For a great number of self-proclaimed conservatives Ronald Reagan was a man of great moral integrity. Yet the facts tell a story of a washed up B-movie actor who, while in office, actively vandalised the American economy for the rich to pig-out on the eviscerated entrails of civil society. It wasn't the birth of laissez-faire capitalism out of the death of New Deal liberalism, rather it was accumulation by dispossession. Reaganism only represented a shift in fiscal policy: tax-cuts for the rich combined with greater subsidies for the rich. The covert war that the US had waged against Latin America was stepped up a knotch, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead. This was at the same time that the US government refused to withdraw support from the Apartheid regime in South Africa and placed Nelson Mandela on the terrorist list where he sat until a couple of years ago. The casual criminality of the US government reached new heights under Ronald Reagan, not least with the convenient failure to impose basic laws to protect workers, which consequently led to a massive increase in illegal firings. It got to the point that the administration was condemned by the UN for the "unlawful use of force" - meaning international terrorism.
Now Seth Rosenfeld exposes Reagan's past as a stoole pigeon in the FBI's McCarthyite campaigns against Hollywood and later the counter-revolution against student radicals and the free-speech movement of the 1960s. As an actor Ronnie was an informer, he snooped on his fellow actors and infiltrated groups that the FBI suspected of "subversive activities". The Hollywood Independent Committee for the Arts, Sciences and Professions was one such group that the FBI had Reagan infiltrate. It was a very broad-based group with many people of different political views and when Reagan proposed a resolution to repudiate Communism it divided the Committee. At the behest of the FBI Reagan went on to drive a wedge in other groups through similar propositions. This included the American Veterans Committee. He also stole the minutes of group meetings, only for the minutes to find themselves in FBI archives. As President of the Screen Actors Guild Reagan acted to oppose a strike of set-builders for the reason that he believed the Communists were behind the strike.
Reagan even had the FBI open a file on an actress who questioned his position on blacklisting alleged leftist radicals. In 1966 Ronald Reagan railed against the Free-Speech movement in California. He began "There is a leadership gap in Sacramento, a morality and decency gap," before sliming against Berkeley as a home for 'beatniks', 'radicals' and what he described as 'filthy speech' advocates. Reagan went on to spew yet more disdain on "the so-called free-speech advocates," who for him "have no appreciation for freedom" instead he thought it more important to rein them in for 'violating' law and order. Apparently the Berkeley campus had become a rallying point for 'Communists' and 'sexual misconduct' by then. To stamp out the left-wing intellectuals Reagan went on to call for the investigation of academics and demanded that the professors sign a code of conduct. He was bashing the student movement and academic Left to undermine Democrat Pat Brown. As Governor of California Reagan maintained good relations with the FBI and procured secret briefings on protests.
The Governor's office was not just interested in information on left-wing students and academics, even liberal intellectuals and Berkeley's Chancellor Clark Kerr. The right-wing campaign eventually forced Kerr out of office, it was coincidental that Kerr had been a great administrator of public education. Under Clark Kerr the university had opened its doors to thousands of people who would have ordinarily not gone on to higher education. He crafted the master-plan for higher education for this purpose. The institution became one of the most successful public universities in history. It was a model that was emulated around the country and the world. Kerr lifted the ban against socialist speakers on the campus on the grounds that the students should be made 'safe' for ideas rather than making ideas 'safe' for students. Later Kerr was not so active in crushing the Free-Speech movement, yet he was not a supporter - he was attacked by the Left and the Right.
The student movement viewed Clark Kerr as an enemy because he refused to lift bans prohibiting activists from handing out Civil Rights leaflets on campus. Yet at the same time J Edgar Hoover and Reagan were convinced Clark Kerr was a menace because he wasn't acting to break the back of the student radicals. The FBI used background investigations as a pretext to destroy Kerr and relied on false accusations to do so. It was only Pat Brown who protected Clark Kerr from this campaign. Once the FBI had a friend in office, it was easy to force Kerr out. Unsurprisingly Reagan launched a campaign to smash public education in California and imposed tuition fees on the University of California. This was only the beginning of the New Right's counter-revolution. Rosenfeld was most shocked that the FBI was so active in the use of the exceptional laws of wartime against civilians, particularly students and academia. But it should be remembered that the US has much worse incidents of repression in its history.
At the same time that the FBI was acting to destroy Clark Kerr and backing Reagan's bid for Governorship the Bureau was running COINTELPRO. The target of the operations included the Socialist Workers Party, Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. It went from surveillance and attempts at subversion to outright assassination. The Black Panther organiser Fred Hampton was murdered Gestapo style by the Chicago Police in collusion with the FBI. This was exposed around the same time as Watergate and yet it is virtually unkown by comparison. The mainstream liberal commentariat was far more concerned by the sight of Richard Nixon trying to destroy the Democratic Party than an active campaign by the Establishment against Civil Rights and the New Left. COINTELPRO went as far back as Eisenhower and ran right up until Nixon. This shouldn't really surprise anyone. The FBI was founded during Wilson's Red Scare, a shameful period in America's history, as a national political police force to crush dissent.