The Betrayal of Lenny Glaser

A Belated Memoir of the Free Speech Movement

by Michael Rossman


Introduction: On Historical Censorship (2002)

        A shorter version of this piece, with its sharper edges dulled, was published in The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (R. Cohen and R. Zelnik, eds.; University of California Press, 2002) as an “Afterword” to my main work there, a memoir about making history. Ironically, what was cut from my memoir, to make space for this, was a fair part of its “craziness” in gently beginning to discuss a forbidden topic of history, the role of transcendental experience in secular politics.

        Even so, I was delighted to have this smaller memoir published there and broadcast on Alex Cockburn's webzine CounterPunch, because it begins to discuss another forbidden topic of history. Given that so much has been written about the FSM in nearly forty years, it’s quite remarkable that this piece seems to be the first serious discussion not simply of “the Glaser incident,” but of any relation of marijuana and psychedelic drugs to the FSM. Of course, it barely scratches the surface of this topic – but even to do so, points out how utterly this has been neglected, or rather avoided. As best I recall, having read most of the voluminous literature, only Goines’s history touches the subject at all, on one brief page without any analysis.

         As I remarked in that larger memoir, “by fall 1964, I had been smoking marijuana for eighteen months. That summer, I had my first experiences with LSD. Such experiences, in the context of that time, were related to mobilizations of perception and energy at deep levels for many in the FSM -- how many no-one knows, for deeply political aversions still inhibit inquiry into such connections, in fields that lack theory to explain them.”

         On the FSM’s Steering Committee, at least five of our eleven had smoked pot and at least two had taken acid by then. I hesitate to suggest that these proportions – 45%, 18% -- were quite matched yet in the larger body of the FSM’s 1500 most committed participants, but I’ll bet they were not far behind – and I’m rather certain that these were matched among the 100 who worked hardest on the report I edited. Is this idle statistics, or – given the different consciousness and significances that attended uses of such drugs during this early time – might it have had something significant to do with the way the energies of the FSM developed and manifested?

         Even to pose such a question still seems frivolous and irresponsible, subtly reprehensible. After Mario’s death in 1996, the FSM became Acceptable Americana, sacred heritage, the best and purest emblem of Sixties activism. How dare one besmirch its memory by entanglement with suspect substances? So ran the feeling even before the era of accelerated anti-drug mania following the collapse of the Cold War.

         Such attitudes still mark and limit inquiry not only into the FSM, but into wide ranges of the political and cultural developments of the Sixties and all their subsequent modulations and progressions. For the Drug War has been quietly raging without abatement since the Sixties, its fronts and depth both steadily expanding; and the numbing of academic mind, in history, political science, anthropology, psychology, and far beyond, is among its enduring casualties.


The Betrayal of Lenny Glaser

         As background, one should understand the role of Lenny Glaser (later to be known as Lenni Brenner) in the political culture of the Berkeley campus during the era leading to the Free Speech Movement. If one summarizes six years of rich developmental history by saying that SLATE --  the first umbrella-organization of the emerging New Left -- was the key organizer of students' increasing expression of civil liberties, one might say on the same scale that Lenny Glaser was the individual exemplar and avatar of free speech.
         For years, his thoughtful and passionate tirades greeted students on cold mornings, assailed them at noon as they hurried past the pedestal at Bancroft and Telegraph where he perched, eyes gleaming as he criticized Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, mocked the Pope's stand on birth control, told us marijuana wouldn't make us crazy. One must understand the era's context, still shadowed with McCarthyism's chill, to grasp how aberrant his act seemed; and must understand the subtext of collective feelings, gathering to erupt in the later 1960's, to grasp the shameful fascination of his lingering words and example for many who hurried past, averting their eyes from that crazy guy. In the annals of campus political history, the laurel for solitary courage is often credited to Fred Moore, for his fast on Sproul Hall's steps in 1961 in protest of compulsory military training. Yet to my mind, the courage of Glaser's lonely example was as vivid, long sustained, and more fertile in influencing the emerging culture of political expression.

         Of course, Glaser's act came also to the sustained attention of campus administrators and the police. That these authorities were not friendly then to such liberty of speech is well-known. But one must appreciate the particular structure of their hostility, which led them to view Glaser as more than an individual nut. From 1958 on, local administrators had been called not simply to deal with the conflictful consequences of an increasingly-active student political movement, but to understand the dynamics of its development among a student mass that had seemed tractably governable. During 1960-61, I participated in a liberal salient of their inquiry, in meetings convened by the Dean of Men, Arleigh Williams. But their political perspectives were divided, and the one led by Vice-Chancellor Alex Sherriffs came instead to govern administrative perceptions, applying a theory of malignancy to describe our troublesome development as driven by the infectious agency of Red-stained "non-student agitators".

         At this distance, the paranoia of the administration's analysis is visible even more clearly as a relic of early Cold War culture, remarkable in its persistence. Gathering momentum continually, this view of student activism did not reach the apex of its folly until after the anti-war movement's escalation, when it led in 1968 to the razing of the block that soon became People's Park. But its thorough entrenchment by 1964 was reflected in President Kerr's incautious assertion that 49% of the FSM demonstrators were "followers of the Mao-Castro line," and his subsequent "correction" allowing that only a small minority were Red provocateurs. The gulf of understanding thus demonstrated was essential to the administration's provocation and subsequent mismanagement of the Free Speech crisis, and to its extraordinary intervention in Lenny Glaser's legal case.


         To account for this impropriety, one must also understand the existential state of the administrators involved. The rising, fractious tide of student dissent had suddenly come home, as protest against the decree banning political tables escalated out of control. The unprecedented sit-ins and police-car besiegement of September 30 and October 1-2 left ranking administrators in a state described by faculty simply as "hysterical," seeking external agencies to blame for the disturbance and means to quell it. By October 8, University officials filed a petition to revoke Glaser's probation, on grounds (as later summarized by the appeals judge) that he "had been creating a disturbance at the University of California and interfering with an officer in the performance of his duties" on September 30 and October 1. (1)

         During a prior series of arrests for civil rights activity, Glaser had been arrested also for possession of a marijuana roach. Though conviction on this count threatened a term of one to ten years in penitentiary, he had been granted probation. In that era, considerations of due process did not extend to revocation hearings, as probation and revocation were still seen as discretionary gestures by judges. This time, the University sent a representative to the hearing to testify against Glaser, who was not allowed to present witnesses on his own behalf. His parole was revoked, leaving him to serve 39 months in the state prison in San Luis Obispo –- removing him decisively from any chance of influence not only in the Free Speech Movement, but in the seminal political and cultural developments of the following years..


         At the time, as I recall, no such details of the University's intervention were known to the political community of the FSM. All we knew, vaguely and inaccurately, was that campus police had caused Glaser's arrest for being found with a roach, and that he had vanished. But it was clear that he had been specially targeted as a political troublemaker, that the marijuana charge was a pretext for his removal from the scene of ongoing protest, and that he needed and merited our support.

         To our shame, I must record that we lifted barely a voice and not one finger in his behalf. A few spoke for him at the Executive Committee meeting of October 18, where it was decided that some would study the matter and report back; I doubt that they did. I think we even considered his defense at a Steering Committee meeting, and decided against it. The injustice of his case was glaring, and closely linked to the one we were protesting. But our response was paralyzed, as much by inner conflict as by outward considerations.

         In retrospect, it may seem simply prudent for us to have averted our attention from Glaser's predicament. Beside having too much else to undertake in the unfolding crisis, we had strong reason to distance our movement from his case. Desperate for public support, in a climate where newspapers were contending to publicize the Commie agitators responsible for our rebellion, we could ill afford to have the FSM identified also with drug use, by supporting a pot-smoking Trotskyist sure to be spotlighted, accurately, as a crusader against drug laws. So we backed off from this hot potato, so quickly we may scarcely be said to have encountered it -- savoring our senses of being prudent protectors of our movement, to mitigate the sense of shame some also felt at abandoning Glaser and the issues he represented.

         For by then, many of us had come not only to understand that marijuana use should not be construed as a crime, but to recognize the very issue of regulation of such consciousness-affecting agents as a key frontier of civil liberties, extending protection of freedom of thought and expression. In this light, Glaser's years of campus preachment had been entirely political, rather than divided embarrassingly between politics and drugs, as many activists of traditional political mind had viewed them; and the roach was not just a pretext for arrest, but integral to his case. The FSM could hardly have supported him properly without expanding its consciousness of its own cause. What wonder we shirked the theoretical and practical complications involved?

         This story of injustice and cowardice -- of the University's extraordinary, unconscionable persecution of a political agitator, and the Free Speech Movement's failure to contest it -- is part of the buried history of the FSM, and of the peculiar war against marijuana continuing to this day. (2)


(1)  In The Spiral of Conflict: Berkeley, 1964 (Columbia University Press, 1971; p. 150), Max Heirich dubiously cites one professor's impression, from a lost student film, that Glaser was the first to throw himself before the police car to entrap it. In Berkeley at War: The 1960s (Oxford University Press, 1989), W.J. Rorabaugh repeats this claim uncritically, drawing on a Jan. 24, 1968 S. F. Express-Times story on Glaser's release from prison. As I suggest elsewhere, the claim is as true in spirit as it is likely to be slightly false in fact. But surely Glaser was among the very first to try to stop the car, and among the loudest yelling for help; and was almost certainly the one most recognizable by the campus police present, having long been familiar as a hectoring annoyance. They may indeed have mistaken him as the chief instigator of our novel defiance, not from these facts alone but from their mind-set of infectious "non-student" agents, and their prior assessment of him as among the worst.

         As no document more specific than the appeal judge's summary is available to me, I can only surmise whether the impulse to put Glaser away originated within the campus police department or in the administration. But surely his prominent role was brought quickly to the attention of administrators scrambling to understand what had happened how; and surely the action against him proceded with their oversight and blessing. Surely also, it had been long in preparation, if only implicitly. For given the intimate cooperation extending by then for many years among anti-Communist researchers in the community, the "Red squads" of the city police and county sheriffs, the FBI, the campus police, and the University administration, in context both of growing student activism and of a less-publicized, rapid increase in student arrests for marijuana, it seems certain that Glaser was targeted as a key troublemaker in both regards by the administration well before the FSM; quite likely that the administrator most directly concerned with such matters -- Alex Sherriffs, the vehemently anti-Red Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs -- was soon informed about his apparent role around the car; and scarcely less likely that Sherriffs himself was involved in expediting the bureaucratic attack on Glaser. (Sherriff's central, long-standing role in fomenting the administration's misapprehension of the student movement, and its hard-line attitudes, has received only scanty and incoherent attention in histories of the FSM.)

(2)  One version of this story appears in Rorabaugh (op. cit., pp. 129-130), drawn entirely from much later secondary sources. In The Free Speech Movement (Ten Speed Press, 1993; p. 184n), David Goines quotes Rorabaugh's version and adds an alternative account of Glaser's jailing. Though each version is as plausible as the rumors that reached us then, neither is accurate about the process, and neither recognizes the administration's aggressive role in Glaser's imprisonment. Goines mentions "the Executive Committee meeting, where both Mario and I made impassioned speeches about solidarity and not letting him fry all alone," and notes that nothing came of this; but does not discuss why.

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