"Give them BANANAS--all they can eat," said the crudely drawn leaflet introduced in federal court here last week along with memos and other, more-official-looking documents. In the center of the leaflet was a drawing of a monkey with arms outstretched.
Laced with profanities and racial innuendoes, the leaflet had been concocted by the FBI more than a decade ago during the turbulent Vietnam war era. It was intended, the FBI acknowledged, to help split the so-called New Left movement by ridiculing a purported $25,000 demand by Washington black leaders as the price for the largely white antiwar movement to stage protest demonstrations in the city.
Now seven of the players from those dramatic days in the streets are in court, suing D.C. police and FBI agents for alleged violation of their constitutional rights and evoking scenes of mass marches, streets filled with protesters and police agents provocateurs triggering violence.
The names of some of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in 1976, are household terms in Washington's lexicon of political activism -- antiwarrior Arthur Waskow; freeway foe Sammie Abbott, now mayor of Takoma Park; the Rev. David Eaton, recently elected D.C. School Board member, and Tina Hobson, civil rights activist and widow of former D.C. City Councilman Julius Hobson.
They and others have been testifying for the last week before a six-member jury in U.S. District Court. The trial, before Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer, is expected to be completed this week. The activists are represented by attorneys Daniel Schember, Anne Pilsbury and J.E. McNeil for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The "Bananas" leaflet was one of many covert actions within the FBI's now-well-documented COINTELPRO program of disruption and disinformation forming the basis for the lawsuit.
The seven activists and two of their organizations are asking for a minimum of $210,000 in damages each, claiming a systematic campaign of dirty tricks, sabotage and illegal spying denied them rights of free speech, assembly and privacy.
Other lawsuits involving official counterintelligence programs against antiwar and civil rights groups have been filed throughout the country, but the Washington case is the first in which a jury has been asked to consider the facts and decide if money damages should be awarded, according to attorneys in the case. The other cases have been tried by judges.
The courtroom testimony here, which has attracted few spectators, has been filled with references to the names and places of the antiwar and antifreeway era: the New Mobe, Nixon's 1969 counterinaugural, the Vietnam Moratorium, the March Against Death, Mayday, Three Sisters Bridge.
Abbott, once head of the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis, an antifreeway group, testified, for example, that in November 1969, he was tipped off by friendly police officers that police were ready for trouble at a scheduled demonstration at the proposed Three Sisters Bridge site on the Potomac River, a target of antifreeway activists. At a predemonstration rally, Abbott said he tried to persuade protestors to stay away. But, he testified, someone in the crowd shouted "Sellout!" and "Coward!" and 200 demonstrators went off to the site. As he left the area, Abbott said he could see clouds of tear gas near the bridge. Years later, he said, he was told that his heckler fit the description of an undercover D.C. police officer.
Attorneys for the activists hope to use this and other testimony to prove that undercover police provocateurs not only spied on antiwar groups but sparked disorder and confrontations on instructions from their superiors.
Peace activist Richard Pollock testified that he saw a woman he knew as "Crazy Annie" hurl a canister of tear gas at a D.C. police officer during an antiwar protest on the Capitol grounds. Two years later, Pollock said, he learned that Crazy Annie was a police informant.
The District government has acknowledged in court papers that Crazy Annie -- her real name is Ann Kolego Markovich -- was an informant but denied she ever threw a canister at police. Markovich, who later became a uniformed officer on the D.C. force, has retired on medical disability and is raising a family.
The District government has responded to all allegations in the lawsuit with a constant refrain: intelligence investigations were conducted to help the police department make plans for controlling demonstrations that "might result in violence, disruption of federal and local government functions, or civil disobedience . . . "
The police department denies that its informants or undercover officers were urged to cause confrontations with the police.
The activists claim that government surveillance and disruptions of their activities "delayed the accomplishment of their political goals," but Justice Department lawyer David H. White, representing FBI agents, and assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel Laura W. Bonn, defending D.C. police, have tried to show during cross-examination of witnesses that nothing deterred them from their protest plans.
For example, Reginald H. Booker, a member of the Black United Front, a target of COINTELPRO activity, testified he took no action after he was told that a man, who had been acting as his aide, was an undercover D.C. police officer.
Moreover, both FBI agents and D.C. police contend that the lawsuit should be thrown out of court because it was not filed before a three-year statute of limitations expired in 1976. They claim that the activists knew well before 1973 -- primarily from news articles written about confessed informants -- that they had been under surveillance.
The activists contend, however, that complete information about secret activity was withheld from them until April 1976, when then-Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) issued results of a 15-month investigation by the Senate select committee on intelligence of the government's domestic intelligence activities.
Many of the details of the FBI's COINTELPRO activities were disclosed in the mid-1970s in thousands of pages of bureau documents obtained by congressional investigators or released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Like the D.C. police, the FBI has said it used COINTELPRO as a means to forestall violence by weakening the internal structure of various political groups and promoting tension and rivalry among them. A former member of the "Racial Squad" in the FBI's Washington field office told the jury last week, for example, that the purpose of the squad was to "ferret out those who might be attempting to foment violence in the community."
The case is expected to go to the jury this week.