BY NELSON BLACKSTOCK
In 1968 the FBI took special pride in railroading Walter Elliot out of his hobby. As scoutmaster of Troop 339 in Orange, New Jersey, the FBI reasoned that he posed "a distinct threat to the goal of the scouting movement."
Why? Walter Elliot was married to a socialist.
In the view of the bureau, this necessitated a Cointelpro operation to counteract his "strong influence in shaping the minds of young boys." The agent in charge of the effort called Elliot's removal a "successful application of the disruption program for a worthy cause."
The FBI sanctimoniously claims a special duty to "protect young minds." Protect them, that is, from ideas unpopular with the FBI. Teachers prove an obvious target with their strategic "access" to "fertile young minds," as one memo put it....
Prominent in the ranks of teachers victimized by the FBI is Morris Starsky. In 1970 the FBI encouraged Starsky's dismissal from his job as a professor of philosophy at Arizona State University. The Phoenix office of the FBI sent an anonymous letter slandering him to a faculty committee reviewing his teaching contract.
In a memo dated May 31, 1968, the Phoenix FBI noted that local targets for Cointelpro were "pretty obvious.... It is apparent that New Left organizations and activities in the Phoenix metropolitan area have received their inspiration and leadership almost exclusively from the members of the faculty in the Department of Philosophy at Arizona State University (ASU), chiefly Assistant Professor MORRIS J. STARSKY."
To that description of himself, Starsky adds that he helped organize the first antiwar teach-in at ASU; he led a campus free speech fight; he helped lead a successful campaign to win campus recognition for SDS; he participated in campus activities to support striking Tucson sanitation workers and a union organizing drive by Chicano laundry workers; he served as a presidential elector for the Socialist Workers party in 1968; he helped to reestablish the ASU chapter of the American Federation of Teachers; and he was the faculty adviser of the Young Socialist Alliance and the Student Mobilization Committee.
All that provoked quite a furor among right-wing state legislators and university regents. The Faculty Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (whose members received the FBI's slanderous letters) held a hundred hours of public hearings on whether Starsky was entitled to teach at ASU. Three thousand students and over 250 professors signed petitions supporting Starsky's right to academic freedom.
The committee's members were not duped by the FBI's anonymous slanders, although they expressed surprise five years later when they learned that "A Concerned Alumnus" was really [FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover. The committee voted unanimously against dismissing Starsky. But the regents refused to renew his contract and he lost his job in June 1970. Starsky says that "it's sort of like being found innocent and executed anyway." Since ASU he has lost two teaching jobs in California for political reasons.
Starsky calls the FBI drive against him an attack on the rights of everyone. "What teacher is safe?" he asks. "What ideas would not subject a teacher to this kind of attack?--only U.S. government-approved ideas."
Starsky has spent the past five years fighting for his rights in and out of court. He has won one damage suit already. And an Arizona court ruled that the ASU action violated his civil rights. Meanwhile, the FBI refuses to turn over to Starsky some of its files on him on the grounds of "national security."
"I've taught a couple of logic courses," he says, "but I had a hard time figuring out how my seeing my own files would harm national security. After I read the Cointelpro documents it became clear: 'national security' means the FBI's security from the nation finding out the vicious things it does in violation of people's civil liberties."
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