It took more than 30 years of writing and research, but “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power” represented the culmination of work that veteran San Francisco journalist Seth Rosenfeld began when, as a reporter working for the student newspaper The Daily Californian in the early 1980s, he tried to learn how the FBI had conspired to infiltrate and undermine student activism in the 1960s.
Of particular interest to Rosenfeld during the course of his research was Catholic-born Mario Savio, the fiery and legendary activist of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement who, Rosenfeld learned, had been inspired by the legacy of the Holocaust. “[Savio] had a very religious upbringing,” Rosenfeld told Forward reporter Sheerly Avni. “And one of the things that affected him growing up was the photos of Jews killed during the Holocaust. It made him question how people could acquiesce to such inhumanity and violence.”
Rosenfeld’s book is a tribute to his own dogged determination, journalistic skill and activist spirit. More than three decades after its inception, “Subversives” became a New York Times best-seller. But perhaps more important, the book allowed its author to bring to light the secrecy and intimidation that the FBI had brought to bear against him, Mario Savio and countless others. In October, a federal judge ordered the FBI to pay Rosenfeld nearly half a million dollars in legal fees he had accrued while researching his book.