The FBI and the American friends service committee: Surveilling United States religious expression in the cold war Era

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The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was formed in 1917 by Quakers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the throes of the First World War. Its goal was to provide conscientious objectors with service opportunities and to assist with the war-related struggles of European nations. The organization soon expanded to provide relief to communities in war or conflict zones in the United States and abroad, including by feeding the hungry and supporting immigrant and refugee communities. From the early to the mid-twentieth century, the Federal Bureau of Information (FBI), led by J. Edgar Hoover, suspected AFSC members of associating with communists through humanitarian projects, especially during the Cold War period. Beginning in 1956, Hoover’s secret FBI Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) instructed FBI agents to surveil subversive individuals and groups, including the AFSC, in order to dismantle the United States Communist Party. In 1971, a group of then anonymous activists publicly exposed COINTELPRO by breaking into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and releasing incriminating files. William C. Davidon, a Haverford College professor, led the break-in. His wife, Ann Morrissett Davidon, a writer and AFSC volunteer, archived and annotated many of the FBI files on the AFSC. Neither of the Davidons held a religious affiliation, yet they worked closely with Quaker and Catholic activist organizations committed to peace and social justice (“Historical Background,” n.d.). Ann Morrissett Davidon (1978) succinctly relayed the revelation that AFSC Quakers were under surveillance with her headline in The Nation, “Watching for Cominfil: Even the Quakers Scared the FBI.”

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMaking Surveillance States
Subtitle of host publicationTransnational Histories
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781487517298
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© University of Toronto Press 2019.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (all)
  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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