By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News
“Anyone who remembers the sixties wasn’t really there.”
“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
s weird as the 1960s became, Crazy Tom stood out. He set fires and started fights on the Stanford campus, supplied guns and explosives to fellow militants, and staged hold-ups “to support the Revolution.” He also created a secret mountain-top training camp and bomb factory to groom would-be urban guerrillas, from young, mostly white Maoists to the secret Black Panther army trying to free Soledad Brother George Jackson from San Quentin Penitentiary. Then, in February and March 1971, Crazy Tom Mosher put on a suit and tie, brushed down his wispy blond hair, and testified in secret before the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. According to his sworn testimony, the revolutionary terrorist had worked all along for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its state counterpart, the California Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification (CII).
In his testimony, Mosher warned of a growing campaign of revolutionary sabotage, terror, and guerrilla war, which had already left a trail of violence and murder across Northern California. The Senate published his tale at taxpayers’ expense, while Reader’s Digest ran a first-hand account of his experiences, “Inside the Revolutionary Left.” As Mosher and the senators told it, he had been an informant, passively watching the illegal violence of the Left and reporting to the authorities to help them enforce the law. As those of us who knew him had seen for ourselves, he had created much of the terrorist violence he now condemned.
At the time, I was an anti-war activist at Stanford, increasingly burned-out, cynical, and without too many lingering liberal illusions. Yet I would never have suggested that the FBI or other police agencies had paid Crazy Tom to shoot guns on campus, set fires, or run a guerrilla training camp. More likely, I figured, he had created his own chaos, while selling his handlers whatever bullshit he could get them to buy.
I was wrong. On March 8, 1971, just as Mosher was about to testify, a group calling itself the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into the Bureau’s office in Media, Pennsylvania, and “liberated” over 1000 classified documents, which they began releasing to the press. The purloined files included the hitherto secret caption “COINTELPRO,” shorthand for Counterintelligence Program. NBC’s Carl Stern then filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act, and in December 1973, a federal court ordered the FBI to make public its clandestine COINTELPRO memos.
One of the memos caught my eye. In May 1968, Director J. Edgar Hoover had secretly authorized the FBI “to expose, disrupt, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the New Left’s opposition to the Vietnam War and support for black liberation. “Expose, disrupt, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” are terms of art, and none of Hoover’s underlings could have doubted what he was telling them to do. Far from enforcing the law or protecting our First Amendment right to protest, the FBI would use against us the classic techniques that the Czarist secret police and its European counterparts had used for centuries, that the FBI had perfected since the post-World War I Palmer Raids, and that the CIA and military had for years directed against foreign foes. Our Crazy Tom, it appeared, was looking like far more than a self-propelled provocateur.
To find out for certain, a group of us at the Pacific Studies Center, a radical off-campus research institute, decided to look into what Mosher had done with us and to us. We interviewed Tom over a period of several days, during which he ranged from overly talkative to irritatingly cagey to truly terrified that we had set him up to be killed. We talked with dozens of his closest former comrades. And we tried to decipher the relevant COINTELPRO memos, with all their deleted names and details. The court had allowed the FBI to black out every place where Mosher’s name might have fit, but once we reconstructed his violent life and times, no one could doubt that Crazy Tom did exactly what the Counterintelligence Programs called for him to do. 
Too Crazy to Be a Pig
Whatever else he might have been, the short, scrappy Mosher was no spoiled preppy. His father, he told me, had been sent to the penitentiary, leaving his mother to turn tricks at home, while he grew up on the streets of Uptown Chicago, learning to survive among the roughest rednecks, hillbillies, and other refugees from the American hinterland.
Smart, sensitive, and charismatic, he quickly learned how to hustle, charming the improbable W. Clement Stone, an insurance tycoon who gave millions to former President Nixon. Stone also wrote books telling people how to develop PMA, a Positive Mental Attitude, by jumping up and down every morning chanting “I am healthy! I am happy! I am successful!” Tom met Stone at the McCormick Boys Club, took him as a big brother, and later got him to write a recommendation to Stanford, where the eager young man enrolled in the fall of 1962.
Mosher tried hard to score in the world of big money and soft manners. But for all his Positive Mental Attitude, the foster son of success lacked the financial backing and social background, while he caused so many fights that the fraternity he joined asked him to leave. “Mosher was one of the most violent people I’d ever known,” recalled one of his well-bred frat brothers. “In the space of two and a half months, he punched out eight people.” Tom finally dropped out of Stanford in the spring of 1965, filled with admiration, awe, envy, hatred, and resentment for the silver spoon set. Had he failed? Or had Stanford failed him? The wiry street fighter tried to work out the balance, but never could.
After spending a few months with the civil rights movement in Mississippi, Mosher returned to Uptown Chicago, where he became “a revolutionary.” Several of my friends from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had started a local community organizing project called Jobs or Income Now (JOIN), and Mosher, whom I met casually at the time, became one of its stars. He also married a college professor’s daughter named Mary, fathered a son Keith, and rubbed elbows with many of America’s best-known young radicals
In August 1968, the SDS leader and later Weather Woman Bernadine Dohrn asked him to go in her place on a trip to Cuba. As fellow travelers remembered him, Mosher was a gung-ho Che Guevara bent on guerrilla war. In fact, he was already working for the government, or at least looking for a job. “I really wasn’t such a stone cold revolutionary in Cuba,” he told me. “I was just acting as one, carefully observing and analyzing for my own benefit. You’d have done the same thing if you had in mind what I had in mind.”
Returning from Cuba in October, Tom met with FBI agents and gave them films he had taken on the trip. He then moved back to Stanford, and no later than “let us say April 1969,” he began what he called his “active association with the Bureau.”
Why did Tom sign on with the Feds? Take your pick. In various breaths, he spoke of his poor boy’s resentment of rich white radicals and black militant thugs, his patriotic disgust with their violence and anti-Americanism, his long-standing anti-Communism, and his sudden disillusionment with Cuban socialism. He also mentioned pressure from the law, his need for money, and growing marital strains with Mary. In Tom’s topsy-turvy mind, most – if not all – could have played a part.
One other possibility was that Mosher came to the FBI from military intelligence. His military records, which we managed to see, showed that he had served two and a half months on active duty with the Marines. He then remained in the reserves for six years, but without any evidence of ever attending a single reserve meeting. This was the file one would expect from someone performing an undercover assignment, but we were never able to nail that down.
In any case, Tom’s temper, his passion for guns and explosives, and what he called his “peculiar mental illness at the time” made him the perfect provocateur. His madness drove him to live on the edge, continuously courting danger, while working for the FBI allowed him to carve out a free-fire zone between the militants and the law where he could let rip his terrifying rage.
Just as the COINTELPRO memos directed, Mosher brought into the anti-war movement an incredible aura of violence, which disrupted our protests from within and discredited them to those on the fringe. He baited the moderates and egged on the militants. He even fought right-wing Young Americans for Freedom, threatening publicly to sodomize one of their campus leaders. His fury surging just below the skin, he acted like a savage six-year-old, flying into a rage whenever he wanted, upsetting, unnerving, and grasping for control.
Flashing his pistol at a non-violent anti-war sit-in in April 1969, he offered to take care of the campus police and boasted of trashing their car windows. “Time to get serious!” he urged. “Time to pick up the gun.” Late one night, he fired eight or nine shots into the home of Stanford president Kenneth Pitzer, and then tried to get the incident reported in the press. He also fired into a university auditorium, and during a demonstration against ROTC, he fired several shots into the air.
Tom Mosher, circa 1972. (art: Anna Weissman)
In July 1969, Mosher went to a party at the home of H. Bruce Franklin, a brilliant scholar of both Herman Melville and science fiction, and a prime target of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Programs. The “Maoist English professor,” as the press called him, had become a convert to old left thinking, zealously defending the historic necessity of Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union, a fatuous claim that won him scant support. Together with his equally militant wife Jane, Bruce ran the Revolutionary Union, which preached the impossibility of non-violent revolution, but overlooked the even larger improbability of a violent one.
The party that night was celebrating the acquittal of several radicals charged with fomenting a street riot in downtown Palo Alto. A large crowd showed up, including the defendants, three jurors, most of the local anti-establishment, and some visiting left-wing honchos from across the country. The guests were talking, dancing, and drinking wine, when Mosher slapped a juror who was dancing with Mary. Bruce jumped in, some serious brawling began, and it looked for a time that the police might come, using the opportunity to raid the house, search for weapons, and rough-up a few self-proclaimed revolutionaries. After the punch up, Franklin cooled to Mosher, telling his comrades not to trust the lunatic. “I may be crazy,” Mosher replied, “but I’m not a pig.”
In spite of Franklin’s tenure, the Stanford administration soon brought disciplinary charges against him, holding him responsible for the climate of senseless violence that Crazy Tom helped to create. Adding to the furor, Mosher leaked hearsay stories to the press accusing Franklin of supplying weapons and explosives to the Black Panther Party in Oakland. Such stories took their toll. Sacrificing civil liberties in hopes of gaining security, the faculty judges voted to fire Franklin for his political activism.
Like Bruce, the vast majority of us in the Stanford movement tried to keep a safe distance from Crazy Tom, finding his behavior bizarre. Many of us heard stories of how he pulled his gun on friends, beat his wife, and bragged of “rolling queers” outside the gay bars in Palo Alto’s Whiskey Gulch. We saw him as a constant chameleon, always shifting roles. One day he would play the bearded guerrilla in field jacket and combat boots. Another day he would pose as the clean-shaven movement lawyer “William Z. Foster,” turned out in suit, tie, and wingtips. He would also appear as a campus queen in purple velvet; a white Huey P. Newton in a costly leather coat; an Aryan racist and authentic-sounding anti-Semite spouting slogans from the neo-Nazi bible Imperium; or an off-the-screen James Dean in Levis and T-shirt, a sleeve rolled up around a pack of cigarettes. “I’m from Uptown, Man. The toughest neighborhood in America.”
Tom was crazy, all right, and everybody knew it. Why, then, did anyone ever trust him?
In part, he traded on his poor white origins, especially with all the guilt-ridden rich kids who looked to the working class to make the Revolution. (“In Uptown we’re really more lumpenproletariat,” he later told me with a knowing smile. “None of us can keep a job.”) But mostly he and his rags-to-revolution image found an appreciative audience in a small but growing cadre with Red Books and revolvers who were always trying to act more Mao than Thou, a maddening vanguard that one wit dubbed the “Marksmen-Lemmingists.”
“He would periodically make chiding remarks about my non-violence or put forward adventurist proposals,” one pacifist recalled. “But he was only one of many political crazies. There were lots of people who had even weirder ideas than he did.”
So, Tom’s craziness became Tom’s cover, as he stamped the anti-war movement with his own brand of random terror. Perhaps we were also beguiled by a lingering faith in the very system we opposed. “Mosher’s too crazy to be an informer,” we all agreed. “The government would never hire anyone as loony as him.”
But that was just the point. Tom’s violence and “peculiar mental illness at the time” were precisely what his FBI handlers wanted. How better to disrupt, misdirect, and discredit our opposition to the war? Mosher was a loaded gun that the Bureau pointed at us, trashing our First Amendment right to protest without government interference and our freedom to decide for ourselves the message we wanted our non-violent demonstrations to convey.
Training for Guerrilla War
Reaching beyond the Stanford campus, Mosher quickly found his ticket to the big time in a remote patch of ravines, redwoods, and rattlesnakes high in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. “The land,” as it was called, belonged to a group of draft resisters who had bought it for a retreat. It was also the outdoor playpen of one of Tom’s former fraternity brothers, a near-sighted and slightly mad charmer called “Blind Timmy.”
Tom had heard that his old friend still lived in the area and set off to find him, driving into the mountains on an old logging road, then trekking upward along a tiny twisting trail, until he came to a small clearing with a homemade cabin built of wood and stone. In the clearing, Mosher spotted Timmy frolicking with a band of teenage boys and girls. They were all naked. A self-anointed guru, Blind Timmy preached the virtues of pan-sexualism, seeking universal unity and spiritual ecstasy through an open-ended communion of bodies and souls.
In time, Tom and Mary joined in, and for a while it was Timmy, Tom, and Mary. But the ménage did not work out. “I found that I was emotionally right-wing and came to see the whole thing as diabolical possession,” Tom confessed. “I guess my soul just had too much of the funky gray Mid-West.”
Timmy scooted off to do his missionary work elsewhere, leaving Tom free to use the land as he wanted, which was just as the FBI memos suggested – “to take advantage of all opportunities for Counterintelligence and also inspire activity in instances where circumstances warrant.”
As early as the spring of 1969, Mosher brought some Stanford radicals and black militants from Oakland to the mountain hideaway to practice shooting and “discuss alone the techniques of using high explosives,” as he later testified to the Senate subcommittee. He and his black comrades also got hold of over a hundred sticks of dynamite, along with timers, mercuric fulminate for the fuses, and electronic detonators, all of which they stashed on the mountain. By summer, the land had become, as Tom told it, “literally … a bomb factory.”
Every bomb factory needs a mad scientist, and Mosher found his in a short, bright, and profoundly angry black student named Jimmy Johnson. Mosher had met him at Stanford in 1963, and the two outsiders grew close. JJ had dropped out about the same time as Tom, and was just coming back to finish his degree in chemical engineering. Mosher spotted him at an SDS party, where – as friends in the Black Student Union put it – JJ stood out “like a fly in the buttermilk.” The two began spending time together and winding each other up. Together, they jeered at the tough-talking rads and their tea-party sit-ins, and promised to show those punk kids what revolution was all about.
JJ’s friends in SDS tried to warn him away, telling him that Mosher was crazy, if not a police agent. But most of the Stanford radicals thought Johnson a little loosely wired, too, and left him to his fate. Mad Dog Jimmy, Crazy Tom – they seemed a perfect pair.
At the time, JJ was facing trial for rioting in downtown Palo Alto, while the university was trying to discipline him for disrupting a trustee’s meeting where he had protested Stanford’s millions of dollars in Pentagon research contracts. So much for civil disobedience, he told Tom. Why put yourself up in plain view for something that doesn’t get any results anyway? Why not use something safer and more efficient? Something with a bang.
When Mosher heard all this, his eyes lit up. Many young radicals talked about bombs, but JJ knew how to make them. Fire bombs. Dynamite bombs. Time bombs. “JJ used to blow my mind with some of the things he made,” Mosher recalled. “He even made a timing device from a photoelectric cell, which would go off when someone opened the door or turned on a light.”
Introducing JJ to some of the most militant blacks in Northern California, Mosher pushed him to act out his anger. “What Mosher did was to bring this machismo, tough guy shit into the movement,” JJ later explained. But, at the time, he seemed to JJ to be one of the few white boys willing to do more than talk.
With JJ as his revolutionary bomb-maker, Mosher spread the word among Northern California radicals that he had a full-fledged training camp in the mountains. He then recruited the most militant to crawl on their bellies over the rocky terrain, snipe at make-believe “pigs” behind every bush, blow up tree stumps with home-made bombs, and stage mock guerrilla raids on whatever targets their rich imaginations could conjure up. Where Blind Timmy and his nubile playmates once pursued their polymorphous pleasures, stern-eyed guerrillas now trained for war, while the FBI’s Tom Mosher – king of the mountain and master of “Guevara Ranch” – supplied them with dynamite, grenades, pistols, rifles, and machine guns.
Of course, the modest Mosher denied any credit. “My role was strictly passive,” he told me. “I simply used my access to the land to monitor the illegal activity of others – a standard law enforcement technique.” Playing the super-patriot, he denied that the FBI ever ordered him to go against the law, or that they ever ran the COINTELPROS, except perhaps on paper. “Those stupid sons of bitches never understood that we were at war,” he insisted. “I had to go beating on doors to push them to do something about indiscriminate terror.”
The Black Panthers’ Best White Buddy
Tom finally got what he wanted in a COINTELPRO memo dated November 25, 1968, instructing FBI offices to begin “imaginative and hard hitting measures aimed at crippling the BPP,” the Black Panther Party. As FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover saw it, the Panthers had replaced Martin Luther King as the nation’s major black menace, and were now “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”
Reality was more the reverse. For all their revolutionary rhetoric, the Panthers were fast becoming an endangered species. Eldridge Cleaver had fled to Algeria. Huey Newton sat in a California jail. Chairman Bobby Seale faced trials for rioting at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the alleged torture slaying of Alex Rackley in New Haven. As for the lesser Panther leaders, Hoover’s Counterintelligence Programs had begun targeting them for special attention, while Attorney General John Mitchell’s “Panther Squad” was preparing a series of pre-dawn, shoot-first-ask-questions-later police raids, like the one in Chicago that killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
Trying to protect themselves, the Panthers scheduled a major gathering in Oakland for July 1969, calling together their friends and allies to form a “United Front against Fascism.” Mosher saw this as his big chance. At the SDS National Convention in Chicago in June, he physically threatened the Progressive Labor Party faction for their political attacks on the Panthers and pushed for all-out support of the United Front. Then he rushed back to the West Coast for the Panther conference, using a stolen American Express card to fly in several friends from his old gang in Uptown, the Young Patriots. “We’re just like the Panthers,” he proclaimed, “only white.”
Mosher used his contacts at Stanford to round up students to do clerical work and run errands for the conference. The Panthers were grateful, and Chairman Bobby drove from Oakland to hold a planning meeting in Tom’s living room. I was there. It was clear that Seale liked Tom’s style and street savvy, naming him official student organizer of the anti-Fascist conference. Not bad for a white boy from Uptown and just perfect for the FBI.
At the same time the Panthers were organizing their peaceable United Front, they also shifted their basic approach from armed self-defense to “revolutionary violence.” Here, too, they turned to the FBI’s Mosher, who worked closely with Panther Field Marshall Randy Williams. “This relationship was predicated upon my contact with people who could supply explosives and timers, and individuals who could provide technical information and expertise,” Mosher told the Senate subcommittee.
One activist saw first-hand some rifles Mosher delivered. “I don’t know if Randy considered Mosher a great comrade or anything like that,” the activist recalled “But he did use him as a source of military equipment.” Mosher brought Williams to Guevara Ranch for what Tom described in his testimony as “training with high-powered and automatic weapons, and other implements of revolutionary terror.” According to Mosher, several small groups of Panthers used his land for this kind of training for days at a time.
As quartermaster of the revolution, Mosher also got hold of C-4 explosives, or plastique, which Williams used in a tragic attack on the Oakland Corporation Yard on the night of March 27, 1970. According to Mosher, Williams and his “fire team” cut a hole in the chain-link fence, entered the yard, and strapped the plastique to the side of a gasoline can, but without a proper booster. When the C-4 failed to detonate, Williams sent one of his men to retrieve it. The night watchman appeared, and the black militant shot him dead. “It wasn’t an entire failure,” Mosher quoted Williams as saying. “We got us some bacon.”
Possibly to protect Mosher’s cover, the Oakland police never charged Williams and his men for either the break-in or the murder. But a short time later they busted him and two others for what police reports described as a heavily armed attempt to ambush a paddy wagon. Said Mosher to the subcommittee, “My interactions with Mr. Williams continued right up to the 24-hour period preceding his arrest.”
Dope, Guns, and Cash
“Have you checked out the rise in the crime rate about the time of the Panther’s anti-Fascist conference?” Mosher asked during one of our interviews. “Have you looked at the number of armed robberies?”
Starting in summer 1969, the Bay Area had suffered a rash of unsolved hold-ups and other crimes, just as Mosher hinted. What he failed to mention was that he was the chief thief. Was he stealing on his own account, quite apart from his work for the FBI? Or was his thieving part of the Bureau’s effort to disrupt and discredit the Left?
“Taxing the dope trade,” as he called it, Tom raided hippy marijuana dealers, who were in no position to call the police. In one well-armed robbery in the mountain community of La Honda, Tom bagged over 34 pounds of prime marijuana, which he took to New York and sold for $3,400. One of Tom’s accomplices was a black draft resister named Rodney Gage. As he later described it, Mosher lined the dealers up against the wall and subjected them to “political education.” While the dopers stood there trembling, he lectured them on how the “pigs” oppressed the people and how the people’s army needed money to buy guns, which was why the Black Panther Party taxed the heroin trade in Oakland and why he was taxing the marijuana dealers in his territory.
“It was kind of nice thinking it was political,” Rodney told me with a tinge of remorse. “But it wasn’t. It was a rip-off. Nobody but us ever saw any of the money from it.”
In fact, the only politics were negative. By posing as a revolutionary while robbing the dealers, Mosher clearly disrupted and discredited the anti-war movement’s otherwise successful effort to win sympathy and support within Northern California’s drug-oriented youth culture.
Rodney, JJ, and a youthful drifter named Jimmy Inman told of several robberies that Mosher pulled. In one, he stole a day’s receipts from Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park. “This is for the Revolution,” he told the clerk, further souring relations between the more militant Left and the owner Roy Kepler, one of the area’s leading pacifists and a long-time comrade of singer Joan Baez.
From those who were less pacifistic, Mosher stole guns, and he even robbed the emergency cash fund we used to make bail for Stanford radicals. Rodney bird-dogged the cash, finding the house where we kept it hidden. Then one evening in September 1969, Mosher called our legal defense committee.
“I think the pigs might try to bust me over the weekend,” he said. “Do we have the bread to get me out?”
“Don’t worry,” he was told. “We have plenty of cash on hand.”
A few nights later, Mosher sent Inman into the house. Carrying a loaded pistol, the drifter terrified the people inside, tore the house apart, and walked out with a large envelope. Mosher cursed him out for leaving a second envelope behind, but Inman still thought it was a good night’s work – $1,380 split three ways. “Mosher could have gotten me to do just about anything,” Inman recalled. “He was just that magnetic.”
As if to test his allure, Mosher took Inman along on at least two trips to the FBI office in Palo Alto, scoffing loudly when the young man asked if he were an informer. Inman also recalled Mosher say that he had his reasons for robbing the radicals. Dope, guns, and cash – the ersatz revolutionary taxed them all, playing godfather to a small-time empire of crime, for which he went completely unpunished. In practice, the robberies disrupted and discredited the Left – just as the COINTELPRO memos instructed.
Eventually, Mosher did land in jail, but not for stealing. The problem was Mary, who had left him and gotten a quick divorce. He responded by terrorizing her and her lovers, one of whom died in a car crash. Tom found the dead man’s belt under her bed, put it on like a wrestling trophy, and marched off, taunting her about how easy it was to sabotage a car.
Tensions mounted, and finally Mary showed up at Tom’s house at 6 o’clock in the morning. With her she had two deputy sheriffs, who did not know that Mosher worked for the FBI. She also had a court order giving her sole custody of their son Keith, whom Tom adored. When Tom flew into a rage, the deputies maced him and used the opportunity to search his house without any need to have a warrant.
They found Tom’s legal shotgun, rifle, and carbine, along with an AR-15 assault rifle illegally modified to fire as an automatic. They also found soft drink bottles and white cloth for Molotov cocktails, two detonator batteries, a timing device, blasting fuse, seven sticks of dynamite taped together, a half-inch cap for a pipe bomb, and two bags of black powder. As the local press reported it, the deputies had scored one of the biggest hauls of weapons and explosives ever taken from a Northern California militant. The local authorities charged Tom with assaulting an officer and illegally possessing an automatic weapon and explosives – six felonies in all, with bail set at $12,500.
Mosher tried to reach his FBI handler, who left him on his own, either to teach him a lesson or to safeguard his cover. As a result, Mosher sat in the Redwood City jail from April 18 to May 5, when he finally found the money for bail. To his comrades, Tom appeared unbroken. “The spirit of the people,” he told Rodney, “was stronger than the power of the Man’s prisons.”
In celebration, he tossed a Molotov cocktail at a shed in the Stanford stables, setting off five or six alarms as he raced from the campus. Tom liked fires. According to Rodney, in early April he tried to burn down some student housing construction, and he appeared to have inside knowledge of a dramatic fire that gutted part of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences during the time he was in the Redwood City lockup.
From all over the country, the Stanford fires brought harsh demands for law and order, especially from Vice President Spiro Agnew. They also alienated campus moderates. Even those who could understand why anti-war radicals might torch an ROTC building or chase CIA recruiters off campus could not fathom any reason for burning down student housing or a stable.
As all this was happening, Mosher made a career change. Unhappy with the FBI’s failure to get him out of jail, he left their employ except for a trip that summer to monitor a Black Panther rally in Washington D.C. “They were not serving my interests and I was not serving theirs,” he told the Senate subcommittee.
The break was less than complete. Tom remained in contact with Special Agent Phil Duncan of the Palo Alto FBI office, and the Bureau eventually worked out a deal with local lawmen. In November, Deputy District Attorney Wilbur Johnson, a former FBI agent, dropped all the weapons charges against Mosher, tacitly confirming that Tom’s guns and bombs, one of the biggest hauls ever taken from a Northern California militant, had something to do with his work for the law. Mosher pled guilty to a single count of felony assault against the police officers, and the following January, Judge Robert F. Kane gave him probation and subsequently reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. To sweeten the pot, Mosher told the DA about some LSD-dealing at a house in Berkeley, leading to the arrest of a former business associate.
All this left Mosher dangling for nearly a year, but as he told the Senate subcommittee, “It also served the purpose of increasing my cover, I understand.”
Free George Jackson
Into the early 1970s, radicals across Northern California were struggling, legally and otherwise, to free a street-savvy black convict named George Jackson, who had gotten a one-year-to-life sentence for stealing $70 from a gas station. The state subsequently charged him and two other black inmates with murdering a white guard at Soledad Prison, and militants on both sides of the prison walls were flocking to their support.
I was working at the time as an editor at Ramparts, when a well-connected young woman from the Soledad Defense Committee brought in a copy of a fascinating manuscript that Jackson had written in prison. Much of it had great power, but someone needed to rewrite it, as my former lawyer Beverly Axelrod had done with Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice. Would I do the same for the charismatic Jackson?
I said no, not for any political reason I can remember. I just felt uncomfortable with the idea of ghosting a book that would appear to be the words of somebody else, especially someone purporting to be a revolutionary leader. What did I know? Bantam Books brought out George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, which remains a classic of prison literature.
By this time, Crazy Tom had begun working for the California Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification, or CII, which had a keen interest in whatever he could learn about the Jackson campaign. Mosher did not disappoint them.
In one of the apparent coincidences that marked Tom’s undercover career, one of his oldest friends from Stanford showed up in Berkeley in the summer of 1970. Kent Mastores was a law school graduate and was doing legal research for Faye Stender, who just happened to be the lead lawyer defending Jackson. Then, in September, Mastores took a part-time research job in San Jose with another Soledad lawyer, John Thorne.
Neither Thorne nor Stender believed that Mastores spied on them, while Mastores insisted that he knew nothing at the time of Mosher’s undercover work and never fed him any information on the Soledad defense. But Mosher frequently camped out at Kent’s house in Berkeley, and would have picked up bits of conversation useful to both the prosecution and efforts to discredit the Panthers.
Closely monitoring the efforts to break George free, Tom met at least twice with Jackson’s teenage brother Jonathan. He also kept watch on Jonathan through JJ and Rodney, both of whom spent a lot of time at the home of a white San Jose family, the Hammers, who were active in the Soledad defense. Jonathan was “a beautiful boy,” Mosher recalled. “But he really meant business about freeing George.”
On August 7, Mosher was driving with JJ, when they heard on the car radio that someone with a sawed-off shotgun had burst into the Marin County Courthouse, seized a group of hostages to trade for George Jackson’s freedom, and staged a shoot-out with the police. “Must have been a hillbilly,” said Tom. “Ain’t no nigger mean enough to do that.”
Hearing that the gunman was Jonathan and that he had died in the attack, Crazy Tom and Mad Dog Jimmy drove excitedly to Mosher’s house, where they began acting out their revolutionary fantasies. In their frenzy, one of them fired off two loud shots from a sawed-off shotgun. Moments later, a sheriff’s car roared up. Mosher raced out the back door and disappeared, leaving JJ behind. The deputies searched the house and found the sawed-off shotgun in the reservoir tank of the upstairs toilet. “I was so scared I couldn’t speak,” JJ later confided. “Tom set me up to be killed.”
Whatever Mosher’s motives, the deputies threw JJ in jail and charged him with burglary, possession of stolen property, carrying a concealed weapon, and being armed while committing a felony. Mosher sent word that, because of his own legal problems, he would not be able to testify that the black militant had permission to be in the house.
JJ’s luck seemed to be going from bad to rotten. Back in May, the police had come to pick him up on an earlier misdemeanor. When he refused to show them identification, they searched his house and garage, where they found a flare gun and illegal ammunition that Mosher had apparently left behind. Now facing a new string of felony charges, JJ panicked, jumped bail, and fled with his portable radio to Guevara Ranch, where he hid out in the makeshift cabin near the rocky crest of the mountain. Mosher visited whenever he could, using the unwitting JJ as his onsite eyes and ears.
Tom’s chief target in those concluding months of 1970 was a brilliant, brawny, sweet, and often-terrifying black superman named Jimmy Carr. One of George Jackson’s prison mates and a former bodyguard for Huey Newton, Carr had just gotten out on parole, when – according to rumors – he helped plan Jonathan Jackson’s ill-fated raid. In any case, Carr married Jonathan’s friend Betsy Hammer and took a job teaching black studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he began advanced work in both mathematics and electronics.
As might be expected, the brainy ex-con soon made his way to Mosher’s guerrilla training camp at Guevara Ranch, where he found Mosher’s sidekick JJ. In time, Carr came to trust the young fugitive and recruited him for a new and extremely dangerous mission. Flying the banner of the Movement of August 7, in memory of the day Jonathan Jackson died, Carr planned to kidnap some important hostage, break George out of San Quentin, hijack an airplane, and fly to freedom.
According to JJ, Carr talked of shorting the prison’s power supply by driving a spike into the ground and throwing a chain from it over the power line. George would then use smuggled weapons to force his way out of maximum security, while Carr used explosives from Guevara Ranch to blow a hole in the prison wall. He would pick George up, and race into the night with machine guns blazing from the back of his Toyota jeep.
A sad mix of Clint Eastwood’s Hollywood and Nat Turner’s slave revolt, the plan never had much of a chance. But before Carr could try, Mosher visited JJ, caught wind of the excitement, and – according to official court records – notified Agent David Foster, his handler at the CII. In turn, Carr grew suspicious of Mosher, drew a gun on him, and chased him off the land. For all his Uptown bravado, Mosher admitted, he was starting to get scared of “dangerous murdering motherfuckers” like Jimmy Carr.
The climax came at the end of December, when Carr trudged up to the cabin with a tall, thin black man in an Air Force jacket. As JJ watched, the two men disappeared up the hill behind the cabin. Two shots rang out. Minutes later Carr came into the cabin alone, a .357 Magnum in his hand. He had just shot an informer, he said. He was feeling queasy and sent his little friend “to make sure the pig is dead.” Doing as he was told, JJ found the man unmistakably dead, his head splattered by the force of the magnum bullets. JJ had no idea who the victim was.
Shaken, he returned with the news, and Carr asked him to help get rid of the body. Carr wanted to dig a grave, but the ground was too rocky. So, they gathered a small mound of redwood, threw the corpse over it, poured on some gasoline, and set the makeshift pyre ablaze. The fire burned for hours in the cold December drizzle, as the two men watched the body turn to ash. At one point, the still shaky Carr had to pick up the smoldering leg of his victim and put it back into the fire, while JJ wrenched the rib cage from a log. The two revolutionaries smashed the unburnable bones to bits, and buried the pelvis and knee joints in the silt of a nearby creek. Finally, Carr could take it no longer, fleeing down the mountainside to his jeep, where he threw up over the fender. He then climbed into the driver’s seat and charged off without a word.
Day and night into the New Year, JJ remained alone, deserted by Carr and horrified by what they had done. Not until January 8 did he see a living soul – his buddy Mosher, who offered to take him to a friend’s house in San Jose. Over the next three days, JJ tearfully told Tom how he and Carr had burned the body.
The murder and barbeque, as Mosher called it, was exactly what the COINTELPROS wanted to discredit the Left, but the tale sounded so bizarre that Mosher thought for a time that JJ might have wigged out. According to court records, he talked with the CII’s Foster on January 8, the day he brought JJ down from the mountain. Officially, the informant warned the state lawman about explosives on the land and the presence there of the fugitive Jimmy Johnson. On his own, he put JJ on a bus to Eugene, Oregon, to stay with another of Mosher’s many friends.
Carefully planning his next move, Mosher talked to Foster again a few days later, then went back to the land, picked up a stick and a half of plastique, which he brought to Phil Duncan, his old FBI contact. Duncan passed the explosive on to Foster. How much Mosher had learned about plans for the jailbreak, or how much he told the CII’s Foster and the FBI’s Duncan, remains unclear, but Foster followed up by getting a copy of an alleged letter from George Jackson laying out ideas for the escape. According to the official story, a dry cleaner in San Cruz had found the letter in a pocket of a pair of Carr’s trousers, along with an envelope from Soledad attorney John Thorne’s law firm.
With the plastique and the letter as evidence for a search warrant, Foster led a two-day raid on Guevara Ranch on January 14 and 15. Mosher went along, helping investigators unearth 80 pounds of the dynamite, nitroglycerine, and bombing paraphernalia that he had helped stash there. The searchers found enough explosives, one official said, to do “a beautiful job of blowing up a building as large as the Santa Clara County courthouse.” Given the rough terrain, they found no trace of the burned body.
In early February, Mosher flew to Oregon to talk with JJ, suggesting that the state would drop all felony charges if JJ testified against the black Communist Angela Davis, who was facing trial for allegedly helping Jonathan Jackson with his ill-fated raid. JJ flatly refused, still unaware that Tom was working for the law. Mosher then arranged for JJ to fly to Vancouver, where he would stay with Rodney, who had moved to Canada.
Back in Northern California, Mosher returned to the land accompanied by a friend – probably Kent Mastores – to look again for what remained of the burned body. The two searched for several hours and finally, in the midst of a burnt patch of earth, they found a set of keys, some change, some metallic objects, the charred button of an Air Force jacket, and several ounces of bone. Mosher put the grisly treasure into a plastic bag and gave it to Duncan, who passed it on to Foster. Returning for a second look, Foster led another search of the land on February 10, and this time he found a wedding ring, other personal effects, and two-and-a-half pounds of bone fragments. It was enough to make a positive identification. The victim was Fred Bennett, a well-liked Panther who had headed the Soledad Defense Committee.
Foster kept the killing secret, while Mosher was flown to Washington to testify in closed session before the staff of the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. He told his story that day and the next, and again in mid-March, when he was accompanied by Kent Mastores, who had so recently worked on legal defense for George Jackson.
The public exposé took longer to engineer. At the time, the FBI maintained a large network of what the COINTELPRO memos called “reliable and cooperative news media sources.” The Bureau would give selected scoops – true or otherwise – to these reporters and publishers, who would print the stories as news, exposing and disrupting the Left’s “obvious maneuvers and duplicity.”
In Mosher’s case, the cooperative journalist was Ed Montgomery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. Over the years, the veteran newsman had specialized in stinging exposés against the Left, from communists in the Kremlin to Bruce Franklin, the Maoist English Professor at Stanford, a story that had come in part from Mosher. But some of Montgomery’s juiciest scoops came from revealing selected parts of Mosher’s still-secret senate testimony.
On April 20 and 21, 1971, Montgomery broke the gruesome story of Fred Bennett’s death, conveniently timed to coincide with Bobby Seale’s torture-murder trial in Connecticut. As Montgomery told it, Chairman Bobby had ordered Bennett killed because he was having an affair with Seale’s wife Artie. Whether on his own or from his friends in law enforcement, Montgomery had given the story a new twist. Was it true? Probably not. The Panthers insisted that both the party and Bobby, who was in jail awaiting trial, had approved the relationship. If the Panthers ordered the killing, which they denied, the FBI had more likely led them to believe that Fred Bennett was “a pig.” In an earlier COINTELPRO memo on May 11, 1970, FBI headquarters had urged its San Francisco office to work with local police to plant fabricated documents and other “disruptive disinformation … pinpointing Panthers as police or FBI informants.” The G-Men called this “planting a snitch jacket,” which they and allied police agencies did to several Panther leaders, marking them for death while exacerbating splits within the Black Panther Party.
In his April articles, Montgomery provided the gory details of Bennett’s murder, naming Carr and Jimmy Johnson as targets of the police investigation. He also tied JJ to the arson at Stanford’s Behavioral Sciences Center. He did not cite Mosher’s name or testimony, but mentioned as a source “an informer from within the radical-militant faction at Stanford.” Since no one else at Stanford knew nearly as much about either JJ or the land, this pointed directly at Mosher. So, to maintain Crazy Tom’s cover, Montgomery ran a new story on April 25 telling of a manhunt for that well-known militant Tom Mosher. As Montgomery wrote it, “There is some speculation Mosher may also be in Algeria.”
The entire story was a lie. According to Mosher, Montgomery knew him personally, knew he was an informer, had helped in trying to work out the deal for JJ, and had even accompanied Tom on a bizarre trip to the San Francisco morgue in early March to look at a badly mauled black corpse pulled out of San Francisco Bay. Tom could not identify who it was.
Mosher remained in touch with Montgomery, giving him an exclusive interview in June, just before the senate subcommittee brought out two volumes devoted entirely to Tom’s explosive testimony. Montgomery’s article – followed by the official Senate publication – confirmed publicly for the first time that Mosher had worked for the FBI and CII. With encouragement from Montgomery, Mosher also gave a ghostwritten rehash to Reader’s Digest, which gave him their “First Person Award” and $3,000 to supplement his income from official sources.
In all this coverage, Mosher scored a major propaganda coup for the FBI’s Counterintelligence Programs, spicing his testimony with horror stories about the exploits of Bruce Franklin, the Black Panthers, JJ, and Carr, and the plan to free George Jackson. Tom also mixed his own rather sophisticated insights about the homegrown roots of the New Left with what some of his more conservative superiors wanted to hear about party-line directives from Moscow, Hanoi, and Havana. “The Black Panther Party, the faction of SDS known as Weatherman, and other independent groups are now being effectively directed and maintained by Cuban intelligence,” he declared. Naturally, he ignored the FBI’s Counterintelligence Programs with their deadly snitch jackets and assaults on civil liberties, and completely failed to mention his own role as a classic agent provocateur.
Two, Three, Many Crazy Toms
Following the release of his senate testimony, Mosher fled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to live in fear as Edward “Tim” Cox, protected from vengeance-seekers by a burly bodyguard. But even in hiding he had his uses, especially after August 21, 1971, the day prison guards at San Quentin shot and killed George Jackson. According to official accounts, Jackson had finally tried his long-expected bid for freedom, falling victim to his own ill-fated plan – or to betrayal by his comrades.
Almost immediately, the CII stepped up pressure on Jimmy Carr, who had been sitting in jail ever since April for an outburst during one of George Jackson’s last court appearances. The CII wanted Carr to testify against Angela Davis for her alleged role in helping Jonathan Jackson in his earlier attempt to break George free. Publicly, the pressure began when Ed Montgomery broke the story of the letter from George Jackson supposedly found in Carr’s back pocket, implicating Carr in helping plan the August 21 break-out attempt. If the letter was real, CII had kept their knowledge of it secret until the Montgomery story, as if wanting Jackson to try to escape.
Privately, CII threatened to revoke Carr’s parole and indict him for the killing of Fred Bennett. But to pin the killing on Carr, or make him think they could, the authorities needed JJ, the only living witness to the crime. To find him, CII’s David Foster talked to Mosher’s friend Kent Mastores, and then wrote to Tom in Cambridge proposing a new deal for JJ, who had left British Columbia after learning of Mosher’s Senate testimony.
“A lot depends on his giving the information we know he possesses, but if he will come in and do this, I am prepared to offer him full immunity,” the plain-spoken Foster explained in his letter. “Think this over Tom and make some effort to contact JJ and get him to come in. We will get him sooner or later, and if he waits until after the Davis trial or we have a break and get the dope some other way, it will be too late.”
Mosher agreed to try, eager to prove to JJ and to himself that he was really a friend. Not knowing where JJ was, he sent Foster’s letter to the fugitive’s parents, blotting out the mention of Mastores and some other embarrassing references – all of which we easily restored. He also enclosed an open airline ticket stolen from a travel agency in Amherst, and suggested in a separate note that JJ make a well-publicized surrender to former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, whose son had been active in the Stanford anti-war movement. “I told you that you and I were both going to be free men,” the provocateur declared. “I stand by this no matter what you choose to do.”
As it happened, JJ’s folks never got the letter to their son, who had fled to Trinidad. Then, early in 1973, the Trinidadian authorities arrested him on local charges, and when they discovered he was an authentic mad bomber, turned him over to the FBI for shipment back to California. For all JJ’s running, the state had no real case against him other than the testimony of Mosher, whom no sane prosecutor would dare put on the stand. So, with the cooling of passions on all sides, JJ served five months in county jail and went free. “I was under the impression that the insurrection was about to break out,” he recalled, a sad, long-ago smile flitting across his face.
In the meantime, JJ’s insurrectionary comrade Jimmy Carr fared less well. At the end of December 1971, he walked out of jail amid rumors that he had turned informer, most likely the result of another snitch jacket planted by the law. Then, in April 1972, just as the Angela Davis trial was getting under way, two gunmen ambushed and shot him outside the Hammer house in San Jose. Within minutes, the police caught the assailants, but they never revealed who had ordered the killing.
That left Mosher, who returned home to Chicago, where I found him in 1982 working on the staff of a rightwing city council member. He seemed as crazy as ever, leaving me to hold a fully loaded .45 in the middle of a crowded restaurant while he and a friend stepped outside to have what seemed like a lover’s spat. At the time I was making a PBS film on gun control. By then, I knew more than I ever wanted to know about Mosher’s personal life, and a great deal more about the FBI COINTELPROS and similar undercover work by state police and local “Red Squads.” As Congressional investigators, courts, and journalists had discovered, Mosher was only one of dozens of provocateurs that various agencies paid to disrupt and discredit black militants and the New Left.
Still, I can’t help seeing a perverse payback in the law of unintended consequences. If, as I believe, the chaos of those years helped turn the average American against the war in Southeast Asia, the many Crazy Toms played a large and unheralded role in bringing home the troops. This is, of course, the perfect story, one that J. Edgar’s heirs would never want told.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes on international affairs.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.