The FBI declared Food Not Bombs a National Security Threat on August 29, 1988

August 29, 2021

The fog was still clinging to the tree branches at the entrance to Golden Gate Park that chilly August 15, 1988, noon. John, Derek and a few others put up two heavy folding tables and set out the pots of vegan food as we had every Monday for months. A collection of Dead Heads, vehicle dwellers and park campers gathered themselves into an informal line in preparation for another Food Not Bombs lunch. John had turned up a Meat Puppet favorite on his boom box. My wife Andrea and I join the scene. I had just been released from a week in St Mary;s Hospital after my appendix ruptured. 

A cluster of Haight Ashbury community members including photographer Greg Garr nervously watched and they were right to be concerned. San Francisco Police Commander Richard Holder leads a unit of riot police out of the woods and surrounds the food and literature tables. A police van wheels into position. Holder orders his men to arrest me first. 

Andrea rushes along with the arresting officer frantic, “He just got out of the hospital” she screams pointing to my side. He lifts my shirt to reveal a mountain of gauze bound around my waist blurting out, “Oh fuck.”

John, Derek and six other enthusiastic food servers are cuffed and stuffed into the van with me. Deetje Boler is on hand with a tape recorder and captures the distress. “If they aren’t going to let us eat with Food Not Bombs than lets rush Cal-Foods across the street.” It doesn’t happen. Instead people chant Food Not Bombs and we prisoners sway back and forth rocking the van to our own chants. The nine of us are freed from booking at 850 Bryant about 14 hours later. The long day sitting in that dirty concrete cel didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. 

These arrests were the Recreation and Parks Department’s response to our July 11, 1988, request for a permit to share our literature and food at Haight and Stanyan.  

I woke the next day to news that the San Francisco Chronicle had run a page 3 top of the fold story on the arrests illustrated with a three column photo of riot police guarding our food from the hungry. That angered many who had not witness the cruelty first hand. We pulled together a meeting of community activists, agreed we would return on Monday, August 22 meeting at the Haight Street side of Buena Vista Park and march to our Golden Gate Park location. David Solnit made a flyer using the Greg Garr’s photo from the Chronicle article of the helmeted police surrounding the food and servers.

We meet at 11:30 at Central and Haight. Cases of produce lined the sidewalk. Pots of rice, beans and soup were placed on a collection of milk crates in preparation to the march. Many people arrived with pots and spoons to bang as we paraded towards Stanyan Street. Max Ventura stood on the grassy slope above the gathering crowd a sang “The World Turned Upside Down” by Leon Rosselson. 

The gathered flooded Haight Street chanting Food Not Bombs, Food Not Bombs. A colorful mix of signs, banners, produce and pots of food defiantly marched towards the entrance of Golden Gate Park. The police on motorcycles made a few timid attempts to clear the street but were ignored. 

We set out our gifts of lunch and produce on tarps since we had yet to recover our confiscated tables from the police. Our regulars formed a line. One by one the first twenty or so people were shared out gift of lunch. That is when the Tactical Unit of the Police stomped up and started to drag the servers off to a line of police vans parked along Waller Street. A camera man from CNN was among the journalists covering what would be another 29 arrests for sharing food without permission. Andrea and I snuck away down Waller and hide in the woods of Buena Vista Park when the police started swinging clubs. I still had a healing gash in my side and couldn’t take that risk of a beating.

The story goes global. The New York Times, Times of India, The London Times, local media and CNN reported that 24 volunteers had been arrested for feeding the hungry. 

An even larger number of community members meet again a week later at Haight and Central and march down Haight to risk arrest sharing food. This time the police hesitate due to the bad publicity and they make no arrests.  San Francisco Police Spokesperson Jerry Senkier tells the media that they don”t have a problem with Food Not Bombs feeding the hungry. “There has to be some kind of (police) action. At this point it seems to be a political statement on their part not a food give away issue.”

Hundreds of people showed on Labor Day to risk arrest. The riot police gave up after cuffing 59 food sharers hauling them off booking at 850 Bryant Street. 

And this is were the story gets interesting. The Ryan Shapiro of Property of the People texted me this July 2021 to say they had received another batch of FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forced documents about investigations into Food Not Bombs. One was a report to the San Francisco Field Office of the FBI dated August 29, 1988, that refers to “Date Advised” August 22, 1988.  Much of this document is still classified secret but there is enough information to let us know that a reliable source from Squad 14, The FBI’s San Francisco Field Office’s Foreign Counterintelligence Unit had furnished information claiming Food Not Bombs was a “National Security Threat” (b1). This person’s identity and the details of his or her report still remain classified “Secret”. What is in those other pages that would justify our being a national security threat at a time when there were not more than 20 Food Not Bombs volunteers total that were sharing vegan meals in just three cities, San Francisco, Boston and Long Beach.

Some of our volunteers and supporters joined their families and friends for the Thanksgiving Holiday. When they returned to San Francisco they mentioned that National Guard personnel had approached them as they waited for their flight home on seeing a Food Not Bombs button pinned to they’re clothing to say they had just taken a class on domestic terrorism that featured Food Not Bombs saying “Food Not Bombs is one of American’s Most Hardcore Terrorist groups.”

3 Responses to “The FBI declared Food Not Bombs a National Security Threat on August 29, 1988”

  1. Karen Kaplan said

    The police and FBI must have been dyslexic and read the “Food Not Bombs” sign backwards: “Bombs Not Food” Since when is feeding healthy vegan food to the homeless a crime?” “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” “Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them.” “She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.” are quotes from the Bible. “Food Not Bombs” is NOT a terrorist organization. “Food Not Bombs” deserves financial grants and support to help distribute food, transport vans, rent storage facilities, provide plates, cups, utensils, port-a-potties, washing stations, etc. Feeding the homeless is a compassionate thing to do.

  2. Jho blho said

    Anyone who isn’t a sociopath is a terrorist/DVE today, so it seems. Valuing life is the ultimate crime.

  3. […] e l’inserimento nella lista delle organizzazioni terroristiche negli USA, potete visitare questa pagina del sito blog di Keith McHenry (in […]

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