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Assault on the Left: The FBI and the Sixties Antiwar Movement [Hardcover]

by James K. Davis
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 22, 1997 0275954552 978-0275954550

The New Left was founded in 1962, and as a social and political protest movement, it captured the attention of the nation in the Sixties. By 1968, the New Left was marching in unison with hundreds of political action groups to achieve one goal—the end of the war in Vietnam. Under J. Edgar Hoover's direction, the FBI went from an intelligence collection agency during WWII, to an organization that tried to undermine protest movements like the New Left. Hoover viewed the New Left as a threat to the American way of life, so in an enormous effort of questionable legality, the FBI implemented some 285 counter-intelligence (COINTELPRO) actions against the New Left. The purpose of COINTELPRO was to infiltrate, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize the entire movement. In truth, the FBI intended to wage war on the antiwar movement.

In this real-life spy story—J. Edgar Hoover and his G-Men, wiretaps, burglaries, misinformation campaigns, informants, and plants—Davis offers a glimpse into the endlessly fascinating world of the Sixties. Kent State, Columbia University, Vietnam Moratorium Day, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Cambodian invasion and March Against Death are all examined in this riveting account of the longest youth protest movement in American history. This is the only book devoted entirely to the New Left COINTELPRO, and the first one written after the declassification of more than 6,000 counterintelligence documents that reveal the true nature and extent of the FBI's Assault on the Left.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In 1939 President Roosevelt first authorized the FBI to investigate subversive activities in the United States. Here Davis (Spying on America, LJ 5/1/92) takes up the bureau's assault on "the New Left" 30 years later. The New Left included militant student organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which mobilized against the war in Vietnam. Davis contends that in the New Left Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) used by the FBI, the bureau went far beyond gathering information and pursued secret actions against groups and individuals that weakened the antiwar movement. Along the way, the FBI "circumvented First and Fourth Amendment guarantees and thus exceeded its authority." To support his claim, Davis draws on hundreds of FBI documents. Yet in the end he gives us only the documentation of the COINTELPRO actions, not a historical or contextual analysis of the FBI's actions. Only for collections with a strong interest in this area.?Roseanne Castellino, LucasVarity Corp., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A sad chronicle of the government's spying on citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. In 1939, writes Davis (Spying on America, 1992) President Roosevelt pressed FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate ``sabotage, espionage, and subversive activities.'' With WW II looming, he was right to fear the first two. But, Davis shows, Hoover concerned himself largely with the third sphere, compiling dossiers on millions of Americans who harbored socialist sympathies or protested the governing policies of the era. In 1956, President Eisenhower authorized increased surveillance of suspected radicals, even endorsing Hoover's program of illegal breaking and entering to photograph ``secret communist documents.'' With the rise of the antiwar movement in the 1960s, the antisubversion elements of the FBI embarked on their elaborate, and infamous, COINTELPRO operation, which extended breaking and entering to new heights: infiltrating leftist organizations with paid informants and agents provocateurs who encouraged peaceful groups to engage in terrorism; writing anonymous letters to fellow travelers, parents, and prospective employers charging leftists with illegal activities; targeting prominent dissidents with smear campaigns. The documents Davis offers are sometimes comical, as FBI agents attempt to mimic the language of hippies and Yippies and Black Panthers (``bring your own grass, pot, whatever,'' read one faked flyer announcing a demonstration). Yet, Davis shows, there was nothing at all funny about the government's secret program of violating Americans' civil rights. The COINTELPRO operation ultimately failed--thanks to federal ineptitude--and it did nothing substantial to halt the antiwar movement, which managed to stage some of the ``largest mass demonstrations ever seen in the western hemisphere'' despite the FBI's best efforts. Nelson Blackstock's Cointelpro (not reviewed) and Davis's own earlier book cover much of this ground, but this well-researched study is a welcome investigation of political corruption in the supposed service of Americanism. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger (April 22, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0275954552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0275954550
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Daniel W. Baggott, M.A. May 14, 2009
The New Left movement was founded in 1962 with the idea of organizing a massive protest against the Vietnam War. Historians have written extensively about the movement and its crusade to expose the American people about how the war became a quagmire with no end in sight. However, little is known about the federal government's reaction against the New Left, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Thanks to James Krikpatrick Davis, we know way more about the FBI's counterassault against the antiwar movement with his intriguing book Assault on the Left: The FBI and the Sixties Antiwar Movement.

Using more than 6,000 declassified FBI documents and other primary sources, Davis provides an in-depth look of the Bureau's counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO; it's goal was to "infiltrate, disrupt, and neutralize" the entire movement. The FBI operation, Davis contends, had no oversight by either the Justice Department or Congress and allowed to run rampant in order to disrupt the New Left. As the oldest republic in the world, the author contends that America "should perhaps know more than any nation on earth about individual liberties" (page 214) and that the federal government failed to provide a check on the COINTELPRO operation to safeguard individual liberties.

This book somewhat fits in with the rest of the historical literature of
the 1960s despite the author of not being a professional historian but rather a student of history for over thirty years. It provides a good, detailed description of the FBI counterintelligence program against the New Left but sometimes the writing style was a little choppy and repetitious. Finally, this book is recommended for any history buff and for professional historians as well to get a glimpse of the FBI's COINTELPRO operation against the antiwar movement. Therefore I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Informative yet Dry January 3, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Admittedly I didn't read the title very carefully: Assault on the Left: The FBI and the Sixties Antiwar Movement. I only selected this book because I had read another book dealing with Geronimo Pratt (the ex-Black Panther falsely imprisoned for 27 years) and in that book there was mention of COINTELPRO. In an effort to know more about COINTELPRO, and specifically how COINTELPRO directly affected the Civil Rights movement, I ordered this book.

This book is heavily laden with FBI memos from their COINTELPRO operation, but the memos were more focused on the antiwar movement than any other "Leftist" activity. The book provided some very interesting pieces of information regarding different movements at that time as well as some of the significant events that happened in the 60's and early 70's. The biggest problem I found with the book was the very dry way in which a lot of the data was presented. In fact, much of the book was just memos from FBI field offices and from the FBI headquarters. That made for very tedious and boring reading. I was hoping for more interviews from activists, informants and agents alike.

If you're looking for a single source of dates and actual memos from the FBI, then this is the book. If you're looking for a story, or for details that lead to certain events, then I suggest finding a more suitable book.
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