Two informants should have been all over the news this week. Neither of them are named Richard Aoki.
One was a left-leaning actor who, after FBI agents paid a visit to pass along unkind words a fellow actor had said about him, developed into “one of the best FBI contacts ever.” The second was paid big money by the FBI to goad Muslims into talking about jihad.
The first, Ronald Reagan, became the 40th President of the United States. The second, Craig Monteilh, has now switched sides and is helping the ACLU sue his former paymasters for illegally spying on members of Southern California’s Muslim community.
Ronald Reagan: Informant.
Seth Rosenfeld’s book Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power came out this week. But a book that chronicles malfeasance by J. Edgar Hoover in 734 pages of “workmanlike prose” is not a good bet for the best-seller list. Rosenfeld’s book needed a booster shot.
On Sunday, August 19, Salon.com ran a piece by Rosenfeld, Ronald Reagan: Informant. The response was tepid.
On Monday, August 20, Rosenfeld tried a different pitch in the San Francisco Chronicle: Activist Richard Aoki Named as Informant. That got the joint a-jumping.
The allegation that Aoki was an informant for the FBI was irresistible. There was chatter galore among the left about the only Asian member of the Black Panther Party, and the one who had given Bobby Seale his first guns. Bob Wing told Colorlines.com that he has “no idea whether Richard was an informer. I think it’s a matter for the movement to internalize that this comes with the territory.” Aoki’s biographer Diane Fujino asked Where’s the Evidence? and found it lacking. Mike Cheng and Ben Wang, directors of the film Aoki, concluded the same. Democracy Now! booked Rosenfeld and spent the bulk of the time talking about Aoki.
So Rosenfeld’s bid for buzz worked.
But what about the actual subject of his book, Ronald Reagan? Wading through 30,000 pages of FBI documents, Rosenfeld discovered that Reagan “names more people than we’ve previously known.” As president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan turned over to the FBI the files of 54 fellow actors suspected of being communist sympathizers. Rosenfeld’s book chronicles how the FBI rewarded Reagan’s snitchiness with personal and political favors.
The ho-hum response suggests people are not surprised to discover that the 40th President had spent most of his Hollywood years working as a tool for the FBI.
Craig Monteilh: Informant
As for Craig Monteilh, this 6’2”, 260 pound white man whom acquaintances describe as “a snake, a chameleon, a thug scam artist, and a piece of shit” started working for the FBI as a confidential informant after a chance meeting with two police officers in 2004.
A week before Rosenfeld made his allegations about Aoki, This American Life ran an outstanding piece about Monteilh’s work as an FBI informant. Ira Glass introduced The Convert with a caveat that “this story is not about how things typically go; this is an outlier …” Further in the story, though, the former FBI agents interviewed for the story confirm that the FBI’s use of Monteilh to indiscriminately gather information on, and then try to entrap Muslims in Orange County is, in fact, run of the mill. The only thing that makes this case an outlier was Monteilh’s going rogue on his FBI handlers and spilling the beans. Continue reading