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A Patriot Act
By L.M. Bogad
PM PressCopyright © 2011 L.M. Bogad
All rights reserved.
A Patriot Act
SPECIAL AGENT CHRISTIAN WHITE
THE ASSISTANT (who handles the slide projector, lighting and sound cues, and other special effects throughout the production. This role can be eliminated if need be, and a technical worker can handle this job.)
As the audience enters the space, they are greeted by SPECIAL AGENT CHRISTIAN WHITE ("Chris"), with black shades, dark suit, and earpiece, sitting at a desk by the entry, with a sign that says "WRITE YOUR DREAMS."
The desk is covered with an array of office supplies (tape, scissors, Sharpie, ashtray, ink stamp), and torture implements (rusty pliers, meat hook, ice pick). Chris hands a blank sheet of paper to each audience member as they approach the table.
As the audience members start to write, Chris switches the sign with other signs: "WRITE YOUR HOPES," then "WRITE YOUR FEARS."
When each person is finished, Chris takes their "submission," inspects it, clicks his tongue, concentrates, and begins to redact their dreams/hopes/fears with a Sharpie, marking them with authoritarian comments, critiques, footnotes. He blacks-out entire sections, draws cartoons, scribbles. He then begins to fold, staple, tape, and snip a way at the papers with a scissors, ripping and even burning sections with a lighter while rigorously timing the burn on his watch. Finally, he twists and torments the papers with his torture implements. He then ink stamps the mutilated remains, tears off a "receipt" that he daintily hands to the submitter, and "files" the rest away in a cabinet at his side. He then waves the audience member on to the second table.
At the second table, THE ASSISTANT stands. The Assistant tells each audience member s/he will give them a chair, but only after they have filled out a "CONTRACT WITH AMERICA" form and put their thumbprint on it [The Contract is on the last page of this script]. He then gives each person (depending on audience size) a sealed envelope with an authentic, redacted and declassified COINTELPRO document in it and asks them to read it upon sitting down.
NOTE: When Chris and The Assistant speak, even if they are right next to each other, they hold their ear down and look straight ahead as if talking to each other by high-tech earpiece. Chris may even say "I'm getting feedback, repeat?"
NOTE: This process can be sped up or slowed down depending on the size of the audience. Chris can either process everyone, or wave most people through unmolested, only picking the occasional "suspicious-looking" person to go through the process.
OPTIONAL: There is a small red square taped on the floor, not quite big enough for one person to stand in (perhaps if balanced on one foot?), at the back of the theatre, that says "FREE SPEECH ZONE."
When everyone is seated, Chris goes up on stage, THE LIGHTS FOCUS ON HIM, and his aspect changes from grimly focused to friendly and upbeat. He smiles and says ...
I'm Special Agent Christian White; you can call me Chris.
I'm with the Public Relations subdivision of the FBI. I'd like to say a big thank-you to the [NAME OF VENUE] for giving me a timeslot here. It's. Heartwarming. Really. To see so many talented and energetic people meeting to collectively create community and talk about the issues of the day. You are the future of this country, and it's vital that your voices are heard. And recorded. And analyzed.
But seriously, the Bureau has always devoted a lot of energy to observing and "relating to" the performing arts, so today I'm just continuing in that vein.
It's great to meet you all face to face. I've gotten to know so many of you from your very friendly emails and phone calls, in a third-person sort of way, and now, to be able to reach out and touch! For you theatre makers in the audience, we really feel a connection to your desire to observe human behavior, to get into character, and to go out there, perform convincingly, and hopefully, bring the house down. Knock 'em dead.
Which brings me, in a pretty smoothly coordinated segue, to today's topic.
COINTELPRO. The Counterintelligence Programs. The Bureau's efforts to, as we put it, can we get that slide please?
(Chris reads this slide aloud)
[SLIDE: "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize ..."
... dissident political groups within our borders. And, in some cases, beyond.
One quick example that we don't need to dwell on. Our director, J. Edgar Hoover, was really kind of obsessed with Martin Luther King. As you can see from this slide, we were really concerned with:
(Chris reads along)
[SLIDE: "the difficult problem of taking steps to remove King from the national picture."
... And I guess the joke was on us, cause how many schools, streets, paid federal holidays in America are named after J. Edgar Hoover? I don't get a day off on Hoover's birthday and I worked for the guy.
Now, I can hear you all thinking — well, not literally, not yet, but we are working on it. Let me rephrase that, I can imagine you're thinking, "COINTELPRO? Oh God ..." "Don't condescend to us, Chris! We've heard all of this before ..." "Why dwell on this sordid little subchapter, this forensic footnote — toe tag, even — on a bodybag full of dead social movements? This dubious marginalia in the tome of our nation's history?"
And of course, you're right.
COINTELPRO is history, just like the people it targeted. It's old news, especially in a fast-moving country like ours, so inventive that events are outdated before they even happen! We're all far too sophisticated for some kind of didactic presentation about outmoded social conflicts.
However, since, over the years, several thousand documents on this subject have come to light, we at the Bureau feel that it's time to really come clean on COINTELPRO, to set the record straight, to lay our cards on the table for all of you to read your futures by, and to give you a sense of the kind of work we do and how maybe we can work together.
Now, I'd like to take a little straw poll here, (raising his hand) how many people had heard of COINTELPRO before tonight? Anyone? Can I see some hands? Oh, it's a pretty hip crowd! Okay, how about AIM — the American Indian Movement? Does that ring a bell? Hands? Black Panther Party — I know there have been some movies about them lately, so I figure — Black Panther Party for Self-Defense? Anyone? Black Panthers, hands up, Black Panthers, hands up — I just like saying that! How about the [name of local activist group]? Oh, good!
(Chris quickly whips out a small camera, and takes a picture of anyone who has their hands up.)
Thanks, very helpful. How about CISPES? The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El S-where?
Okay, the reason I ask is, these were problematic groups, people with "issues," and, when the Freedom of Information Act was passed in that Watergate era, we at the Bureau were told we had to declassify some documents about how we dealt with these groups that, well, we never thought we were going to have to ... declassify.
So we were faced with a pretty heavy PR challenge. I know some folks are exhibitionists and you like to be watched — but not everyone is so comfortable with it. However, in this post-9/11, Patriot Act era, everyday life is now a spectator sport, so you might as well play ball!
So, what I'm about to show you is a document declassified by the Bureau, in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. It contains information about COINTELPRO, and this particular document was declassified in 1988, over thirty years after that case's conclusion. So again, the fact that I'm showing this to you at all is a really strong sign of the winds of change, openness, and accountability blowing through the Bureau's offices at this very moment.
[SLIDE: THE ERADI-REDACTED DOCUMENT. It is a file that has been completely blacked-out, or "redacted," before release. Not a single word is legible.
This is our version of Black Power.
That's a little Bureau humor of course — No, seriously, you're probably wondering about the little dabs of black scattered about delicately here and there on the text. That's called "redaction." Anyone know that word? Redaction? It's a little sliver of shop talk, so let me define with this slide:
(Chris reads this slide out loud)
[SLIDE: Redact (def.):
[From the Latin, redigere, to drive back.]
1. To write in correct form or formulate (e.g., a proclamation)
2. To make ready (a document) for publication: in short, to EDIT.]
Now, how would I perform Redaction?
[SLIDE: REDACTION AND YOU]
I'm asking this question in order to try to bridge that gap between us. That obsolete, retrograde, fetid binary between performance and enforcement.
Now, as a public relations man, I've had a lot of experience in performing texts of all kinds; fiction, nonfiction, you name it. So I can't help but reach out to all of you artists and lit-crit types with this question:
[SLIDE: THE ERADI-REDACTED DOCUMENT AGAIN.]
How would I "read" this document? This is a very serious creative challenge. There are many options. The first thing that occurs to me, what this text is saying to me, would be to warm up my vocal cords, and do my best imitation of heavy radio static interference, which, if you think about it, really sounds like someone saying, "Shhhhh ...":
(Chris holds his finger to his lips and keeps the "Shhh ..." sound going through out the following sequence)
1. UNCLE SAM GOING "SHHH" POSTER IMAGE
2. BLACK PANTHER LEADER FRED HAMPTON'S BLOOD-SPATTERED AND BULLET-RIDDLED BED AND WALL
3. A "SILENCE IS SECURITY" POSTER IMAGE
4. THE CHICAGO POLICE, SMILING, CARTING FRED HAMPTON'S BODY AWAY
5. THE BURNED-OUT AFTERMATH OF THE MOVE BOMBING AT OSAGE AVENUE, PHILADELPHIA
6. BACK TO UNCLE SAM GOING "SHHH"]
Let's do a little more research. It's hard to read this text, I admit. So let's look at some other examples of the kind of work we did in the old days. A little bit of Show-and-tell-pro, if you will.
One effective tactic was to write anonymous letters that might stir things up between troublesome groups. Get them gunning for each other, which keeps us a deniable distance from the gunfire, and, also, saves ammunition. And of course we pass that savings on to you, the taxpayer. So it's win-win. Example (pulling out documents from his pocket): Here's one we wrote as if from a union worker to a union boss to get the Teamsters, and more importantly any gangsters they might know, up in arms against the Communist Party of America.
Ahem. Quote. "The New York Office requests Bureau permission to prepare the following anonymous letter, Xerox copies of which would be mailed to the same Teamster Union locals in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area which received the first anonymous letter:"
[THE LIGHTS CHANGEwhile CHRIS quickly assumes a character voice, changes his posture, and reads the following. It should be disturbing, how easily he takes on a different role in order to infiltrate.This is a real document. This letter can be shown as a SLIDE if desired.]
"March 22, 1968.
Dear Union Boss:
I'm the loyal union man who wrote you around the end of January and I've got more news for you.
You'll remember that I told you then that I heard from my Commie brother-in-law that the leaders of his party had been in Moscow and among the instructions they came back with was to try to get rid of the hoodlums in truck and dock unions in this country.
Well, I was talking with my brother-in-law a few nights ago and he asked me how things were going in my Teamster local and I said O.K. He told me he knew that there were a lot of gangsters in my union but he said things would be changing for the best shortly. He told me that in February some of the leaders of his party were in Hungary meeting party people from other countries and it came up again about how his party is going to clean up the gangster controlled unions in the United States. I told him he was all wet but I didn't use those words.
I'm afraid these Commies mean business so watch out.
Thanks to the free use of a copy machine I can get the word around about this.
Don't let the Commies take over.
A Patriotic American and Union Man."
[THE LIGHTS GO BACK TO NORMAL.Chris goes back to his usual accent, character, style, etc.]
We called that Operation Hoodwink. Get it? Can you pass that around? [Passes to Assistant, who passes it to the audience.] Now, let's say you have a country, and there's blacks and Jews living there. But they're not shooting each other! This is a problem. So our attempt to solve this problem was this anonymous letter that we wrote and sent to the Jewish Defense League, or JEDEL, to get them upset and ready to shoot it out with the Black Panthers.
[THE LIGHTS CHANGE AGAIN.Chris reads, assuming a different character. He very briefly and sharply snaps back into his own character whenever he announces incorrect spelling in the letter.Again, this document is real and can be projected as a SLIDE.]
"Dear Rabbi Kahane:
I am a Negro man who is 48 years old and served his country in the U.S. Army in WW2 and worked as a truck driver with the famous "redball express" in Gen. Eisenhour's (spelled incorrectly for authenticity!) Army in France and Natzi (again, spelled incorrectly!) Germany. One day I had a crash with the truck I was driving, a 2 ½ ton truck, and was injured real bad. I was treated and helped by a Jewish Army doctor named "Rothstein" who helped me get better again.
Also I was encouraged to remain in high school for 2 years by my favorite teacher, Mr. Katz. I have always thought Jewish people are good and they have helped me all my life. That is why I become so upset about my oldest son who is a Black Panther and very much against Jewish people. My oldest son just returned from Algiers in Africa where he met a bunch of other Black Panthers from all over the world. He said to me that they all agree that the Jewish people are against all the colored people and that the only friends the colored people have are the Arabs.
I told my child that the Jewish people are the friends of the colored people but he calls me a Tom and says I'll never be anything better than a Jew boy's slave.
Last night my boy had a meeting at my house with six of his Black Panther friends. From the way they talked it sounded like they had a plan to force Jewish store owners to give them money or they would drop a bomb on the Jewish store. Some of the money they get will be sent to the Arabs in Africa.
They left books and pictures around with Arab writing on them and pictures of Jewish soldiers killing Arab babys (spelled incorrectly!). I think they are going to give these away at Negro Christian Churches.
I think you might be able to stop this. I think I can get some of the pictures and books without getting myself in trouble. I will send them to you if you are interested.
I would like not to use my real name at this time.
[THE LIGHTS GO BACK TO NORMAL.Chris goes back to his usual accent, character, style, etc.]
"It is further suggested that a second communication be sent to Rabbi Kahane approximately one week after the above described letter which will follow the same format, but will contain as enclosures some BPP artifacts such as pictures of BOBBY SEALE, ELDRIDGE CLEAVER, a copy of a BPP newspaper, etc. It is felt that a progression of letters should then follow which would further establish rapport with the Jewish Defense League and eventually culminate in the anonymous letter writer requesting some response from the Jewish Defense League recipient of these letters."
Pass that around? Here's one we sent as if it was from the mostly white Students for a Democratic Society, to the Black Panthers, in the Newark area.
[THE LIGHTS CHANGE AGAIN,and Chris assumes a different character as he reads.This also is a real document and can be projected as a SLIDE.]
Excerpted from Cointelshow by L.M. Bogad. Copyright © 2011 L.M. Bogad. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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