We are all being watched. What if our actions are interpreted through a political lens that ensnares us in an unyielding net? Welcome to the world of My Fugitive.
Everyone knows that the U.S. Government has spied on its citizens for decades. But what happens when the information gathered is filtered through a political lens that begins with one small set of assumptions and cascades into a maelstrom that affects the lives of hundreds of individuals? This is the cautionary tale for the 21st Century that is My Fugitive.
On May 17, 2017 Federal Judge Gladys Kessler handed down her ruling in the five-year legal battle, “Seavey v. Department of Justice.”
Judge Kessler was unequivocal:
"The basic purpose of the Freedom of Information Act [is] to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny. At this present difficult time in our country's history, it is important as never before, that the American public be as educated as possible as to what "our Government is up to."
With that strong statement, that will inevitably be cited in FOIA lawsuits for years to come, hundreds of thousands of pages of documents have been released by the FBI, the CIA, the Department of the Army, and the National Archives that shed light on the terrible truths about the U.S. Government’s infiltration and subversion of student and civil rights activists that began in the middle of the last century and whose ripple effects endure until today.
But it all began in what appeared to be such an unremarkable way . . . .
The telephone rang at 3:00 AM on May 5, 1970. Actually, it wasn’t at all unusual for the phone to ring in the middle of the night. My father was a civil rights attorney and scores of angry people called all the time. But that night was different in ways that no one in the Gilden home could ever have imagined.
My Fugitive is the decades-long saga spawned from that one quotidian telephone call in 1970. The cast of characters who became engulfed in the enduring legacy of that early morning communication is notable:
∗ Howard Mechanic a/k/a Gary Robert Tredway - the second longest fugitive in US History.
∗ President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell
∗ J. Edgar Hoover - Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972
∗ Patrick Buchanan – “Paleo-Conservative journalist”
∗ Ed Rollins – Reagan and Trump Political Strategist
∗ Dr. Martin Luther King
∗ James Earl Ray – Another fugitive and MLK’s assassin
∗ Robert Blakey – Chief Counsel, House Committee on Assassinations
∗ Sanford McDonnell, James Olin, Eugene Thayer, Charles Allen Thomas – CEOs of the largest defense contractors of the Vietnam era.
∗ Judges Harper, Meredith, Regan, and Webster – The “hanging judges” of the conservative 8th Circuit
∗ F.A.O. Schwarz – Heir to the retail toy giant and chief counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee,
∗ Harold Ramis – Film director
∗ President William Jefferson Clinton
What do all these men have in common? May 4, 1970, St. Louis, Missouri.
My Fugitive is both a personal and political narrative. It delves into the rich proving ground of Missouri where an intricate web of confidential informants and targeted conspiracies developed with government-invented names such as COINTELPRO, OPERATION CHAOS, SPECTAR, MERRIMAC, RESISTANCE and GARDEN PLOT -- domestic intelligence and subversion programs that targeted thousands in the Civil Rights movement and on the “New Left.”
At its heart, My Fugitive is a story about the hydra-headed animal of political repression; one that never allows its victims to go free.
My Fugitive is at once a personal film, an investigative journalism expose, a regional exploration of attitudes and mores in a border state frequently overlooked by more well-documented narratives on the East and West Coasts, as well as a reflexive examination of the methodologies of investigative documentary. All of these creative elements will be intertwined in an historical and contemporary narrative that ties together the themes of the use and abuse of law enforcement in political repression from the 20th to the 21st Centuries.
What is most salient about this story are the newly uncovered tracks left by those who sought to target, analyze, and subvert young activists in an effort to make an example of them and to provide a chilling effect on protests across the nation. Indeed, as details have emerged over the years of my inquiry, it has become increasingly clear that Howard’s struggle was not merely about one man’s unjust conviction and its terrible aftermath, but was an indicator of a much deeper story about U.S. government surveillance and the use of information against its citizens. Howard’s circumstance was but one amongst an entire generation of protestors, activists, and their attorneys (including my father) who had become enmeshed in a shell game of informants, surveillance activities, and subterfuge by local, state, and federal law enforcement. The treatment of this expansive cast of characters and this array of themes and narratives will thus be mirrored in the film’s artistic approach.
While My Fugitive alternately covers noteworthy territory in the national and regional histories of the 1960s and ‘70s, the point of view of the film will be intertwined with a story that is uniquely my own to tell. In 30 years of filmmaking I have never felt compelled to tell a story from my own perspective. It is fitting that this film not simply bear witness to Howard’s wrongful conviction and his flight from justice, but also is one that more broadly explores the U.S. government’s activities as it spied on its citizens -- including my own family and dozens of students and activists -- who never could have imagined the level of scrutiny under which we all lived.
And finally, in the tradition of: To Render A Life: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men And The Documentary Vision, Stories We Tell, and Cameraperson, this film begs to be a commentary on the act of investigative documentary itself. It is rare for a filmmaker to make her attorney a character in the film, but as my accomplice in the investigative mission, and as one of the nation’s leading civil rights attorneys, Jeffrey Light, and I together will provide insight into the inner-workings of investigative techniques as we searched for the truths that lay hidden in the executive branch, in the machinations of government, and we explore how they are fought for in the courts as judges continually revise, reinterpret, and redirect the dialogue around which national security concerns are interpreted by journalists, documentarians, and the general public.