A former investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Rosenfeld spent decades accumulating this material, filing Freedom of Information Act requests that prompted the FBI to spend more than $1 million beating back his demands until it grudgingly released more than 250,000 pages of files. Rosenfeld has an agenda in this book of patience and passion: setting straight a previously hidden – and consequential – record. The way his stories converge evokes “They Marched Into Sunlight,” David Maraniss’ similarly structured 2003 book about a Vietnam War firefight.
Through FBI documents and interviews with players including Reagan right-hand man Edwin Meese III, Richard Masato Aoki (a FBI informer who also may have been a student radical), and protestors, Rosenfeld paints a chilling picture. Law enforcement organizations in Reagan’s California joined in a systematic attempt to smear students and professors, infiltrate their associations with moles, discredit the intellectual enterprise, and instigate actions designed to justify deployment of organizations spanning local police and the National Guard.
All came to a head in People’s Park, “where – six months before the violence at Altamont and a year before the killings at Kent State – the end of the sixties would begin.” People’s Park was a university-owned parcel UC Berkeley wanted to develop as a soccer field. But city residents and students resisted, instead seeking a “park to be a cultural, political freakout and rap center for the Western world,” according to the April 18, 1969 Berkeley Barb.
That May 15, Reagan had what Rosenfeld calls a “showdown,” setting law against demonstrators. By the end of the day, at least 169 people had been injured; no officer had been shot or seriously hurt, but more than 58 civilians were, 51 by police birdshot – or buckshot, which killed San Jose laborer James Rector and blinded Berkeley carpenter Alan Blanchard. Reagan put Berkeley under martial law.