Unitarians and Other Radicals
A Chapter in Texas History
I remember a touching moment in the seventies, when I spoke in Austin along with other activists at an “Impeach Nixon” rally on the state capitol grounds. I don’t remember why I was on the program, but it was a goodly crowd, heavily sprinkled with conspicuous undercover types. After the rally, I was leaving the capitol with my daughter Ellen, who was eight or nine at the time. We were holding hands on a lovely spring afternoon when suddenly a fat Austin cop jumped out of his “unit” and began to take our picture. Ellen had the wonderful child’s response that our pictures were being taken as minor celebrities. I didn’t bother to explain that she was probably making her initial entry into the Austin P.D. intelligence files.
One of the intelligence practices was to accumulate copies of all the underground publications across the country. A group had as its sole duty to read, clip, and file items from the underground press. Much of the writing was utter gibberish, fueled, I suspect, by hallucinogens. It was great solace to think of those hardy souls dutifully poring through the week’s accumulation of new-left writings. William Cowper Brann, the great polemicist who published The Iconoclast in Waco around the turn of the century, once likened the reading of the Dallas Morning News editorial page to the labors of Hercules. Reading the underground press seems to fall in the same category.
In 1974 there was a young Continental Airlines pilot in Dallas by the name of Bob Pomeroy. He came to the attention of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) “intelligence” minions as a vocal opponent of nuclear power. The ensuing Pomeroy lawsuit provided one of those rare instances in which we obtained the full text of an internal DPS “intelligence” report. Normally, officialdom simply denied such reports existed and left the lawyer helpless to prove otherwise. In simplest terms, no court is going to order production of documents that don’t exist, and there was little candor among law enforcement types about the extent of their surveillance activities. Even if you were lucky enough to get a court order to produce any records concerning your client, the report would be so heavily edited as to be virtually incomprehensible. In Pomeroy’s case, the DPS “intelligence” agent thought his report so significant that he furnished it to Pomeroy’s employer. To Continental Airlines’ credit, they provided Pomeroy the report, and there was the full-blown proof of the snooping.
The report in its own language is much more damning than anything I could ever write. For those not previously exposed to law enforcement idiom, it should be a revelation:
Character of Intelligence
( ) ___ Criminal Source: Confidential Informants DD-19 and DD-17 and Investigation
( ) O.C.
( ) Racial Source Evaluation: (A)
( ) Other
Attention to: Agent in Charge Intelligence Service
Report Written by: David A. Dimick #2449
The subject is involved in forming an Anti-Atomic Power Plant project called C.A.S.E. that stands for CITIZENS ASSOCIATION FOR SOUND ENERGY. The subject lives at 3108 Brookhaven Club, Farmers Branch, Texas, with his wife . . . and his son . . ., date of birth 4-10-64. The subject is a flyer for Continental Airlines and is based at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. . . . In 1955 the subject enrolled at Cortland State University, Cortland, New York, where he remained until he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Education in 1959. The subject’s major interests in college were the baseball team, band and a local fraternity. On 6-17-60 the subject entered the United States Marine Corps . . . and is alleged to have been stationed in Washington D.C. and Pensacola, Florida. In September 1966 the subject resigned his commission in the Marines to go with Continental Airlines. . . . While in the military the subject used BUD WINIG, a restaurant owner in . . . New York, and ISADORE MARKOWITZ, a gas station owner in . . . New York, as character references. The subject attained the rank of Captain while in the Marines and was assigned as an instructor at the naval air station in Pensacola, Florida at his termination. . .
The subject first came to the attention of this service on 1-14-74 when he spoke at length at the Dallas City Council in an attempt to block the building of a Nuclear Power station in Glen Rose, Texas by the Texas Utilities Company. The subject alleged that he had formed a group that would file suits and attempt to stop the building of a Nuclear Power Station. The subject stated that his group was small at this time (approximately 40 members) but had the backing of 45 other supporters. The subject read to the City Council, and distributed to the media, 2 telegrams from alleged experts in Atomic Physics, Professor David R. Inglis of the University of Massachusetts and Professor Henry W. Kendall of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both telegrams used scare tactics in the way of vague studies and future predictions . . . Professor Inglis has been cited [by] the house committee on un-American activities [in] its report entitled “A staff study—the Pugwash Conference’ dated 1961 in reference to possible communist infiltration into Anti-Nuclear Energy front groups.
Before leaving the City Council Meeting the subject was observed talking to CARL BRANNIN, a white male, approximately 70 years of age, who has been a longtime socialist party organizer in Dallas, Texas.
Recently the subject challenged Mr. WILLIAM “BILL” ASTON, the Vice President in charge of advertising at Dallas Power and Light Company, a subsidiary of Texas Utilities Company, to a debate on Atomic Power. The debate will be held on 3-10-73 at the Unitarian Church, in North Dallas, Texas. The Unitarian Church has in the past been the sponsor of such radical left groups as the Dallas Peace Committee, the UNITED FARM WORKERS, GAY LIBERATION, and was the host of a “Social” workshop in January, 1974 where all major subversive groups in the North Texas area set up information booths.
Informants feel that the subject is using CITIZENS ASSOCIATION FOR SOUND ENERGY as a front group, possibly for a RALPH NADER action.
The categories under which information was logged are noteworthy: “Gen. Criminal, Organized Crime (O.C.), Subversive, Racial, Other.” These categories were typical of all local police departments across the state. Be assured that the racial category was directed at civil rights activists.
Dimick’s deposition revealed that he was a graduate of the intelligence training program of the DPS. When he characterized as “radical left groups” the Dallas Peace Committee, the United Farmworkers, and Gay Liberation, Dimick was echoing the views of law enforcement in Texas. Obtaining the report provided the first real opportunity to expose the idiotic endeavors of these agencies. Undoubtedly, much of Texas would have agreed with Dimick’s characterizations. Nonetheless, the DPS would have preferred to have maintained its little secrets.
A suit sponsored by the Dallas Civil Liberties Union was filed against the DPS and Dimick in federal court in Austin. A fine young lawyer from Dallas, John Jordan, joined me in pressing the case. Austin was chosen because we felt that Judge Roberts was more likely to force Dimick to disclose his so-called confidential informants. Carl Brannin was also joined as a plaintiff to supply a nice historical element. Carl by that time was in his mid-eighties and had been in the forefront of anti-establishment activities his entire life. Mind you, this lawsuit was more about exposure than anything else. It was not easy to urge with a straight face that Carl had been injured by being labeled a “longtime socialist organizer,” given the fact that he had been the Socialist candidate for governor of Texas in 1936. As Carl remembered it in his deposition, he got 800 votes for governor and Norman Thomas got 1,000 votes for president. In Carl’s words, “It was a token candidacy, educational you might say”—but still an effort of which he remained proud, as his deposition displayed.
Q: Was being a member of the Socialist Party and active in the Socialist Party something of which you were ashamed at the time?
A: I should say not.
Q: Have you ever tried to hide that fact?
A: Never did, no.
Carl’s objections to the Dimick report made perfect sense:
Q: . . . Aside from the fact that your name is misspelled and your age is misstated, is there anything about that that is terribly inaccurate?
A: Well, it is inaccurate to say that I am a longtime organizer. You see, after the Socialist Party ceased to put up candidates on the national field, I registered as a Democrat and as an independent Democrat. Sometimes there was no opportunity to vote for Socialist Party candidates.
He later elaborated:
A: . . . I don’t think it’s the function of the Department of Public Safety to go around and spy on people and groups, especially with inadequate information, because Mr. Dimick says somebody told him this and somebody told him that. He didn’t say that he saw me or that this—and this other person who is an unknown person. I don’t think that’s the function of the Department of Public Safety.
Central casting could not have supplied a more attractive plaintiff than Bob Pomeroy. He testified as to the concerns that caused him to appear before the Dallas City Council.
Q: . . . How did you first come to be interested in the subject of the building of nuclear power plants and the potential hazards that might result therefrom, et cetera?
A: . . . I became interested in it because I felt that energy was going to become more of a critical issue than it was at that time, that it was inevitable that we were going to have energy problems; and I thought that nuclear power would play a big role in this so I got some documents from the Atomic Energy Commission, pamphlets describing the plants and describing the method of producing electricity through fission. . . .
They have no program as yet to dispose of very large amounts of highly radioactive material. As a matter of fact, the small amounts that they have—I say “they,” the Atomic Energy Commission—in their Hanford plant in Washington they’ve leaked over half a million gallons of highly radioactive material in the last 20 years; and they have no program for disposing of this material. I don’t believe, and many critics don’t, that they’ve answered the question of low-level radiation and the effect on the population, especially the very old and the very young. The business of transporting these nuclear plants to areas such as Israel and Egypt in spite of what happened in India where India got the material for her nuclear weapon from the Canadian plant, that Canadian nuclear power plant that they had there in India, I think it’s very dangerous and I think it might compromise world peace . . . they have weapons grade material in the core; and this is where India got her plutonium for her atomic bomb from that core of that Canadian power plant.
One last thing, I think it’s being proved to be economically not feasible.
This testimony, given twenty-five years ago, seems right on the money today, as these concerns continue to dominate.
Pomeroy first learned of the surveillance report from his boss:
Q: . . . How did you first become aware that there had been a report of some sort prepared by the Department of Public Safety or one of its agents on you?
A: About the middle of May I was out at Dallas-Fort Worth’s Regional Airport at our operations office. And my boss, Captain McGowan, asked me if I wouldn’t step in his office, he wanted to show me something. And I went in his office and he slid the report across the desk for me to see.
The report he was provided did not disclose the author. His reactions were understandable.
A: After May 14th, I didn’t know what to think because I felt that somebody obviously thought I was subversive. They said enough about it to give me that impression. I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t know if I was being watched or that my phone was being tapped. You start hearing noises then. My wife felt that the phone was tapped. We had one incident where there was a car parked on our street and with a person in it. They just sat there for hours adjacent to our house.
After Pomeroy went public about the surveillance, he learned that the DPS was the culprit and that agent Dimick had supplied Continental Airlines with a copy of the report. With ACLU support, suit was filed, and the press had a heyday. The Dallas Morning News reported in July that Dimick had “investigated Pomeroy because of his opposition to a proposed nuclear power plant and concern Pomeroy might some day crash a Continental airliner into the plant if it were built near Glen Rose.” Such statements gave rise to a fair amount of concern about what the DPS was up to with its intelligence operation.
The Dallas Morning News pursued the story energetically for some weeks. Quoting unnamed Texas law officers, the paper reported that the DPS “spied on any labor activities, antiwar demonstrations” and that the First Unitarian Church of Dallas “had been under routine surveillance by DPS agents.” The same story reported that a former student at Tyler Junior College had been approached by a DPS agent and asked to collect information on the Tyler Civil Liberties Union and the Tyler Unitarian Church. Suddenly, the cat was truly out of the bag, and the plaintiff lawyers had themselves a grand old time.
Dimick, in his initial depositions, refused to disclose the names of his “confidential” informants and told the Dallas Times Herald that he would “go to prison rather than reveal the identity of his sources.” An order from Judge Roberts directing him to reveal the names, and the prospect of contempt, brought him around. We got to question him about his secret informants on the condition that we not reveal their true identities. They proved to be a pretty sad pair.
Q: . . . How many confidential informants provided you with information on Bob Pomeroy?
Q: Now, going to J. B., can you tell me first how long you knew (him)?
A: . . . I met him a few months prior to the date of this report. . . . He’s around forty to fifty years old. It’s hard to tell his age on it, because he changes his hair styles and beards and mustaches.
Q: How did you meet him?
A: . . . I believe that he had a relative in Dallas and he was going to be in Dallas for several months and he had been a professional informant. And he had let the people know that he was working for previously that he was moving to Dallas and they referred him to me. He had been a witness in a previous action and was kind of going undercover for a while. . . .
He was strictly a professional. He would get information and bring it to me or ask me if I needed it. If I said that I did not need it, did not want it, he’d say, “Okay, I’ll hear from you later.”
Q: Did you pay him for information?
A: Never paid him.
Q: What was his motive in providing you with information, as far as you knew?
A: I think that he—this was just an assumption; we never talked about it too deeply; I knew better than to talk about it with him—that he just felt by having someone that he could go to in case of an emergency, if he had wanted to. . . .
Q: Let me ask you: What is a professional informant; how would you define a professional informant?
A: . . . this man
as an older man and he had done it fo
a long period of time. He knew what he was doing, very secretive. I guess to me the connotation is pretty simple, but to explain it, it’s very hard. . . .
Q: Do you happen to know what this man did before he became your informant in terms of his making a living?
A: No. I know that he was an informant.
Q: What did he do for a living while he was here; do you know?
A: No. I don’t believe he had any gainful employment.
Q: On this particular Pomeroy investigation, did he contact you about Pomeroy?
A: Yes. . . .
He said, “Are you interested in anything with”—I think the way he put it—”people that are involved in the Anti-Nuclear Power thing,” and he mentioned that the group that he had heard speaking sounded similar to a group that he had previously worked on and done some information on, and he wanted to know if I was interested in it. And I asked him basically, “Well, what was the other group you worked on?” He described that group. I then said, “Yes, I would be interested in it.”
Q: Was this other group a Nuclear Power group?
Q: I don’t guess you could tell us who they were?
A: It was the Georgia Power Project. . . .
Q: Do you know approximately when he called you? . . .
A: It was on, I think, either the day or the day after Mr. Pomeroy spoke to the City Council. . . . Yes. And he said that he had seen Mr. Brannin and Mr. Pomeroy talking at the meeting discussing something.
Q: Did he tell you about Mr. Brannin?
A: He told me that he had known of Mr. Brannin through, I guess, work that he had done in the past.
Q: What information did he give you on Brannin specifically, information that’s in the report there?
A: Yes. He said that he had been a member of the Socialist Party for a number of years.
On our motion, Judge Roberts directed Dimick not only to disclose the names of his informants but also to attempt to locate them for depositions:
Q: . . . Can you tell me first what age is R.C.?
A: Probably twenty-five, twenty-eight, in that area.
Q: Did somebody else tell you that he would be an informant?
A: No. I developed him solely myself.
Q: How did he become involved in the Pomeroy case?
A: He gave the information about the debate that Bob and Bill Aston had at the Unitarian Church.
Q: He approached you?
A: He said, “Did you know this went on?” I said, “No, but I do now.”
Q: How come that two of your informants decided to give you information on this subject matter independently of each other?
A: Well, it was really independent. One of them was looking at it from one aspect—more of Anti-Nuclear Energy—and the other one was involved with criminal activity that had ramifications with some people that were involved in the Unitarian Church or that had meetings in the Unitarian Church. And this is how he brought this name up. . . .
Q: In that particular paragraph you have referred to, it says that “the Unitarian Church has in the past been the sponsor of such radical left groups as the Dallas Peace Committee, the United Farm Workers, Gay Liberation, and was the host of a ‘Social’ workshop in January, 1974, where all major subversive groups in the North Texas area set up information booths.” Now, is that information from him?
Q: Are these all groups that he had information on?
A: He would from time to time provide information on individuals that were connected with these groups.
Q: Were you investigating any of these groups?
A: No. I was investigating some individuals that were in the groups, though.
Q: In the Dallas Peace Committee, United Farm Workers, Gay Liberation?
A: Yes, sir . . .
Q: Do you know what he did for a living during the time he was your informant?
A: Yes, I believe he sold cars or traded cars.
Q: Do you know what his motivation for being an informant was?
A: I think he liked to be around policemen. He liked to see people that did destructive things brought to justice. He thought he could be of a help and service.
Q: When is the last time that you had any contact with Mr. C.?
A: It was shortly after a news article came out that . . . Judge Roberts had ordered me to reveal my informants.
A: He said, “I’m gone. Don’t ever try to contact me again.”
Q: That’s all he said was: I’m not informing anymore; I’m leaving. . . .
A: I’d say this: I think I know where he is on this. I think he’s in Mexico. He called me one time from a pay phone and I heard Mexican language on it. I heard him speaking Mexican, what I thought was Mexican. It could have been Spanish.
The Pomeroy affair spawned a number of positive developments. First, a couple of obviously sleazy undercover informants were at least temporarily decommissioned. Second, Oscar Mauzy was by this time a fairly influential state senator, and he dragged DPS officials before his senate committee to explain their snooping. Between the lawsuit, the senate hearing, and all the attendant publicity, the DPS became publicly remorseful. The Dallas Times Herald reported in the fall of 1974 that the director of the DPS, Wilson Speir, had ordered destruction of all files on subversives kept in the agency. Apologies were issued to Pomeroy and Brannin, and the press reported that a “lengthy and detailed apology to the members of the First Unitarian Church” was made by Director Speir. Most important, albeit impossible to verify, the head of DPS intelligence testified that as a direct result of the Pomeroy matter, the agency had changed its policy. The change, according to his testimony, was “with regard to protest-oriented activities . . . our personnel will not monitor this type of activity . . . unless it has been approved by a Sergeant or a Captain and . . . there exists the possibility of . . . some type of crime or criminal activities . . .” Although much could be shoved into this characterization, it seems clear that the Pomeroy incident did force a sea change on the DPS.
The lawsuit dwindled away, having accomplished its purposes. The reality was, then and now, that there is no constitutional basis on which to sue government agencies for spying on citizens and maintaining records of their activities. The obvious hero in this matter was Bob Pomeroy, but none of this could have happened if his boss had not given him a copy of the Dimick report. Without the report, we could never have proven the existence of the surveillance. Of course, Judge Roberts stepped up to the plate once again and ordered disclosure of the informants—the kind of gutsy action that we had all come to expect from him. All in all, a fine time was had by the good guys, and all of us paranoids on the left felt vindicated.
David Richards lives in Mill Valley, California. This article is an excerpt from Once Upon a Time in Texas: A Liberal in the Lone Star State (University of Texas Press).