May 1969 was the low point in the relationship between Reagan and UC Berkeley. Students and activists had begun an attempt to transform a vacant plot of university property into “People’s Park.” Attempting to head off the activists, the university engaged a fencing company, accompanied by 250 police, to erect a chain-link fence around the land at 4 a.m. on May 15, 1969. Five hours later, a rally was called on Sproul Plaza to protest the action. Resource, a current UC Berkeley reference guide for new students, relates the story of how Reagan intervened, sending in the National Guard:
“The rally, which drew 3,000 people, soon turned into a riot, as the crowd moved down Telegraph (Ave.) towards the park. That day, known as Bloody Thursday, three students suffered punctured lungs, another a shattered leg, 13 people were hospitalized with shotgun wounds, and one police officer was stabbed. James Rector, who was watching the riot from a rooftop, was shot by police gunfire; he died four days later.
“At the request of the Berkeley mayor, Governor Ronald Reagan declared a state of emergency and sent 2,200 National Guard troops into Berkeley. Some of these guardsmen were even Cal students. At least one young man had participated in the riots, been shot at by police, gotten patched up, and then returned to his dorm to find a notice to report for guard duty. In the following days approximately 1,000 people were arrested: 200 were booked for felonies, and 500 were taken to Santa Rita jail.”
The governor’s race
Seth Rosenfeld, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, June 9, 2002
With a fire crackling in the hearth behind him, Reagan faced the television camera and announced on Jan. 4, 1966, that he would run for governor of California.
To Hoover and other FBI officials who had been frustrated with Brown’s and Kerr’s failure to end the protests at UC, Reagan was a breath of fresh air.
Over the years, the bureau had taken note as the charismatic actor who wanted to star in “The FBI Story” transformed himself into a leading conservative spokesman.
Reagan had campaigned for Nixon against John F. Kennedy in 1960. The following year, Reagan told a conference of food executives in Chicago that theCommunist Party “has ordered once again the infiltration” of the movie industry. “They are crawling out from under the rocks,” he declared.
When Hoover saw a news story about Reagan’s speech, he dispatched agents to question him. But the bureau’s former informer backpedaled, admitting that he had no “first-hand information” about current subversives in Hollywood.
That year, Reagan, as host of “General Electric Theater,” produced a two-part television special about Marion Miller, who had infiltrated the Communist Party for the FBI and told all in a book, “I Was a Spy: The Story of a Brave Housewife.”
Later in 1962, General Electric dropped Reagan from his $150,000 per year job as company representative, concluding his speeches had become too politically extreme. That year Reagan switched his voter registration to Republican.
But it was his hugely successful 1964 television fund-raising pitch on behalf of Sen. Barry Goldwater‘s presidential bid — “A Time for Choosing” — that thrust Reagan into the national spotlight.
When Goldwater lost to Johnson that November, Reagan became the darling of the nation’s conservatives, some of whom were soon urging him to challenge Brown for the governorship.
And as the genial host of the “Death Valley Days” television show tested the political waters, giving talks around the state, it seemed someone always brought up UC Berkeley — and Reagan quickly warmed to the issue.
Appearing at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club in January 1965, Reagan said he approved of the arrests of the Free Speech Movement protesters.
“I’m sorry they did away with paddles in fraternities,” he quipped.
Now, as Reagan formally entered the governor’s race on Jan. 4, 1966, with his fireside chat, he made it clear that one of his major campaign issues would be the campus unrest at Berkeley.
“Will we allow a great university to be brought to its knees by a noisy, dissident minority? Will we meet their neurotic vulgarities with vacillation and weakness?” Reagan asked.
“Or will we tell those entrusted with administering the university we expect them to enforce a code based on decency, common sense and dedication to the high and noble purpose of the university?”
‘Meet the Press’
Hoover’s top aides took special note when Reagan appeared on Jan. 9, 1966, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Reagan was asked why he hadn’t disavowed the John Birch Society, a group known for its far-reaching conspiracy theories.
Robert Welch, the society’s founder, contended President Eisenhower and other leading U.S. officials had been communists and traitors. The group claimed to have thousands of members nationally and chapters throughout Southern California.
Under pressure to clarify his stand on the society for months, Reagan had issued a press release saying he never was a member of the group and disagreed with Welch’s “reckless and imprudent statements.”
On “Meet the Press,” Reagan said he had not condemned the society itself because the Burns committee had looked into the group and found “nothing of a subversive nature.”
The FBI, Reagan added, “has found nothing requiring an investigation of the John Birch Society.”
But FBI officials knew the bureau’s files contained a potentially explosive memo.
In June 1960, an informer whom the FBI memo described as “reliable” reported that Reagan secretly belonged to the organization’s Beverly Hills chapter. The chapter included actors John Wayne, Adolphe Menjou and Zasu Pitts, columnist Hedda Hopper and screenwriter Morrie Ryskind, the informer told the bureau.
FBI files obtained by The Chronicle do not show whether the bureau investigated the claim or whether it is true, and DeLoach said in an interview that he had “no idea” about its veracity.
John McManus, the current president of the John Birch Society, said Reagan never was a member of the group. Wayne, Menjou and Ryskind were involved with the society, he said, adding he did not know whether Hopper and Pitts were.
Lyn Nofziger, Reagan’s press secretary during the 1966 campaign, said Reagan had no relationship with the society and avoided any appearance of a connection because “I thought it would have cost us votes.”
But the bureau kept the informer’s report safely locked away.
Overall, FBI officials noted of the “Meet the Press” show, “Reagan made a good appearance and was quite quick and witty in answering the numerous questions put to him which could have been considerably embarrassing to his future political ambitions.”
‘A leadership gap’
Reagan took the stage at San Francisco’s Cow Palace on May 12, 1966. Standing beneath a huge American flag, he told the cheering crowd, the biggest of his campaign so far, that the latest report from the Burns committee was further proof that Kerr and Brown had to go.
The 153-page report accused Kerr of fostering an “anything goes” atmosphere that had turned the university into a haven for protesters and sex deviants.
The May 6 study, prepared by Combs, blamed the litany of campus problems on Kerr’s long-standing refusal to cooperate with the Burns committee’s “contact man” program to screen out “subversive” faculty.
Once again the Burns committee report ignited inflammatory headlines in Bay Area papers, such as “Report Says U.C. ‘Base for Reds’ ” and “Senators Zero In on ‘Filth.’ ”
Kerr hastily held a press conference and blasted the study as riddled with “distortions, half-truths and statements and situations taken out of context.”
But Reagan seized on the thin red report to bolster his own charges of campus misconduct.
At the Cow Palace, he declared, “There is a leadership gap, and a morality and decency gap, in Sacramento. And there is no better illustration of that than what has been perpetrated . . . at the University of California at Berkeley, where a small minority of beatniks, radicals and filthy speech advocates have brought such shame to . . . a great university.”
Claiming his sources had verified allegations in the report, Reagan demanded the dismissal of those responsible for “the degradation” of the University of California.
And he called for legislative hearings, saying, “This report cannot be swept under the rug.”
Sources on campus
Reagan’s car pulled up at the Piedmont home of Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford later that summer, and the candidate was ushered inside for a secret meeting.
Reagan had easily defeated San Francisco Mayor George Christopher in the June 7 GOP primary and was running all out against Brown.
But he broke from his intense campaign schedule for a two-hour meeting with Mulford, a longtime critic of Kerr and “special contact” of the San Francisco FBI.
Mulford had summoned to his home several university officials who despised Kerr and had been secretly feeding the FBI internal university information that, they believed, showed Kerr not only had tolerated campus dissent but might be subversive himself.
Among those at the August meeting were Alex Sherriffs, former vice chancellor at Berkeley; Hardin Jones, assistant director of UC’s radiation lab; and John Sparrow, associate general counsel to the regents.
Sherriffs, who had bitterly opposed Kerr’s handling of the Free Speech Movement, had steadily supplied the FBI with information from personnel files about students and professors involved in campus protests.
Jones had been a paid FBI informant and had helped the FBI set up a network of campus sources to gather allegations that went into FBI reports about campus demonstrations and Kerr. He had told the FBI he was working with the Burns committee “towards removing President Kerr.” But Jones’ claims about campus communism eventually became so exaggerated that the bureau began to doubt his credibility and stopped paying him.
Sparrow had contacted the FBI at Jones’ suggestion after becoming disgusted with Kerr’s handling of campus unrest. Sparrow confidentially gave information to the FBI — as well as the Burns committee — about campus unrest.
In an interview, Sparrow confirmed the meeting and acknowledged he was engaging in partisan activity against Kerr. He said he took the “extraordinary” actions against a member of the board he represented because he was concerned about the “welfare” of the university.
During their meeting at Mulford’s, the three men briefed Reagan about “communist efforts to influence the students” at Berkeley. And they told Reagan that Kerr’s removal was “vital” to the university’s future.
Afterward, Reagan thanked Mulford for “a most interesting meeting.
“I very much appreciate the help of yourself and your associates in providing the true facts on this matter,” Reagan wrote in an Aug. 17 letter.
A letter from Hoover
A week later, Hoover gave Reagan’s campaign a boost when he endorsed the candidate’s proposal to set up a new police training academy.
On Aug. 20, 1966, Reagan had announced his plan for a new anti-crime academy that would teach “police, sheriff’s deputies and other law officers the newest methods in crime prevention and solution.”
The academy would be located in Berkeley. And “with Mr. Hoover’s help,” Reagan said, “such a school could become a sort of FBI academy of California.”
Reagan already had written the director to solicit his help.
“Because of your long record, not only of successfully fighting crime, but also of developing new techniques and methods, and because you have given the United States a crime-fighting force second to none in the world, we are eager to have your aid and advice in this project.”
But there was a problem: Hoover had previously made clear that he did not support candidates for elective office.
“It is and always has been my firm policy to refrain from lending support to any candidate in campaigns for political office,” he had said only a few months before.
But in Reagan’s case, the director was making an exception.
“I can assure you that this Bureau is always willing to extend its cooperative services to any and all local, state and federal agencies in order to more effectively combat crime,” the director replied in an Aug. 24, 1966, letter.
“I hope you will not hesitate to call upon the FBI for assistance in all matters of mutual interest.”
DeLoach denied the FBI helped Reagan’s campaign.
“Heavens no,” he said. “We stayed 10 miles away from political campaigns. Why should a fact-finding investigative agency involve themselves in political campaigns?”
Ex-CIA leader joins campaign
Shortly after Labor Day, Reagan launched the final two months of his campaign with a new attack on Berkeley — this time vowing to conduct a formal investigation of the campus protests with help from former CIA Director John McCone.
McCone had resigned from the CIA in April 1965 and joined Reagan’s campaign in August 1966 as head of an executive policy advice committee.
In a major campaign address on Sept. 9, 1966, Reagan struck at both Kerr and Brown.
“I charge that there has been political interference, which has resulted in the appeasement of campus malcontents and filthy speech advocates under the pretense of preserving academic freedom.
“We must have a fair and open inquiry and we must maintain academic freedom for the university and keep it isolated from political influence.
“As governor, I will ask the most qualified man in California and the nation — John McCone — to conduct such an inquiry.”
The Reagan landslide
On Nov. 8, 1966, Reagan defeated Brown by nearly 1 million votes, leading a Republican sweep of the major state offices that instantly made him a national political figure.
The next day, Hoover wrote Reagan:
“Heartiest congratulations upon your election as Governor of California,” he said. “Your many friends in this Bureau join me in the hope that your term in office will meet with every success, and we want you to feel free to let us know whenever we can be of service.”
Lynum wrote Reagan on Nov. 14:
“May I convey my heartiest congratulations. . . . If we can be of any service in matters of mutual interest . . . please feel free to call on me.”
Three days later, Grapp also wrote him:
“My associates in the Los Angeles Division of the FBI join me in extending to you best wishes for continued success and want you to know of our desire to assist you in any way possible.”
In interviews, Lynum and Grapp said their letters were merely pro forma.
A message from Mulford
The same day, Mulford arrived at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., with a proposal.
Mulford, who was helping the governor-elect select members of his administration, urged FBI officials to take advantage of Reagan’s election and “exploit the opportunity . . . to have Governor Reagan clean out the left-wing elements” at the University of California.
Reagan was setting up a committee under Phil Battaglia, who had been his campaign chairman and was now his chief of staff, and Mulford wanted to know if the bureau could give Battaglia information “to assist Governor Reagan in identifying communists and other left-wing extremists.
“The purpose will be either to eliminate them from the state government or to prevent their receiving an appointment to a state position,” Mulford told a senior agent on Nov. 17, 1966. “Reagan is planning to clean up the University of California at Berkeley.”
Battaglia, now a Southern California lawyer whose clients include the Hearst Corp., said he did not recall the matter.
The agent concluded his meeting with Mulford by giving him the FBI’s stock reply: “The FBI could not be placed in the position of ‘clearing’ appointees to state positions.”
But within a week, the director alerted all California FBI offices to Mulford’s proposal:
“In the event that you, or another of the California offices is contacted by Reagan or one of his assistants regarding this matter,” Hoover wrote, “the Bureau should be immediately advised of the details and no commitments should be made until instructions are received from the Bureau.”
But the FBI had a problem.
As governor, Reagan would have access to UC’s atomic research data. The Atomic Energy Act required the FBI to conduct a comprehensive background investigation of him.
The process started on Dec. 18, 1966, when Reagan filled out a Personnel Security Questionnaire that asked, among other questions:
“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of any organization which has been designated by the United States Attorney General as required under the provisions of Executive Order 10450?
“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of any foreign or domestic organization, association, movement, group, or combination of persons which is totalitarian, fascist, communist, or subversive . . . ?”
Applicants were required to list any such groups and the dates they were involved with them.
Reagan answered “no” to both questions on the form, which contained a warning that “any false statement herein may be punished as a felony.”
Reagan received shining recommendations from everyone the FBI interviewed.
But files of the Los Angeles FBI office showed that in 1946 Reagan had been a sponsor and director of the Committee for a Democratic Far East Policy, which had been designated as subversive by the U.S. Attorney General under Executive Order 10450.
The records also showed that also in 1946 Reagan had been a member of theAmerican Veterans Committee, the California section of which had been cited in a report by the predecessor of the Burns committee as “communist dominated and (as) a vociferous, decadent minority in national AVC affairs.”
But Grapp, head of the L.A. office, approved a report that conformed to Reagan’s Personnel Security Questionnaire — omitting Reagan’s association with the two groups officially deemed subversive.
When FBI officials in the bureau’s headquarters read Grapp’s report, they ordered him to amend the document to include Reagan’s role in the groups.
The bureau could not risk the omission. Hundreds of people in the late 1940s and early 1950s had faced hearings and sometimes dismissals from federal employment for failing to disclose memberships in groups deemed subversive.
But the final report to the Atomic Energy Commission, prepared by FBI headquarters, did not mention Reagan’s false statement that he had never belonged to a subversive organization, which by law could itself be reason to deny a security clearance.
Battaglia said he did not recall Reagan’s security clearance application.
Meese, who joined the administration after Reagan signed the form, said he did not know why Reagan denied his past association with the groups.
DeLoach denied that the FBI gave Reagan special treatment in preparing the report.
But Grapp and another former agent told The Chronicle it was standard procedure for the FBI to point out discrepancies between an applicant’s sworn statement and the bureau’s findings.
“Yeah, sure, they’d put that in,” Grapp said.
On Jan. 5, 1967, Reagan was sworn in as governor of California. In an inaugural address delivered on the steps of the state Capitol, he warned UC students to obey the rules or get out.
Nine days later, Reagan’s office phoned Lynum and said Reagan was scheduled to meet with Kerr about “the Berkeley situation” in two days. Reagan wanted to meet with FBI officials beforehand.
The new governor was furious with Kerr, according to an FBI memo. Reagan’s plan to cut the budget for higher education and impose tuition for the first time had leaked to the press. In response, Kerr had announced he would freeze early admissions to the university. New campus protests erupted and students burned Reagan in effigy.
Lynum hung up the phone after speaking with Lt. Gov. Robert Finch and immediately called FBI headquarters.
He urged the bureau to be cautious and not to meet with Reagan at that time. He suggested instead referring the new governor to “former university officials and others who are fully aware of the Berkeley situation.”
An hour later, headquarters called Lynum back.
He was to meet with Reagan.
A bedside meeting
Lynum and Glenn Harter, his top domestic security agent, were led into Reagan’s master bedroom in the governor’s mansion in Sacramento on Jan. 16, 1967.
The flu-stricken Reagan had canceled the meeting he had scheduled with Kerr for that afternoon, but he still wanted to speak with the FBI about Berkeley.
Reagan’s top aides were gathered around his king-size bed. But after perfunctory introductions, Lynum reminded the governor that Hoover had authorized only a private meeting.
Reagan looked around the room.
“Well, you heard him, boys,” he said, Lynum told The Chronicle.
After agreeing that their conversation would be held in strict confidence, Lynum and Harter gave Reagan a 45-minute briefing about the turmoil at UC. “I told him what I knew,” Lynum said.
But Reagan also wanted a wide range of intelligence from the bureau.
“Governor Reagan specifically requested any information on University President Clark Kerr, any subversive information on any of the University Regents and any information the FBI developed indicating a demonstration was to be held on the campus or at press conferences,” an FBI memo said.
Some of his press conferences, the governor explained, could be “stacked with ‘left wingers’ who might make an attempt to embarrass him and the state government.”
Reagan also asked for advance information on “any demonstrations against him or the university administrations.”
As Hoover had instructed, Lynum made no commitments. He told Reagan the bureau had not investigated the university and referred Reagan to the Burns committee’s most recent report about subversive activities on campus.
Then he and Harter returned to San Francisco and sent an urgent report to the director.
Hoover seized the chance to help Reagan clean up Berkeley.
“This presents the Bureau with an opportunity to take positive steps to thwart the ever increasing agitation by subversive elements on the campuses,” he noted on a memo to his aides.
“Agitators on other campuses take their lead from activities which occur at Berkeley.
“If agitational activity at Berkeley can be effectively curtailed, this could set up a chain reaction which will result in the curtailment of such activities on other campuses throughout the United States,” Hoover noted.
“Reagan is obviously determined to take appropriate action to quell the unrest on the Berkeley campus.”
In an interview, DeLoach said, “Mr. Hoover obviously felt that Gov. Brown was not putting up a strong stand” against the campus unrest because of his “being friendly with Kerr.” DeLoach added, “Consequently later on, (Hoover) felt friendly towards Reagan and dealt with him — but not with Brown and Kerr.”
Hoover wanted to help Reagan, but was concerned that the FBI’s role might be exposed. So in his customary blue ink, the director outlined a plan that would not leave a paper trail leading back to the bureau.
According to the plan, Lynum would warn Reagan about any future protests at Berkeley or at his press conferences. But officially, he would tell Reagan the FBI had “no pertinent information” about Kerr or the regents.
Instead, senior FBI official Charles Brennan, who “has the qualifications and ability to handle this sensitive matter,” would confidentially brief Reagan.
“We cannot furnish the governor anything else,” Hoover said. “We do not know him well enough and we would possibly be involved in an academic war.”
Three days later, on Jan. 20, 1967, while Savio and others demonstrated outside University Hall against Reagan’s proposal to impose tuition, Reagan arrived for his first regents meeting.
Reagan’s election as governor had dramatically shifted the balance of power on the board. Three of Kerr’s staunchest defenders, including Brown, were replaced by Reagan, Finch and Allan Grant, Reagan’s new state Department of Agriculture chief.
The morning of the meeting, Kerr had met privately with board chairman Theodore Meyer, a San Francisco lawyer, and vice chair Dorothy Chandler, wife of Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler, to clarify his future as university president.
If the regents were going to fire him, they should do it now, Kerr told them, since as a lame duck he would be ineffective in negotiating the budget with the state Legislature.
In a second meeting, Meyer and Chandler asked Kerr to resign, Kerr said in an interview, but he refused. The university was constitutionally independent, he told them, and he did not want to contribute to the idea that each new governor had the right to pick a president.
Reagan arrived after noon. During the campaign he had vowed to fire Kerr, but his former aides told The Chronicle that he planned to wait several months so the dismissal would not look purely political.
Kerr’s refusal to resign, however, had forced a showdown. And after the governor joined the meeting, Kerr left the room.
For the next two hours, the regents discussed Kerr. Finally, Grant made a motion to fire Kerr. When other regents noted that Grant’s motion might appear to be politically motivated, Laurence Kennedy Jr., a Redding attorney who had been appointed by Brown, moved to fire Kerr.
Thirteen votes were needed.
The vote was 14-8.
Soon after Kerr’s firing, Reagan wrote Hoover saying he was pleased to learn the FBI was opening a Sacramento office.
“This will more ably assist all of us in our continuing fight against crime and subversion. . . . I am vitally interested in doing everything I can to combat the moral decay as shown by our rising crime rate in our country today, . . .” Reagan’s Feb. 27, 1967, letter said. “Please accept my personal assurance that your agency will have the most complete cooperation possible from my office.”
In a handwritten note, Reagan added, “P.S. I’ve just always felt better knowing your men are around.”
On March 7, 1967, Hoover replied, “I do hope you will not hesitate to call on upon us whenever we can be of service . . . . I share your confidence that a great deal can be accomplished by working together.”
Crackdown on campus
Reagan had made a campaign pledge to impose order on campus, and he meant to keep it.
The new governor quickly took a much more hands-on approach to the university than did Brown, scrutinizing not just the university’s budget but course content and faculty appointments.
And the FBI began providing his administration with information about campus protests and background reports on prospective university employees.
On Jan. 18, 1968, Hoover met with Reagan and his legal affairs secretary, Edwin Meese III, at FBI headquarters. Afterward, Hoover wrote, “The Governor called to . . . renew his friendship. We discussed generally some of the problems which the Governor has had to face up to at the University of California and his determination to see that law and order are maintained there.”
But protests at UC Berkeley and campuses across the nation intensified in opposition to the war in Vietnam and the draft.
And in May 1969, violence erupted over the university’s plan to build dormitories on a vacant lot near the Berkeley campus known as People’s Park.
Reagan placed the entire city under martial law and dispatched tear gas-spraying helicopters and riot police who shot and killed one man and wounded others. Several officers also were injured. Hundreds of people were arrested.
Two months later, Herbert E. Ellingwood, one of Reagan’s top legal advisers, met with DeLoach at FBI headquarters.
In the July 17, 1969, meeting, Ellingwood bluntly expressed the Reagan administration’s frustration with protests and the university officials handling them.
Still, he said, “Governor Reagan is dedicated to the destruction of disruptive elements on California campuses.”
The Reagan administration “will attack these groups” through several methods, Ellingwood said. These included “hounding the groups as much as possible by bringing any form of violation available against them.” For example, he said, “If any of these groups has a bookstore on campus they will bring building code violations against them.”
Reagan officials also may refer “tax violations (of the dissenters) both to the Internal Revenue Service of the State of California and to the Federal Internal Revenue Service.”
Finally, the administration would mount a “psychological warfare campaign,” said Ellingwood, adding that he would “confer with Department of Defense officials today to get ideas from those individuals as to how to conduct campaigns of this nature.”
Meese told The Chronicle, “I have no recollection at all of us planning to do these things. . . . There was never any concentrated strategy to do these things.”
As Ellingwood ended his meeting with DeLoach, he asked if the FBI would give Reagan more intelligence reports.
Hoover swiftly agreed.
“This has been done in the past,” the director noted, “and has worked quite successfully.”