Matthew Steen

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Matthew Steen
Matthew Landy Steen ~ 2012- 2013-04-14 15-34.jpg
New Left Activist
Born (1949-08-22)August 22, 1949
San Francisco, California
Nationality American
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley, History 1991 University of California, Santa Barbara, Psychology 1976
Occupation Community Organizer
Known for Weather Underground, 60 Minutes Interview with Dan Rather, COINTELPRO

Matthew Landy Steen (born August 22, 1949) is a former member of Weather Underground Organization, Students for a Democratic Society and Yippies, a New Left activist and editor of Berkeley Tribe in the 1960s. In 1972 he was indicted on federal conspiracy and bank robbery charges to finance radical leftist Weatherman activities, sentenced to a ten-year federal prison term and became the first member of the Weather Underground imprisoned in the United States.[1]

In June, 1972 Steen attempted to be an informant for the FBI about the February, 1970 San Francisco Park Station Bombing.[2][3]

After his release Steen quickly returned to community activism, was elected to the Isla Vista Municipal Advisory Council, in Santa Barbara, then sponsored the Council's resolution to place None of the Above [4][5] on the local election ballot — the first time this voting option had appeared on an election ballot in the United States, sparking renewed interest in electoral ballot alternatives such as preferential voting, ranked-choice and instant-runoff voting.

Steen was featured on the lead segment of 60 Minutes, "Fake ID", in an interview with Mike Wallace, first airing February 1, 1976. This was the first time a former Weatherman had ever appeared on national television He was queried about false identities and traveler's check fraud.[6][7]

Jimmy Carter commuted Steen's convictions under his amnesty program for draft resisters, acting to "heal the nation".[citation needed]

Steen attended Mission High School, growing up in the city's first post-World War II housing project. His father enlisted in the United States Navy shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, serving in the Pacific Theater, and as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean hostilities. His mother served in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) auxiliary during World War II[citation needed] and his uncle[citation needed], Sherman Block was elected Sheriff of Los Angeles County in the 1970s. His younger brother Scott Steen is a jazz trumpeter and session man with Royal Crown Revue, recording on more than 20 albums. Twice married, he has two children by adoption, Kahlio Landy and Aukhia Latisha. Steen resides in the Mission District in San Francisco working as a community organizer and policy advocate around social justice, anti-poverty, supportive housing and homelessness issues.

1976 60 Minutes interview[edit]

Interviewed in Beverly Hills in mid-1975 by Mike Wallace, Steen responded to questions about identity theft (he possessed ID of at least 150 people) and how he purchased and reported stolen some $50,000 to $100,000 in traveler's checks, while still being able to cash the originals. This was the first time a former Weatherman had appeared on the CBS news show. It was re-broadcast several months later.

Transcript of Steen's portion of the segment: [From the Congressional Record. May 24, 1977]

"60 MINUTES" MAY 16, 1977—"FALSE ID"

(Note: the episode first aired February 1, 1976 and re-aired on May 16, 1976. It never aired in 1977 and the actual title is "Fake ID")

. . . MIKE WALLACE: Walking proof that the process really does work is this young man, Matthew Steen, alias Eric Gilbert Dietz, alias T. Swingle Frick, III, alias Romez Tormey. In 1970, while a student at Berkeley, Steen went underground as a member of the militant Weathermen organization. Before he was arrested in 1971, Steen says he had obtained a hundred-fifty different identities—almost all of them courtesy of various Government agencies.

What kind of documents are we talking about?

MATTHEW STEEN: Birth certificates, notarized birth certificates, driver's licenses from various states, occasionally Social Security cards, and other superficial types of identification, like librarv cards, et cetera.

WALLACE: And you had no real difficulty in doing this?


WALLACE: By the time the FBI got to him in 1971, Steen acknowledges he had used various fake ID's to rip off the Bank of America. He'd buy a set of Travellers' Checks; then, a couple of weeks later, claim they'd been lost or stolen—and get replacements. He had doubled his money.

How much did you make this way?

STEEN: Somewhere between fifty and a hundred thousand dollars.

WALLACE: Among the official documents Matt Steen obtained under assumed names was a U.S. passport. Well, for decades, the head of the passport office in Washington has been keenly aware of the fake ID problem—Frances Knight.

Ms. FRANCES KNIGHT: This has been going on for years. Identify fraud is nothing that—that is new in this Administration or in this decade. And yet, nobody—including the—the brains of the Department of Justice—have been able to come up with anything to stop it. It's been increasing. . . .[7]

Prison term[edit]

While in prison Steen was cellmates with Alvin Glatowski[citation needed], who was convicted in 1969 of the only peacetime mutiny in American history after he and Claude McKay hijacked a loaded military ammunition ship at gunpoint, in what is known as the SS Columbia Eagle incident, off the coast of South Vietnam in early 1970. The merchant marine ship (loaded with more than 100,000 tons of munitions) was taken to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The following day Central Intelligence Agency operatives sponsored a coup d'état deposing Lon Nol as head of state, installing Prince Norodom Sihanouk, retrieving the ship and rescuing 13 merchant seamen held in a Phnom Penh prison.[8][9][10][11][12][13] His partner Claude McKay escaped, joining the Khmer Rouge. Steen defended Glatowski on a charge of attempted escape from a federal prison, losing in a split 2-1 decision in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals[14] One of the panel members, Judge Shirley Hufstedler, voted to reverse based on Steen's arguments in the appellate brief. He was thrown into solitary confinement after the court's decision.

While in Lompoc federal prison, Steen also received death threats from members of Hells Angels[citation needed]. The notorious motorcycle gang had publicly vowed to "kill any Weatherman" they found "as a favor to the police because they were communist". Similar death threats had earlier been issued to anti-draft protesters and the Vietnam Day Committee in 1967 in response to Stop the Draft Week demonstrations in downtown Oakland which blockaded the region's military induction center.[15]

Steen organized an Inmate Advisory Council and led work stoppages in the prison industry electronics assembly plant in coordination with Women Strike for Peace[citation needed]. The federal prison manufactured wiring and electronic components for military use in its missile launches from Vandenberg AFB, adjacent to the prison complex. Soon afterward the Inmate Council was disbanded by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and its members transferred to other prisons in far-flung locations. Again, Steen was thrown into solitary confinement and threatened with transfer to the federal psychiatric facility in Springfield, Missouri.

While at the Federal Correctional Institution, Lompoc he ran the law library[citation needed], working as a paralegal and freeing more than a dozen marijuana and hashish smugglers[citation needed] under the 1969 United States Supreme Court decision in United States vs Timothy Leary,[16] which declared the federal Marijuana Tax Act unconstitutional. In 1973 Steen was adopted by Amnesty International as one of the first political prisoners in the United States,[17] sponsored by Robert Langenfelder, the only person ever convicted in the infamous burning of a branch of Bank of America in Isla Vista, California in 1969, one of the more famous chronicles in the annals of American student activism in the latter 20th century.[18]

Steen became the first member of Weather Underground apprehended and one of a handful of youthful white student revolutionaries, many of them feminists, to be imprisoned in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Others included Sam Melville, Jane Alpert, Judith Alice Clark, David Gilbert, Alan Berkman, Kathy Boudin, Linda Sue Evans, Cathlyn Platt Wilkerson, David Fine, Dwight Armstrong, Karleton Armstrong, Susan Saxe, Katherine Ann Power, Laura Whitehorn and Marilyn Buck.


Steen was released from federal prison in Santa Barbara, was twice elected to the Isla Vista Municipal Advisory Council, and later became Executive Director. Steen founded the Isla Vista Legal Defense Center, still in operation in 2015 as part of University of California, Santa Barbara. He also spearheaded efforts to spur community reinvestment by banking institutitions, leading to the State of California adopting the Community Reinvestment Act allowing government agencies to make deposits into credit unions.[19] Steen served as a vice-president on the Board of Directors of the first community federal credit union in the country. He coordinated grant proposals to fund a variety of local service organizations, including the Free Medical Clinic, Women's Center, Youth Projects and Children's Center and worked with numerous political campaigns in judicial and legislative races[4][5]

None of the Above ballot[edit]

In Isla Vista, Steen worked on an effort to place a new voting option, None of the Above (NOTA), on the election ballot, the first example in the United States of this electoral ballot alternative, in what Steen described as an "anti-institutional Yippie up-yours." Steen and fellow council member Walt Wilson introduced this motion which was adopted unanimously by the municipal council[4][5][20]

This action proved to have a ripple effect,[citation needed] with the State of Nevada adding this option to the state ballot in 1986. In 2000, a citizen initiative to place None of the Above on the state ballot in California was certified by the Secretary of State; however, the proposition was voted down 62% to 38% in a $1 million political campaign in the general election.

This electoral approach since has been adopted by several countries internationally, with the latest entry being the Supreme Court of India in 2013 ordering the inclusion of NOTA on EVMs (electronic voting machines) in national and state elections.

Incorporation of the City of Isla Vista[edit]

During his time with the Council, Steen authored the second proposal for the incorporation of a new City of Isla Vista, submitted to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for placement on the local ballot; the agency refused, on the basis of Isla Vista's "transient" student population and lack of a commercial tax base.[21] He then became involved with a county split proposal, to cut Santa Barbara County in half. Soon he was involved with a new incorporation proposal to form a City of Dos Pueblos out of Goleta Valley, and was appointed to the Goleta Valley Planning Council. This was the largest unincorporated urban enclave in southern California; in 2003 it became the newest city in the county, though with Isla Vista outside its boundaries.

Continuing the war on poverty[edit]

Steen became an anti-poverty official for many years in Santa Barbara County operating countywide full-service energy conservation, solar, housing and employment training programs for low-income residents with Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County, the local Community Action Program.[22][23][24] He also implemented the initial federal pilot Access California program, removing architectural barriers to the disabled in public places throughout the County.[25] Steen initiated a low-income solar energy program in the county that was replicated by Community Action Programs throughout the State; for this he was elected vice-president of the Association of Southern California Energy Programs, appointed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Gas Company and Southern California Edison to their respective state-mandated residential services advisory committees; before returning to San Francisco he was selected to operate the City of Santa Barbara's initial homeless shelter program in conjunction with Coalition on Homelessness.

Aboveground public service[edit]

Steen worked with Mensa, becoming Vice-Local Secretary of the Central California chapter and Chair of its Scholarship Committee.[26] In 1980 Steen also went into the vinyl record business, starting Audiophilia Records in southern California, winning national awards from Goldmine magazine and contributing to several international price books.[27][28] The Federal Communications Commission granted Steen a lifetime first-class radiotelephone (broadcaster's) license which he used to work at KCSB-FM in Santa Barbara and an early pirate radio station.

He then attended law school, registering with the State Bar; questions of "moral turpitude" arose over Steen's past affiliations with the Weather Underground and he did not take the bar exam. This occupational disability also plagued Bernardine Dohrn in Illinois and David Fine in Oregon. During this time Steen was the recipient of several "poison pen letters" published in the local mainstream press under pseudonyms, including actress Gretchen Corbett, attacking his earlier Weatherman affiliations.[29] Poison pen letters were one of the tactics utilized by the FBI in its COINTELPRO campaign to discredit and marginalize black and white student radicals, well into the late 1970s.[30] These continuing problems with federal law enforcement stemmed from his earlier involvement with the burglary of an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania in 1971 with the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI resulting in the release of 1,000 secret files outlining the COINTELPRO campaign, and cascading into the indictment of senior FBI officials, nullification of many federal grand jury contempt citations and dismissal of charges against Weather leadership in 1973.

Steen was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to a seat on a State Energy Conservation committee with oversight of federal Residential Conservation Service (RCS) funds in the 1980s; he was a founding member of that RCS Advisory Committee.[31] In his earlier post-prison days, Steen had been treasurer of Students for Jerry Brown for President in 1976. He was then elected to the board of trustees of a community college district in Santa Barbara.[32] Later, Steen was picked as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy National Center for Appropriate Technology, training low-income CAP staff throughout California in developing low-income solar service programs in partnership with the State Office of Economic Opportunity.

Steen returned to Berkeley, attending the University of California, twenty years after he first applied. In Berkeley he was involved with Copwatch, contributed to the student anarchist publication, Slingshot! , and led anti-Iraq invasion marches taking over Highway 101 and the Bay Bridge in 1992.[33] He then worked in executive management as a legal administrator for a major New York Stock Exchange corporation, Zenith Insurance Company, for several years. This prominent company had no knowledge of his former notoriety or ties to Weather Underground Organization; among his co-workers were a number of retired FBI special agents. The Director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, was also serving on the Board of Directors of the same corporation at the same time.[citation needed] That same year, Steen was attacked and beaten, during an attempted robbery, with baseball bats at his residence, suffering severe head trauma, speech and vision problems.[34][35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jamison, Peter (16 September 2009). "Time Bomb". SF Weekly. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Burrough, Bryan (7 April 2015). Days of Rage. Penguin. pp. 96–97. ISBN 9780698170070. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c "Isla Vista Archives".SBHC Mss.41.Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library.University of California Santa Barbara
  5. ^ a b c Archive of 9779p11z
  6. ^ United States. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee on Crime. (1984). False identification: hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-seventh Congress, second session, on H.R. 352, H.R. 6105, H.R. 6946, and S. 2043 false identification, May 5, 1982. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.. p.55
  7. ^ a b;view=1up;seq=59
  8. ^ ^ Linnett, pp 67–68
  9. ^ Cutler, p 142
  10. ^ "18 U.S.C. § 2193 : US Code - Section 2193: Revolt or mutiny of seamen". United States Code. US Government. Retrieved 26 May 2013
  11. ^ ^ a b c "1970 Command History of USS Denver (LPD-9)" (pdf). Command Operations Reports. US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 31 May 2013
  12. ^ ^ "Commander, Naval Forces Vietnam (April 1970)". Monthly Historical Summary, April 1970. Naval Historical Center, U.S. Navy. pp. 31–32. Retrieved 25 May 2013
  13. ^ ^ Biography of L. Humphrey in
  14. ^ "United States vs. Alvin Glatowski", 477 F.2d 248 (per curiam)(1974)
  15. ^ Opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War
  16. ^ U.S. vs Leary, 395 U.S. 6, 89 S.Ct. 1532 (1969)
  17. ^ Amnesty "1973-74 AI National Report to Members"
  18. ^ A People's History of Isla Vista, Carmen Lodise 2002
  19. ^ "UCSB Allows Student Government to Transfer Deposits to Isla Vista Community Federal Credit Union"
  20. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  21. ^ "LAFCO Nixes Cityhood Proposal for Isla Vista"
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ [2]
  24. ^ "New Head for Community Action Program"
  25. ^ "Community Action Commission State Disability Award for Pilot Project"
  26. ^ Mensa membership rolls 1105092
  27. ^
  28. ^ Osborne Price
  29. ^ to the Editor/Gretchen Corbett"
  31. ^ agencies/residential conservation services advisory commission
  32. ^ Board of Trustees: Board of Trustees - Santa Barbara City College
  33. ^ Francisco "Iraq Demonstrators Takeover Freeway, Close Bay Bridge"
  34. ^ Daily "Re-Entry Student Attacked"
  35. ^

External links[edit]