In grade school we all read the George Orwell classic, 1984. “Big Brother Is Watching.” With technology as sophisticated as it is is now, we are not a far cry from constant surveillance, frankly, we’re already there. People still don’t understand that once “it” is on the internet, it’s there forever. And not just the internet, anything connected to a WiFi signal at this point. Our post 9-11 world is one of less freedom and more scrutiny. In 1971, the true story of a small burglary is the catalyst that kicked the FBI in its ass.
Today, many of us, myself included, sit behind a computer screen and have the freedom to say what we think. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t being watched just as closely as people were back in the 60’s and 70’s. Hoover had his eye on everyone. The terms “Hippy-types, gays, and lefties” were strewn about in confidential FBI documents at will. One group had had enough of the hate and aggression toward forward thinking, peace minded folk. In ’71, they broke into an FBI office, to be specific, on the evening of the Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier match at Madison Square Garden. The event was a perfect cover. Everyone was distracted. This came about during a hushed rash of FBI office burglaries. Back then, everything was in paper form. All legal documents were in plain old filing cabinets. Up until then, draft papers had been taken. Once destroyed, there would be no record of the documents ever having existed. This small faction of people, 8 to be exact, hit the jackpot. The documents instructed the FBI to put a fair amount of fear into people. They were instructed to target types who might insight progressive unrest. Any individual who had ever been photographed attending a war rally was in these pages. Students at liberal universities were being raided in the middle of the night for having copies of the papers. See, this is the single greatest thing this group of people did. They xeroxed every file they had in their possession and mailed them to large news outlets. One of the most ironic parts about this whole thing; the town in which the burglary occurred was called Media, Pennsylvania.
This extraordinary documentary actually names the people responsible. How, you might ask? They came forward, on their own, after all these years. They were never prosecuted. In fact, because of their actions, the FBI became the target of mass scrutiny. It was quite the embarrassment for the government. The courts actually decided in favor of the people. It wasn’t until after 9-11, when The Patriot Act legally allowed the FBI to once again track our every move… in the name of freedom, so they’ll always claim.
Created with actual footage of the trials, confessional interviews, copies of the documents themselves and incredibly precise reenactment, 1971 is a time capsule. This is something that should be shown in history classes across the country. I think it’s film that should be spread like wildfire. This kind of behavior is not new to us. We can sign online petitions and instagram memes. With the news of police brutality, Wiki Leaks and bullying from one particular party against the same groups of individuals trying to do right by society, perhaps now we can appreciate those who stood up for the people long before the people stopped actually standing.
On March 8th, 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Media, PA. Calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, they removed every file in the office. Mailed anonymously, the stolen documents started to show up in newsrooms. The heist yielded a trove of damning evidence. The most significant revelation was COINTELPRO, a controversial, secret, illegal surveillance program overseen by lifelong Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover. Despite one of the largest investigations ever conducted, the FBI was unable to catch the burglars. Those responsible have never revealed their identities. Until now. For the first time the burglars have decided to speak about their actions. 1971 is their story, examining the consequences and implications of their actions – then and now.