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The Bureau and the Journalist: Victor Riesel’s Secret Relationship With the FBI


It was one of the darker moments of the era. On May 8, 1970, four days after a quartet of students were shot dead on the Kent State University campus, a demonstration of high school and college students protesting the escalation of the Vietnam War in the Wall Street area of New York were attacked by construction workers. By all accounts it was vicious. One report described workers chasing students into nearby Pace University, "The workers smashed windows and beat students in the lobby. One student was taken away apparently in convulsions. The workers threw wooden wedges, pipe joints and rocks through the windows apparently angered by an antiwar banner some students had draped over the facade of the building."1

News of the attack went out worldwide. In its aftermath, supporters of the war sought to drive home a message: The students had gone too far and these hardscrabble workers were justified in doing something about it. One of those sounding off was columnist Victor Riesel. In a piece called, "Counter Violence is on the Move" he wrote:

The construction trades union men marched on City Hall. They're hard. I've seen them in action. They're tough. And they were bitter mad. They hit the young people, lashed at the demonstrators as the nation now knows. They invaded a nearby college. But they carried no lead pipes. The carried no urine or human feces in cellophane bags as did the 1968 Chicago young peace demonstrators.2

Riesel's column was an open endorsement of violence against antiwar demonstrators, one that fit the narrative/polarization pushed from the highest levels of government at the time – the hardworking silent majority finally standing up to spoiled, intellectual, privileged youth. This incident now sits decades in the past, but an astute observer of the Occupation of Zuccotti Park in the fall of 2011 will see its ghost in the way unfriendly tabloids, right-wing television and hostile radio commentary took aim at the Occupy Wall Street movement. In that respect, a closer look at the work of Victor Riesel is instructive: exemplary of the way a certain type of journalism undergirds the repressive forces of the state.

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