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A Review of the FBI's Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups

Chapter Three: The Thomas Merton Center

I. Background

The Thomas Merton Center (Merton Center) describes itself as "Pittsburgh's peace and social justice center." Thomas Merton was a writer and Trappist monk at an abbey in Kentucky who died in 1968. A recent Merton Center news publication stated:

[The Merton Center] responds to social issues and effects social change in the spirit and according to the principles of Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, priest, poet, and writer. By its work, the Thomas Merton Center honors his commitment to nonviolence, social justice, peace and human dignity.

According to its website, the Merton Center opened in 1972 in a storefront office on the Southside of Pittsburgh "to protest the continuation of the war in Vietnam." The Merton Center is now located in Pittsburgh's Garfield neighborhood. The Merton Center's website solicits individual members and volunteers for its projects and campaigns.

The Merton Center aligns itself with "affiliates and friends," which are groups that financially support the Merton Center or regularly co-sponsor events. The Merton Center states in its news publication that affiliates and friends are "groups that [the Merton Center] feels confident enough in to refer individuals to join them and/or to participate in their activities." However, according to the Merton Center affiliate status "is NOT an official endorsement of all the aims, goals and strategies of these organizations."

The Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) is listed in a recent Merton Center news publication as one of its affiliates.45 We discuss certain FBI investigations in this chapter that referenced both the POG and the Merton Center.

We selected the Merton Center for this review because it was one of the groups whose FOIA releases prompted significant media attention and congressional inquiries.

The remainder of this chapter is organized into three additional sections. Section II addresses an incident in 2002 in which the FBI conducted surveillance at a Merton Center-sponsored antiwar leafleting event. We address this incident at length because the FBI's conduct in connection with the event raised significant issues, and the FBI's subsequent statements to the public and Congress about the incident were not accurate.

Section III of this chapter addresses several other incidents in which FBI investigative activities touched upon the Merton Center. Section IV describes the FBI's response to issues brought to the public's attention when the Merton Center documents were released.

45 The POG recently described itself on its website as "an anarchist group" whose "goal is the creation of a directly democratic, free society capable of maximizing human potential and freedom within a framework of collective responsibility, mutual-aid, and solidarity." Its website described its recent efforts as focused "on combining education and direct action . . . to strategically fight back against the war machine by confronting its local manifestations: military recruitment, corporate and educational war profiteers, and militaristic politicians."

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