Lynum had plenty of information to share. The FBI's files on Mario Savio, the brilliant philosophy student who was the spokesman for the Free Speech Movement, were especially detailed. Savio had a debilitating stutter when speaking to people in small groups, but when standing before a crowd and condemning his administration's latest injustice he spoke with divine fire. His words had inspired students to stage what was the largest campus protest in American history. Newspapers and magazines depicted him as the archetypal "angry young man," and it was true that he embodied a student movement fueled by anger at injustice, impatience for change, and a burning desire for personal freedom. Hoover ordered his agents to gather intelligence they could use to ruin his reputation or otherwise "neutralize" him, impatiently ordering them to expedite their efforts.
Hoover's agents had also compiled a bulging dossier on the man Savio saw as his enemy: Clark Kerr. As campus dissent mounted, Hoover came to blame the university president more than anyone else for not putting an end to it. Kerr had led UC to new academic heights, and he had played a key role in establishing the system that guaranteed all Californians access to higher education, a model adopted nationally and internationally. But in Hoover's eyes, Kerr confused academic freedom with academic license, coddled Communist faculty members, and failed to crack down on "young punks" like Savio. Hoover directed his agents to undermine the esteemed educator in myriad ways. He wanted Kerr removed from his post as university president. As he bluntly put it in a memo to his top aides, Kerr was "no good."
Reagan listened intently to Lynum's presentation, but he wanted more--much more. He asked for additional information on Kerr, for reports on liberal members of the Board of Regents who might oppose his policies, and for intelligence reports about any upcoming student protests. Just the week before, he had proposed charging tuition for the first time in the university's history, setting off a new wave of protests up and down the state. He told Lynum he feared subversives and liberals would attempt to misrepresent his efforts to establish fiscal responsibility, and that he hoped the FBI would share information about any upcoming demonstrations against him, whether on campus or at his press conferences. It was Reagan's fear, according to Lynum's subsequent report, "that some of his press conferences could be stacked with 'left wingers' who might make an attempt to embarrass him and the state government."
Lynum said he understood his concerns, but following Hoover's instructions he made no promises. Then he and Harter wished the ailing governor a speedy recovery, departed the mansion, slipped into their dark four-door Ford, and drove back to the San Francisco field office, where Lynum sent an urgent report to the director.
The bedside meeting was extraordinary, but so was the relationship between Reagan and Hoover. It had begun decades earlier, when the actor became an informer in the FBI's investigation of Hollywood Communists. When Reagan was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, he secretly continued to help the FBI purge fellow actors from the union's rolls. Reagan's informing proved helpful to the House Un-American Activities Committee as well, since the bureau covertly passed along information that could help HUAC hold the hearings that wracked Hollywood and led to the blacklisting and ruin of many people in the film industry. Reagan took great satisfaction from his work with the FBI, which gave him a sense of security and mission during a period when his marriage to Jane Wyman was failing, his acting career faltering, and his faith in the Democratic Party of his father crumbling. In the following years, Reagan and FBI officials courted each other through a series of confidential contacts. And after Reagan emerged as a leading conservative spokesman in the fifties, Hoover went beyond the bounds of his jurisdiction and secretly gave him personal and political help. He even lent Reagan a hand in keeping track of his own wayward children, Maureen and Michael. Now the long courtship between the FBI director and the former movie star would pay off for them both.
The FBI would become deeply involved in the clash over free speech at Berkeley between the social forces represented by Reagan, Kerr, and Savio. Each of these men had a transforming vision of America and exerted extraordinary and lasting influence on the nation. By tracing the bureau's involvement with these iconic figures, this book reveals a secret history of America in the sixties. It shows how the FBI's dirty tricks at Berkeley helped fuel the student movement, damaged the Democratic Party, launched Ronald Reagan's political career, and exacerbate the nation's continuing culture wars. Above all, it illustrates the dangers that the combination of secrecy and power pose to democracy, especially during turbulent times. (7-8)
Rosenfeld, Seth. Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.