[published in WIN magazine, journal of the War Resisters League, issue dated March 15, 1973; this text has been scanned in 2012 — apologies for all uncorrected typos that may have crept in]
By Jim Forest
By the time this is published, it will be more than two years since various friends of mine, and friends-to-be, were arrested and charged with a conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger and to blow up heating tunnels in Washington (or, as Eqbal Ahmad sometimes put it, charged with planning to blow up Kissinger and kidnap heating tunnels.)
Since those initial arrests two others were added, making eight in all: Phil Berrigan, Liz McAlister, Eqbal Ahmad, Ted Glick, Mary Cain and Tony Scoblick, and Joe Wenderoth and Neil McLaughlin. (Ted never came to trial, the consequence of his determination to be his own lawyer.)
I was asked by the eight toward the end of the trial to work with them on a book. Originally it was to be a book of essays which I would help them prepare, edit and for which I would write an introduction. Then a friend with one of the publishing houses became excited about a different approach, a novel-like narrative, and that was accepted. The Alfred A. Knopf publishing firm ended up offering a contract. And for months I was involved in researching the project, finding that my work with the defense committee during previous months had given me very little that was useful to the book. I carried on an extensive correspondence with Phil Berrigan and had long meetings with the others, sometimes staying under the same roof with them or coming along on trips. A mountain of information finally accumulated; I knew more than I had ever hoped to know about anything. And the writing was underway.
Then a book appeared which prompted me (despite the fact that the advance from Knopf had long since come and been spent) to put the project aside. The book was by Bill O’Rourke. His publisher, Crowell. had titled it The Harrisburg Seven and The New Catholic Left; I would have preferred Bill’s proposed title — Sentenced to Hope. He had written, in my view (though not in the view of a number of my friends), an extraordinary perceptive account not only of the trial he had experienced, but of the resistance community, and most especially its religious contingent. (I also respected Jack Nelson and Roland Ostrow’s book, The FBI and the Berrigans, published by Coward McCann, but it didn’t surprise or move me as O’Rourke’s did. Their book is useful mainly for its careful factual accuracy regarding the trial.)
So it seemed to me that to write the book as planned would be, thanks to O’Rourke, pretty much like repainting a freshly painted house. Instead, with the encouragement of the editors of WIN magazine, I am only trying to paint a few of the rooms inside, places neither book was willing or able to go.
The bulk of what follows has nothing to do with what happened in Harrisburg; it concerns the events preceding the trial. There is a postscript about the trial, but it doesn’t do the event itself any kind of justice.
Thanks are due to the defendants especially, who must have found me something to endure at times; to Dan Berrigan, who would have preferred the book to this but who will admit neither could have occurred without him; to my son, Ben, who put up with my absences and noisy typing’; to Carol Bernstein, whose encouragement has been especially practical; to Stuart Schaar, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Alice Mayhew, Gerry McCauley, Ed Victor, Mary Daly; to the people at WIN and their extraordinary homemade beer.
— Jim Forest
* * *
The toothbrush-armed Jesuit
Never had ring-around-the-rosy been played around so ashen a flower: J. Edgar Hoover, whose face seemed made of old wanted posters.
Dan Berrigan, violating the rules of both Gandhi and the Justice Department, had refused to escort himself to the jailers and had, in both pacifist and Pentagon heresy, jumped into an apostle costume and danced away from legitimate authority. He was like that French child who was led away from approved activities by a red balloon, until finally a convention of balloons took him into the sky from a Paris hilltop in an unauthorized liturgy of the resurrection.
Thus the Harrisburg case began. A playful man and good cook, a priest and poet who could not adjust to all the world’s rehearsed responses so long as children were for burning: he disappeared without so much as a doctor’s note to the teacher. Within sight of a battalion of FBI agents, in an auditorium filled to overflowing, Dan stepped into a ten-foot Bread-and-Puppet-Theater costume of one of the saints and evaporated in a shift of lights and curtains, ending up later that night in the woods like Robin Hood after a day flaunting the sheriff of Nottingham in Sherwood Forest.
All the analogies of his exodus are of play. Appropriately. The premeditation was slight. Toothbrush in pocket, he had expected to sleep that night behind bars, beginning three years of court ordered penance for the help he had given in burning several reams of paper on which were written the names and addresses of some Maryland boys who hadn’t volunteered for the military.
Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit and fugitive. Dangerous paper burner at large. “The fugitive has been known to carry matches and thus should be approached with extreme caution.” A Catholic priest on the FBI’s most-wanted list! Notorious advocate of bread and wine. Disturber of war. Wanted!
In a state of grace
There had been a day when American Catholic loyalty to the U.S. government was proverbial. On the one hand, Catholics had arrived in America from countries where malnutrition and even starvation were occurring; they arrived in a nation with a voracious appetite for able-bodied workers and, despite anti-Catholic prejudices, they were able to survive, set up a huge network of schools, churches and hospitals and finally become the stuff of movies that moved Protestant as well as Catholic hearts: “The Keys of the Kingdom,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and “Boys’ Town,” after which the election of a Catholic president had simply to await its day.
On the other hand, Catholics had witnessed the ruthless repression of church activities in a number of societies that advertised themselves as revolutionary. For many Catholics, the word “revolution” groaned under the weight of horrendous images of nuns being raped, consecrated bread being thrown into latrines or given to hogs, priests summarily executed, bishops in prison, seminaries closed, churches seized. With only rare exceptions, radicals treated religious institutions as a major cause of the contagion of oppression; churches were called the chaplains of oppression.
The radical criticism of the churches was often justified, but it made little contact with realities American Catholics knew about, for it was the institutional church, more than any other social structure, which struggled for the successful integration of Catholic immigrants into their adopted homeland. In a rather mysterious choice of language for so patriotic an announcement, “Pro Deo et Patria” — for God and Country — was carved into the facade of thousands of Catholic schools. Obedience was high on the list of religious and civic virtues: Parents, nuns, priests, policemen, governors, pope, president, all were seen as being vested in the same mantle of authority. Obedience was not just a matter of obeying the law or even of surviving — it was a prerequisite to being (to use a Catholic phrase now under a mantle of dust) “in a state of grace.”
The FBI is still well known for the number of ex-seminarians in its ranks. How, then, did it happen that a priest should become the object of an FBI manhunt?
The answer could be put several ways. For one, the cultural assimilation of Catholics was symbolically completed with the election of John F. Kennedy. Catholics were no longer considered to be agents of the Vatican and so were free to play a more independent role in American society. Simultaneously the Vatican, for its part, had a saint in residence, John XXIII, who astonished everyone by inviting his church to experience several years of what proved to be a revolutionary conversation — the Second Vatican Council. Among the traditions that were changed was the advice that, when an individual’s conscience was in a state of doubt, the individual should defer to the state’s direction. One of the finer definitions of conscience to have ever been written became part of the Council’s final declaration. Conscientious objection was given detailed support, to the horror of those bishops, cardinals and theologians who always maintained that no Catholic could be a conscientious objector. Resistance and disobedience to unjust orders (orders “violating the natural law”) were praised. The Council said, “Human dignity demands that each one act freely, not under mere internal impulse nor blind external pressure.”
Then there was the Catholic Worker movement. Born in New York on May Day, 1933, it became an eccentric but influential part of the American Catholic community. Its life and politics were founded in that part of St. Matthew’s Gospel that lists what Catholic tradition knows as “the works of mercy”: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, offering hospitality to the homeless, clothing the naked, helping the sick, visiting the prisoner. Catholic Worker communities not only responded concretely to all those works, but found implicit in them another order: to change those ideas and institutions of society that needlessly caused such suffering, neglect and death — the varieties of violence, the omnipresent, ageless war that has been going on since Cain and Abel. “THE WORKS OF MERCY VERSUS THE WORKS OF WAR,” a Catholic Worker headline occasionally declared.
In most respects the Catholic Worker was orthodoxy incarnate. Its publisher and founder, Dorothy Day, firmly declared she would close down the pacifist monthly paper should anyone in authority within the Church direct her to do so. The most likely to do that was ultra-patriotic Francis Cardinal Spellman, but he never did. He would occasionally meet with Dorothy Day and show her a few of the highly critical letters he received about the CW, but he did no more than that.
Because of Dorothy’s extreme loyalty to the institutional church and her obvious (if sometimes rough shod) holiness, she impressed even her most determined ecclesiastical opponents, so much so that her tendency to be disobedient in the secular world was tolerated. Not only Dorothy Day but quite a number of Catholic Worker people went off to prison for activities on behalf of unions, decent housing, civil rights and world peace. In the late 50s and the early 60s, Dorothy Day was one of several Catholic Workers who joined with other pacifists (especially from the War Resisters League) in refusing to join in New York’s annual atomic war game, in which all the citizenry was supposed to go into subways and basements in make-pretend readiness for a atomic attack from Russia. The Catholic Worker people were among those who thought it obvious that subway stations would provide scanty protection from a nuclear explosion and proposed that disarmament was a less dangerous course.
Among the many people who grew up with the Catholic Worker’s penny tabloid in their household were Dan and Phil Berrigan.
Guilty of reading The Book
But the most decisive factor was the faith itself: gospels, sacraments, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, feasts and fasts, the life of prayer, the stories of the saints. Dan Berrigan has often pleaded guilty of attempting to read the New Testament. Probably his most treasured possession at this moment is the frayed copy of the Bible that was used by Phil in several prisons and which was with them before Phil’s capture — page upon page is filled with notations in Phil’s hand, lines and paragraphs underlined, exclamation marks’ the margins. “It’s a book that has really verified itself,” Dan points out. “Philip read from the New Testament,” he adds, “and they couldn’t stand it. That was his crime!”
Puzzling ideas for a great many persons. How could a book that has housebroken so many have something decisive to do with the holy trouble-making that resisters have brought to this war-making nation? The cross as radical symbol? The resurrection a political event? Well, the answer won’t be found here; that isn’t what this is about. But is a fact that many war resisters come directly out of a radical Christian tradition. Among books that touch on this tradition are Dorothy autobiography, The Long Loneliness, and her history of the Catholic Worker, Loaves and Fishes; Jim Douglass’ two books, The Nonviolent Cross and Resistance and Contemplation; the many books by Dan and Phil Berrigan; church historian Roland Bainton’s book, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace; a collection of essays called Thomas Merton on Peace. (Merton, a priest, monk and poet, became a kind of godfather to religiously-motivated peacemakers.)
The land of burning children
Finally there was the factor of Indochina, “the land of burning children,” as Dan Berrigan named it. It was inevitable that for some of those for whom the Gospels had been opened by the Catholic Worker, and who thus instantly see war as the polar opposite of the works of mercy, opposition to that war would grow increasingly into the first priority of life. Catholic Worker and War Resisters League people, in fact, were among the first to organize demonstrations against the war in Vietnam — such as a small New York picket line of one or two dozen at the South Vietnamese Mission to the United Nations in mid-June of 1963, just after Thich Quang Duc burned himself on Phan-dinh-Phung Street in Saigon.
The following year the Catholic Peace Fellowship was begun, with Phil Berrigan one of its chairpeople and Dan Berrigan saying unauthorized masses for its staff of two (Tom Cornell and myself), making project proposals and helping with money obtained from talks and royalties.
The next year, Dan’s former student, Dave Miller burned his draft card, Roger LaPorte burned himself, and the air war over North Vietnam began.
In 1966 draft resistance became a cutting edge of the peace movement.
In 1967 there was the blood-pouring on draft records in Baltimore.
In 1968 there was the burning of draft records, first in Catonsville, then Milwaukee. And then the proliferation: Chicago, Pasadena, Silver Springs, New York, Washington, the Bronx, Akron, Indianapolis, Midland, Providence, South Bend, Boston, Wilmington… Probably only the Selective Service System headquarters in Washington has the complete list, but there were several dozen major raids — ”actions,” they were usually called — and they came with such exotic names as Women Against Daddy Warbucks, The Four of Us, The Hoover Vacuum Conspiracy, the East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives, and the Flower City Conspiracy.
A confrontation with suffering
It is necessary to briefly recall some of the reasons draft resisters offered in defense of the raids on draft boards (which came to include related raids on such war-centered corporations as Dow and General Electric). The reasons varied and were, at times, even antithetical.
For Phil Berrigan, it was a necessary step along the path toward a nonviolent revolution. “I believe in revolution,” he wrote me at the end of 1967, “and I hope to continue making a nonviolent contribution to it. In my view, we are not going to save this country and mankind without it. And I am centrally concerned with the Gospel view that the massive suffering of this war and American imperialism around the world will only be confronted by people who are willing to go with suffering as the first move to justice.”
He further explained himself in remarks at sentencing in May, 1968.: “Our country now stands at the pinnacle of world power — we are history’s most powerful empire, and perhaps its most dangerous one. We are richer than all the rest of mankind, and our military power surpasses that of all the rest of mankind. The equation between the two, wealth and military power, is not an idle one. As President Johnson has said on a number of occasions, ‘the rest of the world wants what we have, and we’re not going to let them take it.’”
At the time of Phil’s letter, there was a companion to it sent independently by Dan. While on the verge of readiness to undertake significant resistance activity (Catonsville was more than five months in the future), a somewhat different approach is characteristically evident: “The question is whether we are helping people get radical, whether we are content to stay small and do things and encourage actions which will be evangelical and identifiable as such. Or are we trying to present an opposite ‘power’ in the image of the opposite number? Or at least something ‘presentable’ to large numbers of Catholics, and therefore morally neutral — or liberal — but not radical, not at the roots.”
He went on to admit that all this was profoundly painful to himself: “One has experiences, such as the jailings and the threats of jail to those we love; and becomes convinced that equivalent risk is going to be the only source of community worth talking about. And ‘expressive’ acts [such as the blood-pouring that had happened in Baltimore the previous month], once they are thoughtful and proceed from a sacrificing heart, must be multiplied. And that the masses may catch up as they wish, or not. But many will…”
For some the rationale for draft board actions had little or nothing to do with nonviolent revolution, or with community building, or finding contemporary ways to read the Gospels aloud with expressive acts. Their thinking was that the draft is a crucial link in the processes that are killing Indochinese people and that it is possible to hamper its functioning.
It was pointed out that the draft had almost no popular support or enthusiasm, that boards were everywhere and often vulnerable via simple means, and that draft board actions could so multiply that the draft would be severely hampered. Their search was to find immediate ways of making it harder to conscript young men and make killers of them.
Were those who looked for such immediate results naive? It is too early to say. It is clear that Selective Service made it a policy to downplay the impact of the raids; it’s also clear that the impact was more serious than has yet been publicly admitted by Selective Service officials. Hundreds of thousands of draft files were destroyed, and hundreds of draft boards disrupted.
There were also indirect consequences. Many were encouraged by the actions (or by related trials, when they occurred) to undertake resistance of their own — resistance to being drafted, to paying war taxes, to working for war companies. Some sought as well for the more subtle ways war is being newly created — in schools, business, consumer orientations — and set to work at building institutions that wouldn’t have such destructive consequence and wouldn’t produce persons of such withered, frightened conscience.
Community is always a conspiracy
How did actions of the Catonsville variety come about? Were they the result of a single conspiracy? Did everything ultimately depend on the Berrigans or one or two others? The question is critical to the Harrisburg indictment, and there is a response to it written by Sr. Elizabeth McAlister, one of the Harrisburg defendants. This is a hand-written memo prepared for the Harrisburg trial lawyers and first circulated among the other defendants (except for Ted Glick, who by that time had been severed from the trial). The memo is entitled “Community (& conspiracy) — The Action Communities”:
“Conspiracy, as we understand it, is inconceivable without community and perhaps a community is always a conspiracy of one sort or another because it is always a coming together of people for a specific purpose. The action communities formed themselves to take some responsible action, i.e., an action that would be some adequate response to the life and death issues of our time. In each case these communities had the intention of acting on behalf of and to protect life.
“Individual autonomy must be considered an equal notion with community and analogously each community must be considered (and in fact was/is) as autonomous from every other community. It is the individual who brings to the community his or her personal call or inspiration and in the context of the community that call is weighed, discerned. The question is pondered: ‘What spirit moves you?’ This arises from a concept articulated by St. Ignatius [the founder of the Jesuits] called discernment of spirits, and it is part and parcel of the ‘Spiritual Exercises’. [In what appears to be Phil Berrigan’s handwriting, there is a note written in the memo’s margin, “Usually used as retreat meditation by religious communities.”]
“The first exercise of an action community is to examine together what each feels called to. None of us would trust ourselves to act alone on a so-called inspiration that has serious consequences. But we would trust the dynamic within a serious community which is seeking direction and truth and is willing to risk itself. This would be particularly true in a community in which people knew one another well enough to discern what spirit is moving another person — anger, frustration, disappointment, elation — and is coloring their expressions. The community must bring an individual to a perspective of (for want of a better word) greater sanity.
“The community searches out together ways of implementing and acting ‘on the call’ the individuals feel. Community formation was done in the same manner as [traditional religious] retreats. Concerned people went apart together to share their concern, to examine their responsibility for events around them and for the Gospels. They examine together their resources — personal & collective — to meet these responsibilities. Great care was taken in community formation & growth and that includes all that they disc, jail as a possibility, personal obligation to family, other communities, health, etc. Only about 10% (and that may be a high estimate) who took part in the treats went beyond this point.” [Marginal notes by other defendants at this point add that it is import to “describe and point up the whole lack of structure in the retreats, that they didn’t always have the same format, and that different people were resources at different retreats — and that even where there was so continuity from one action community to another, that as a new one formed, it “became more & more independent.”]
Liz goes on:
“[Potential witnesses for the defense] could and should speak to the absence, within these communities, of coercion or psychological violence. Individuals made personal decisions either to act on their insight or not to. Frequently the community would instruct an individual that he or she should not act.
“The object of community is to become together which means to do something. Where communities grew, they became a unit — independent, autonomous, each with its own unique stamp or spirit through the opening up of one another in truth and in love. The only control people had over one another was a sense of nonviolence. Nonviolence was discussed in depth, people tried to grow in that. [Another marginal occurs: “We were involved in a process of changing values, not a continuous ripping off of draft board. If that were the case, people wouldn’t surface but would become an underground group.”]
“A resolution to act was made, as in any retreat, at the end of the examination. The community would then research, plan its action, perform it — consulting at all stages together, growing together, consulting events, consulting conscience.”
Liz then describes the “ministry” that encouraged the retreats that led to the various actions. There were those, she points out, who went from city to city meeting with whomever they could find who seemed drawn to such action communities as had occurred elsewhere. Such travel was the sort of ministry exercised in the early church by such persons as Paul. She quoted from his letter to the Romans, “I am longing to see you… I shall be strengthened by you, each of us helped by the other’s faith.” She noted Paul saying in the same letter, “I have fully preached the Gospel from Jerusalem and the surrounding country as far as Illyricum…”
In a final section of the memo dealing with “development of ‘local’ communities,” Liz points out that the various action groups often persisted together in community, not simply for further actions together against the Selective Service System “but to develop together life styles consistent with their resistance, to seek to live out the alternative values that their action contained, and to develop long-range plans for effective change in the value system in our society.”
She adds (and those who have experienced community will have their legion of supporting memories), “A great deal of energy was spent trying to understand our communities — what was happening to them, why they were not talking to one another or helping one another. There was a pained sense that we were failing our own Gospel mandate in and through some of them.”
“Are you in there, Father?”
These pages began with Dan Berrigan slipping almost playfully into the underground and have proceeded with some account of what it was that brought not only Dan but an entire community to the point where such choices were possible: changes in the church, the Catholic Worker, a willingness to enter into the crisis of the Gospels, the hailstones of the war upon the fragile walls of conscience, the discovery that a great deal more than polite homilies, petitions and picket lines would be needed if Americans were ever to gain an unencumbered vision of the lethal consequences of what has long been — for others — our way of death.
It was on April 9,1970, that Dan and Phil had been ordered to surrender themselves along with the six surviving Catonsville members. (Brother David Darst had been killed in a truck accident while en route to a visit with the Milwaukee 14 in their various Wisconsin prisons.) Also ordered to surrender was Dave Eberhardt of the Baltimore Four. Two had already decided to enter the underground with seriousness — George Mische and Mary Moylan. George was arrested later in Chicago, and Mary Moylan is still “at large.” Dan, Phil and Dave Eberhardt had decided on something more symbolic: they wouldn’t turn themselves in on schedule but they would make advertised public appearances soon afterward.
On April 17, Dan appeared and disappeared at Cornell University. He had thought it would be a fine spot for an arrest, a way “to go with a bang.” But a half hour before the appearance in Cornell’s Barton Hall someone asked Dan, “Wouldn’t you like to disappear again?” A pause of a Peter Pan sort, a glimpse in Dan’s eye of the red balloon making its anarchist pilgrimage away from the local precincts, and the response, “Sure — let’s go.”
The next day Dan, Phil and George Mische had a felonious reunion, and the FBI made an angry appearance at St. Gregory’s Church in Manhattan, where Phil was scheduled to speak the 21st.
On the 20th Liz McAlister, along with an editor of WIN Magazine, met with Dan, Phil and George; the same day Dan decided not to join with Phil as a speaker at St. Gregory’s the 21st. But Dan would come to New York and keep to the shadows. Phil and Dave arrived at St. Gregory’s for the night, with Dan spending the night at a guest room at Liz’s convent on 85th Street, nearby.
The 21st: The FBI arrived with search warrants at 85th Street. Ten minutes before, as it happened, Dan and Liz had left for a better-ventilated location, not at all aware they were involved in a photo-finish escape from Hoover’s disciples. Phil and Dave were less fortunate. Agents poured through the rooms and hallways of St. Gregory’s rectory, looking under tables and beds, hunting through the closets. “Are you in there, Father?” Finally they made their way to the right closet. The notorious spiller of blood on paper, the nefarious recycler of government hunting licenses, Father Philip Berrigan, was in the steel net, in the good company of Dave Eberhardt, a shy bespeckled poet and fellow paper-stainer.
That night, Dr. Eqbal Ahmad — later to become a Harrisburg defendant — read aloud Phil’s prepared remarks at the rally in the church; an estimated 200 police and FBI agents were in and around the church hoping to catch sight of the hooky-playing Jesuit. As it happened, he was in New Jersey.
A determination to communicate
What would become the Harrisburg case was now fully underway. Phil was on his way to Lewisburg, one of the more notorious maximum-security federal prisons. The FBI, in a state that eventually bordered on hysteria, was sifting the universe in search of Dan. Several resistance action groups were in various states of development and would soon be performing their rites of exorcism upon a number of draft boards.
What becomes crucial at this point are three elements dominating Phil’s reaction to his renewed caging: his enormous desire to see the resistance find new ways to continue its religious-political ministry in a way that was at least vaguely adequate to the technological escalations hitting the Indochinese; his relationship with Liz; and the existence of Boyd Douglas.
Phil’s reaction to prison
He had been under lock-and-key before, but prison is something one doesn’t ever adjust to. No one is less likely than Phil to pay the price of adjustment to cages. He is very much the man he appears to be — a certain tangible dignity in the posture, the head held high, back very straight, shoulders square, a kind of Hollywood Central Casting idea of what generals, football coaches and assorted heroes are supposed to look like. He has glint in the eyes of a kind that might have once been noticed in people who made dangerous crossings from familiar to unknown places. A man of rock-hard convictions alive at a time when most of his contemporaries were sinking in the quicksands of their twenty-year plans. And now in prison again, and indeed in maximum security.
When Liz McAlister, having been identified by Phil as his cousin, was finally able to visit him Friday, May 22nd, she was “frankly disturbed.” “He was out of touch,” she recalled. “He did not know what had happened to the statement he wrote for [the St. Gregory’s rally April 21st, which Eqbal had read in his stead]. He did not know that the rally had come off — still less that it had come off well.”
Though an effort had already been made to relay to Phil, via fellow prisoner Boyd Douglas, news of a successful draft board action in Philadelphia, Boyd had apparently botched it and Liz discovered Phil thought the Philadelphia people had been caught: depressing news, as it seemed. “I met real concern about those [Philadelphia] people from Phil.”
“In short,” Liz said, summing up her impression of the May 22nd visit, “lack of information, lack of communication had brought him to a state of anxiety. He asked about everyone and I could give him information only about those I had been in touch with. I came away from Lewisburg with a determination not to let that lapse occur again.”
Escalation of resistance
It is impossible to make any sense of Philip Berrigan’s last six years apart from the priority the war in Indochina was for him. Insofar as writers have ignored the importance of the war in reporting the resistance, “the Catholic left”, or the Harrisburg trial, Phil has judged their observations “very nearly worthless,” as he put it with usual bluntness in a recent letter.
At the time of his capture at St. Gregory’s, Phil was anything but satisfied with what resistance activity had accomplished. During the proceeding months there had been countless conversations with a wide range of friends about new points of vulnerability in the war’s machinery.
A carefully planned raid on the Selective Service’s national headquarters had almost happened, but hours before resisters were to have entered the building, they watched government vans pull up and begin to load tons of draft files.
Next, a plan to knock out a complex of fifteen Washington draft boards had come under careful consideration, with Phil active in the discussion.
Another project that intrigued several members of the Baltimore-Washington resistance community was a recently installed bank of Navy computers in the Forrestal Building. In late February or early March, Phil and Fr. Joe Wenderoth, Joe with an officious clipboard in hand, went into the Forrestal Building, walking right past a guard with Joe saying, “Yes, the measurements seem to be right, be we’ll just have to check ‘em out.” The guard nodded a hello. Finally, with the help of an engineer, they found their way to a tunnel entrance, asked one of the workers on a loading ramp to make sure no one locked it, and entered into a tunnel thick with dust and lined with steam pipes that carried heat to thousands of government offices. (On the way out, walking by another guard, they were stopped by a sudden heart-stopping, “Hey!” They walked over to the guard, already feeling a handcuff chill at their wrists, and found he wanted to bum a cigarette.)
In subsequent weeks, conversation occasionally returned to the tunnels (which are discoverable on Esso city maps, as Ramsey Clark later showed the Harrisburg jurors). The idea of closing down government offices for lack of heat fascinated Phil, but there was no way to do it that was infallibly safe. And while Phil raised the possibility of explosive charges, which seemed the safest way to get at the pipes without risking injuries or steam burns to anyone, he finally agreed with others that explosives, no matter how carefully used, were a kind of symbol that nonviolent resisters had to avoid like the plague. But the idea of finding some way to get at those pipes was still on Phil’s mind when he entered Lewisburg prison.
Phil’s relationship with Liz
This is the most fragile dimension of all in the Harrisburg trial. It wouldn’t be except that there is even today a degree of stigma about Catholic priests and nuns who aren’t immune to love. Much that has been written about the Harrisburg trial and Catholic resisters elsewhere very nearly gloats over any signs of sexuality on the part of those persons Catholics used to call “religious” (as if to be genuinely religious presupposes celibacy). Harper’s, in an article on the Harrisburg trial entitled “Love on Trial”, illustrated the title page with drawings of Liz and Phil in which tiny dots were used to connect their eyes to one another; the editors left a National Enquirer scent to the page.
To understand the commitment that developed between them, it helps to have some clearer understanding of who Liz McAlister is. Born a twin, she says of herself, “We is a pronoun that comes far more naturally than I.” Since 1959, she had belonged to a highly respected and strictly disciplined Catholic order of French origins, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. It was a life offering few material pleasures but a considerable opportunity for service and a sense of purpose. Liz had “the good fortune or grace,” as she has since said, “of being part of a community of women — intelligent and serious and prayerful — who were searching.” She obtained her B.A. and then Masters Degree, and proceeded to teach art history, showing her students a decided preference for modern art and symbolic form, “form that contains and communicates its meaning,” as she explained her pleasure of symbols to students.
One day one of them asked, “If you believe that about art, then you must support what David Miller just did.” It was 1965, and David had just burned his draft card. Liz, still in her very tidy, floor-length nun’s habit, paused, surprised, and said, “Yes.”
The following year, 1966, she met Phil. The meeting happened at the order’s Provincial House in Tarrytown, where Liz worked as secretary and assistant to Sister Jogues Egan, then regional Provincial of the order and a close friend of Dan Berrigan. (Earlier that day, Phil had celebrated a funeral mass for Al Uhrie, a recently-married member of the Catholic Worker community who had been knifed to death on East 5th Street.)
“She was and is indefatigable, as you know,” Jogues said to me of Liz as we talked at the 85th Street Consent in New York one morning. “She can turn out a tremendous amount of work… Liz is an activist. There’s no doubt about that. She has to do more than think about things or make speeches.”
Phil and Liz saw each other occasionally at social gatherings; the next year brought the experience of working with Jogues and John Grady (now to be tried with the Camden 28) on fund raising for the Baltimore Four, and then attending the trial, a radicalizing event for her as she witnessed how little of what really mattered was admissible as evidence.
In 1968, she came within deep breath of saying yes to involvement in the Catonsville action, even sending a letter Jogues (who was then in Rome) telling her what she had decided to do. But the day before she reluctantly said no — she wasn’t certain enough to plunge her community into the crisis her involvement would cause. “But I felt like a dropout! Like one without courage.”
After Phil’s release on bail in 1968, they came to see a good deal of each other, and since the spring of 1969 carried on an almost daily correspondence. “We grew to love one another very much — without being aware of it for a long time… But we both believed deeply in our respective communities and the religious commitments we had made. He was going to jail and he was concerned about the life of the communities of resistance to which he had given his life. There was not the time, the place, the availability to one another, even the priority to resolve our personal relationship. The choices, if they are choices, are yet to be made — if either of us will ever be free to make them.”
There are elusive qualities in Liz. She belongs to that endangered species for whom the right to privacy remain precious. That makes her as puzzling to many of the counter-culture as it does to the FBI.
Phil’s arrest, Liz recalls, imposed a separation “we were not really prepared for… We had a very real need for some kind of communication with one another but it was hard to write letters that others were reading and when Phil got to Lewisburg and discovered a way of communicating… he grabbed it.”
Boyd Douglas was the way that was discovered.
Phil Berrigan writes elsewhere in this issue of WIN about his reasons for risking so much with Boyd. Phil’s collaborator, Joe Wenderoth, also decided Boyd was trustworthy. He recalled to me their first meeting, when Joe came up to Lewisburg to meet with peace activists on the Bucknell campus: “The essence of the conversation, more than anything else, was Boyd introducing himself. ‘I’m Phil’s friend and I’m here on a study release program. I come out [from the prison] every day around 6 or 7 or 8 o’clock, and I go to class, and I go back around 5:30 or 6 every day. I was in the Springfield institution [a federal prison hospital] for an experimental program in medicine and I sued the government because of these scars.’ I never saw them, by the way, but Tony [Scoblick] did. He gave that story and also showed us his newspaper clippings about his suit against the government and the $15,000 he received in settlement. At that time he told me that Phil had told him about visiting the tunnels and that he was very interested in it.” (Joe went on to say that in his mind the tunnel project was dead and buried and that he was surprised Phil still had it on his mind. But the fact that Phil had told Boyd the story of the tunnel visit “very much” verified Boyd’s trustworthiness so far as Joe was concerned.)
At what point Boyd turned the trust he had with Phil — and thus with Phil’s close friends — into a commercial commodity remains uncertain. Certainly Phil and Liz were especially ripe to be abused by anyone who could allow communication to continue, because of their love for each other and because of their shared urgency to speed the war’s end. But whether Boyd originally meant to exploit an opportunity or genuinely wished to help is still unclear. Cynics wouldn’t hesitate to assume the worst, but the fact is that quite a number of prisoners were transformed by the caring and trust that both Phil and Dan invested in them — some of them are among those who have recently organized the Prisoners Strike for Peace Group.
What is certain is that the FBI was desperately looking for Dan, that hundreds of special agents were involved in the sifting, that J. Edgar Hoover was jabbing his notorious blue commands into the margins of memos (“This subject must be apprehended at the earliest possible time”), and that one of the places to look for leads was in and around Phil Berrigan’s life.
It is in that light that the thorough shakedowns of Phil’s prison cell at that time need to be viewed. All prisoners, of course, are subject to these humiliations, but generally the search is done steam-shovel style, not with an archeologist’s touch for detail.
In any event, on June 2nd, a shakedown produced a letter from Phil to Liz tucked away in the pages of Newsweek magazine. It spoke of an inmate named “Pete” who could safely get things out, but who wasn’t risking bringing letters into the prison. In the letter Phil proposed Liz “codify” important content into the letters she was sending in via officially censored channels. He proposed, as well, that Liz call “Pete” during his times at the Bucknell campus, and let him take notes on important news. If necessity required a letter “via irregular channels”, he proposed it be written in a business-like fashion, “sans personal stuff.” He pointed out that:
“All this is an exercise in patience and … revolutionary discipline. But above all, don’t want you inordinately concerned, with all the things you have to do. [Liz had decided May 8 to join in a draft action group that had its sights on boards in Delaware.] That would be grossly unfair. Will try to clarify this more, and to look for openings.”
What must have turned the warden’s paranoia switch on most loudly were the ruminations Phil shared with Liz about the resistance possibilities for “some of the young guys here — who more and more sit in on the raps — car thieves, bank robbers, old and experienced cons for all their young ages.” Though he noted their violence and racism — which were among the most cardinal sins in Phil’s worldview — he also saw them as “creative, personable, funny.” His imagination soared: “what an injection they’ll add to our movement.” (As indeed has been shown in recent months, as some of these men have been paroled or “maxed out.”) Phil noted “Pete” was “more and more immersed with the idea of being of service.”
Already deserting the impossible goal of writing a letter “sans personal stuff”, he ended the letter recalling a cherished anniversary in their friendship, the caring clear enough so that one can guess the letter sizzled audibly in the warden’s prying hands. (When psychiatrist Bob Coles came to do a professional interview with Phil on July 20, the warden shoved the letter into Coles’ hands, saying, “Calls himself a priest! A priest! Read that, Doctor Coles! See what kind of stuff that ‘priest’ is writing! And to a nun! Read that!”)
Liz was struck from Phil’s correspondence and visiting lists (her letters returned “unauthorized”) and Phil summoned in, then Douglas. Though Warden Hendricks told Phil he knew “Pete’s” real identity, Phil decided it was a bluff and admitted to nothing, simply standing at length as the warden ranted on, much the way King is once supposed to have done when Hoover scolded him for the content of the FBI tapes of King’s private life. Later in the mess hall, Boyd told Phil that he had admitted nothing to the warden and that the warden in fact knew nothing of his contraband activities.
In fact, if Boyd’s trial testimony on this point is to be trusted, Boyd admitted to the warden his courier activities. Then, at a picnic area in town, he met with FBI agents Delmar Mayfield (nicknamed Molly) and Philip Morris (of the cigarette manufacturing empire?), and agreed to continue carrying letters, and not only the outbound letters, as before, but ones coming in as well. Thus government assistance made possible the continuation of a letter exchange that was the basic unit of evidence in the Harrisburg courtroom.
Dimes in the Xerox machine
Boyd hadn’t waited for government encouragement in order to commemorate his voyeurism, however. His first trip to the Bucknell Library Xerox machine had happened May 25th, after Phil sent out with Boyd his first effort at uncensored communication with Liz. Boyd set the letter aside in a locker, as if it were a treasure map for a rainy day, adding to the Xerox cache as the exchange continued.
The letters proved to be a treasure map for the FBI. In Liz’s letter to Phil of July 30, she reported plans of the surfacing rally that was being organized in connection with the earlier raids on Delaware draft boards; sandwiched in with it was news of “the bruv” (that is to say, Dan) and Stringfellow (Bill Stringfellow, Dan’s good friend, a writer and lawyer in forced retirement on Block Island from his East Harlem law practice because of ill health):
“Stringfellow still plans on trying to get to you, I think, but he’s now or soon will be somehow mixed up with bruv which, in his thinking or that of the drones around bruv, necessitated his withdrawal from our thing today.”
By federal government standards, the wheels turned with unusual hurry. On August 11, Hoover’s chase was over: a Coast Guard cutter had blockaded Block Island’s harbor and FBI agents, posing as birdwatchers despite a gale that was blowing, surrounded the house of Bill Stringfellow and Tony Towne. Dan went to the front door and introduced himself to his captors. On the way back to the mainland, one agent told Dan that he was a Jesuit “grad” and took great satisfaction in serving “the greater glory of God” by working for the FBI. In a most bizarre confession, he told Dan, “I said to myself when I took you, A.M.D.G.” (The initials represent the Jesuit slogan, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, “to the greater glory of God.”) Boyd Douglas received a $150 bonus.
Strip searches of the mind
The most important fact about the letters is that they were letters. They were an attempt at private communication between Liz McAlister and Phil Berrigan.
Too bad that no James Cagney prison movies ever got around to the prison mail room — we might have developed a more evolved conscience about the importance of privacy. In an ugly way, the mail room is one of prison’s more cheerful locations. Letters coming and going compete for the honor of being read aloud (often punctuated with laughter) by one guard to the others present — with inmates occasionally around to glimpse the daily ritual — dramatic readings of the sort Assistant Attorney General William Lynch gave Liz and Phil’s letters later in the Harrisburg courtroom. In prisons the strip searches of the body are kinder than the strip searches of the mind. One of the better highs that prison affords is finding a way to have even a sliver of privacy, some unauthorized communions, some uncensored correspondence. During my year in prison in Wisconsin, it would have required more discipline than I ever hope to have to resist the chance to enjoy uncensored correspondence.
All but one of the letters in the series the two exchanged were intended for themselves alone; the exception was something that came to be known as “the Purple paper,” named for the color it happened to be dittoed in by Liz for distribution to friends within different resistance communities. No other letter was ever meant, as Liz put it in a memo to co-defendants and attorneys, “to be printed in the NY Times, Time or Life or anywhere else.”
“And as such things were presented in a staccato type way,” she continues, “ideas were not developed because in many cases they referred to conversations already had. Much was left unsaid (how funny that must sound as it would seem very little was left unsaid) that would have to be said for any general digestion. It’s a shorthand conversation. Because of that and because of my lack of knowledge of prison and what that context does to a person, some of what was said was misunderstood or badly understood.”
She goes on in her memo, “I am also aware of over-statements throughout my side of the correspondence. Things presented as being a fait accompli that were merely conversational. This I can only attribute to my ‘sense of purpose’ in the correspondence — which was to reassure Phil that the movement & ‘our people’ had not gone into the ecology issue. The subconscious sense of purpose was our very real need for some kind of communication with one another. And that is probably more to the point and more honest than what the letters say.”
The letters in so many respects are like all letters: unpremeditated, enjoying the freedom that letters give to overstate or be rude, to blow off steam, to tell the truth without polish, to admit needs and fears, and to bear important news.
It is the important news that makes the letters as special, and as dangerous, as they proved to be. News of people attempting to find ways of getting in the way of murder, and doing that at a time when most of those who claim to be responsible have found excuses to let the war continue. The letters pay human beings a great compliment, implying that it is still possible that a great many of us could genuinely refuse to let war continue without urgent resistance from ourselves. And such pondering occurs hand-in-hand with the simply personal, questions about their futures, worries and joys about friends. Would that more such letters were being written in America.
Which is not to say that these particular letters require unreserved celebration. It is impossible to be complacent about the disruptions in various lives they inadvertently helped to occasion: the arrest of a community of draft resisters in Rochester, Dan’s capture, the Harrisburg indictment and its brutal reorganizing of so many lives for so long a time. The pain involved in all these things isn’t to be passed over. Yet it seems the anger would be best focused not on those who choose to attempt a private correspondence but upon the authorities who thought it legitimate to make private correspondence public, and who would even use it to attack the integrity of all those who are committed to work for change via nonviolent means.
But there seems no need to speak further of the context of the letters. They exist. They are often very compelling. They attempt to deal with reality. All that is needed here are some sample quotes that would prove important in the Harrisburg trial.
The first letter, begun by Phil May 22nd and finished the 24th, begins with gratitude for Liz’s first visit and goes on to celebrate the main news she brought that day that she had decided to be part of the Delaware draft action group:
“And the news — glorious! First of all, that you were so clear in your own mind and so confident. And I knew implicitly that you were a vast help to the others — sense of history, human philosophy and tactics, courage, discipline… And then the sense of humor that refused to remain quiet, indicative of a balance of spirit, and a resolution during the dark night period.”
Then Phil thinks aloud about ways of relating the Delaware group’s action to the recent killing of the students at Kent State and the invasion of Cambodia; he suggests a National Guard Armory might be a good place for the group’s “surfacing” rally. There is a paragraph given over to concern about correspondence difficulties. No single theme, save resistance, so preoccupies the letters. He passes on news of Boyd’s desire to meet with her and to talk. He takes notes of a few grey hairs on Liz’s head, and sees her becoming “a striking pepper and salt.” He proposes several people, including Mary Cain and Tony Scoblick, could help in weeding through the “remotely hopeful people” to figure out “who is, and who isn’t” [ready to take part in a resistance action]. He wonders about a future that might include adopted children and the possibility of marriage relationships that are open to resistance activity and the priority of peacemaking, “an entirely new definition” of marriage, something “transcending anything I’ve seen around.” He adds that, like Liz, he is really a “very old-line Christian,” and at the same time, again like Liz, very much of the next century.
Phil’s next letter (the one that would be found in the shake-down) was hardly more than a PS to the first, further emphasizing mail problems and Boyd’s availability.
The first one from Liz is mainly an account of the difficulties they were up against in the Delaware action. She says of herself, after mentioning others in the group, “Then there’s this RSHM [the initials of her religious community] who’s a real so & so — very difficult to get along with. You’d probably like her.” She goes on to note, in a wry voice, the important news “that officialdom has looked askance at us,” finding her “an undesirable correspondent” and returning her letters so marked. She is brave about the event: “As I said in a letter I wrote recently … it won’t be easy but we’ll try to fumble on … As long as it is possible to get some words to you, guess we can keep it going.” She offers her curses to the judge who had just refused to reduce Phil’s six-year sentence for the blood pouring action in the Baltimore Customs House. She worries about a professor’s speculations that the U.S. administration is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons in Indochina. And she asks whether she should come and see the warden to protest her removal from the correspondence list for Phil.
And so the letters continue, day after day.
The one meant to be read by resisters, the “purple paper,” was written by Phil when he was told (wrongly) by Boyd that Liz asked for it. I first saw it when Liz put it in my hands in an East Harlem backyard one summer afternoon. The contents are meant to serve, Phil says, “our common dedication for justice and against injustice.” They are not meant to be criticisms, he says, but observations, “and must be left to the better sense of those outside.”
The heart of it is quite simple: “It has long (nearly two years) been my contention that we must eventually thrash out organization.”
He says past attempts at that may have failed because of egotism and
clumsiness. But “organization doesn’t have to be elitist, autocratic or arbitrary. Apart from helping us to serve people more effective, we have an opportunity to experiment with a true democracy, wherein people vie for initiative and responsibility, and those who lead, lead because they serve best.”’
There is a section on problems: excessive individualism and unilateralism, insufficient discipline in work and study, immature relationships, weak ties with other segments of the movement, and problems with security — ranging from paranoia to dangerous laxity. He worries that “there is too much time spent on socializing and/or group therapy” and proposes there should be “a quasi-identification between work and social life.” There is “insufficient thinking about financing, about group funds, about poverty, and to be blunt some people are selfish with money.” He is concerned, with “geographical concentration in the East.”
A solution, he proposes, might allow each urban area to choose six representatives who would serve for six months or a year, taking part in a minimum of one meeting a month. Each representative would be responsible for “carrying discussions of activists to monthly meetings.” The group would establish guide, lines on policy, action targets, tactics, finances and security. “This smacks of bureaucracy,” he notes. “It will depend on the sensitivities of all to see it doesn’t become this.”
Subsequent sections touch on communications, finances, security and future orientations, with a final section on “more meanderings.”
“The main threat to security comes from a project too ambitious to be controlled. Too many intangibles and therefore too many risks… Why not concentrate on several isolated, controllable, yet significant actions…? The tendency with every new group to do the biggest and the best is very dangerous… Every urban group should have local contacts for false ID [but] they should be used with skill and considerable discretion. Generally people operating overground have no need for them… [There should be great attention given to hitherto untouched areas… The District [of Columbia] is still the elusive golden fleece… A well subsidized team could head for the hinterlands, i.e., West Virginia, and trash the rural boards in the State. Might take a couple months… mobile strike steams … an overground version of the underground [such as] Dan has…”
The memo ends, appropriately with his own sense the positive accomplishments already to the credit of resisters:
“In proportion to our numbers, we have cost them dearly, and in that sense, we’re about all that’s around. All that’s real, that is. We’ve got to get together more, do more ego purifying, learn more, work harder, take more calculated risks, read the Gospel more, pray more and love people more. We’ve made it a little tougher for them to murder, but we ain’t stopped the murder yet. Not by a long shot.”
Typical of Phil, a PS to Liz, not part of the memo that was circulated, wonders how she can use “such drivel”, especially given the anti-organizational views of most of the resisters — a question the FBI might have scratched their heads over with some profit. After all, despite Phil’s memo, West Virginia’s draft boards are still with us. The worst violations of security were Phil’s own. The elusive “golden fleece” in Washington (not the heating tunnels but that complex of fifteen draft boards) remained as elusive as ever, because there were armed guards about. In brief, as any careful reader of any newspaper would agree, whatever the merits of Phil’s meditation, it was hardly received as orders from on high. (The reaction that I was aware of from war resisters in New York was annoyance, modified by the awareness that it wasn’t easy for one of the inventors of the new forms of nonviolent resistance to just settle down in prison with back issues of Readers Digest. Phil understates the reality when he speaks of his friends being “anti-organizational.” The resistance may have more than its share of Catholics, and there may be great affection and gratitude for the Berrigans, but there hasn’t been any sort of hierarchy.)
Phil often vents his frustrations with the sympathetic but non-committed, those who see the Vietnamese on fire and whose only response is a resolution to vote for a different president next time. As he says to Liz in one letter, summing up the irritation:
“To a sobering degree, there is nothing save what our people do. I get nauseated by music festivals, by the ambiguity of The Village Voice, by Third Party talk, by the whole gamut of confusion and cowardice. From one standpoint, it is more frustrating than the stubbornness of the mandarins, and the way the war hangs on. But where does that leave one, except to exist as another reason for going on? What else is there except social delusion and schizophrenia? (Didn’t mean to sound depressing, but that’s about it, huh? After one does the bootstrap thing to oneself, then others cluster about, wanting the same thing done for them.)”
A plot to un-kidnap?
It is an irony of providence that the same correspondence that gave the FBI Dan’s address was then radically shaken by the event it had occasioned and the correspondence went on to give form to the most explosive charge in the Harrisburg indictment: “a scheme,” as J. Edgar Hoover would put it, “to kidnap a highly placed government official.”
It is possible Boyd would never have become an FBI agent were it not for the government pilgrimage to Dan. It is conceivable Dan could still be popping up in pulpits and television screens with the sheriff of Nottingham still in clumsy pursuit were it not for the letters having their non-invited official audience. It is certain that the letters were the road map to Dan. It is certain that the conversations that occasioned the most controversial letters of the exchange between Liz and Phil would not have occurred had it not been for the jolt of Dan’s arrest on Block Island. And it is certain that, like so many ideas tossed around in the search to “make it a little more difficult for them to murder,” this idea (poorly reported to begin with) got no further than the heat of its conversational moment. Indeed, the conversation would have had no memorial at all had Liz not made it the subject of a letter to Phil.
On August 11, Liz recalls a long poem-like shopping list of events;
Car had been tampered with in a.m. (air let out of tire)
Went to funeral
Neil, Betty Metzger, FBI meany call
Meeting with Mary Mohs, Times Magazine
Planning session at [St Paul’s Convent] for demonstration
Call Eq[bal] after evening news
Quite a day: “Car died / Dan arrested.”
On the 12th, Boyd called, anxious to see Dan. Liz ignored him. Later she worked on arrangements for a meeting that she, Neil McLaughlin, Joe Wenderoth and Sue Davis wanted to have with Phil’s warden about his harassment at Lewisburg. She joined in a “Dan Berrigan is Free” demonstration and liturgy, at which a flag was washed in spring water, at Foley Square. Another call from Boyd, who professed surprise and disbelief at Dan’s capture.
On the 13th various friends wondered together over the feasibility and usefulness of a nonviolent jailbreak of Dan. The fact is important if one is to understand the moment in time, the kind of imagination at work. No question about it: to find a pacifist way to spring a poet-priest who was under lock-and-key for daring to hinder murder — that would have brought on a few extra blinks of the public eye, perhaps even a moment of conscience. But in none of the several conversations was anyone able to concoct a means that would be genuinely peaceful, splendid as the idea was. As so often happened our imaginative window-shopping produced no purchases. There was no feasible pacifist way to un-kidnap Dan nor to do the same for Phil when he was transferred from Lewisburg to Danbury on August 25.
Arrest a war-maker?
On August 14, Liz, Joe, Neil and Sue met with the warden and associate warden at Lewisburg, with Phil present for the last two hours of the meeting. (Liz wanted to be reinstated on Phil’s list; the warden, after reading aloud from one of the contraband letters, called her “the most selfish woman” he had ever met.) The prison had been feeling the public eye for weeks, since Phil and Dave Eberhardt had gone to solitary rather than accept voluntary confinement in their cells for the dread crimes of standing in the wrong chow line and going into an unauthorized zone of the of the prison in order to get the chaplain’s help in preventing the rape of a prisoner.
After another day of meeting with Bucknell people, Liz returned home, visited her mother on the 16th, picked up Jogues at the airport.
The next morning, Eqbal called, inviting Liz and Jogues to the Connecticut home of his wife’s parents; arrive by dinnertime, he said, and bring your swimsuits. The two said yes. (Eq had been one of the conductors of Dan’s travels, and was furious that Dan had “broken discipline” by going to the home of one of his best friends — and on an island! But he had recovered from his furies quickly.) Here is Liz’s account in the letter to Phil of what happened:
“Eq called us up to Connecticut last night along with Bill Davidon… Eq outlined a plan for an action which, would say — escalated seriousness — & we discussed pros & cons for several hours. It needs much more thought & careful selection of personnel. To kidnap — in our terminology to make a citizens arrest of — someone like Henry Kissinger. Him because of his influences as policy maker yet sans cabinet status, he would therefore not be so much protected as one of the bigger wigs; he is a bachelor which would mean if he were so guarded, he would be anxious to have unguarded moments where he could carry on his private affairs — literally & figuratively. To issue a set of demands, e.g. cessation of use of B52s over N. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia & re. lease of political prisoners. Hold him for about a week during which time big wigs of the liberal ilk would be brought to him — also kidnapped if necessary (which, for the most part, it would be) — & hold a trial or grand jury affair out of which an indictment would be brought. There is no pretense of the demands being met & he that would be released after this time with a word that we’re nonviolent as opposed to you who would let a man be killed — one of your own — so that you can go on killing. The liberals would also be released as would a film of the whole proceedings in which, hopefully, he would be more honest than he is on his own territory. The impact of such a thing would be phenomenal. Reasons for wanting to do it: it will ultimately be done by someone here [in the U.S.J & end in fiasco or violence & killing. Eq wants to do it & do it well & I believe he has the know how to direct such an escapade. The major problem, as I see it, is the severe consequences for something that is largely ‘drama’ with little lasting effect. Second problem I envision is position of something like this in a movement context, i.e.. what next? Some thought would have to be given to that. It seems at least possible to have two fairly distinct groups: on the one hand the felons who have a scant chance but a chance of remaining anonymous & the big wigs who will provide the “public aspect of the action who are preserved by their own position as “captives” also. The concept of a film of the trial to be released to TV etc. is phenomenal. Then, his aspect of the war will be at least impeded by his absence & the involvement of all close to him in an investigation of his whereabouts. Think about it & maybe when I see you in Danbury I can get your thoughts as well as fill you in on where the plan lies.”
Liz goes on to mention meetings with various friends (among them myself) to work on “more projects & possibilities,” and mentions some engineers at an arsenal whose “interest in living a more intense Christian life” has led them to consider finding ways to make their work have other than lethal consequences.
Most significantly, the letter ends, “What may seem here to be complete control of a situation, you must remember is part facade.” While she is referring to the many checks she has kept in expressing openly her feelings toward him, the insight of the sentence has a wider reach.
There is another glimpse in the same direction at the start of her report on the Connecticut meeting, when she explains why she is confining news of the discussion to paper: “I say it to you for two reasons. The first obviously is to get your thinking on it, the second is to give you some confidence that people are
thinking seriously of escalated resistance.”
A brief return to basics: one of the fundamental responsibilities that comes with loving another is trying to respond to that other’s depressions, the times when hope is nearly exhausted. It may be hard for someone other than a friend to understand the blow it was (though we knew it could happen any day, any minute) for handcuffs to intersect Dan’s life — very few deserve to live so free of handcuffs, very few feed and cherish friendships so attentively, as Dan Berrigan. To every friend, and to a great many who never knew him, the arrest was as hard a blow as news of an injury in one’s family.
The blow fell even more solidly on Phil. But how to explain that? Phil has such a reputation for toughness and independence that it is hard to know how fragile and dependent he too can be. And it is hard to express the gravity of the commitment these two very different brothers had made to each other, except perhaps to quote a few words of Phil to Dan jotted down inside the cover of Phil’s first book, No More Strangers: “To Dan, the first copy, with gratitude that defies my expression since I do not yet know what I owe you, with hope also that Christ’s Will come more to fruit in both of us. And with a brother’s love.” That was in March of 1965.
In brief, Liz was responding to a man who, in a nation of blind citizens, had eyes to see those whom we were burning, whose whole life was an extraordinarily selfless shout that that murdering should stop, and whose brother now was being put into the whale’s belly of prison where the officials would do what they could to muffle one of the other rare voices that had joined in the shout for life. Perhaps the reader can imagine some of this, and allow these several people to come alive for a few minutes, to be something other than legal or political or religious objects whose particular efforts need some columnist-style inspection.
“I want,” Liz said, “to give you some confidence that people are thinking seriously of escalated resistance.”
In the same letter there is still another fragment of similar light. Liz tells Phil that she wasn’t only joking when she told him in the prison corridor, the day of the long hours with the warden, that people were putting their heads together about a nonviolent jail break. “Think it over seriously & we’ll work it out… We can arrange it ‘nonviolently’.” But she goes on to say, “one problem I have with … either you or Dan coming out is that, it says the movement can’t go on without one of you or both. And I’m arrogant enough to think/believe that your being where you are is enough to make the rest of us get off our tails to prove that it can.”
Return address: Fantasyland
Two things clear there: One, that this particular letter’s return address is Fantasyland; there are no nonviolent ways to free a prisoner surrounded by armed guards, and even were non-pacifists to give it a try, no one could say assuredly beforehand, “We can do it.” And if the beginning is heavy with fantasy, should the reader suddenly become credulous a few sentences later when the Connecticut report begins?
But there is a second point as well. Because what Liz has said is, in effect, “Sure we can get you out, why we can even kidnap you (and Kissinger and a whole string of liberals and make a movie for television). But let’s not kidnap you, Phil, let’s show the folks we’re able to go about our life work even with you and Dan behind bars. Why, it will even make us better at it, more serious, more determined!”
Which is to say, once again, I want “to give you some confidence…”
It was Liz’s last letter to Phil care of Boyd.
Now there was just time for Phil to write his own final letter via the same route. Three days before his August 25 transfer to join Dan at Danbury Prison in Connecticut, he entrusted Boyd with the reply, a letter more disturbing than the one he had received from Liz.
‘The violence versus the nonviolence bag”
It is easy to read too much into the details of any of these letters, but there is something striking about this letter’s headline. All the letters had headlines — they were meant to look like essays so that a guard wouldn’t instantly spot them as letters. One was headed, for example “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Another, “Principles of Organization.” Still another: “ Reflections on Technological Advancement.” This one was headed, “The Use and Effectiveness of Group Therapy in the Federal Penal System.”
Of course Phil had nothing but contempt for the social adjustment goals wardens have in mind for their prisoners; Phil had no interest in housebreaking anyone. But it is interesting that, at a moment of considerable personal stress, a stress clearly alarming to Liz, that at this moment he should be plucking up references to therapy. Why not something about “Social Factors in Inmate Recidivism”? But the letter’s camouflage speaks of therapy.
Phil began by recalling, in painful detail, the first confrontation with the associate warden, a week after the June 2nd shakedown that had found the letter to Liz tucked into the pages of Newsweek:
“He called me in (with the Captain there) and had the letter, which he had devoured and practically memorized. He didn’t scruple to go over the personal aspects of it with obvious relish, as though to say — ‘So! you got a thing going? just like Martin King, huh?’ He wanted a confession, and I laughed at him and told him he had no evidence (he hadn’t caught [Boyd] with it)… As the cons would say, he is scum — I’ve caught him in at least three flagrant lies… call his bluff and he acts like a wharf rat… [But] the boys at the top, Nixon, Mitchell et al, will make him look like a Knight of St. Gregory in comparison.”
An angry, sarcastic letter revealing much pain as the mood quickly swings from wit to outrage.
There is a sudden peace in his voice as he turns to tell Liz of her own impact at the prison when she, Joe, Neil and Sue had come: “I was justly proud of you all, and the best part of the afternoon was seeing your glowing person.”
After a quick reference to a prisoner strike that would have the effect of delaying his departure to Danbury, he says he received two letters from her via the newly re-opened official channels “in addition to the ‘heavy’ one.… Bless you! What am I to say?”
He is puzzled about what Liz said of a nonviolent jailbreak. He wonders if she simply means some plan to get him back to Lewisburg “after a sojourn with the bruv” at Danbury, an idea he says he is “partial” to. He points out, with super bravado, that he really doesn’t need to be with Dan more than a couple of months and that, after all, their approaches to the movement “are really quite different,” that they have “different views about priorities.”
Then suddenly he understands what she was saying, and responds, “I would come out only if the movement is much more than it is now.” He expresses hope that, one way or another, he’ll get out reasonably soon via official routes, even in six months’ time. He goes so far as to say, in searching for the positive potentials of sticking it out, that prison will be for him a place to “get my head together in an atmosphere where I can get several kinds of education — not just philosophical or ideological. But the communal thing & the Eucharist, and the kind of silence that we’ve had before, and which has taught me so much.”
But again he admits to “confusion” about the various meanings that part of her letter might have. “We can clear up my confusion… when you come to Danbury.”
For a man who generally writes in a very systematic and certain voice, it is already a comparatively chaotic and doubt-filled letter. He goes on to her report of the Connecticut meeting, starting right off with another uncertain jab:
“Just between you and me, I have never been overmuch impressed with Eq. He’s a dear friend very helpful in the last months, lovely guy, good ideologue, but still to produce… (I have this terrible suspicion regarding academics). With few exceptions, the bastards will let others go to the gallows without a serious murmur. They did it in Germany and they’re doing it here. And Eq is from that strain. You see, love, the belief isn’t there… But there are more reservations. I’d be delighted to be wrong. Which is to say, no project can be more solid than its human foundation and, with all respect, I don’t trust Eq, though he’s a nice guy.”
Despite this fundamental objection, he decides to comment on the Kissinger proposal:
“About the plan — the first time opens the door to murder — the Tupamaros are finding that out in Uruguay… When I refer to murder, it is not to prohibit it absolutely (violence against nonviolence bag); it is merely to observe that one has set the precedent, and that later on, when government resistance to this sort of thing stiffens, men will be killed.”
Needless to say, no portion of the correspondence was so dear to the heart of trial prosecutor Lynch than this. It deserves immediate comment, once again remembering circumstances have made public a private correspondence in which a great deal of short-hand was possible.
Liz and Phil knew the values and commitments each other was wedded to in a way true of few others; they knew how huge were the preferences they were putting aside in the hope that their sacrifices might make it possible for a few others not to die by violence; they knew how deep was their shared loathing of violence. None of those things needed to be verbalized again.
Then what does he mean when he says, “The first time opens the door to murder”? How can he say, “When I refer to murder, it is not to prohibit it absolutely (violence versus nonviolence bag)”?
The insight condensed in the several sentences is simple and fundamental — Gandhi knew it by heart. When your nonviolent resistance is no longer amusing to the authorities, when your actions stir to consciousness some of those whose moral sleep the government has been banking on, then punishment will escalate quickly. Christians often wear a symbol of the process around their necks and invariably keep it near their altars: the cross. It says among many other things that the truth may make you free but it will get you into trouble as well, occasionally including deadly trouble. But unlike so much in the world, genuine truth puts only its advocate’s head on the chopping block rather than the heads of bystanders. And genuine truth, despite its frightening cost, is the way of life, the way of fulfillment, the way of resurrection. This is the scariest but most liberating of all insights. And the most crucial. And one that is by no means the monopoly of Christians. (A Zen master from Japan told me once that, in his tradition, the equivalent symbol to the cross is the meditation cushion, upon which one sits with a relentless voluntary discipline that is meant to be, finally, ego shattering; a place where an important, necessary death occurs, that one might finally be capable of life.)
None of this is news to Phil. He wouldn’t be in a cell but safely in a rectory in Baltimore writing letters to the editor of the Sun if he hadn’t squeezed that much news out of the Gospels.
The point for him was, then, are we ready to so escalate resistance that we can deal with these consequences for our own people? Are we yet ready for the cross that would be heaved at us if we reached that deeply into the war process of our society? If we reached that close to the nerve center of the killing in Indochina? Are we ready to face the murder of ourselves, not just the imprisonment?
First there is the answer in principle: We cannot prohibit it absolutely. Which is to say, if we wish to be Christians, then we are by baptism promised to be ready for the cross, because we choose to make that our way. We have to be ready to lay down our lives so that brothers and sisters will not be murdered.
But there is a school of thought (and one senses it to be dominant) in which pacifists say they cannot go that far “because then you are driving the other person to be violent.” Gandhi, of course, would be scandalized with such a pacifism. There were few points he insisted upon so strenuously as the duty of pacifists to bring society’s hidden violence to the surface, where it was vulnerable to treatment; he was similarly insistent that the treatment was the voluntary suffering, up to and including death, that would be the lot of those who choose to make peace.
Phil then refuses to indulge in that kind of shallow “violence against nonviolence bag.” And he does so precisely because of his pacifism, a pacifism which declares that the cross is the inescapable route to resurrection; that voluntary suffering is the way to freedom from suffering. All of which is the central Christian irony, the main idea. Otherwise known, when reduced to a single word, as love.* [for a comment on this section, see postscipt]
‘Brilliant but grandiose”
Having gotten to the first real problem of the idea Liz has sent him, and having announced his fundamental doubts about anything serious being produced by an academic, he moves on to comment on the idea itself:
“More to the point, the project as you outlined it is brilliant but grandiose. I’ve found, with bitter experience, that when people opt for too much, they’re either stupid or egotistical (another red light about friend Eq). Which is to say that grabbing the gentleman will take a force of perhaps 10 of your best people — guarding him, getting communications out, perhaps moving him 2 or 3 times within the week. Now in addition, to grab a prosecution of liberals would take a dozen more, making the network too wide. But even if that were possible, how can it be guaranteed that they would indict him in any sort of real fashion? Then too, the common view is that K is the architect of honorable withdrawal from S.E. Asia, and even some of the liberals believe that. How to get the truth out? i.e., that the economy needs war, and it might as well be there as elsewhere, and that we intend to stay. That might mean a Korean type answer, but then we’d have to hot it up elsewhere. Or go into the dilemma of more serious recession, rising unemployment at home. This is what should be gotten from K. but can the liberals do it?
“Nonetheless, I like the plan and am just trying to weave elements of modesty into it. Why not coordinate it with the one against capital utilities? — You should talk more thoroughly with [Boyd] about this, or with [Neil] or [Joe]. To disrupt [the utilities], and then grab the Brain Child — this would be escalation enough.
“This comes off the top of my head. Why not grab the Brain Child, treat him decently, but tell him nothing of his fate — or tell him his fate hinges on release of political [prisoners] or cessation of air strikes in Laos. Then have batteries of movement people — Brain Child blindfolded — engage him on policy. After he has been taught (the consideration of his safety will make him more and more human in his answers) get it filmed and recorded. One thing should be implanted — that respectable murderers like himself are no longer inviolable (this should be done just before release). And that if he doesn’t work to humanize policy, the likes of him will be killed by less scrupulous people. Finally, that political prisoners are the best guarantee of his sweet skin’s safety, and that he better get them out of jail.
“Taken along these lines, you have both a material and personal confrontation with the war-makers. The trick to pull off is to hit them very, very hard without giving them violence to react to, to justify themselves with.”
Phil sums up by saying that “it can be done and brilliantly” and that Eqbal, despite misgivings, should be given all encouragement, though with his “imagination under ropes.”
Yet even in this moment of relative euphoria, he gets back to the cost, not in terms of the willingness to pay it so much but simply whether this idea is worth it: “There’d be a massive manhunt — it would mean life. And this is a factor to be considered.”
Without responding to his sudden new doubt, he plunges back to ruminations over the engineering of the idea, how to build the project team, the problems of working with Eq, the possibility of getting Bill Davidon involved.
He then drops the subject and turns to Liz herself, assuring her that the letters she had sent via the censored route were not, as she had said, “dry and dusty.” In fact, “You come through beautifully, if with restraint. And I get all the innuendos and delight in them.”
An extraordinary letter. Given a meditative reading, it unfolds with all the surprises of a paper snowflake made from snipping away at a wedge of paper. As happens in moments of crisis, there are rushes in the letter that show Phil’s faith and mind at its most alert, most inventive, most unafraid, most generous. But there are, as seems also to happen at crisis moments, sudden plunges to a darker zone of consciousness. While the hard jabs at academics in many cases seem justified, one of the academics who clearly doesn’t warrant them is Eqbal, if for no other reason than his risky association with Dan while underground. It was no symbolic gesture. Then, for the first time in the correspondence, he stumbles back to those exciting moments when he and Joe were in those utility tunnels and which no one, including Phil, has found a way to do that wouldn’t violate Phil’s own rule: act without giving one’s opponent any violence to react to or with which to justify himself with.
It would seem to take no special sensitivity to know the letter was written in the sort of moment of crisis when extremes are being seized, and errors made easily, the kind of moment — in more domestic analogy — when lovers could either be screaming at each other or making love with abandon. For ourselves, they’re not the moments we would want anyone to stare at, but life would be deadly dull without them.
“Hit him in the mouth!”
Liz did as Phil asked up to a point. She made a hand copy of Phil’s response and sent it to Neil and Joe. The two were appalled and burned it. When Joe heard Sr. Jogues and Liz were going to Danbury to see Phil, Joe had only one request to make of Jogues: “Please hit him in the mouth for me.” The words were said without a smile. Jogues understood. It has long been one of her main duties to attach an occasional cinder block to the balloon of Phil’s imagination. She gave Joe a nod that said, “With pleasure.”
Several people have entered into the narrative that have to be spoken about in more than a passing way, if still all too briefly.
There is Jogues Egan, who has a hawk’s eye for what is really going on and being said, and who is a strict believer in keeping one’s feet within reach of the ground. She is a joy to look at: white hair that has a pearl sheen, an alertness in face and posture, a certain quality that is nothing less than regal. Born in James Joyce’s country, she has the gift of storytelling; the same genes make it possible for her to enjoy the distilled spirits of grain — not a rare trait in the Catholic contingent of the resistance community. She is not overly impressed by anyone, so far as I can tell, though there are many people she loves. One of the ways she loves them is by telling the truth and, verbally at least, hitting them in the mouth now and then.
There is Joe Wenderoth, one of the more sturdy-bodied members of the resistance, thick-necked, broad-shouldered, a face that wouldn’t surprise his German forebears, a working man’s hands. Raised in Baltimore, Catholic parents, Catholic friends, Catholic schools. Finally a seminarian and then a priest. One-hundred percent jock in school and afterward. The only problem was the seriousness with which he believed the Gospels. As a young priest he invited a black child into the parish Cub Scout Pack — which was all white up to that time, a fact that was apparent but which he didn’t think about with any worries. “They were all from Christian families,” he explained to me. Within two days, nearly all the Cub Scouts had been withdrawn as if cholera germs were to be injected to one and all at the next meeting. Joe was badly jolted and says he began to see the world with new eyes. Later, inevitably, he encountered his neighbor priest, Phil Berrigan, and found that what Phil said “made sense.” On February 24,1970, he had destroyed draft records in Philadelphia and war-related General Electric documents in D.C.; the group called itself the East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives. It was a name that happened to stick in the memory of J. Edgar Hoover.
There is Neil McLaughlin, Joe’s closest friend, short, lean, articulate but never one to waste words, capable of listening with precision, stubborn and careful — most especially about the Gospels and his priesthood, who prefers films and books and almost anything to sports, who is the kind of balancing polarity to Joe that Dan Berrigan is to Phil. In 1969, as one of the New York Eight, he had joined in destroying a large number of draft records. After that, he served as a resource to groups that were getting together, in retreat fashion to reflect on peacemaking and resistance.
And then there is Eqbal Ahmad, a man a good deal like Dan Berrigan, taking great pleasure in cooking, dining, poetry, conversation, long walks, books and writing; and quite unlike Dan in his belief that violence and nonviolence are ultimately tactical questions, nonviolence being needed in some places (as in the U.S.) and violence in others (as in Algeria at its revolutionary moment or in Vietnam today). A man of medium height, with ebony hair, a Cambridge accent, eyes like Jean Paul Satre, an elasticity of body and mind. Born where Bangladesh now is, he woke one day as a child to witness his father’s murder in retaliation for attempted land reforms. He had been a Proctor Scholar of North African Studies at Princeton, done brilliantly, had studied at first hand the Algerian Revolution as it was establishing its victory, later joined the Cornell faculty where Dan and he became close friends. Like Jogues, he is a marvelous story teller, and similarly precise. He knows well the wisdom of that saying, “More flies are caught with honey than with vinegar.” The word most often used for him is “charming” and those who say that are right, and in a serious way. He speaks with such calm, such wit, such tidiness and thoroughness of thought, that it takes months to imagine disagreeing with him, even when he’s not around.
Others present who had awareness of the discussion Liz reported were resistance activists Paul Mayer and Bill Davidon, both of whom were later — like Jogues — named as co-conspirators in the Harrisburg indictments, but not actually indicted, and Ann Davidon and Julie Diamond Ahmad, whose existence was ignored in the indictments.
Destroying a letter
There is no need yet to mention three who knew nothing of the Connecticut discussion: Tony and Mary Cain Scoblick, and Ted Glick; though they would eventually be indicted as members of the conspiracy, neither Mary nor Tony knew who Kissinger was until after the first indictment, and Ted had only a sketchy idea of the man’s existence and role in the government. In 1970, Kissinger had only a tiny fraction of his present reputation. Mary had asked the FBI men. “Kissinger Who?” Tony likes to joke, “Don’t forget, Henry! We made you a star!”
Nor had any of the three any idea there were utility tunnels under Washington. Their continuing preoccupation was draft files and the building up of small resistance communities, not “escalated” tactics.
But of those who were present, none would recognize much relationship between Liz’s account of the discussion and what actually had happened.
There had been an excellent meal and no shortage of drinkable spirits with which to wash it down. There was, certainly, more motive to be present then to clink glasses, as all were friends of Dan’s and had helped in his four-month explorations of the underground. There was a concern to find out how the project of preserving Dan’s freedom had finally folded. Had anyone been careless? Had anyone any ideas? Liz said nothing of her letter to Phil, or his reply echoing the news of Stringfellow’s spot on Dan’s itinerary. The guessing got nowhere and was abandoned, as there were more pressing questions at hand: Was Dan’s capture final, or could the tides be again reversed? Was there any possibilities of freeing Phil while he was en route to Danbury? What else was possible? More action around draft boards? Or something new?
It took little time (Liz’s report to Phil to the contrary) to conclude that a pacifist jailbreak was, as Eq put it, “ridiculous.” Nor did another round of draft-board action seem an adequate response to this new event, though it had some support, including Liz’s.
The word “kidnap” was never used in the discussion. Eq spoke of a “citizen’s arrest.” The phrase had haunted him since he had read a Village Voice report of a speech by Dave McReynolds (a staff member of the War Resisters League). The idea had also been mentioned at the April 21 rally in St. Gregory’s Church, the night Eq spoke in Phil’s place after the FBI arrests.
In the Connecticut meeting Eq brought up the idea, speculating on the practicalities of citizens arresting war criminals. He proposed, if an arrest were made, it would have to be done without a simultaneous public announcement, and that it might involve a subsequent meeting of the apprehended official with anti-war scholars and activists who would then release a statement on war crimes and propose that his release be contingent on the end of U.S. B-52 bomb raids on North Vietnam.
“Most serious objections were raised,” Eq recalls. “What would one do if there were resistance? Did this not imply the threat of violence? I took the position that philosophically that was not important. What would be important would be releasing the officials unharmed, and doing so at a press conference. That fact would dramatize our care for human life and contrast it with the carelessness toward human life of the United States government. Of course I knew the United States would not for a moment consider stopping its bombing operations. It was similarly obvious that it would be a disaster to anti-war work should the official be harmed in any way.”
Despite such assurances, Jogues was shocked, and Ann Davidon thought it completely unacceptable as a pacifist tactic. Others thought the idea deserved further discussion, but eventually agreed that, while the theory was fascinating, the reality was far too risky, especially as it was likely any high government official would have bodyguards. At this point Eq mentioned Kissinger: “Yes, it is very risky — unless one goes for a man like Kissinger. He’s a bachelor. He likes girls. There are times he wouldn’t want bodyguards around. And as a professor he wouldn’t want police around his academic friends. We could invite him to a dinner with anti-war intellectuals and then, in place of dessert, serve him a notice of arrest!” (Eq laughed with the memory, despite the tidal waves the evening had brought on and the complete ruin it made of his writing and academic work.)
Agreement on the idea was out of the question. Talk finally turned to other notions. The one and only consequence of that night’s discussion — Liz and Phil’s exchange of letters — wasn’t known of by most of those who were present until the following spring, when a second indictment against the Harrisburg defendants published a portion of the exchange.
“The problem was,” Eq explained later, “as we all essentially agreed, that once you begin asking very hard questions about making a citizen’s arrest of a man like Dr. Kissinger, you come to the inescapable conclusion that you cannot accomplish your goal without some force or coercion, and that even if by some miracle you could, then he would not talk. And if he doesn’t talk, what the hell are you going to do with him?” Eq laughed, as if recalling a time in his life when he imagined he might catch dinosaurs in large paper bags.
What completely killed the idea for Liz was the note she received from Boyd shortly afterward. He expressed his own enthusiasm for the proposal and volunteered to get her a gun. “I read the letter and felt sick,” Liz recalls. She destroyed Boyd’s note almost immediately. The idea was done with.
J. Edgar Hoover as Paul Revere
The next few months included a succession of important events. On August 25 Phil moved to Danbury Prison (which, according to the Justice Department, is actually a “correctional institution”).
On August 29, Boyd asked Liz, via phone, to set up a meeting for him with Eq; Liz was polite, said she would pass on the invitation, but in fact never mentioned it to Eq; events had combined, between Phil’s move and Boyd’s gun letter, to make him both unnecessary and fearful in Liz’s eyes.
On the night of September 7, using leads from Boyd, members of the Flower City Conspiracy were arrested while destroying draft files and army intelligence records in Rochester. Among those arrested was Ted Glick, later to be added to the Harrisburg indictment.
Several days later, Liz had an evening meal with Neil, Joe and Eq in which she expressed her rejection of the citizen’s arrest proposal; Neil and Joe strongly concurred, and Eq joined in the decision to abandon the idea a completely. Though Joe and Neil had seen a copy of Phil’s letter, it wasn’t mentioned and Eq still was unaware of the correspondence that Boyd had ferried in and out of Lewisburg; Eq would have found such an exchange an intolerable breach of common sense. At the trial he recalled a saying of the Algerian revolution: “When you send something to a comrade in prison, send oranges!”
The week of the 14th, despite contrary proddings from Phil, Liz resumed teaching art history at her order’s college in Tarrytown, N.Y. There were conversations with various resisters as well as work relating to the bail needs of those arrested in Rochester.
On the 24th, though reluctant about further contact with Boyd, Liz kept a date in Lewisburg, attending a colloquy along with theologian Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether, then of Howard University, now of Harvard, and Fr. Phil Linden, a member of the East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives. She stayed overnight; the following evening, with several students, there was conversation about such “escalated actions,” Rosemary Ruether recalled, “as shutting down factories producing chemical weapons.” But she remembers Liz vehemently rejecting any action that in any way “might threaten human life.” Fortunately Boyd wasn’t present for the exchange, or there would have been more charges in the indictment.
On the 26th, with some effort, Liz managed to avoid Boyd until 10:30 a.m.; Boyd had looked furiously for her and seemed irritated when he finally found her. They shared a late breakfast with Boyd conversing about what sort of car he should buy when he got out. He wondered about doing a research project on prisons. Finally he got to his official duties: “Where are things at with the Kissinger project? What can I do to help?” Liz said she didn’t know and didn’t feel like talking about it. At 11 a.m., with a sigh of relief and in hopes of never seeing Boyd again, Liz went on to a meeting with a Vietnamese writer, Tran Van Dinh.
On September 28, while meeting with a group of resisters who were thinking about a draft board action in New Jersey, a young priest proposed a political citizen’s arrest. Liz immediately and vigorously opposed the idea, and it was dropped.
On October 6, Jogues and Liz visited with Phil at Danbury; Liz wanted to share with him her enthusiasm for the Peoples Peace Treaty project; might it be possible to make a tape from prison in support of the treaty? A negative decision.
On October 31, the day Ted Glick and Sara Forth were married, some of the resisters found time after the wedding to talk about a shift away from draft board actions and more toward corporations and general educational work.
Early in November Eq had occasion to discourage Ted Glick and another member of the Flower City Conspiracy from going underground.
On November 18, a U.S. Marshal served Liz with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating the Delaware draft board actions.
On the 20th, Liz appeared before the grand jury but refused to do more than identify herself.
On November 27, J. Edgar Hoover made a rare appearance before a Senate subcommittee to support a request for an enlarged FBI budget to finance hiring 1000 new special agents. He spoke of the stepped-up terrorist activities of the Weathermen and of Bernadine Dohrn’s addition to the FBI’s list of the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.” No headlines there. But he continued:
“Willingness to employ any type of terrorist tactic is becoming increasingly apparent among extremist elements. One example has recently come to light involving an incipient plot on the part of an anarchist group on the east coast, the so-called ‘East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives.’
This is a militant group self-described as being composed of Catholic priests and nuns, teachers students and former students who have manifested opposition to the war in Vietnam by acts of violence against Government agencies and private corporations engaged in work relating to U.S. participation in the Vietnam conflict.
“The principal leaders of this group are Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Catholic priests who are currently incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, Connecticut, for their participation in the destruction of Selective Service Records in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1968.
“This group plans to blow up underground electrical conduits and steam pipes serving the Washington, D.C. area in order to disrupt Federal Government operations. The plotters are also concocting a scheme to kidnap a highly placed Government official. The name of a White House staff member has been mentioned as a possible victim. If successful, the plotters would demand an end to United States bombing operations in Southeast Asia and the release of all political prisoners as ransom. Intensive investigation is being conducted concerning this matter.”
Jack Nelson and Ronald Ostrow, investigative reporters for the Los Angeles Times and the authors of The FBI and the Berrigans, have since discovered that Hoover made his statement over objections from his aides, who saw his remarks as jeopardizing an ongoing investigation. There seemed a crusader’s gleam in the aged policeman’s eyes, as if some child’s dream had come true of going back in time and being Paul Revere. But with a twist. “The Berrigans are coming! The Berrigans are coming!”
Go ahead — indict us!”
Liz was driving home from a Thanksgiving visit at her sister’s home in Maryland when she heard the news flash of the Hoover statement. “I was stunned — I was utterly stunned.” She was nearing Baltimore at the time of the news announcement and so drove directly to Neil and Joe’s house, which the two priests were in the process of painting that day. The phone had already been ringing with the news, and the two remember being completely calm about it, even amused. “Where did he ever get the idea the East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives is still around! And about Dan!” They had no notion at all of the correspondence Phil and Liz had exchanged, except for the copy of the one letter they had seen from Phil and the earlier “purple paper.” They knew about Boyd but trusted him. In any event there was no plot to kidnap anyone or blow up tunnels. It seemed clear that whatever Hoover knew came from hopelessly garbled sources, and that he was peddling headlines, not working for indictments. They kept at their painting.
They were puzzled by Liz’s obvious shock. For her part, she recalls them sharing in the shock. The visit was brief. Liz went on to New York. On November 30, she re-read and destroyed Phil’s letter commenting on the Kissinger idea. It still hadn’t occurred to her that Boyd was an agent.
Nor had it occurred to Phil. With Dan he issued a statement, via attorneys, that ridiculed the charges:
“We are happy to agree [with Mr. Hoover] that … a conspiracy of conscience does exist; in a far more extensive form than Mr. Hoover recognizes. There is a West Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives, a Middle Atlantic and a Southern Conspiracy to Save Lives. There is, in fact, a Worldwide Conspiracy to Save Lives… Mr. Hoover, however, is overgenerous. At Danbury we have neither the facilities nor personnel to conduct such an enterprise. Nor do we have access to government funds. We have already been tried and condemned by Mr. Hoover’s remarks, and we should be given an equal opportunity to answer his charges. He ought, in view of the seriousness of the allegations he made, either prosecute us or publicly retract the charges he has made.”
Members of the East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives made various statements correcting Hoover for his astonishingly erroneous charges against them. “We here claim,” a group statement added on the matter of Hoover’s idea of the Berrigans being resistance generals, “that while we are deeply respectful of the Berrigans, they are not our leaders.”
Congressman William R. Anderson, having already read some of Dan and Phil’s writings, came up to visit them in Danbury. Afterward he wrote a letter to Hoover that he released to the press:
“If there is any substance in your allegations … it is your duty to arraign [these people] before a federal grand jury… If on the other hand, there is no substance … we should expect an explanation, if not an outright retraction.”
Nelson and Ostrow found that Hoover was furious with the various challenges that were made. Doubtless the goading from Anderson was particularly astonishing — Anderson had been the commander of the submarine Nautilus when it passed under the North Pole; he was a respected hero. Hoover wrote Anderson, chiding him for releasing his letter to the press. “The Director” scribbled more blue-ink notations in the margins of reports: “expedite… pull out all stops… push this hard.”
What to do about Boyd?
It was Neil who first decided Boyd was an agent. He has no explanation for the insight. It was “a powerful intuition” that hit him while he was driving from New York December 18, to demonstrate at the Justice Department protesting Hoover’s Senate Statement in November. Boyd had been paroled the day before, a date presumably so as not to miss a demonstration that would bring together those whom he referred to as “the cream of the Catholic left.” (With Boyd as he drove to Washington, it was learned at the trial, were ten FBI agents.)
“It was becoming more and more clear to me,” Neil recalled, “that it had to be Boyd. So I went over to Washington, where I knew a lot of people would be after the Justice Department demonstration, and I aired out the theory that Douglas had been telling the FBI everything that he knew — or that he thought he knew.
“But the main part of the discussion was what does a group like ours do about an informer. One of the Jesuits mentioned what other groups have done — ranging from killing them to confronting them; but not even the confrontation models were really nonviolent. Some of the people, who really didn’t know Boyd, were a bit unsure that this was really true. ‘How could anybody be in our midst,’ they seemed to be saying, ‘and not be transformed?’”
Neil’s voice was briefly sarcastic. He went on: “It was a powerful meeting. Boyd Douglas was now out. He was a real person. He had had contacts with many of the people there, and perhaps would have future contacts with everyone else there, somehow or other. We knew we’d have to find some way to deal with him.
“The conclusion was not that we would confront him and then send him off. We would be receptive to him — but never be open with him about details of what they were doing or who they were working with or where they were. That night it was just a question of him staying with some nuns in Washington — that was no problem. Then somehow or other someone would contact him and communicate to him that people were not into a whole lot of things that he might think they were.
“Some of the main contributors to this approach were the Quakers present, people who felt that it would be an awful thing if we were wrong and Boyd weren’t an informer, but that we had to operate on our best instincts.
“The whole time this meeting was going on, you know, Boyd was frantically calling, trying to find out what was going on, and where everybody was!”
The main consequence of the meeting, so far as Joe and Neil were concerned, was a letter to Boyd:
“We were sorry we were unable to see you when you were in town, as you know things were very confused. But how are you and how does it feel to be able to travel around? Where will you be for Christmas? Didn’t hear much about the Washington demonstration, but we gather that it didn’t have much Impact. It seems to us that what had most impact was the [December 7 draft board action in New Jersey, the Hoover Vacuum Conspiracy, so named to cause Hoover some extra holiday cheer]. Although we were not involved with that action and didn’t know of it until it was over (it seems the news media tells us everything), it was the best response to J. Edgar Hoover’s accusation.
“The whole Hoover incident has done much to strengthen the hundreds of people who are involved in the Conspiracy of Conscience against the war and violence. We have been able to get widespread publicity in order to explain who we are and that we stand for nonviolence and a more human condition throughout the world. As you know, the plot mentioned by Hoover could never seriously be considered by any of our people as something that would be a way to further our message of nonviolent change. Yet even as an idea it would have to be rejected as impossible since it had no guarantee that injury or loss of human rights of people would be prevented. Knowing several of our people as you do, I ‘m sure you realize all of this, but nonetheless the publicity of the whole alleged plot has enabled all our people to reject such a tactic as being opposed to our philosophy and style of life. We should have made this explicit to you.
“At any rate we are grateful for the opportunity to explain to so very many people what we are about and to gain their support and sympathy, even if some of it is only in the form of resenting J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI for using such a violent and low tactic. The response from people has been tremendous. There is no greater revolutionary force than repression. We have known where our weakness is for some time now and we have attempted to approach it in our usual nonviolent way since we believe that every human being is important and worthy of receiving our kindness and our message in the hope for change… we are not only speaking out against the violence of the U.S. but also the violence within the movement… Thanks for listening. We hope that your new found physical freedom will help you as a person to become more and more liberated from the oppression and violence that surround us all.”
Joe Wenderoth had written the letter longhand. At the end of the last page there was the addition, in Neil’s hand, of the word, “peace.”
“Well, we’ve got them now!”
Mary Cain Scoblick had been sick that day, and was under a pile of blankets when Tony arrived home from a day of cab driving; the two lived in a narrow, two-story house with a treacherous alley in back and very poor neighbors on all sides. They had been renting the house since their marriage June 27, when scores of FBI agents had arrived for the wedding hoping that Dan Berrigan might be on hand to bless the sacrament. (Guns erupted from shoulder holsters when a balloon popped).
Mary Cain Scoblick: slim, with wide eyes, and long red hair, an extraordinarily rich vocabulary. She had been born in Baltimore, been educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and then joined them. She loved to read and think and had been encouraged in both. Later, having excelled in French studies, she became the first member of her congregation to be granted a Fulbright Fellowship — but she was appalled at the thought of teaching French for the rest of her life and refused it. Later she worked at a Kennedy supported school her community had founded for retarded children (I remember best her telling me of the morning ritual of hugging all the kids so there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he or she was still loved). Then there was a period living a relatively privileged communal life teaching relatively privileged kids in the midst of a desperately poor black D.C. neighborhood. Civil rights and then peace evolved into preoccupations. Early in 1970 she joined in destroying draft records as one of the Boston Eight. She continued to be active in resistance communities as a friend and resource person but, in order to marry, moved our of her Baltimore convent.
She married Tony Scoblick, another of the Boston Eight, a man who two years before his marriage had been ordained a priest by archconservative Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle. Like Phil Berrigan, Tony was a Josephite, a society within the American Catholic Church that concentrates its largely white presence within the black community.
Tony is a hard man to describe. He’s a magnificently playful story-teller. He does splendid imitations. There are those who thought of him as the court jester during the Harrisburg trial. But I remember him best in his pensive moments, when there is a transparent vulnerability in his face. Perhaps some of this can be seen, of all places, in a letter he wrote to Pope Paul:
“I, Anthony Scoblick, a priest of the Baltimore Diocese, hereby petition for a dispensation from all the obligations of Sacred Orders including celibacy. I make this request after serious and mature deliberation. If the law of celibacy were changed I would [wish to continue as a priest] as I do believe that the Church could do wonderful things.”
(Tony recalls the dates of his 1940 birth in Archbald, Pennsylvania, and of his studies in college and seminary, his ordination, his subsequent assignments as a priest.)
“I am leaving mainly because I met someone whom I love and wish to marry. My decision not to stay on as a priest in my [Josephite] Society came from a number of conflicts. The major one was I acted in Boston, Mass., and destroyed draft files… [possessed by] inner city draft boards which draft our poor people to kill other poor people in an unjust and genocidal war in Asia. The [Josephite] Society wanted to change me from where I was living because they did not agree with my actions and threatened to have me thrown out if I did not cooperate.
“I met Mary Cain during the Boston Action and came to respect and love her very much. I really wouldn’t like to leave the priesthood because I know that what I nave done is very important for people to know about and understand and certainly wouldn’t like to spoil good work by walking out on the Church. We both realize that we may not be as active in the Church by our decision and are willing to accept the consequences of it, I do hope that there will be a time when we will be able to participate more fully in church life in the married state and meantime we will try as best we can to continue to live faithful Christian lives.
“We both intend to live lives of poverty in complete dedication to the poor… We intend to work within the peace movement and spend our lives in trying to bring peace and Christianity to our Country.”
No Vatican dispensation was granted; Mary and Tony, to the initial disappointment of their parents, were married in a Catholic ceremony but in a borrowed Lutheran Church. As Tony had indicated to the pope, they devoted themselves to peace work: such efforts as the draft board raids in Delaware. Within the resistance community the two had the highest reputations for ingenuity, care and common sense — and for human perspective. The money to keep going came partly from Tony’s cab driving and partly from their mutual ability to spot valuable rubbish — those things in cellars, attics and garages which the owners are glad to get rid of but which, if you know where to take them, are worth cash.
So it had been going until January 12, the day Mary was sick in bed. It was a few minutes after 6 p.m. and Tony had just come home. There were several knocks on the door, and Tony went down to see who was there. He didn’t yell back to Mary to say who it was, and the sounds weren’t reassuring. Mary went into the front room. She didn’t need a robe — the chill in the house was such that she was already wearing slacks and a sweater. “I remember being grateful I didn’t have a robe on — it just makes you seem more vulnerable.”
Tony was sitting in a chair and there were two FBI-dressed men; he looked, she said, tired and bewildered. “They had made him sit down. They wanted to make me sit down too, but I was not about to sit down. I had read books about that! I did! They try to get you to sit down — and then they stand up and you’re supposed to get this really inferior, powerless feeling. So I wouldn’t sit down. They were all bigger than I was anyway! Then I asked them what this was all about, but before they answered, they went to the back door to let another man into the house. No one with common sense would open the door to that alley after dark, much less station a person there! I asked again what this was all about and they said, ‘Conspiracy against the federal government.’ I said, ‘Where’s your warrant.’ They said, ‘We don’t need one — there’s a bench warrant in Harrisburg.’ I didn’t even know where Harrisburg was! One of us asked to see their identification. I have no idea what I was looking at. I couldn’t tell you what was on the cards. I went and stood under the light. I wasn’t reading anything, I don’t know what their names were. But I stood there looking at the cards! Show some control, Mary! I didn’t want them to just get away with not having a warrant — but there was no way to stop them. They were just going to take him. And I kept wondering, ‘Why aren’t you taking me? Tony has done nothing I haven’t done?’ Tony told me later he was wondering the same thing, but we didn’t dare say anything because then maybe they would take me!
“I asked them to call the U.S. Attorney. I had heard that was the thing to do. But there was no way to make them do anything. They just said, ‘You can call him.’ They tried to be professional, but were uncertain of their ground and fidgety. I was afraid to push their nerves too far.
“Then they decided to leave. He had already been handcuffed when I came into the room — and they wouldn’t take them off even to let him put his coat on. And it was winter outside! I put his coat around his shoulders. I also emptied all his pockets.
“We were talking when they made him leave — and just as they made him go, he looked at me and said, ‘Well, Mary, we’ve got ‘em now!’ And then he said, ‘You know what to do!’ And we kissed goodbye.” Mary and I stopped for laughter but she said they had kept straight faces that day, “Then off he went, calling out to people on the street, ‘Hi gang!’”
A visit from the Cardinal
With the house suddenly empty, Mary called Neil and Joe. They were home and she told them what happened — they said come over. It was a two-minute walk. Their Volkswagen microbus was out in front, but they didn’t answer the door.
“We had a key so I went inside. But nobody seemed to be there. Their dinner was on the stove. But the stove was turned off. I kept hoping that maybe their water boiler had burst again and that maybe they were in the cellar — or they were going to be there somewhere. I went all through the house. I didn’t call them. I just went to each room and looked. And they weren’t there. Nobody was there.”
Talking about it months afterward, she remembered a detail: Neil and Joe had found a small dark grey cat in the alley in back of the Scoblicks’ house and Joe had taken it home. It was a sickly animal and never learned to use its rear legs well. “When I got to the house and walked up the steps, the cat was jumping up onto their red curtains and clawing at them. It was like he had gone berserk.
“I found out later that the cat — Danbury — had gotten out of the house when they were arresting Joe and Neil and Joe had made one of the FBI men go and get the cat and bring him back! All these strange things that happened to the poor cat! And Joe in handcuffs, concerned about the cat…”
It took several hours, following several false leads, before she found the three in the police lockup. Mary arrived with several friends. “All three of them already had visitors! And we had to wait! The Cardinal [Sheehan] was there, and the guard on duty was very impressed. I couldn’t understand how the Cardinal came before me, but he did. The sergeant on duty was very impressed — the Cardinal was there! The guard told me he had straightened his collar. But I wasn’t about to straighten my collar — I wasn’t at all impressed. I was just so depressed. Especially when I learned the diocesan lawyer was in there. I didn’t know him but presumed he’d fight to keep them in there.”
In fact both the Cardinal and his lawyer, Francis X. Gallagher, fought to get the men out.
“Frank was all smiles,” Joe recalls. “Hello! How are you?”
“Fine! Everything’s fine! Nothing to worry about.” Tony was imitating Gallagher’s voice. “Terrific! Just don’t answer any questions.”
“We kept saying, ‘What shall we do, what shall we do? How do we get out of this? And he said,” Tony went on, “There’s no problem, there’s no problem with this,’” Tony explained this was good news because the FBI agents had assured him that he was “going away for the rest of his life” and Tony said he had been finding the idea of that “hard to get used to.”
Lawrence Cardinal Sheehan left a less verbal impression than Frank Gallagher. The Cardinal asked how they were feeling. He was greatly concerned because they wanted cigarettes but didn’t have any — a priest accompanying him was sent out to get cigarettes. Then there was a search for matches when the cigarettes arrived. The Cardinal didn’t question them. It was clear he was pleased with his lawyer’s desire to volunteer his legal services. (In subsequent days, as the bail issue was argued in court, the Cardinal said he would be responsible for the subsequent appearances of these three; even so, bail was still insisted on.)
For his visit to the prison that night, Cardinal Sheehan received a number of strongly critical letters and phone calls. He confined his response to a quotation from the Gospel according to St. Matthew: “I was in prison and you visited me.”
“The president of what company?”
Eq’s arrest, synchronized almost to the minute with the Baltimore arrests, was carried out with speed and efficiency within the Adlai Stevenson Institute in Chicago where Eq was then a Fellow. The conservatively suited pair of FBI agents entered Eq’s office and were on their way out a half minute later, their handcuffed captive hardly having time to yell back, “Call Julie! Tell her they’ve arrested me!” The astonished secretary blinked at the scene and yelled back, “Who arrested you?” “The FBI has arrested me!”
If Eq’s sense of humor flagged at all, it revived quickly at the police station. Part of a television news team was already there, but only the technicians. “The guy is here, the guy is here! Where is Bill Plath.” The anchor man hadn’t arrived. Finally one news team was ready and announced to the sergeant, “We want to talk to him.” A finger was pointed at Eq. “Can we talk to him?” The police officer responded, “Well, I have no objection. It’s up to him if he wants to talk to you.” “Can we talk to you?” they asked Eq. “Of course! Let them in.” The police officer beamed, yelling out to an assistant, “Open the door! Open the door!” Simultaneously, the cop started tidying his tie and combing his hair, repeating the order twice more, “Open the door, open the door!” But as he stood by Eq, “snuggling up to me,” waiting for the cameras to begin multiplying the events for Chicago (perhaps national) television, the news show anchor man told the apprentice star sternly, “You’re not supposed to be part of that!” The poor policeman’s face dropped like a soufflé in the subway.
For four hours Eq had had a cell to himself when a tall man arrived. Eq enjoyed describing him: “He had a long mod black-striped fur coat, very wide tie, long stiff collars, bell-bottom trousers, pointed Italian shoes — black. He takes a cigarette box out, a gold lighter. And I am sitting there in a corner, fascinated by this performance. Finally I ask, ‘What are you in for, brother?’ He says, ‘Driving without license.’ Then he turns to me and says, ‘What are you in for?’ I say, ‘They say I was going to kidnap the president’s adviser.’ He looks at me and says, ‘What company he work for?’ I said, ‘No company, man, the president of America! Mr. Nixon’s adviser.’” At this the cellmate decided he had been lucky enough to be locked in with a man with a sense of humor — and he began to laugh. “You fuckin’ joker, you’re puttin’ me on! You fuckin’ joker!” The man’s body doubled over with rolls of laughter that ignored the jail bars.
“We have the package”
That same day Liz, Jogues Egan and Bill Cunningham (a Jesuit priest who had been one of the Catonsville Nine lawyers) were coming out of lawyer Morton Staris’ offices in Newark, New Jersey. Jogues had been ordered to appear before a grand jury in Harrisburg and there were a number of legal matters that required clarification. As the three left the office building, Liz noticed two cars that “looked like FBI cars and with FBI in them.” Ignoring the grey-suited observers, the three went over to their car in the parking lot, Bill and Jogues getting in immediately. Three men approached. “Sister Liz,” one of them said, “you’re under arrest for an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this afternoon.”
The FBI had more of a catch then they realized: Liz had in her hands at that moment the entire folder of correspondence with Phil. “I had them in my hand — I had been carrying it with me very nearly 24 hours a day! I was more upset about having this file in my hands at that point than I was being arrested.
“Bill and Jogues, who were in the car, thought at first these men were parking attendants and that I was trying to leave without paying the parking fee! But they quickly caught on that it was something and Bill started getting out of the car. One of the FBI men said, ‘Is that your lawyer?’ and I said, ‘Bill? Oh yes! Of course!’ “Bill took over. He said, ‘Do you have a warrant?’ They said, ‘No,’ and explained there was a bench warrant in Harrisburg.
“While all this was going on, I opened up the car and started to put the folder of correspondence inside. One of the agents said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Leaving my things in the back seat.’ He said, ‘Oh no, that comes with you!’ And I said — to myself — Oh no it doesn’t.’
Jogues came around the car. She recognized one of the agents and said, ‘Mr. Reilly, we meet again — and so soon.’ Mr. Reilly was one of the men who had served the subpoena to Jogues.
“Then Bill asked them, ‘Do you have a copy of ‘ the indictment?’ They said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘What are the charges?’ One of them said, ‘Oh, there are about twenty of them.’ Another pulled out a notebook and read off seven points. Bill responded, ‘Well, that’s seven.’ But they weren’t interested in debate.
“They said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ With which I gave Bill the keys to the car. Then I reached into my purse to get the registration. The FBI men said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m giving him the registration to the car.’ The agent said, ‘Oh he doesn’t need that — he can explain it.’ I said, ‘Thank you, but I’ll give him the registration.’
“So I gave him the registration.
“Jogues looked like she was in the midst of tears, so I gave her a big hug and said, ‘Don’t worry.’
“Then I did the same with Bill — and handed him the file!”
Liz smiled beautifully with the memory, her eyes full of light.
“They didn’t try to take it away from him. I don’t know whether they knew it had passed hands or not.”
Seven cars of agents were in and around the parking lot, two or three agents to a car: nearly twenty agents to arrest Sister Elizabeth McAlister!
“As we were walking to the car, one of them said to me, ‘You’ve done a lot of traveling today, Sister.’ And I looked at him and said, ‘And I’ve had company all the way, huh?’ They didn’t answer. So I got in the back seat with two of them and there were two more in the front. They took my purse and asked what I had in my pockets. I said, ‘Four tissues and…’ I counted up the change. ‘and a dollar thirty seven.’ They kept referring to me as Sister Liz, so about the fifth time that they had called me that, I said to them, ‘Please. My name is Elizabeth. My friends call me Liz.’
“He pretended to be hurt, but it was all so pretentious I could have hit him. He had a grin in his face from one ear to the other, and it remained with him. It was a little hard to take. His name was Mr. Riley. He was one of the men who had arrested Phil at St. Gregory’s. He picked up the radio microphone and called in to their center, ‘We’ve got the package and we’re coming in.’ That’s what he said! It’s not TV stuff — they really do it!”
“Reconciling myself to life imprisonment”
Phil Berrigan didn’t need to be arrested; arrest had begun in that rectory closet in St. Gregory’s April 21st. The first cold draft of another trial came November 27 when the prison grapevine carried the news of Hoover’s accusation before the Senate subcommittee.
There had been the vague warning in news Liz had brought along on visits of intensified federal surveillance, but she had thought it had to do with the Delaware draft raids.
Neither Dan nor Phil had given a passing thought to old letters. “Dan and I had discussed events at Lewisburg, just as we had discussed his four months underground. I had told him about Douglas, and our hopes for him. We went over the main lines of a citizen’s arrest, and the tunnel proposal… We thought of both as explorations — hopeful and necessary ones, but mere explorations.
Then came the news of Hoover’s charges. ‘“As I recall it,” Phil wrote me later, “the evening was cold and snowy — like our hearts. For purpose of security, we walked in the handball courts to discuss Hoover’s bombshell. The best reasons we could find for his statement were the FBI’s incapacity to prosecute the recent draft board raids, Dan’s impudent and effective underground, and Hoover’s sagging reputation… I dared not conclude, at that point, that Douglas had betrayed us.
“A ponderous gloom invaded us. I remember fighting to reconcile myself to the idea of life imprisonment, especially when I learned that the government had Douglas under contract, and possession of the letters as well. My experience, however, served me well — I had been boxed in before by our manicured despots, to no lasting ill effect. I knew what they could try; but I also suspected what they couldn’t accomplish against resolute nonviolence.
“It might have taken a week to get reconciled to the worst. But lest this appear too casual or too off hand — I must confess to a recurrent question — what will God ask one to do? How many prison years will be required? Jail years marked by resistance to penal corruption — and therefore solitary, fasts, possible shipment to other institutions.
“Others apparently were not asked to do that much or they had rejected doing anything at all. So the reasoning — and temptation — went. In the end, one banishes them, trying to go on.
“I remember thinking too — with astonishment — ’Wow! they’ve finally got me!’ If they had ever know what some of us had done — it would be all up. But now they know. And there’s nothing quite like their anger and vengefulness…
“Finally, I thought of the others. Thanks to me they were now in deep trouble. However I might excuse myself; however they might excuse me; however people might rally to our defense, the fact is, I had been guilty of imprudences and shallow judgment asking for concern and services that few would have the arrogance to expect — information on the movement, requests for advice and speculation, etc., etc. I had no rational, or justifiable right to risk myself, let alone them.”
Mary and Ted
The first Harrisburg indictment allowed for maximum sentences of life in prison. But because there never was an agreement to undertake a kidnapping (there was not even agreement on a citizen’s arrest) and because there was no agreement to impede the heating of Washington offices (though one of Boyd’s most glittering accomplishments was to get a set of Joe’s fingerprints on the cover of an ROTC explosives manual, an event as challenging as getting Dorothy Day’s fingerprints on an issue of Playboy), there was finally a degree of enthusiasm about the trial. There was no conspiracy, and it wouldn’t be so huge a feat to prove that even to the most suspicious set of jurors.
Attorneys in the Justice Department weren’t a centimeter behind the defendants in catching a whiff of the future. There was a shuffling of assignment that put William Lynch in charge of the prosecution and finally a second indictment was brought. It threatened only five-year sentences to most defendants, but easier conviction.
“I was really disappointed when they dropped the first indictment,” Eq said one night, after the trial was finished.
“We were tried on the second indictment, but as far as the public was concerned, it was still a trial of conspiracy to kidnap Kissinger.
“In the second they indicted us on a generalized conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States of America, and then in that generalized indictment, they specified several things. First, six draft board raids. Then they threw in the kidnapping and the tunnel business.
“According to the conspiracy laws, they did not have to prove that we had done all the things that were listed, but any one of them — including any one of the draft board actions! If they could do that, they could convict us. It was a very smart thing to do on their part. The public image of the kidnapping charge was maintained while legally they could convict us without the kidnapping.
“It was after that second indictment that I gave my middle finger to Lynch — and he never forgave me for that.”
There were other changes in the second indictment. Most striking, Dan Berrigan was out of it altogether. In November Hoover had said Dan was, in effect, co-Godfather of the anti-war mafia. In January, he was reduced to a supporting role — simply listed as one of a number of mysterious people listed as co-conspirators but who were in no legal jeopardy. In April, with the second indictment, Dan’s name evaporated completely.
There was the inclusion of sections of the Liz and Phil letters on the citizen’s arrest notion, an explosive departure from legal precedent but one that clearly paid off politically: while the government had grasped that there had never been the plot the first indictment and Hoover had bellowed into the public ear, by releasing these chips of the letters, it was made to seem that the government had actually known what it was taking about, and that the defendants earlier protestations of innocence were either lies or at least fell short of honesty.
Finally, there was the addition of two new defendants, Ted Glick and Mary Scoblick.
Ted Glick was in prison at the time, already one of the victims of Boyd’s efforts. Ted had been in the Flower City Conspiracy. He had grown into the resistance from a highly committed Protestant family background, finally dropping out of Grinnell College. For years prior to what he called “the change” — change resulting in his leaving college and occasioned by contact with blacks, the reading of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, as well as with direct contact with a member of the Milwaukee 14 draft group) he had been enthusiastically involved in “the art and disciplines of wrestling.”
Here is a letter Ted wrote to his wife the day of the news:
“Dearest one —
“My mother’s birthday — and as a present her son is indicted — that just occurred to me — that it’s Mom’s birthday. Such are the times in which we live.
“I heard about the charges at 1:30. Chip had heard it on the radio, and he called me to tell me about it. A couple of minutes later I was called to the warden’s office to be told the same… All I’ve gotten from other inmates is either sympathy or questions about the charge… this is good in one sense — it a period of quite a few discussions about the nature of the government and has brought to the surface things not before expressed by others.
“About me — I ‘m fine of course. After initial shock, and then a period of pulling myself together, I now feel — well, interested in learning more, in making contact with people, in exploring the possibility of defending myself — the practical aspects of it ail. I was glad to hear tonight on the news that the kidnapping charge has been reduced from life to 5 years — although I see absolutely no way that there can be any evidence at all since, well, you know my innocence as well as me. Anyway, it’s better to know the most I can get is many years rather than life. Enough of that talk. The important thing is affecting people, not so much that legal nonsense — which isn’t completely true either, but you know what I mean.
“I don’t understand it all… Am I really that dangerous to the government…?
Other than these things, today I didn’t do much. Read a little, wrote a couple of poems… and played volleyball after dinner…
“I’ll finish up now — don’t worry more than is normal about me. My biggest worry is you, and my mother — that you not be too deeply shaken by this turn of events. I have faith that you won’t… I love you, I love you.”
A great deal of Ted is present there, including things that would later drive a few co-defendants and several lawyers up the wall: his determination to speak for himself in the courtroom; his amazing, sometimes unnerving equilibrium in moments of crisis; his quiet, utterly stubborn determination to make resistance the first priority of his life, and to maintain all relationships in terms of that priority. Yet all that in a gentle way. He has a soft, unhurried voice. He writes poems.
As for Mary Cain Scoblick, she entered this rendition of the Harrisburg tale earlier on, the night of her walk from one empty house to another.
She and Tony had been in Harrisburg as the new indictment was pending; Tony was engaged in a fast outside the Federal Courthouse, wearing a blanket and woolen cap against the cold, sleeping nearby in his bizarre, mostly handmade truck at night. His fast and vigil was in support of those who were risking jail by refusing to answer questions before the grand jury.
Mary was outside the courthouse with Tony that Friday when a large contingent of reporters came out of the building.
“They acted,” Mary recalled, “Like no newspapermen I’d ever seen — they just stood around. Of course I didn’t really care. I didn’t know there was anything special happening. Finally one of them told Tony that there was a new indictment — and that I was included.
“They were extremely apologetic and much abashed at being in this position, of bringing us this news! They really resented being the instruments of such information. I think they told Tony first because they just didn’t want to tell me everything at once.
“Then Tony called me and they showed us a copy of the indictment. And I saw our names set off in the center. Tony kissed me and the picture went around the country.
“I didn’t even know if it was precisely the same charge, or if we faced the same prison possibilities.
“Then the reporters said, ‘Now don’t you say anything about the indictment! Not one word!’ And this was their general agreement. They agreed that they weren’t going to ask me anything about that, and that I shouldn’t say anything. They were so good. I just couldn’t believe it.
“One of them did ask me, ‘Would you like to make just a few comments about how you feel?’ So I said if I was to be arrested, I didn’t expect anyone to think I should be required to have to pay any bail — because here I was, standing on the steps of the federal courthouse.
“Then I went up to the doorman and attempted to identify myself so I could go in and get a copy of the indictment. I told the reporters that it didn’t seem to me to be the behavior of a person who was going to flee. And in fact I never paid any bail. But the clerk had no copies left. I couldn’t even buy one. So I went to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“Finally I went to the clerk’s office. And there were about a dozen reporters there. And there was Mr. Lynch, who seemed to be having a great time. He was leaning casually on a desk. I never saw him relaxed after that day.
“And he acknowledged me. He started out very jolly, saying, ‘Oh well! Here’s Mary…’ And then his voice kind of slid down a couple of octaves and died with a mutter of ‘Scoblick’ — because he saw the look on my face.
“Because I was furious, I was just furious. I was furious that he would be there talking to reporters when he knew where I was — I had been in that building for two weeks sitting on the floor with the people who were being called to the grand jury. And he knew Tony was outside fasting. He passed by him every day. Just a few minutes effort could have found me. They could have told me what had happened in a dignified way.
“Then I had the memory very quickly of how we had been put in a surprise position with the first indictment. And now this. Telling the press and then us.
“So I had a few things to say to Mr. Lynch. I said ‘You could at least have done me the courtesy of informing me of my indictment before you had your press conference.’ Then he made a mistake. He said, ‘I didn’t know where you were.’ He could have said, ‘That’s not the procedure.’ But he was very rushed and didn’t think. I said, ‘I’ve been in the building for two weeks. There are plenty of people in the building who could have found me easily.’ So then he just tried to keep me quiet and get me out. Then I said, ‘I haven’t even been able to buy a copy of my indictment.’ And he said, ‘You shouldn’t even be discussing this without your lawyer.’ And I said, ‘You know perfectly well that I’m discussing your behavior. I know what I can discuss and what I can’t discuss. And I’m discussing your conduct. And then I left, and I didn’t say goodbye.”
A year after Mary’s dressing down of Prosecutor Lynch, the trial was ending with only two jurors convinced that any of those on trial were guilty of conspiracy to kidnap Kissinger or bomb heating tunnels.
Within 18 months, the government had quietly filed for a dismissal of charges:
There were convictions. Phil and Liz were found guilty of sending unauthorized letters. (Their appeal is still in progress.)
The better part of a million dollars had been raised to pay for the defense and for the organizing projects that surrounded the trial.
Some defense efforts went into support of the draft resisters who had been arrested in the federal building in Buffalo, and there was help given to the Camden 28.
There was a national pilgrimage to Harrisburg that brought many thousands to the city for Holy Week.
Defendants and staff had gone on the road much of the time. Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, who had made the Pentagon Papers public, had become involved. A supporting statement from Cesar Chavez was on the principal defense committee poster. Some Episcopal bishops came and wore their liturgical vestments for a peace observance in the streets of Harrisburg.
Such events, and the trial that had occasioned them, became well known.
It would be good and helpful to talk about the unknown events of the inner workings of the defense. The defendants, their lawyers, and co-workers had suffered through a staggering obstacle course — such questions as whether Bill Kunstler should be one of the’ lawyers, as Dan and Phil Berrigan very much wanted, but a place wasn’t found for Bill.
There were such unlikely (and as yet unreported) events as the cross examination of former Attorney General Ramsey Clark by Eqbal Ahmad when Ramsey first volunteered his services to the defense; Eq wanted answers about Ramsey’s involvement in the Johnson administration, his department’s prosecution of Dr. Spock, his failure to speak out against the war while a cabinet member; Ramsey offered no excuses — with humility that astonished the defendants, he simply said he had erred — and later repeated himself at public meetings.
There were the comic events, such as the FBI investigation of the Green Carnation Conspiracy. On St. Patrick’s Day both the defendants and jurors had worn identical green carnations to which a cheerless Justice Department responded by interviewing all of Harrisburg’s florists in an effort to prove jury tampering.
There were the grave difficulties the defendants had with each other, though hardly a rare thing in conspiracy trials, this group, managed to overcome the legion of opportunities they had for losing their functional unity.
There were severe strains between defendants and the defense committee staff, but these were also resolved.
As much as all these events deserve some detailed reporting, their telling will have to wait. For my own part, I lay this burden down with relief. Describing the genesis of the trial is enough.
Perhaps its telling can even strengthen the resolve of a few readers to reexamine and to reimagine their lives. Whether or not a cease fire takes hold in Indochina, the work of peacemaking remains as urgent as ever — in fact more so, as the reduction of overt American violence will certainly result in further shrinkage of the number of persons regularly working against violence; that shrinkage will make more important the work and resolve of those who remain. For the cultural assumptions and national priorities, even the private life-styles, that brought on the war seem little changed. No deep lesson seems to have been learned.
Then perhaps the efforts of the Harrisburg people can be read as something other than historical notes of a bygone era. Perhaps their questions and their searching — and their lessons — can be recognized as still important.
— Jim Forest
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Jim Forest has written a great deal on the subject of resistance, often in the pages of WIN. He was a member of the Milwaukee 14, which destroyed draft files in 1968. Jim is currently working on the problem of political prisoners in South Vietnam.
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* Postscript written in 2012:
Much that I wrote in the WIN article 39 years ago holds up quite well, but I find myself turning into a spin doctor in the section that deals with Phil Berrigan’s letter to Liz in which he comments on the idea of a citizens’ arrest of Henry Kissinger: “About the plan — the first time opens the door to murder — the Tupamaros are finding that out in Uruguay… When I refer to murder, it is not to prohibit it absolutely (violence against nonviolence bag); it is merely to observe that one has set the precedent, and that later on, when government resistance to this sort of thing stiffens, men will be killed.”
Looking back, it seems to me that Phil means exactly what he said — that of its nature such an action risks the occurrence of homicidal violence but that taking that risk might be necessary.
If I could go back in time, I would better have pointed out that Phil was not immune from the anger and desperation that led a small number of other war resisters and would-be revolutionaries into the bomb-making Weather Underground. Phil had only recently toyed seriously with the possibility of using explosives in heating tunnels that served federal office buildings in Washington.
I recall Joe Wenderoth, who went into the tunnels with Phil, telling me how terrified he was of the direction Phil was going at the time and how powerless he felt to oppose Phil. “To say I was relieved when the FBI arrested Phil in that Manhattan rectory is to put it mildly,” Joe told me. “His arrest put an end to the tunnels project.”
I am reminded of Dorothy Day’s worry that the tactics Phil Berrigan helped develop were on the borderline of nonviolence and could have the effect of encouraging others to cross that border. “Bombings are the next step,” she commented, “and when it comes to bombs, you can’t control them, no matter what your intentions, you can’t be sure that there isn’t a late worker or a cleaning worker around.”
Imprisonment can sometimes be a blessing — a time to get off the conveyor belt one has been riding, a time to rethink basic issues, a time for contemplation and prayer. In the years that followed, though Phil committed many acts of civil disobedience and spent a great deal more time in prison, there was no further thought given to using bombs or undertaking actions that could result in anyone being harmed.
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