FBI

She Exposed the FBI, Then She Went Underground

The eighth COINTELPRO burglar comes forward.

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In the end, the hippie sells his hair to buy the Klansman a chain for his watch, and the Klansman sells his watch to buy the hippie stuff for his hair.

In 1971, eight activists broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, where they removed more than a thousand files on COINTELPRO, the bureau's program to infiltrate and disrupt political groups. The documents were then mailed to the media, a key early event in the decade's investigations of the national security state's crimes.

All but one of those proto-Snowdens revealed their identities this year in Betty Medsger's book The Burglary. Now the eighth burglar, Judi Feingold, has come forward as well, allowing Medsger to tell her tale in a long, fascinating article for The Nation. Unlike her confederates, Feingold went underground after the break-in, disappearing into a radical-rural world of feminist colonies out west:

Feingold's first home in the underground was on a goat farm north of Taos. Like several other places she would stay, this farm was owned by a woman and was part of an informal network of rural properties in the West known as "women's land"—places where lesbians built alternative communities that were intentionally free of patriarchy.

…and then they went into the online bookselling business and made a mint.

Feingold thought it was the ideal place for her at that time. As she points out, she could have hidden anywhere, but she welcomed the chance to live underground in the country instead of in a city. She loved the outdoors and the physical work required in such places. Growing up in New York City, she had yearned to live in those wide-open spaces she saw as a child on countless television Westerns. Now she had that life. She dug irrigation ditches and learned how to make goat cheese and gather eggs. She remembers living happily in those old cowboy landscapes that recently had been reclaimed by women. Until then, roaming Central Park was as close as Feingold had come to her dream of living in wide-open rural spaces.

When the woman who owned the farm near Taos decided to use it for other purposes, Feingold and others who lived there drove in a caravan of pickup trucks to other women's land in California. They had heard about the new place at one of the large gatherings of women that took place twice a year in large rural settings in the west, summer and winter solstice celebrations. After a relatively short stay on that California land, she lived for several years on women's land in Oregon….

A frightening episode took place when she lived with some other women in a house near a hilltop in Oregon, part of a horse farm. The owners and their three children lived in the main house at the foot of the hill. One day one of the children ran up the hill and, with a sense of urgency, told them, "Mom says you have to leave. The FBI is here." Feingold never knew why the FBI was there. She assumes the reason was unrelated to her, but she took no chances. She and the other women grabbed their few possessions and left immediately, going down the other side of the hill and never returning to that location. Someone who lived nearby gave them a ride to Portland. No one at the farm knew exactly why Feingold was concerned about being caught by the FBI, just that she was. And that was enough to cause them to protect her.

If this story doesn't inspire a feminist acid western, I'll be deeply disappointed.

Feingold didn't surface from the underground until 1980, and it took her a while to reestablish her life. (She studied to be a forest technician, for example, but abandoned the job when the former fugitive realized the actual job amounted to "Wearing a government uniform and turning people in for running stills on federal property.") She didn't tell anyone what she'd done until this year.

Read the article here.

Elsewhere in Reason: The subject of feminist separatist settlements also comes up in this piece about Mormonism, of all places.