Can citizens ever be justified in committing illegal actions against their government? How about if the government itself is acting illegally?
The movie 1971 looks at some of those questions. On March 8, 1971, a group of eight people broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia) and stole every single document there.
Up until then, they had participated in peaceful protests against the Viet Nam war, but decided it was time to up the ante. The stolen files showed that the FBI was behind a vast and illegal system of spying on and intimidating American citizens, an issue with plenty of relevance for us today. All hell broke loose when the files were sent to newspapers and published.
The DVD re-enacts the, shall we say, liberation of the documents– a couple of last minute glitches in the plan made for some very anxious moments. It also interviews some of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, as the group called themselves. It is interesting to hear what they thought at the time (in 1971) and also their reflections on it 40 odd years after the event. They certainly held deep convictions about trying to end the Viet Nam war. I have to admit to feeling a lot of respect for their point of view and their actions.
All in all, very interesting viewing.
N.B. There is a book at WPL on the same subject: The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI by Betty Medsger. I’ve just taken a look at it. Whoa, Nellie! Those people who stole the FBI files deserve a medal for service to their country! The extent of the FBI ‘s illegal activities, as documented in this book, is simply staggering.