match would influence their plans. And Finegold explains that the whole world will be inside glued to their TV sets. That means fewer potential witnesses. She then shrugs and says, well, maybe it's a bad idea. But right away the group breaks out into conversation and Bob Williamson throws back his head and laughs.
She tells Feingold she's a genius. It's a perfect idea. The rest of the group agrees. And Feingold smiles sheepishly. David and thanks. Feingold says it's settled. They have their mission and their date. In the coming months, they'll develop a plan and practice it step by step to make sure it goes flawlessly. But then Dividend's voice grool. He tells the group that they've reached the point of no return. Anyone can quit now if they want, but if they decide to stay, they'll be expected to see this through to the end.
David and looks around the circle meeting each team members eyes. No one moves a muscle and no one says a word. So David and takes a deep breath and reminds the group that they're about to commit one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience in American history. If they fail, they could go to prison or worse, should they succeed, they might just change the world. American scandal is sponsored by Better Help. It's been a year of unwelcome change, so it's understandable if you're feeling off center.
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Check out PACOM Dotcom. It's late evening in January 1971. The sky is grey and a light dusting of snow falls on the Ford Pinto, which is parked in media, Pa. The car is dark. Behind the steering wheel sits Bob Williamson. He's an anti-war protester who's recently taken on a bigger act of civil disobedience. He and a small group of activists are planning to break into an FBI office to find evidence that the bureau is abusing its power. It's an FBI office that right now Williamson is staring at from across the street.
Williamson glances to his right. Susan Smith, another member of the group, is sitting shotgun in the Pinto. Tonight, they've got a straightforward task. You need to sit and watch the office. They need to learn whatever they can. Who's coming, who's going?
And he risks their group may face. But so far they haven't learned much. The office seems to empty out around five thirty. It's quiet after that.
They've also learned that the office is housed inside an apartment complex. Williamson knows that could make the whole operation a lot trickier. There's no predicting when someone might walk out their front door and spot a group of burglars breaking into an FBI office. Williamson yawns and turns on the radio. My Sweet Lord by George Harrison comes pouring out through the speakers Williams and starts humming the song and Smith shoots him a look. She says they shouldn't be distracted even for a minute.
Williamson yawns again. He's bored, tired of sitting here. He doesn't know how the cops can do it, he says. Smith turns down the radio, tells Williamson he's going to have to learn to be a little more patient. But right then, Williams and bolt upright, his mouth hangs open. Any murders occurs. It's a police car and it's approaching fast. The officer behind the wheel has a flashlight in one hand and it's shiny from one side of the street to the other.
Williamson instinctively ducked under the steering wheel. Tell Smith to get down right away. She curls up below the glove box Williams and waits the police car rumbling. As it approaches, flashlight bounces against the car's headrest. Williams and holds his breath and shuts his eyes. They can't get caught. Not now. But when he opens his eyes, he sees that the flashlight has disappeared, the night is quiet. Once again, Williamson sits back up, right.
And so does Smith, your wife's beads of sweat from his forehead. And he sees the colors slowly returning to Smith's face. Williams and laughs nervously and wipes his forehead again. But then Smith's expression becomes grave. She tells Williamson that that was too close, especially for a task with such a low reward. And so Williamson asks, does she have a better idea about how they could case the building? And suddenly Smith's eyes begin to twinkle and her lips form into a grin.
She says she does have an idea, a much better way to get real intel on the FBI office.
It's late February 1971, Bonnie Raines walked through downtown in Media, Pennsylvania, her high heels clicking against the pavement, but rains nearly tripled as her hair catches on the sidewalk, she lurches, writes herself and then blinks. Normally, she's not this nervous, but today is anything but normal. Rains is on her way to the FBI field office, the one her team is planning to burglarize. Her task is simple. She needs to cased the office and mentally record as much as she can about the physical layout.
She's not going to steal anything. She's not going to pick any locks. That doesn't mean she's not going to break some rules. Rain stops in front of a clothing store and looks in her own reflection in the window today. She's not Bonnie Raines, married mother of three. She's in disguise as Emily Johnson, a local college freshman. Her cover story is that she's writing a paper about the FBI. And in a few minutes, she'll walk into the FBI office and keep up the ruse as she takes a tour with an FBI agent.
Meanwhile, she'll construct a mental map of the entire office. Raines fixes her hair, which is tucked beneath a wool hat, and she practices spreading her lips into a smile that makes her look young, naive. It actually looks at her own reflection. Her smile drops. She's never felt so anxious in her whole life, but she can't walk away. Not now. She volunteered for this and the group is counting on her. But for Raines, this isn't just about an obligation to a group.
She's taking this risk because she knows she has to do something to strike back against the FBI to help in the anti-war effort. She can't stand by any longer. All while men keep dying in Vietnam. Rain steps away from the window, makes her way down the street. Soon she arrives at the FBI office. She stops at the door and examines the lock and small and silver. She takes a mental picture of it. Then she opens the door and pretends to be a 19 year old girl.
Rain steps into the office, and right away she begins to scan the room, a secretary sits behind a desk chatting on the phone. There are multiple file cabinets, including one very tall black cabinet. She squint your eyes and then a man suddenly appears before her. He's got a doughy face and wears a gray suit and a striped tie. He reaches out and offers a limp handshake. Hi, I'm Agent Lewis and my keen investigative powers tell me you must be Emily.
Bonnie responds with her best teenage giggle. Yes. I'm Emily Johnson. Very nice to meet you and very nice to meet you. And I must say, you are very cute. Oh, stop it. Hey, someone open a case file on this one. I need some intel on where I should take her out to dinner. Grit gritted teeth. She wants to reach out her arm and smack Agent Lewis in the face. She knows to control herself.
You boys are too much. We sure are. So anyway, tell me again, why is a pretty girl like you coming all the way over here into a boring office like this? I'm writing a paper for my poli sci class about the FBI. Professor told me to get firsthand research. That's a strange project telling me the truth. Emily, I could have you arrested.
Raines eyes go wide with fear and instinctively she steps back. No, no, no. I'm joking. I'm joking. I never heard a girl like you. Come on, let me show you around. Lewis leads her through the office and talks about his work fighting criminals.
All the while, rain steals glances in every direction. She's happy to see that carpet covers every inch of the floor.
That should help muffle the sound during the burglary. Best of all, there doesn't appear to be an alarm system of any kind. She turns to Agent Lewis, forcing a giant smile on her face. Her stomach is still at not, but she knows that the more she flatters him, the less the chance she'll get caught.
You do have such an exciting life. I wish I could be an FBI agent. You, my dear, are cute as a button. But you do know that the FBI doesn't employ female agents. And look, I know you're probably getting exposed to all kinds of radicals on campus. The girl like you should settle down, find a man who can take care of her. Law enforcement is no place for girls. Believe me, things I see. Lewis leans in closer, lays a hand on my shoulder.
I was joshing back there. But if you ever do want some company, let me take you out sometime. What time you usually get on for me and everyone else. We all get off at five thirty. The office is a ghost town after hours. But don't tell my boss I told you, he says.
There's always more criminals get rain smiles. She was nervous when she walked into the office. But now she realizes that this has been like shooting fish in a barrel. She has all she needs and so she begins the back way toward the door. Well, you can rest easy. I'm not going to talk to your boss, but you know, I should get going. You call me sometime. It's a tape Agent Lewis at Enter Raines turn stacks at the office.
As she walks out, she grins to herself. There was a time when she lacked the self-confidence to stand up for her beliefs. But now, walking out of this FBI office after pulling off an incredible ruse, she knows all that has changed. She's become a true dissident kind that Agent Lewis would love to see behind bars. A month later, Bonnie Raines sits beside her young son's bed, she brushes aside his dirty blond hair and kisses him on the cheek.
He looks innocent and perfect for a moment. Raines doesn't want to leave, but she knows she has to because after months of training and planning, the burglary will now begin in just a matter of hours. She knows she could die tonight or she could go to prison for the rest of her life. But Raines also knows she has to stay strong and prove that she's more than just an armchair activist. She's a fighter and willing to die for her beliefs.
Raines Here's a light tap on the door. She turns and sees her husband, John. He carries her coat under his arm. He tells her it's time to go. Bonnie nods. She kisses her son once again, and with their head dipped down, she walks toward the door. She pauses, stealing one last glance at her son. Then she shuts off the light and closes the door. Rain says goodbye to the babysitter and steps outside into the cold when she hurries to the family station wagon and John turns the keys to start the engine.
Soon, the two of them will meet the rest of the team at a small motel. From there, they'll head to the FBI office and the operation will begin as they pull onto the highway. John reaches out a hand, finally squeezes it tightly, disappears out of the dark road ahead with an only hours. She'll discover if her decision to join William David was the biggest mistake of her life, one of her proudest moments. Hi, I'm Salim Russian Wollar, host of a podcast from TED called PIN Drop.
In every episode, you'll travel with local journalists and creators as guides get lost in a new vibe and tap into surprising ideas.
We'll check out musicians who are trying to save an indigenous language in Lima. What happens to the tourism paradise? Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island when people stop showing up. And take a look at what it means to start a black utopia. Check out Pingrup wherever you listen. It's March eight, 1971, Keith Forsyth races up the stairs as he heads to the front door of the FBI office. His heart is thudding. He can feel it all the way in his throat, but he needs to stay calm and composed.
That's going to be hard knowing what he's about to do. He looks at his right hand. He's carrying a heavy black crowbar right now. This is the best weapon to break into this office. Forsyth is furious that has come to this. Two hours ago, he first arrived at the office and was ready to pick the regular five pin tumbler lock that he knew would be on this door. It's a type of lock that he can now pick in under 30 seconds.
But when he arrived, that lock wasn't the only thing standing in his way. Also on the door was a large, high security lock, one glance at it, and he knew it was impenetrable. His mouth went dry for a moment. The mission looked like it would be doomed to fail. The Forsayth wasn't ready to accept defeat. He forced himself to calm down, walk back to his car. Then he drove straight to the motel where his teammates were waiting.
His news sent the group spinning, but William Davidson said he had a solution. He pulled out a big duffel bag and unzipped it, and then he removed the crowbar and with a determined look, told Forsyth that this was his best option. So now Forsyth is once again standing in front of the FBI office. Crowbar is by no means an elegant tool, but it'll have to do so. Forsayth wedges the crowbar into the doorframe, gives a firm tug at the door, hardly moves.
He feels a vein popping in his forehead as he begins straining against the crowbar with all of his weight. Door creaks But it doesn't open. He stops and catch his breath, the crowbar might not be enough. Once again, he has the feeling this mission is doomed from somewhere down the hall. I can hear the sound of the boxing match. Forsayth knows that Ali and Frazier would battle until they're worn out, ready to collapse. They'll keep fighting on and on to one of them wins.
It's then that Forsayth decides he has to keep fighting, too. And so he grabs a crowbar and pulls it with as much force as he can possibly muster. Wooden door creaks and groans and suddenly it shoots open, sending Forsayth careening backwards. He stops himself from falling. And for a moment he stares at the open portal with a giant grin. He did it. But there's no time to gloat. He races back to the door and gently shuts it, then he hurries out of the building, hops into his car and starts driving.
As he heads back to the motel, Forsyth breathed a huge sigh of relief. His job is done now. The rest of the team is up. Ron Durst, Susan Smith and Bob Williamson will follow after him and perform the heist. 30 minutes later, Bob Williamson strides through the FBI office. He's dressed all in black, carrying a suitcase. He scans the room and spots Susan Smith and Ron Durst. Also carrying suitcases fanning out across the office.
Durst begins grabbing the papers from a secretary's desk. Smith moves into an agent's office and breaks open a locked cabinet. A feeling of chaotic excitement floods into Williamson. For years, he's dreamed of doing something this big, this consequential. Now the moment has finally arrived and it's as momentous and as risky as he possibly could have imagined. Williamson heads into an agent's office and starts grabbing every piece of paper he can find as he starts another document into the suitcase.
He pauses and glances at the words on the page. These documents put in writing what he always knew about the FBI. Every document in this office could be worth its weight in gold. Williamson continues to take apart the room. He opens drawers, turns over trash bins, filling his suitcase with everything he can find. Then when it's full, he starts folding documents and shoving them in his pockets. Soon, Williamson is confident that the office has been picked clean.
And so he, Smith and Durst make their way out and head to the two getaway cars parked across the street. John and Bonnie Raines have been selected to be the two drivers. The rest of the team is already waiting at the rendezvous point. Williamson steps into the train station wagon, says they're good to go. Bonnie Raines hits the accelerator and minutes later, they're on the highway heading towards rural Pennsylvania. Williamson leans back in his seat, laughing with exhausted relief.
He can't believe it. They pulled it off and it didn't get caught. Raines turns on the radio and together they listen to the news for any sign that their break-In has been discovered. So far, so good. Then the broadcaster breaks in with a news alert Williams and sets up his breath. Suddenly, short broadcaster announces that Muhammad Ali has lost tonight's fight by unanimous decision. And sinks back into a seat for a moment. He's disappointed. He loves Ali and everything Ali stands for, like Williams and Muhammad Ali, wants racial justice and for the war in Vietnam to end.
But then Williams and looks back at the stolen documents sitting in the truck. He hopes these documents will continue the fight that Ali's been waging and that they'll deliver a decisive knockout to the FBI. It's well past midnight, William Davidson sits inside a house on Fellowship Farm, a Quaker meeting center 40 miles northwest of media. The house belongs to a trusted friend in the peace movement. That friend said David and can use it. No questions asked. Now, as David and sits in the cozy living room, he feels safer than he's felt in a very long time.
He looks at his seven teammates sitting in chairs and on the floor. Each one looks relieved to be done with the burglary. David and is relieved too, of course, and he feels a sleepy exhaustion begin to steal over him. But he needs to combat that urge. They still have a lot of work to do. David and stands and looks out at the team. Listen, everyone, tonight you came together and you did something incredible. Now I'm going to stay here and read every last one of these documents, but I can't ask you all to do the same.
Bob Williamson shakes his head. I think I speak for everyone. We're not going anywhere. We want to read these files as much as you do, but you don't have to. You should go home and get some sleep. Sleep. That ship has sailed, my friend. I am not tired, David and smiles and nods his head. Then he opens the nearest suitcase. Inside is a jumble of files and manila envelopes. Several members of the group moved toward the suitcase while the rest opened the other bags and began grabbing documents a moment later.
Bonnie Raines reads aloud from the paper. She's holding a listen to this. When conducting specialized investigations of activists, do what you can to enhance their paranoia. They should believe there's an FBI agent behind every mailbox, David, and looks up incredulous. Kidding. They actually wrote that down, David, and returns to his own stack of documents and then finds something that stops him cold. Look, this can't be this is too much. But what is it?
This is just don't keep us in suspense. What is it? It says this is a counterintelligence measure to help neutralize extremist Black Panthers. We can and will create a conflict between the Panthers and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This is too much, man. What is this? I keep seeing counterintelligence in this other word, cold COINTELPRO. What's that? Oh, my God. Listen, long range goals are to prevent the coalition of black nationalist groups prevent the rise of a black messiah, black messiah like Malcolm X or Martin Luther blacklists, and prevent black groups and leaders from gaining respectability like Messiah.
Jesus by Rheins pounds a table, sending a stack of papers crashing to the floor. They've been trying to destroy the whole civil rights movement. Yeah, yeah. But trust me, Bonnie, when we go public with these documents, Congress will have no choice but to do something about it. They'll see just what J.A. Hoover and his henchmen have done. And maybe, maybe things will finally change. Maybe this war will finally come to an end. The members of the group, not their faces, lighting up with hope.
Then they exchange glances and in an unspoken agreement, they each grab another set of papers and continue reading David and grabs a stream of documents and reclines in a chair. He's exhausted. Everyone's exhausted. He wants more than anything to take a nap.
But right now he doesn't intend to do anything but keep reading until the sun starts to rise. On March 9th, 1971, William David and Bonnie Raines and their group of activists announced that they had broken into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They concealed their true identities and simply called themselves the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI. The group collaborated with investigative reporters and publicized the incredible documents they uncovered. Together, the activists and reporters reveal the inner workings of COINTELPRO, the FBI's abusive program that targeted dissidents and black civil rights leaders.
Immediately after J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI launched a massive investigation, some 200 special agents were deployed to find those who broken into the FBI office. The agents failed in just over a year after the break in. Hoover died of a heart attack at age 77. Four years later, the investigation into the break-In was closed. The release of the COINTELPRO documents helped trigger massive changes in public policy, it led to a congressional investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as a reckoning about their harassment of Martin Luther King Jr.
and other civil rights leaders. The break in also caused a major shift in public opinion. The public backlash against Hoover and the FBI was immediate. And in 1976, Congress limited the terms of future FBI directors to 10 years. The activists involved in the break-In continue to devote their lives to social causes. And in 2014, once they could no longer be prosecuted, they came out from the shadows and admitted their true identities. COINTELPRO was officially ended in 1971, but many allege that its practices are still employed by the FBI and that the bureau still spies on civil rights leaders fighting for racial justice.
Next on American Scandal, I speak with Dr. Clayborne Carson. He's both studied and witnessed the way the U.S. government has erected barriers to civil rights activism from the March on Washington to the Black Lives Matter movement today. Carson is the founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University and the author of the book, Malcolm X The FBI File from Wandering. This is episode four of The Fence versus the Activists for Americans Can. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating and leave a review.
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Be sure to listen to my other podcast to American history tellers and American elections with a game. A quick note about our reenactment. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all our dramatisations are based on historical research. If you'd like to learn more about the burglary of the Media Pennsylvania FBI office, we recommend the book The Burglary by Betty Metzker American Scandal is hosted, edited and executive produced by me Lindsey Graham for Airship Audio Editing by Molly Bach, Sound Design by Derek Barens.
This episode is written by Hannibal Díaz, edited by Christina Malzberg. Our senior producer is Gabe Rezvan. Executive producers are Stephanie Gen's, Jenny Lour Beckman and Hernan Lopez for wondering why. Have you ever had a dream, something you wanted so bad you just couldn't let it go? For a group of kids in Harlem in the 80s, their dream would change pop music forever.
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