Anti-War Activists Celebrate Victory In FBI Harassment Case
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Four individuals and an anti-war organization used Martin Luther King Jr. Day to celebrate their victory and divide up a $46,000 court award in an 11- year battle with the federal government over FBI harassment.
The activists from the 1960s, all from the Washington area, gathered at All Souls Unitarian Church on Monday evening for a light dinner and to divide up the settlement in a judgment against the FBI for wrongs committed by its COINTELPRO operation.
″We are gathering to celebrate the victory,″ said Tina Hobson, 57, a white peace activist who married a black militant in 1969 and found the FBI on her trail.
The Hobsons and several others filed a suit in 1976 that led to a 1981 jury verdict against the government and its COINTELPRO counterintelligenc e operation set up to disrupt anti-war and civil rights groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The plaintiffs’ complaints ranged from break-ins and printing of a fake student newspaper to personal harassment. Some of the plaintiffs were dropped as the years passed, and the original $700,000 jury award was reduced to the $46,000 settlement.
The Justice Department sent the plaintiffs’ attorney a check earlier this month, but the group decided the day honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was the most fitting time to distribute the money, said Richard Pollock, one of the group.
Pollock was a 21-year-old editor on the campus newspaper at American University when the FBI began to follow him. Pollock, now 35 and head of his own public relations firm in Washington, said his FBI file was 248 pages thick.
″I wasn’t even one of the leaders (of the anti-war movement) on campus. I shudder to think about the others,″ he said.
He said that while he worked on the campus paper, the FBI field office in Washington printed and distributed another paper called ″The Rational Observer″ that suggested those critical of the war were unpatriotic.
″It did hurt the integrity of those who were trying to mount anti-war efforts,″ Pollock said.
Mrs. Hobson said the suffering she and her husband, the late Julius Hobson, experienced was part of the FBI’s effort to drive a wedge between white peace activists and black civil rights leaders.
She said the government saw her marriage as ″ representing what they were trying to stop.″
″We do believe that it injured our children,″ she said.
COINTELPRO’s activities were discovered in the early 1970s by a special Senate committee headed by the late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, which also investigated domestic spying by the CIA.
The revelations led to reforms in the use of informants, undercover operations and physical and electronic surveillance, and a sharp cutback in the number of domestic internal security investigations by the FBI.
The 1981 trial was the first jury verdict finding FBI agents personally liable for damages to civil rights and Vietnam War peace activists as the result of FBI surveillance and disruption under COINTELPRO, said Dan Schember, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The Washington Peace Center, an anti-war organization established in 1963, also was among those sharing the money. David Hostetter, coordinator of the center, said the group was broken into several times and photographs were made, though nothing was ever stolen.
Another peace activist sharing the award was Arthur Waskow, formerly associated with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. Waskow organized campus teach-ins against the war and was a member of the New Mobilization Committee to End the War, said Ann Pilsbury, another attorney for the plaintiffs.
David Eaton, pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church was the fifth plaintiff getting money. A founder of the Black United Front, he was a bridge between the local black civil rights movement and the peace activists, Ms. Pilsbury said.