Posted March 12, 2014

The burglary that exposed illegal surveillance by the FBI

Megan Chiplock and Gina Benigno
In 1971, Emeritus Professor of Religion John Raines and his wife, Bonnie, risked their freedom and family to bring down the director of the FBI and expose the agency’s “dirty tricks.”
Video Production: Megan Chiplock and Gina Benigno


Temple’s John Raines, emeritus professor of religion, has been all over the national news lately. The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, National Public Radio, NBCNews and more have all covered the story of the burglars—of which Raines and his wife Bonnie were two—who broke into an FBI office nearly 43 years ago and made off with numerous documents.

The stolen documents, mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters and government officials, revealed details about illegal surveillance and harassment techniques employed by the FBI against antiwar protesters and political dissenters.

“We knew the heavy-handed methods the FBI was using, but we had no documentation. That’s what we were trying to get,” Raines said.

The history of that episode, and the revelations the stolen documents helped expose, are covered in a new book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI, by Washington Post reporter Betty Metzger.

While it is likely that no one who knew Raines suspected his secret, they also should not have been too surprised. During the course of his almost 50 years at Temple, Raines has devoted his personal and professional life to fighting gender, racial and social-class inequities.

“We knew the heavy-handed methods the FBI was using, but we had no documentation. That’s what we were trying to get.”
-- John Raines, emeritus professor of religion

In 1961, Raines joined the Freedom Riders who challenged the status quo by riding public transportation in the South to defy local laws or customs that enforced segregation. Raines departed from St. Louis July 7 and when he arrived in Little Rock, Ark., July 17, he was arrested for breaching the peace.

“I had grown up in a privileged household in Minneapolis where I attended private school and was cared for by a governess,” he said. “This experience as a Freedom Rider educated me as to how the world worked when you were outside the circles of power and privilege."

At Temple, Raines is a popular and award-winning teacher. For 20 years, at the request of the students, he has taught an Honors course titled Political Protest in the Culture of the 60s.

“Only recently have I been able to indicate how much I was involved in some of that activity,” he said.