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The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze

Rees, Reagan, and the Digest Smear: The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze
August 16, 1983

“Certainly, while he was campaigning, and in the years before he was president, he had my material, and he made use of my material in his radio programs. And that goes back years. That goes back to the time he was governor of California.”

The man describing his intelligence gathering for the president is John Herbert Rees, right-hand man to John Birch Society chairman and Georgia con­gressman Larry McDonald. Rees has been dogged for years by charges that he is a con man, police informant, and agent pro­vocateur.

Rees may be boasting a bit. But ob­servers on both the left and the right have credited his articles as the primary source for the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last fall as gospel “evidence” that the Soviets had “inspired” and were “ma­nipulating” the U.S. nuclear freeze move­ment. Digest author and senior editor John Barron assured reporters that the president “made very extensive inquiries, before he spoke, on the facts in that arti­cle.” FBI assistant, director Roger S. Young told The New York Times the same day that Reagan’s comments were “persistently consistent with what we have learned.” And in an Oval Office press conference, Reagan himself claimed he had verified the Digest piece.

Since then, FBI director William Webster has retreated from the allega­tions. But as surely as The White House stands by its charges, with the freeze reso­lutions now coming before the Senate, John Rees denies he was ever more or less than a journalist. However, documents released under the Freedom of Informa­tion Act, and recently produced in a Na­tional Lawyers Guild lawsuit charging unconstitutional government surveillance, prove that Rees made informing on politi­cal groups “a profession”; moreover, a 1968 FBI memo concludes, “Rees is an unscrupulous, unethical individual… Information from him cannot be con­sidered reliable.”

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Given current political realities, it’s no great surprise that the president echoed charges which first appeared in print under Rees’s byline. Rees, 57, plays a central if largely unseen role among the coterie of ultraconservative commentators and courtiers influential with Reagan, a group whose legitimacy Reagan’s presidency has boosted enormously. Reagan, after all, chaired the unsuccessful senatorial cam­paign of arch-conservative Birch sup­porter Loyd Wright in the 1962 California GOP primary. Such are the connections that lie at the heart of the smears against the U.S. freeze movement.

It is Rees’s job, within this clique, to “document” the charges of “subversion” often used in right-wing attacks on the left. Besides covering Washington for var­ious Birch periodicals, Rees publishes the closely circulated Information Digest (subscription price: $500 a year), which purports to focus on “the background … operations and real capabilities of social movements and political groups.” ID reports have been distributed mostly among intelligence units and conservative politicians such as former governor Meldrim Thomson of New Hampshire and Reagan.

Rees is also listed as editor at the curious Western Goals Foundation, founded in 1979 by Larry McDonald in Alexandria, Virginia, to “rebuild and strengthen the political, economic and so­cial structure of the U.S. and Western Civilization so as to make any merger with totalitarians impossible.” To this end, Rees produces foundation tracts such as “The War Called Peace — The Soviet Peace Offensive,” and oversees the com­puterization of what McDonald claims are 100 file cabinets of data on “terrorism and subversion.” (In an outgrowth of an ACLU lawsuit charging Los Angeles po­lice with improper intelligence activity, the department recently investigated whether one of its detectives improperly supplied confidential police files to West­ern Goals. According to Stern magazine, staff members of the German-based Western Goals Europe have been linked to the CIA and its German equivalent, the BND.)

The New Right’s leading lights have shined warmly on Rees. Robert Moss, co­author of The Spike, who in the summer of 1981 testified as an “expert on terror­ism” at Senator Jeremiah Denton’s hear­ings on “Terrorism: The Role of Moscow and Its Subcontractors,” says Information Digest is “the most important public source available in this country on the activities of the radical left … ” Allan Ryskind, an editor at Human Events, which Reagan has called “must reading,” says he has reprinted articles from Information Digest “directly,” and lauds “Rees’s enterprising journalism and credibility.” Heritage Foundation pundit Sam Francis cites Rees as “authoritative.” Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media con­fidently quotes “John Reese (sic) … a well-known investigative journalist.”

Such endorsements may help explain the striking similarities between Rees’s Birch and Western Goals screeds and the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last October. In the February 1982 issue of American Opinion, Rees concluded that “the Soviet Union is running the current worldwide disarmament campaign through the KGB and front organizations … ” Eight months later, Barron averred in The Reader’s Digest that the U.S. freeze campaign “has been penetrated, manipulated and distorted to an amazing degree by people who have but one aim — to promote communist tyranny by weak­ening the U.S.”

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In the Atlanta Constitution last No­vember, Ann Woolner and Jerry Nesmith said Barron told them he had seen the Western Goals report, but that it was one of over 200 sources. Woolner and Nesmith listed numerous instances in which Bar­ron cites the same meetings, excerpts the same quotes, and uses paraphrasing simi­lar to Rees’s. For example:

In March, in his Western Goals report, “The Soviet Peace Offensive,” Rees wrote: “Mel King, active with both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, gave a militant speech, saying, ‘We’ve been too damn nice … (and) al­ways on the defensive … It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started get­ting even.’ ”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Mel King, a Massachusetts state legislator active in both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, demanded a more militant spirit. ‘We’ve been too damn nice,’ he declared. ‘It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started getting even.’ ”

In March, for Western Goals, Rees wrote: “Rep. Gus Savage (D-Il.) stressed the need to bring black and other minority groups into the disarmament move­ment.”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Congressman Savage spoke about how to induct blacks and other minorities into the disarmament drive.”

In March, Rees wrote: “… U.S. Peace Council executive director Mike Myerson, who has been a Communist Party U.S.A. functionary since his student days some twenty years ago, emphasized the U.S. Peace Council and World Peace Council’s unique responsibility of merging the fight for Western disarmament with pro­vision of support to … revolutionary groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, South Africa and the PLO … ”

In October, Barron wrote: “The execu­tive director of the U.S. Peace Council, Michael Myerson, a longtime communist functionary, asserted that the U.S. Peace Council had a unique responsibility to fuse the cause of disarmament with that of the Palestine Liberation Organization and guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and South Africa.”

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“John Rees is simply a good journalist who has done a valuable service in alerting the American people and the American government to the threats against our se­curity from terrorists, subversive, total­itarian and extremist organizations,” said Larry McDonald in the Congressional Record in 1981. “John Rees deserves com­mendations and accolades from the Amer­ican people.” Law enforcement agencies, however, have not always agreed with Rees’s boss.

The FBI first took note of Rees in the early 1960s in his native England. He worked in a minor business position for the London Daily Mirror. According to an FBI memo released under the FOIA, Rees misused his personal accounts, and was fired by the Mirror. Agents in the FBI office at the London U.S. Embassy dis­covered that during 1962 Rees had been “keeping the company” of a bureau steno­grapher. “Rees’s background and the fact that he was married and had five children were confidentially furnished to this stenographer, who was visibly shaken by this news inasmuch as she had planned to marry Rees,” the memo notes. Humil­iated, the secretary resigned from the FBI.

Leaving his family behind, Rees came to America in 1963 to take a reporting job. The job fell through. But when Rees was introduced that fall to Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, he presented himself as a writer for a Boston daily, and talked her into letting him do a “profile” on her. Metalious had been ruined by her own success, writes Emily Toth in Inside Peyton Place. She was recently divorced, isolated, and a chronic alcoholic.

The promised profile never appeared. But Rees soon became Metalious’s lover and business manager, and by December had moved into her Gilmanton, New Hampshire, estate. According to Toth’s book, Rees often kept family and friends away from her as Metalious sank deeper into alcoholism. On a rare visit, Metalious’s daughter Marsha found the house strewn with garbage and empty liq­uor bottles.

During a trip to Boston shortly there­after, Metalious collapsed, and died on February 25, 1964, of cirrhosis of the liver and massive cerebral hemorrhaging. Her deathbed will left her entire estate to Rees and nothing to her three children. She had known Rees less than six months. After the will was contested on behalf of the children, Rees relinquished his claim for what he called moral reasons. The FBI reached a different conclusion: “Rees subsequently renounced all claim to the estate when it was determined that the liabilities exceeded the assets.”

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By 1968 Rees had relocated in riot-stricken Newark where he worked as a research director in a Great Society job­-training program until he was forced to resign. Auditors discovered that while col­lecting his federal pay, Rees was often out of town for his own company, National Goals, Inc., a “non-profit organization spe­cializing in areas of education, training and law enforcement.”

In a plan submitted to the U.S. Justice Department, National Goals proposed the creation of “community peace patrols” to quell “the summer months and threats of violence and disorder.” Rees wanted to use federal funds to equip Anthony Imperiale’s North Ward Citizen’s Commit­tee, a white militant group, and Kamiel Wadud’s United Brothers of Newark, a black militant group, with uniforms, helmets, walkie-talkies, tape-recorders, cameras, patrol cars, four offices, and two warehouses. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and New Jersey governor Richard Hughes denounced it as a vigilante scheme.

Meanwhile, Rees and an investigator for the House Committee on Un-Ameri­can Activites (HUAC) quietly visited the Newark FBI office to cut a deal. “He stated he had information of a racial and criminal nature which he and the in­vestigator from HUAC believed was of an interest to the FBI,” agents observed in a report. “He attempted to sell himself and his services to the FBI.”

But like the Justice Department, the FBI wasn’t buying — at least. not yet. “Rees talked in generalities … and furnished no information of value,” the memo concludes. “The interviewing agents believed his interests were self­-serving and that he came to the FBI thinking this would enhance his creden­tials in contacting other potential clients.”

Rees remained undaunted. In Septem­ber 1968, according to FBI documents, he was undercover in Chicago, covertly tap­ing lawful political meetings for secret testimony he would later give before HUAC. Again a HUAC investigator of­fered the FBI the fruits of Rees’s labors. Again agents shied away. “We should not initiate any interview with this un­scrupulous, unethical individual concern­ing his knowledge of the disturbances in Chicago,” wrote an agent, “as to do so would be a waste of time.”

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Yet Rees had found his niche. He’d made several cameo appearances before HUAC, peddled his information to vari­ous police departments, and by now, ac­cording to Rees, Information Digest was finding its way onto the desks of Reagan gubernatorial aides beset by campus pro­tests. Frank Donner charged in The Age of Surveillance that “Rees used a familiar scam: he would hawk information to one department (typically a lurid tale of a violent plot) and in the course of this transaction pick up information that he in turn would peddle to a unit in another city. In the same way, he enlarged his sources for Information Digest.”

He also found a spouse. John Rees and Sheila Louise O’Connor arrived in Wash­ington, D.C., just before the 1971 May Day protests and quickly assimilated themselves into left circles.

Rotund, bearded, and longhaired, Rees was an articulate pamphleteer who often sported an Anglican priest’s collar. Sheila, big-boned and over six feet tall, was a whiz at office work. They came complete with then-rare commodities: an IBM Selectric and Gestetner mimeograph ma­chine.

In July Secret Service agents spotted Rees in a demonstration at the South Vietnamese Embassy. Running a com­puter check on him, they received several interesting reports. According to a Secret Service memo obtained by the National Lawyers Guild, the Washington Metro­politan Police Department disclosed that it employed Rees as an informant. The Chicago Police Department reported “subject is unreliable and is known to make a profession of providing intelli­gence to police departments.” The Secret Service memo also stated that the IRS had revealed “subject was a known con man in England.”

The agents also learned that Rees “possibly carries a gun” and used a string of aliases, including John Sealy, S. L. O’Connor, and Jonathan Goldstein. Besides his work as an informant, agents found, he had no known employment.

Yet at about the same time, FBI docu­ments indicate, the FBI designated Rees Potential Security Informant (PSI) No. WF-3796. (Sheila would later become a PSI too.) Like full-fledged informants, PSIs are paid for their information.

Former FBI agents and congressional staff familiar with intelligence matters said the government’s negative evalua­tions of Rees should have disqualified him from working for the FBI. But they noted that, as with Mel Weinberg in the Abscam case and Gary Thomas Rowe in the Ku Klux Klan, the bureau has used less-than-­credible informants in attempting to get convictions or discredit a target. The FBI will use “anybody they can,” explained a former agent. “But I wouldn’t touch Rees with a 10-foot pole … all you’re going to do is get yourself in trouble.”

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Rees and O’Connor moved into a left collective at 1616 Longfellow Street, N. W. Friction quickly developed. One day while searching for a packet of checks she be­lieved the Reeses had taken from her, a housemate stumbled upon a bizarre cache in their usually locked room. Pat Richartz, now a West Coast legal assistant, recalled finding “several guns, boxes of bullets,” and “a large black suitcase con­taining everything to wiretap a house.”

In the midst of Richartz’s discovery, the Reeses returned. According to Rich­artz’s signed affidavit, Sheila beat her “unmercifully” while John held her two young daughters. Stew Albert, then a D.C. activist and now a California-based writer, saw Richartz shortly after the al­leged attack. “She came up to my apart­ment looking very messed up,” he said. “She said John and Sheila did it to her.” Richartz claims she still takes daily medi­cation for migraine headaches stemming from the assault.

Richartz accused the Reeses of being informants, but no one believed her at the time. She was seen as an outsider; the Reeses were valuable volunteers. Richartz left for California. In researching this arti­cle, Sheila Rees could not be reached for comment on the charges.

When in July 1972 the National Law­yer’s Guild opened a Washington chapter and became rapidly involved in represent­ing activists and antiwar groups in Wash­ington, Sheila volunteered to be office manager. Soon she became the office’s key administrator and a member of the Guild’s national executive board; mean­while, John supplied the FBI a steady stream of internal Guild documents.

During the Guild’s 1973 national con­vention in Austin, Texas, for example, Rees provided the bureau with “ex­tensive” information, according to FBI memos, noting who spoke, what they said, the names of petition signers, and amounts of chapter contributions to the national office. He also supplied a letter concerning the Guild’s anti-surveillance project.

The Guild’s worst fears were not con­firmed until 1975, however, when New York State Assembly staff investigating Information Digest contacted them. The Reeses, now living in Baltimore, soon be­came central figures in anti-surveillance lawsuits brought by the Guild, the In­stitute for Policy Studies, and the Social­ist Workers Party. Shortly thereafter, ac­cording to a deposition Rees gave IPS attorneys, he transferred Information Digest‘s materials to McDonald’s office. McDonald brought O’Connor onto his congressional staff, and made Rees editor at Western Goals.

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When enough time had passed after the Reader’s Digest article to form a fat political cushion, FBI director Webster told Face the Nation in April that “the overall freeze effort does not seem to us to have been dominated … or successfully manipulated” by the Soviets. Yet those most vocal about alleged dissemblance in the freeze movement were most reticent about government reports on Rees’s shady past.

Reader’s Digest prides itself on its ac­curacy. It touts Barron, a former naval intelligence officer, as an expert on Soviet spying. But while Digest staff assured me that he’d picked up my messages, Barron returned none of my calls.

Last September, Jeremiah Denton en­tered some of Rees’s work into the Con­gressional Record to back up his claim that freeze supporters were commie dupes. Denton’s press aide said he was too busy for an interview during the next two weeks. But questioned briefly on his way to a Subcommittee on Security and Ter­rorism meeting, Denton said he was un­aware that the FBI had evaluated Rees as “unreliable,” or that the IRS had reported he was a “con man.” Asked if he did consider Rees reliable, Denton explained, “I was handed that stuff, that’s it, just to get information into the record on that matter … I didn’t get to see it … ”

McDonald refused requests for an in­terview. When shown a copy of an FBI memo on Rees outside an elevator, he summoned a nearby officer. “This reporter is bothering me,” he told the cop.

Rees himself, in an abruptly termi­nated interview, said he was merely a reporter with a unique philosophy. He said he favors stories that focus on “what I like to call the further shores of political thought, which range from Marc Raskin at IPS to Gus Hall of the Communist Party to the people who run Posse Com­itatus and the Minutemen and the Klan. And I see no difference between Marc Raskin and the Grand Dragon of the Klan because they’re both fuckheads … who want to control the world. I don’t like that.”

Rees claimed that similarities between his stories and the piece by Barron, whom he has described as a friend, were “coincidence.” He said Reagan had used his information during the 1980 campaign, and that while he was governor “members of his staff were getting Information Digest.”

He challenged charges that he or his wife had ever worked as government in­formants. “You just have to do one thing,” he said. “Find me proof that we have been paid informants … ”

Faced with such documents, however, Rees refused to comment and halted the interview. He and his assistant left our table at a congressional cafeteria, went directly to McDonald’s office, and slammed the door.

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In his suite at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI assistant director Roger Young and two assistants sat at the op­posite end of a huge coffee table, on chairs about a foot higher than the long, low couch where I sat alone.

Young said the FBI was familiar with the Barron article, but could recall no White House requests to verify it. He shrugged off questions about Rees. “We cannot be involved in evaluating some­body’s factual situation,” he said. “Our job is not to evaluate one journalist’s statements.”

The agent who escorted me out suggested, “It would probably be better if you went through the White House.”

White House deputy press secretary Lyndon Allin spoke with me several times over the phone, carefully evading my questions.

“When the president said he verified the Reader’s Digest article, did he mean it was examined as to its factual content?”

Allin: “Well, I think the term ‘ex­amined’ is a little harsh …. ”

“Who would have actually checked it?”

“I have no idea … There was no for­mal investigation — we don’t do that with the free press in this country for crying out loud!”

“Can you tell me who, if not an agency, verified the Digest piece?”

“No. We don’t get into process around here. That isn’t the way you run a govern­ment.”

“Was the president aware that one of the main sources for the Digest story was John Herbert Rees, a former police informant whom the FBI once called an ‘unscrupulous, unethical individual’ and an ‘opportunist,’ whom the IRS once described as a ‘con man’?”

“I just told you I wasn’t going to go any further … ”

“Rees claims he sent materials to Mr. Reagan and his staff during the presidential campaign, and that tbe president used them. Is that true?”

“I have absolutely no idea.”

“The FBI seems to contradict the pres­ident’s assertion that the KGB is manipu­lating the U.S. freeze movement. They say they’ve attempted — and failed — to manipulate it.”

“No. I think they say they’ve at­tempted to control it … But the fact of the matter is that the definition of ‘ma­nipulation’ is, ah, I think, subject to some discussion … Look — I’m not Noah or Daniel or whatever his name was that wrote the dictionary. And I’m not gonna get into that. The president’s word stands. And that’s that.” ■

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The Muscles in Our Toes is Too Much of a Stretch

High school reunions can be bittersweet occasions. Old friends gather. They share photos and reminisce. And they decide how to bomb the FBI.

In The Muscles in Our Toes, Stephen Belber’s new shouty, banter-heavy comedy, a clandestine group of alums gathers in the choir practice room. Down the hall, their former classmates celebrate 25 years of adulthood, but these reunited buddies focus mostly on collective action. One of their clique, now a sneaker-company magnate, has apparently been kidnapped by a terrorist group in Chad. To help free him, these folks want to wage a violent protest over unfair “detention policies.” That’s government detention, not the kind administered by the principal’s office. (It’s one of Belber’s better running jokes.)

The gang’s giddy conspiracy hatches before any women show up, after a couple of cocktails. The drinks unleash other, long-suppressed feelings, too. Belber shows us how their plan — not a pragmatic or strategic one — is ultimately a twisted and belated solution to their adolescent social anxieties and sexual insecurities. What better way to prove their stature as friends and as men?

Dante (Mather Zickel), a square-jawed banker with a big mouth and a yen for confrontation, fires up his aging pals. “Where did that activist in you go?” he bullies them. Phil (Matthew Maher) might be up for adventure: He has come out of the closet with a vengeance and now chafes at his dull job as an education consultant. (“Vouchers rock my cock,” he informs his compatriots sardonically.) Mild-mannered Reg (Amir Arison) has qualms about attacking the feds: He’s a public employee, for one thing, and has Persian roots for another.

Though it’s essentially sitcom material, Belber’s dialogue sometimes spirals into funny verbal arpeggios. The cast struggles with the chewy lines, but there are witty sweet spots: The guys dream up amusingly elaborate insults for one another’s anatomies, and Belber writes a demented aria of alcoholic self-pity for the divorcee Carrie. (Jeanine Serralles plays her neurotic meltdown with perfect oversexed mania.)

As a play, however, The Muscles in Our Toes is immensely overwritten, asking its audience to invest too much in what feels like a very long sketch. Digressions — such as a heated debate over whether gays are more or less likely to turn terrorist — hold far more comic interest than major dramatic revelations, which land with a thud. Many scenes repeat earlier antics, and when these quarrelers finally decide to create a fake hostage video (Plan B), their improv-gone-very-wrong doesn’t quite become the culminating absurdity the script needs.

In Anne Kauffman’s staging, we can hear Simple Minds and other strains of the reunion’s ’80s-nostalgia soundtrack whenever the hallway door swings open — reminders, maybe, that teenage head space always hovers nearby. Belber’s high-strung adults revert to old, sophomoric roles quickly and wholly; they express affection through ribbing and destroy their rivals with incessant innuendo (about who may have given or gotten a blow job back in the day).

Whether in adolescence or in middle age, it’s a fluid line between camaraderie and resentment, Belber seems to say. At any age we ricochet between feeling powerful and feeling useless, between belonging and exclusion when we’re thrown into group situations. Late in the play, Dante makes an impassioned speech about the power of friendship, but these disillusioned adults aren’t especially convinced — and neither are we. The Muscles in Our Toes has lighthearted moments but is least persuasive when it attempts to reschool us.

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Tribeca: Glass Chin Is Strong and Cutting; The Newburgh Sting Doesn’t Convince

Documentary The Newburgh Sting attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of four Newburgh, New York, terrorists who were convicted of trying to blow up Jewish synagogues and military planes (the latter via stinger missiles) in 2009. The film argues that these alleged conspirators were merely casualties of an unjust FBI sting. That operation, the film contends, involved a shady undercover agent who preyed upon, and entrapped, poor black men whose participation in the scheme was driven not by belief in a jihadist cause but by desperate financial concerns.

Directors David Heilbroner and Kate Davis’ trump card is a wealth of covert FBI surveillance footage of the FBI’s agent recruiting his cohorts and then helping them plan their plot – material that certainly suggests that the convicted terrorists were less Islamic radicals than simply amoral cretins willing to commit ugly crimes for profit. However, as befitting an agitprop doc, The Newburgh Sting refrains from presenting voices from the other side of the argument – pro-prosecution opinions come solely from TV news reports and interviews with congressmen and law enforcement – while using a raft of talking-head lawyers, relatives, associates, and Imams to make the more wide-ranging, and far less persuasive, case that the entire affair is an example of racist Big Brother government fear-mongering against African-Americans, Muslims, and the poor. It’s an example of a film so zealously touting its criminal subjects as peace-loving innocent victims that it can’t help but set off alarm bells.

Far more compelling, meanwhile, is Glass Chin, writer/director Noah Buschel’s evocative follow-up to his prior Tribeca offering, 2013’s Sparrows Dance. An old-school noir throwback of desperation, sorrow, and fatalistic resignation, Buschel’s film concerns Bud “The Saint” Gordon (Corey Stoll), a former boxing champ who took one on the chin and, years later, is now a failed restaurateur living in Jersey with his girlfriend Ellen (Marin Ireland) and pining for a life that’s more than “ordinary.”

He’s offered that chance via underworld bigwig JJ (Billy Crudup), who has a pretentious interest in modern art and décor and an even more pretentious fondness for using aren’t-I-smart big words. JJ tells Bud that he can have a new restaurant (in the West Village, no less) if he works for him – meaning, tag along with ex-military psycho Roberto (Yul Vazquez) collecting overdue debts from deadbeats. All of this, as well as an eventual blackmail plot involving a pugilistic prodigy throwing a fight, harkens back to classic noirs like The Set-Up, The Harder They Fall, and The Killers.

Nonetheless, using beautifully long, static takes in which the frame constricts its trapped-by-circumstance characters, Buschel doesn’t mimic so much as channel those forefathers’ bleak outlook on the possibility of palookas rising above their low-rent stations in life. The desire for a better life is the path to doom in Glass Chin, though in a starring turn of suppressed despondence and frustration, the charismatic Stoll makes a strong bid for earning his own shot at superstardom.

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Riveting and Timely, Informant Shows the Corruption that Comes with Power

When the late malevolent rightwing carny Andrew Breitbart provides your sole positive character reference out of nearly a dozen people speaking about you—some of whom were once your best friends—you might want to re-think your existence. In director Jamie Meltzer’s mesmerizing documentary Informant, Brandon Darby—a onetime lefty activist darling turned FBI informant and rightwing spokesman—is slowly filleted by former associates. None, however, are more damning than his own documented actions, or the original interviews he gives Meltzer; he’s tense, combative, defensive, and unconvincing as he argues on his own behalf. As is true with many fallen heroes, Darby’s strength and Achilles heel were (are) one and the same. A handsome, magnetic alpha male, he’s also an egomaniac. As one former associate notes, that was the very quality that made him such an effective advocate for victims of Hurricane Katrina abandoned by the government. His work with the activist collective Common Ground on behalf of those Lower Ninth Ward residents thrust him in the media spotlight and made him a poster boy in certain far left activist circles. It also set in motion his professional (and arguably psychological) ruin. Filled with staged reenactments of crucial events in Darby’s trajectory from left to right (with Darby playing himself), lots of interviews with former friends and associates, and phone interviews with one of the men imprisoned on Darby’s testimony, Informant is riveting as it slowly assembles a damning profile of its subject. It’s also timely. As government spying and erosion of civil liberties both escalate, Informant serves as a cautionary tale for the amount of trust granted those who wield power in activist circles.

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The Company You Keep: Wheezy Rider

It’s time, apparently, for the aging ghosts of ’60s radicalism to once again take stock of their sins and compromises. In The Big Chill and Running on Empty, during the Reagan ’80s, the then–middle-aged revolutionaries’ to-do list involved holding down careers and worrying about their kids; now the noble fist-wavers are looking at Social Security and prescriptions of Levator. Once it gets its walkers moving, Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep nearly plays like a green-granola-lefty counterpart to The Expendables, a Hollywood Elderhostel reunion crowded with septuagenarian icons looking back on the righteousness and failures of the Nixon–’Nam era with rheumy retirees’ eyeballs.

The story, from Neil Gordon’s novel about the contemporary fate of a few surviving Weather Underground fugitives, all but blows a trumpet for how rad rad used to be. First Sarandon’s Vermont housewife, her kids all grown up, throws in the secret-identity towel and surrenders herself to the FBI; from there, the dominoes tumble, leading cub reporter Shia LaBeouf to follow his nose and soon uncover the similarly fake ID of Redford’s upstate lawyer, sending this suede-faced ex-Weatherman running. (Which translates to, predictably, the 77-year-old Redford slipping seamlessly through crowds disguised only in a baseball cap and sunglasses.)

The FBI closes in, LaBeouf’s annoying snoop pesters every single other character motivated only by his journalistic creed (in a contemporary world where we’re reminded every few minutes about how journalism is dead), and withering guest-stars (Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Richard Jenkins, a phlegm-plagued Nick Nolte) emerge to crinkle and wheeze about the good old days of bank robberies and protests. Redford’s noble Methuselah isn’t just self-preserving—he’s got an unseasonably preadolescent daughter to worry about, and a case for his own redemption to make.

In his fastidiously white-bread way, Redford takes on a wildly ambivalent topic—homegrown terrorism or anti-imperialist freedom fighting?—but treats it with the same procedural tepidity that he brought to the Lincoln assassination fallout in The Conspirator two years ago. (It’s that self-righteous Redford squint; you can just see him directing with it.) Of course the Weather participants are all fictionalized, and no known members are still thought to be hiding out under aliases and clipping Early Bird coupons, leaving the film in something of an existential pickle. Why Weather, in 2013? Could it be Obama’s old Bill Ayers connection? The question might seem more pungent if the movie weren’t a cliché farm, complete with Terence Howard’s FBI head yelling “C’mon, people!” during the techno-surveillance chase, and Stanley Tucci, as LaBeouf’s irascible editor, practically snapping his suspenders in fury over his uncontrollable hotshot employee.

The deep-dish cast does its job cameo by cameo, with memorable glimpses of humanity offered by Sarandon’s quiet fierceness (softly maintaining that, yes, she’d engage in violent protest again, like, now) and Brendan Gleeson’s retired police captain, in each of his scenes thinking one step ahead of LaBeouf. Redford, on the other hand, is still trying to come off as someone a quarter-century younger than he is (his ’60s FBI photos are publicity shots from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and with his oddly melting visage he often looks woefully like a David Levine-drawn caricature of himself. Maybe it’s time to start that memoir, Bob.

Given the finger-wagging suggestion of its title, it’s actually no surprise to find that The Company You Keep turns out to be politically chicken-hearted—the progressive cant we hear sounds idiotic, and political principles are seen as pathetic challenges to the demands of family and law and order. Frantz Fanon gets a conspicuous plug, but you’d never know that in real life the Weathermen killed no one. Through the whole film you’re on tenterhooks waiting for Redford to wrestle with the ethical tar pit at the center of the armed-protest idea. I kept hoping LaBeouf would get violently radicalized, or that a handcuffed Sarandon would grab a gun and go on a tear. But Redford cops out, finally, and succeeds only in defanging the idea of resistance altogether. Far from engaged, the film practically surrenders in an arthritic faint.

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Madea’s Witness Protection

With his creation Mabel “Madea” Simmons, here starring in her seventh film, Tyler Perry has built a franchise around barking disciplinarian, commonsense solutions to societal ills—and being that Madea looks like a linebacker in a circus-tent housedress, she can back her moral arbitration up. In Witness Protection, Madea’s wisdom is applied to no less a matter than the global financial crisis. CPO George Needleman (Eugene Levy) is greeted at the office one day by the sound of shredding documents, and the news that he has been made the fall guy in a giant Ponzi scheme with Mob ties. Taken into custody by the FBI, patsy George and his already imploding family are brought down to Atlanta by one Agent Simmons (Perry), where the white folks are conspicuously housed with Simmons’s Aunt Madea (Perry) and father, Joe (guess who?). A pleasingly heedless use of extravagant narrative contrivances teaches a lesson in miscegenation—we’re all family in America—and offers George an opportunity for redemption at a Sunday service. An agent of spiritual regeneration and showman, Perry’s dramaturgy is as subtle as a Bible-thump, but until a logy last act that has Levy disguised as a faux-Frenchman, his instincts are on-target here.

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“Gary Jones” Wants Your Nudes

Hunter Moore said he would set fire to the Voice‘s office if I wrote this. Actually, the 26-year-old’s exact words were, “Honestly, I will be fucking furious, and I will burn down fucking The Village Voice headquarters if you fucking write anything saying I have an FBI investigation.”

Some background: Hunter Moore is a self-made Internet villain. For more than a year, the Sacramento native published nude cell-phone photos of 18- to 30-year-olds, usually against their will, on his blog Is Anyone Up. Some of the people posted were publicly notable: pop-punk bassists, an Ultimate Frisbee champ, an American Idol finalist, the founder of Dream Water, Twilight star Kiowa Gordon. The majority of them were not: a Taco Bell employee from Orlando; a wheelchair-bound St. Louis community-college student; a high school English teacher in Hamilton City, California. What made these online betrayals even more vindictive was that they appeared alongside the unwitting model’s full name, social-media profile, and city of residence—private citizens in vulnerably explicit positions, just a Google search away from friends, enemies, parents, employers.

Just as troubling was that publishing these nudes was a legal act. Is Anyone Up branded itself as a “revenge porn” site, encouraging angry exes to send, anonymously, their former partners’ nudes. Many people did. So the breasts, penises, and asses on Hunter Moore’s site were, the story went, supplied by avenging cuckolds, embittered former friends, and other people with scores to settle. Because this content came from third-party users, Moore wasn’t legally held responsible, thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the same powerful shield that prevents Facebook (or the Voice, for that matter) from being sued for what users post.

Is Anyone Up quickly became a lurker’s paradise, a life-ruiner, and a public-shame catalog. As the site’s popularity spiked, Hunter Moore became a cult of personality, the anti–Mark Zuckerberg, a polarizing figure the BBC called “the Net’s most hated man.” He received countless death threats, cease-and-desist letters, and a Facebook ban. Last summer, a San Francisco woman he’d posted stabbed him in the shoulder. Infinitely quotable and ruthlessly unapologetic, Moore also drew an army of online supporters, kids who called him a devious genius, professed their love for him, and wanted to have sex with him, which he made a sport of publicly. Anderson Cooper tapped Moore as a guest, a Nightline crew came to his house, and I wrote a cover profile about him for this newspaper.

But along the way, as more unsuspecting subjects ended up on Is Anyone Up, more of them claimed that they’d been hacked—that someone had actually gained access to their e-mail accounts and stolen their images, which had not, in fact, been previously sent to people who later submitted them for publication after relationships soured.

Naturally, this excuse sounded flimsy, if not preposterous. “Everybody can claim they’re getting hacked,” Moore told me in April. “That’s the easiest way to fucking get out of it—’Oh, I fucking shoved my finger in my asshole, and I sent it to this dude who looked hella cute and had a face tattoo on Twitter. And I’m gonna say I got hacked.’ Let’s be real, you’re a fucking whore, and you just met the dude, and you thought he was cute.”

That conversation happened the same day as a stunning development: Moore suddenly sold his domain to an anti-bullying site, bullyville.com, and effectively shut down Is Anyone Up on April 19. “I’m fucking sick of looking at little kids naked, and I’m sick of my fucking site. I’m sick of fucking people calling me a ‘faggot’ and telling me to kill myself,” he told me. “I’m tired of fucking looking out the window and thinking somebody’s going to fucking come through and murder me in my sleep.” He insisted that his decision to shutter Is Anyone Up had nothing to do with law-enforcement pressure. “Fuck no, I would fucking literally murder somebody right now if I had a fucking gun and [that person] wanted to make those allegations.”

The Voice has learned that the FBI’s Los Angeles Internet Crime division has been actively investigating Hunter Moore and Is Anyone Up for months, according to four people who say they’ve been interviewed by the FBI about his now-shuttered site. The case’s focus, according to those familiar with the investigation, was Moore’s possible connection to a hacker who has repeatedly broken into the inboxes of countless victims, rifled through their attachments, and submitted the accompanying nudes to Is Anyone Up. (A Los Angeles FBI spokesperson would not confirm or deny such an investigation.)

“The FBI has been in contact with me,” Moore admitted during the same conversation in which he threatened to burn down the Voice. “I have nothing to hide.”

Bullyville.com is a month-old property run by former Marine James McGibney, another controversial website owner whose flagship property, cheaterville.com, asks for people to expose unfaithful scalawags. He also relies on the Communications Decency Act of 1996’s protections to run cheaterville.com. “Under no circumstances are any photos, posts, anything that was previously on Is Anyone Up servers ever allowed to be made into a public domain again,” he explained about his company’s purchase of Moore’s domain. “We could do this, and then maybe Hunter starts up another website two months from now and puts all this stuff back up, and we made sure that couldn’t happen.”

The Monday after his site shut down, Moore appeared as a guest on Dr. Drew’s HLN show. That’s when things got even weirder.

Charlotte Laws, the mother of a 24-year-old California-based actress whose naked body had appeared in January on Is Anyone Up, confronted Moore on the show. Laws told Dr. Drew that her daughter had taken nude self-portraits in her room with her cell phone, then e-mailed them to herself to store the images on her computer. The pictures had been in her e-mail account for months when her daughter was “criminally hacked.” Within days, the photos turned up on Moore’s site. Laws described it as a case of “cyber rape,” a term that Moore later mocked.

“Your daughter said she was hacked, correct?” Moore asked Laws over a split-screen. “Usually people who are embarrassed, who make mistakes, usually try and fall back on something else. I’m sure she sent the pictures to a million different guys and just ended up on my site, just like everybody else.” In other words: You’re in denial, and your daughter is lying.

Moore’s young fans mercilessly taunted Laws on Twitter and Tumblr. “The fact that @CharlotteLaws actually thinks her daughter took a nude picture just to send to HERSELF?” typed @KateyCanFlyy. “No wonder she was CYBER RAPED lol.” @NewYiddySports congratulated Moore on his prime-time guest spot but critiqued, “You should have referenced A.Weiner when the mom cried hacking.” They called her every name in the book and created animated GIFs of her face.

Even Moore, who had feigned an apology on camera, joined the online attack. “The cyber rape mom from dr. Phill [sic]”—wrong TV therapist, same differenc —”made up the whole story,” he tweeted. “Real life troll.”

But Laws stood by her story, explaining on her personal blog that after her daughter’s photos were posted, she’d embarked on her own offline investigation. “I randomly chose 25 individuals who had been uploaded onto the site within a 14-day period,'” she recounted. “My findings were astonishing: A full 40 percent of the victims I located had been hacked only days before their photos were loaded onto the site. In most cases, the scam began through Facebook and ended when the thief gained access to the victim’s e-mail account. The hacker did not nab credit card information. He or she seemed to have only one goal: to steal images for Is Anyone Up?”

No one believed Kristen, the 19-year-old college sophomore who appeared in our original Hunter Moore profile under the same pseudonym, when she said she had also been the victim of that kind of attack. On Thursday, February 23, the Long Island native came home from soccer practice to discover she had been locked out of her online accounts. When she got into her Facebook account again, her chat icon was talking with someone she barely knew on her friend list, a New York DJ named Tanner Caldwell.

According to a screen grab of their chat, her avatar had asked for Caldwell’s phone number, with an urgency emphasized with 12 question marks, two exclamation points, and a photo of an adorable girl. He provided his number, but demanded to know why. “My Gmail needs to be reset, but I lost my phone,” her icon offered, “I think I just sent my verification code or whatever to your phone, lol, can you check to see if you just got a text, please?”

Caldwell was immediately suspicious. After some hesitant back-and-forth, he typed, “This seems mad fishy,” adding, “out of your 2,700 friends, you don’t know someone closer to you to send your verification code to?” The response was masterfully played. “I don’t know, you were on my top chat and cute, lol.”

He asked what she was doing Friday; she flirted back while begging for the code. Eventually, he gave it up, and she sent back a smiley face. Within minutes, he realized he’d been locked out of his e-mail. Then it occurred to him that the access code he’d just sent her icon was his own.

The same day they were hacked, Kristen’s nudes showed up on Is Anyone Up, photos she swears to this day were never sent to anybody. (They were tasteful self portraits taken in the hopes that, when the time was right, they’d be gifts to a long-distance paramour who stopped talking with her once the photos showed up on Moore’s site.) The only thing she had in her defense was an e-mail address that she can’t dislodge from her Hotmail account to this day: garyjones815@gmail.com.

Caldwell confirms that garyjones815@gmail.com was his infiltrator’s address, too. “It was definitely the same guy,” he says.

Is it really so easy to hack a Gmail account? See for yourself: Go to the Gmail login screen and click on the frequently ignored link underneath the sign-in menu, “Can’t access your account?” Three options appear; choose “I forgot my password.” Type in a Gmail address—any active Gmail address—and if there’s a phone number associated with the account, you’re given three more options, one of which is “Get a verification code on my phone.” You don’t even need to know the phone number. Just hit “continue” and an unrelated six-digit code will appear in a text to the account owner’s phone. Type in that verification code—a number easily obtained by a masquerading e-impostor—and you’re in. The first thing you’re prompted to do is immediately change your password, thereby blocking out the original owner.

In other words, if a hacker knows only your Gmail address and can figure out how to access your phone, he’s already most of the way into your shit.

That’s what happened to a twentysomething woman from the Northern California we’ll call Tanya, who has never met or spoken with Kristen. Over Facebook chat, a panicked friend typed that she’d lost her phone and asked Tanya for help. Tanya reflexively sent her e-mail address and phone number, and almost immediately, she got an alert that the password on her Yahoo account had been changed. She was momentarily confused. When she finally fought back into the account, her profile information was replaced with an e-mail address: garyjones815@gmail.com.

That was January 7, 2012. “Two days later around midnight, I got weird messages from people, and I ignored them,” Tanya recalls over the phone. “When I woke up the next morning, I had over 30 phone calls from people and over 400 friend requests from Facebook, and I had no idea what was going on.” She’d been posted to Is Anyone Up, with her name, hometown, face—and someone else’s nude body. Tanya had a shock of recognition: The photos of her breasts were actually those of her friend, pictures Tanya had taken during an exercising spell to help visually track her process. “When I actually looked at my e-mail, I didn’t even remember having those.”

Tanya is not the sort of person who takes nudes. She is extremely modest—and this was one of the most emotionally damaging scenarios she could imagine. “I didn’t even leave my house for a week.” When she finally gathered the courage to do an errand, something awful happened. “I went to Taco Bell, and someone came up to me and was like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen you naked.'”

Tanya took no solace in the fact that the site’s characteristically crude comments were flattering. (“Does this girl have any flaws?” was a stark contrast to the usual “Jesus, someone call Greenpeace and get her back in the water.”) The fact that it wasn’t her body didn’t make it better; in some ways, the misunderstanding made the situation feel worse. She tried to get the photos down by e-mailing the site to no avail. Eventually, she started talking with other women who had been posted and discovered she wasn’t the only one. “Everyone I talked with, we were all hacked by Gary Jones.”

More than a month later, Tanya wrote to Jones and said that she knew he had hacked other people for the same reason.

On Monday, February 20, at 12:52 p.m., Tanya wrote, in part: “Do you know how much damage you are doing to people. . . . I have a question why?”

Almost four hours later, she got a reply.

All I can say is I’m sorry. Really. If it makes you feel better, I did nothing other then look at your pictures. Nothing financial or medical, I promise. I truly wish there was something I could do to make it up to you. I’m having a hard time, too. Please feel better and know that nothing else will come from this. 

A hacker with a conscience. Also, a hacker who wasn’t denying anything. A few hours later, Tanya wrote: “You and Hunter are invading my privacy. . . . I’m sorry, but I don’t get how you can be having a hard time. ”

He wrote back:

Actually, I just got my 3rd DUI and lost my job last week. . . . I’m 6 days sober. But I get it, that was my choice as opposed to you who did nothing wrong. If it’s any comfort, you are absolutely beautiful, and that gives you a leg up on almost every other woman. Hopefully, in the next month, it will fade away, and you’ll feel happy again. Want me to send your parents an e-mail for you explaining it to them?

That’s the last message in the thread.

“Gary Jones,” as it turns out, has been at this for a while. Google “garyjones815@gmail.com,” and three anonymous forum posts—two from March 2011 and one from December 9, 2011—single out the address. “I recently got my e-mail password stolen from another account,” reads a panicked message from March 15, 2011. “The person who has my account is garyjones815@gmail.com.”

That same month, an Australian woman named Danni Suriano alerted her Facebook friends that she’d been hacked in a frantic status update. (“HACKER!!! ON MY PROFILE RIGHT NOW!! do not tell him anything about your contact info!! garyjones815@gmail.com.”) On October 18, 2011, Suriano was posted on Is Anyone Up. (She didn’t respond to our request for comment.)

“Gary Jones” has a Facebook profile; it doesn’t mention his interest in nude photos. Instead, the page identifies him as a 32-year-old who hails from Belize, lives in Australia, and works for the plus-size agency BELLA Model Management. (Reached by e-mail, the director of BELLA Model Management told the Voice, “We don’t have a Gary here.”) The accompanying photo shows him as a beefy bodybuilder with a bad dragon tattoo, sunglasses on his head, and cartoon-hyena smile.

It’s actually a circa-2008 Wikipedia image of Matthew Rush, a gay-porn megastar known for such titles as Splash Shots III and “the first 3-D gay porn feature film,” Whorrey Potter and the Sorcerer’s Balls. (Rush plays Voldemorecock—it’s available on Blu-ray.) Rush’s birth name is Gregory Grove, not Gary Jones (Reached by e-mail, Grove said, “I have no idea who this person is.”)

I e-mailed garyjones815@gmail.com, told him I’d heard a lot about him, and asked if he’d be willing to talk with me, even anonymously. There has been no response.

Hunter Moore never denied to reporters that Is Anyone Up received hacker submissions while it was active. “I’m sure there have been times that people have been hacked and ended up on the site,” he told The Daily Beast in March. “But as far as Hunter Moore doing the hacking, that hasn’t happened.”

By April 19, the same day isanyoneup.com morphed into a bullyville.com ad, Moore was more definitive about the connection. “I’ve had tons of hackers give me shit,” he told me over the phone, insisting that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the same federal law that has shielded his site from prosecution all along, absolves him of legal responsibility. (Legal experts, however, tell us that isn’t the case.) “It’s the same thing as Scarlett Johansson getting hacked. It always comes back on the hacker. I’m not gonna lie. I’ve paid people for content. I don’t give a fuck. You can say that. If I’ve paid for content, they have to submit the same [way] as the user. It would all fall back on the user.” Scarlett Johansson’s hacker, Chris Chaney, faces 60 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines.

That said, even if Moore’s money somehow found its way to a hacker, he insists he’s not responsible. “If I paid for content, it wouldn’t matter because they submitted it. It wouldn’t matter. It would be like me leaving a fucking $100 bill on the sidewalk and somebody coming and picking that up and fucking throwing a picture on my lawn—it would be the same exact thing. It still comes back on that person who walked by my driveway.”

One provision of Moore’s deal with isanyoneup.com’s new owners, CheaterVille Inc., is that the business is not responsible for anything previously posted on the domain or its affiliated servers. “We bought the URL,” says CheaterVille’s James McGibney. “I do not own the content—I have nothing to do with it.” If there are legal issues with anything that did appear on Moore’s site, McGibney confirms that his company is not responsible. “Part of the contract is he’s 100 percent liable for it. It’s clearly outlined in the agreement. I had lawyers watching lawyers on this deal.”

Acknowledging that he and his lawyer had been fielding requests from the FBI throughout the site’s existence—something Moore consistently discussed with me while the site was still active—Moore continued to defend himself: “We’re going to work with every agency that we have pending investigations with. Really, [shutting down the site] comes down to never having to deal with this question, or anything like it, ever fucking again.”

We were having the conversation on the day his site had been taken down. “No, I don’t have hackers,” he said. “I’m half-retarded. Where would I find hackers? It’s not like I posted on a message board, ‘Friendly hackers, hey, can you get me nude pictures?’ It doesn’t work like that.”

Moore later demanded to know where I had heard that the FBI was looking into him, but I didn’t tell him.

He didn’t react well. “I will literally fucking buy a first-class fucking plane ticket right now, eat an amazing meal, buy a gun in New York, and fucking kill whoever said that. I’m that pissed over it. I’m actually mad right now.”

Moore is apparently not used to his own privacy being violated.

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Talent Gone Missing in The Abduction of Zack Butterfield

The best thing about The Abduction of Zack Butterfield is TJ Plunkett’s performance as the title character. Teenage Zack is meant to be a golden boy (good student, respects women, fantastic athlete), but early in the film Plunkett shades in slight asshole vibes for the character, which later manifest as steely survival instincts. Zack needs them to outwit April (Brett Helsham), the psycho female soldier who kidnaps him, explaining her action by saying she identifies with female high school teachers who have affairs with male students: “I like men, but they suck. Find yourself a boy, before they become a man, and you make your own man.” As Zack’s frantic parents endure doofus policemen and FBI agents, Zack is handcuffed, physically and emotionally battered, and made April’s uncomfortable confidante. Hers is a sad tale of a cruel mom, a stepdad who loved her (and made her a surrogate son) but not enough, and adult men who mistreated her. Flipping moods at the drop of a hat, April keeps Zack on his toes in what becomes a game of psychological one-upmanship. The script is often ludicrous (gratuitous digs at feminism; muddled commentary on war and the military), the sets look like sets, and the acting—aside from Helsham and Plunkett—doesn’t even rise to the level of student films.

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Beware: Ray Kelly for Next FBI Director?

Our senior senator, to whom President Obama pays considerable heed, is vigorously campaigning for our police commissioner to become the FBI director when the incumbent, Robert Mueller, ends his 10-year term this September.

“The country needs him,” Chuck Schumer explains. “Ray Kelly is a world-class choice, and he’s at the head of the list whether it’s fighting terrorism, drug crime, or street crime. . . . He’s the pre-eminent law enforcement person in the country” (Daily News, March 13).

Indeed, no one in American law enforcement exceeds our police commissioner in stopping and frisking blacks and Hispanics on the street.

Moreover, the rest of the country will be impressed, as Schumer insistently pursues his goal, that in ultra-sophisticated Manhattan, the often-quoted Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed, according to a March 17 Wall Street Journal report, that the voters acclaim Kelly’s job performance (67 percent to 20 percent).

A Kelly enthusiast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has himself long cultivated aspirations for residence in the White House, has, in all the boroughs but Manhattan, an approval rate of 39 percent, his lowest in eight years. In Manhattan—the pollsters didn’t reach me—Bloomberg barely reached a majority of 55 percent.

But once Kelly makes it, I’m sure he’ll often welcome Bloomberg’s staying overnight in the Lincoln bedroom.

However, our iconic Ray Kelly says (Daily News, March 18) that he has “no plans” to leave his post. I understand his tactical maneuvering. Why—until he’s actually nominated by Obama—should Kelly have to answer irreverent questions about his civil liberties record here from the NYCLU, the national ACLU, and the relatively small number of other active Bill of Rights guardians in our land?

Even the Tea Partiers—although some carry the Constitution in their pockets—have not aggressively focused on the Obama administration going beyond even Bush and Cheney in suspending our individual liberties, such as privacy, in that founding document.

If nominated, Ray Kelly will, I expect, be eased into the Oval Office.

This real possibility brought back for me the regime of J. Edgar Hoover, and in view of the record of the FBI under Bush-Cheney and Obama, I’m not surprised that FBI headquarters in Washington is still named after the ubiquitous Mr. Hoover.

Preparing to write my second book of memoirs, Speaking Freely (Knopf), I got through the Freedom of Information Act my considerable FBI file, including many pages during Hoover’s reign when I was a frequent critic of him. A characteristic entry was my attendance at a meeting of “radicals” in North Africa. I’ve never been to Africa, north or south.

As for the current FBI, Ray Kelly—whose record as this city’s police commissioner has shown an aversion to individual civil liberties, particularly to the Fourth Amendment—would cherish the present “Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations,” signed into law toward the end of the Bush administration and since then thoroughly endorsed by President Obama and his lapdog, Attorney General Eric Holder.

J. Edgar Hoover would have been delighted to learn that under these guidelines—which would have enraged James Madison and Thomas Jefferson—the FBI can conduct a “threat assessment” as it protects our national security, against any one of us.

Without a judicial warrant (judges can be pesky in these matters) and, dig this, without any specific suspicion of criminal activity, they can track whomever they choose.

Is this still America? While still head of the FBI, Director Mueller, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, solemnly assured Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin that before any FBI surveillance can begin, there has to be at least some suspicion of wrongdoing.

After his testimony ended, someone in his office must have whispered in his ear because he sent Durbin a note saying he had misspoken on that matter. He had also misspoken when he testified that race is never a factor when an FBI agent is conducting a “threat assessment.”

As many black and Hispanic New Yorkers would tell President Obama—if he cared to ask before nominating Kelly to run the FBI—race is a starkly disproportionate factor in Commissioner Kelly’s long record of stop-and-frisks on our streets.

Think the spirit of Hoover isn’t still haunting the FBI? Last July, the ACLU charged that “the FBI is still refusing to make public the portion of the [Domestic FBI] Guide that deals with sending agents or informants into houses of worship and political gatherings” (Associated Press).

Do you think FBI Director Kelly would insist on revoking that part of the guidelines? Just as under Hoover, if you go to a public gathering or to pray, you could be tracked into a database just because of your presence. The ACLU and some of its affiliates have ample evidence that this is already happening.

In fact, even George Orwell would be stunned to learn how extensive a surveillance society this country has become—and there’s much more contempt coming for what’s left of our personal privacy.

On December 10, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest, together with William Arkin, revealed in “Monitoring America” that: “The United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans—using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices, and military criminal investigators. . . . The system, by far the largest and most sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores, and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

“The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States” (emphasis added).

Would you trust your fading privacy to an FBI headed by Ray Kelly as the “Monitoring America” operation expands?

And what if Chuck Schumer, influential as he is, fails to get Ray Kelly nominated to the FBI director?

Would the next nominee by Barack Obama—or by a Republican president elected in 2012—be asked by enough of the media in all its forms, the Congress, or the citizenry, whether he or she has any objections to enforcing the FBI Domestic Guidelines or cooperating with “Monitoring America?”

How many of the New Generation—having been passively conditioned to what they know, partially, of their being surveilled—care about their vanishing privacy as, for example, they flock to be on Facebook? There, the FBI chooses its “persons of interest.”

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Dir. Frank Capra (1946).
The quintessential Christmas heartwarmer was originally regarded with suspicion by Hollywood’s right-wing ideologues and FBI snoops, in part because of the number of suspected reds involved with the production but mainly because it put bankers in a bad light.

Dec. 17-26, 2010