Secret Army Organization
|Headquarters||San Diego, California|
|Jerry Lynn Davis, Howard G. Godfrey, John Rasperry|
|Affiliations||Federal Bureau of Investigation|
The Secret Army Organization (SAO) was a short-lived right-wing paramilitary organization in Southern California, set up in 1971 in the aftermath of the breakup of the Minutemen group by local law enforcement. The organization received Federal Bureau of Investigation sponsorship from its establishment until its 1972 dissolution, engaging in various acts of violence and intimidation during this time.
The Secret Army Organization was headquartered in San Diego, California and consisted of around twelve local members with a handful more spread across Southern California. Its creation was a product of a meeting held on October 16–17, 1971; its leaders, Howard B. Godfrey and Jerry Lynn Davis, had been members of the Minutemen, a right-wing extremist organization. Davis had worked with the Central Intelligence Agency during the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
The SAO was intended to serve as a replacement for the FBI’s intelligence/operative network in the area, which had been broken up by local law enforcement in 1970. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Operation Inlet utilized the Minutemen group to provide daily intelligence reports on the activities of “demonstrators and domestic radicals”. These reports were made on behalf of President Richard Nixon and United States Attorney General John N. Mitchell by way of White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and Chief Advisor on Domestic Affairs John D. Ehrlichman.
In 1971 and 1972, the Secret Army Organization engaged in a variety of criminal and provocative behavior. They fire-bombed cars, burglarized the homes of antiwar protestors, and ransacked places of work. As described by the San Diego Union, the SAO was “a centrally designed and externally financed infrastructure designed for terror and sabotage,” whose actions were “sanctioned by the nation’s most powerful and highly respected law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
On June 26, 1975, the American Civil Liberty Union of Southern California filed a report with Senate investigators alleging that the FBI was instrumental in the creation and operation of the SAO. The filing of this report came two days after the FBI publicly acknowledged its involvement in the illegal domestic counterintelligence program COINTELPRO, with activity spanning from May 1968 until April 1971.
Godfrey, having worked with the FBI as an informant in the Minutemen, was chosen to lead the SAO. He paid most of the group's expenses, recruited new members, supplied explosives, and selected targets. In July 1972, Godfrey testified to a grand jury that he helped set up the SAO, per instructions from the FBI, to terrorize local radicals. He testified that, while leading the SAO, he provided daily reports to the FBI through Special Agent Steven L. Christiansen.
In the 1973 trial of an SAO member convicted of bombing a movie theater, Godfrey testified that the FBI furnished him with a total of between $10,000 and $20,000 for weapons and explosives over a period of five years. He said he had been paid $250 a month by the Bureau, plus expenses.
Another FBI informer, John Raspberry, admitted to getting instructed by the FBI in 1971–1972 to assassinate Peter G. Bohmer, a Marxist economics professor at San Diego State University. The plot was not carried out although FBI would make another attempt on Bohmer's life the following year.
In April 1972, the FBI initiated a new operation, this time recruiting a member of the San Diego Police Department’s antisubversive “Red Squad” unit, Gil Romero, because he had experience as an FBI informant, and J.M. Lopez, an undercover San Diego police officer. According to the ACLU report, Lincoln Bueno, a member of the left-wing Chicano organization Brown Berets, and Bohmer were to be lured over the border to a remote location in Tijuana, Mexico, where they would be murdered by Mexican Federal police over a contrived cache of smuggled firearms. ACLU lawyer H. Peter Young reported that this conspiracy was abandoned when the Republican convention was moved to Miami Beach, Florida.
White House connection
The White House was alleged to have maintained its own liaison to the SAO, Donald Segretti. Segretti was quoted by the ACLU as having told the SAO that anyone causing trouble at the 1972 Republican convention would be "gotten rid of," apparently in reference to the so-called "Liddy plan" as described in the United States Senate Watergate Committee. The plan was named for G. Gordon Liddy, former counsel of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, and entailed the kidnapping of protestors and sending them to Mexico.
The FBI prevented prosecutors from pursuing Godfrey for his activity with the SAO. Having been a firefighter before his work with the FBI, by 1975 he was employed by the California State Fire Marshal's Office.
After Godfrey's public disclosure of the group's FBI connections and the Bureau's subsequent withdrawal of support, the SAO quickly fell apart.
- Holles, Everett R. (27 June 1975). "A.C.L.U. Says FBI Funded 'Army' to Terrorize Antiwar Protesters". The New York Times (Newspaper). New York: 4 – via The New York Times Archives. Archived from the original on 28 July 2019. Original scan available.
- "Secret Army Organization (SAO)". Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC). Archived from the original on 17 June 2019. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
- "FBI Funds Right Wing Violence". Ann Arbor Sun. Ann Arbor, Michigan. 3 September 1975 – via Ann Arbor District Library. Archived from the original on 11 August 2020.
- "Untitled". San Diego Union. 10 January 1976.
- Tasking, Marcus G. (Summer 1976). "Democracy Versus the National Security State" (PDF). Law and Contemporary Problems (Journal article). 40 (3): 189–220 – via Duke Law Scholarship Repository.
- "Newspaper Says FBI Funded Terror Unit" (PDF). Washington Post: A2. 11 January 1976 – via Internet Archive.
- Ridenour, Ron. "Secret Army on Trial: San Diego Anti-Communists Face Terrorism Charges." Los Angeles Free Press, Vol. 9, No. 36 (Issue 425), September 8-18, 1972, pp. 1 & 3. Full issue available.
- Chomsky, Noam (September 1999). "Domestic Terrorism: Notes on the State System of Oppression". New Political Science. 21 (3): 303–324 – via chomsky.info.
- "FBI Assassination Plot Seen" (PDF). Washington Post. 28 June 1975 – via Internet Archive.
- Kaye, Jeff. "DHS Says FBI 'Possibly Funded' Terrorist Group." Shadowproof, February 20, 2013. Archived from the original.
- The People of the State of California v. George Mitchell Hoover (October 30, 1973)