On March 8, 1971, a group of eight Vietnam War protestors broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole hundreds of government documents. The burglars were never caught but several are now stepping forward and claiming responsibility for the break in.
The stolen memos, reports and internal correspondence they found provided the first tangible evidence that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was systematically targeting and harassing hundreds of American citizens then known collectively as “the New Left.”
Despite the efforts of nearly 200 investigators, the F.B.I. couldn’t find the burglars. But 43 years later, a new book by a journalist who received and reported on the documents, identifies the Media burglars for the first time. Betty Medsger’s The Burglary chronicles the planning, execution, and consequences of the long-forgotten heist, carried out by a group that included college professors, graduate students, and a cab driver. Their story is also chronicled in 1971, a new documentary by Johanna Hamilton.
The early 1970s was a turbulent time. Factions of the anti-war movement were becoming more aggressive and Hoover’s F.B.I. was stepping up its efforts to stop activities it considered a threat to national security. The situation worsened in the spring, when Nixon announced the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Four student protesters were shot and killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University. Thousands of anti-war protestors were angry, including Keith Forsyth. He was single, in his early 20s, and driving a taxi in Philadelphia, which, at the time, was a hotbed of dissent.
“I was pretty vehement in my opposition to the war,” says Forsyth. “I felt like marching up and down the street with a sign wasn’t cutting it anymore.”