I went to college at the height of J. Edgar Hoover's search and destroy crusade against perceived subversive activity inside our country. I was a bit player, call it an extra, in the Peace movement. I participated in the demonstrations, took over administration buildings, and generally had a grand time fighting the Man. The extreme width and breadth of Hoover's paranoid campaign was brought to light for me in 1973.
The small university I attended had decided I was a trouble making neer do well. Not a bad kid. I just did not belong in their college. The fact that they were right is beside the point of my point.
After a particularly rowdy evening of massive over indulgence, a section of one dorm sustained some damage. Many people contributed to the festival of demolition, but who did the campus cops wake up at dawn? Yeah, me. So what if I was found passed out among the carnage. That was but circumstantial evidence I figured as they hauled me away in handcuffs.
I was unceremonisously parked in a small windowless room in the basement of the new administration building down at campus security. A uniformed campus cop shoved some coffee my way and told me to sober up. And just to show they were not barbaric goons of the hob nail kind, I also found next to the coffee absolutely the worse pastries I have ever eaten.
A couple of hours later after my heels had cooled and the screamer of a hangover thrashing around my cranial void had become tolerable enough to keep both eyes open, the head campus cop came in. We had previously come into contact with each other over a fir tree on campus that had been crudely re-located to a girl’s dorm room. No introductions were needed. The funny thing was he was very friendly and obliging. He understood that I was nothing but another dumass out of control out of control college student. But his hands were tied this time. I would have to face charges and go to court.
Since I was aware enough to actually remember some of the previous night, I obliged him and admitted my part in it. I clammed up when asked to identify my accomplices. I figured they were just being stupid. The whole damn campus had been at that party. After we had resolved the criminal aspect of my situation, he was going to let me go back to my dorm, pack up and leave campus. But first he wanted to talk to me about something.
What he relayed to me sobered me up quick. He dropped a file folder on the table. It had my name on it. It was not thin. Inside were pictures of me at several of the campus demonstrations. One in particular caught my eye. A nice photo of me hanging out of Linthicum Hall in May of 1972 giving the ole peace salute. There were circles and arrows. The whole bit. Apparently our little university was considered a hot bed of radicalism just like the big dogs at Berkeley, Michigan, etc.
The FBI had forwarded these photos to him a couple of months previous with their wishes that about 20 others and myself be monitored and if possible be given the boot. He went on to explain that he was not supposed to show anyone these photos or divulge the FBI’s wishes. But it bothered him. He had a serious problem with them coming on his campus and spying on his kids.
I looked through the photos and noticed a couple from some demonstrations in DC. I was impressed. And not in a positive way. Here in front of me was proof that the paranoia of the Peace movement was not paranoia but fact. All the ugly exaggerated claims were right there and I was tied into it.
Being on some agency's radar was unsettling to say the least. He went on to explain that the photos had nothing to do with kicking me out of the dorms. I could still attend classes but I could not live on campus. He did not say it, but I think revealing the FBI file was his way of fighting the Man. The next year, the campus had a new head of security. I never saw him again. But that morning I learned that cops can be both good and bad. I learned that no matter how free we think we are, someone will always be interested in curtailing that freedom. The Constitution was just a set of rules meant to be broken. **
** - Edited harshly in Sept of 2017