By Stephen Zeitchik
John and Bonnie Raines were an ordinary young married couple in the early 1970s, raising three children in a Philadelphia suburb, he a college professor and she a homemaker. John had been a Freedom Rider in the 1960s, and he and his wife each attended anti-war protests. But neither showed a particular predilection for radicalism.
Yet as the Vietnam War raged, the Raineses decided to undertake actions that belied their unassuming lives: to plot to break into an FBI office
“She was a lot more enthusiastic than I was,” said John Raines, 81. “I was dragged along by her enthusiasm.”
“He had more sleepless nights,” Bonnie Raines, 73, said with a laugh, departing briefly from her quiet, no-nonsense manner for dry understatement.
The Raineses are the subjects of a new movie, “1971,” that documents the actions they and several other unlikely radicals took that year in the name of throwing light on what they believed were illegal and intrusive government activities.
Led by Haverford physics professor Bill Davidon, the group’s aim was to break into a comparatively lightly guarded office in Media, Penn., to obtain proof of a part of J. Edgar Hoover’s infamous counterintelligence COINTELPRO program.
As demonstrated in Hamilton’s movie — now playing in Los Angeles and set for a run on PBS in May — the so-called Citizens’ Commission to investigate the FBI carefully plotted over months to steal the files that detailed spying on the legal anti-war activities of ordinary Americans. By making the FBI program known via the press, the Raineses and their cohorts hoped, those overreaches would become known and corrected.
The idea basically was to provide damning proof of U.S. government malfeasance than the more ceremonial burning of draft cards and other methods in vogue at the time.
The Raineses’ roles were significant: Another other things, she went undercover to scout out the office during the planning stage, even meeting agents in plain sight, while he drove the getaway car the night of the break-in. The raid was planned in their Germantown, Penn., home.
Those efforts bore fruit. The documents would come to show that Hoover had ordered a surreptitious infiltration of the protests both to harass those engaging in legal anti-war activities and to deter others from joining them. The spying, read the line in one memo, “will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”
“1971” mixes more traditional interviews and thriller-like reenactments to tell its story. The actual break-in, staged on a March night when much of the country was distracted by “the Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, is a white-knuckler as the group is nearly caught.
Read full article.