He was, and now is, Seattle history. Let the wake and beer-spilling begin for Walt Crowley , 60, cancer quarry. Surely the death waltz will be held,


Walt Crowley, 60

Historian, journalist and threat to Richard Nixon.

He was, and now is, Seattle history. Let the wake and beer-spilling begin for Walt Crowley, 60, cancer quarry. Surely the death waltz will be held, daily if not eternally, at the Blue Moon, one of the monuments he chronicled and preserved as writer, editor, commentator and chief curator of a city destroying itself in order to save it. He said he often felt the way John Steinbeck did the day the author stopped by the Pike Place Market and watched pieces of its history being torn down and carted away. Steinbeck didn't bemoan the advance of time, but he wondered "why progress looks so much like destruction."

Today's obits in the P-I and Times touched on Crowley's lefty politics but not his liberal outrage and reportorial grounding. Prior to those "Point-Counter Point" on-air debates on KIRO-TV years back with conservative John Carlson, Walt warmed to his subject by settling in at the Five Points bar down the street for an hour of drinking, smoking and asking his blue-collar seatmates what they thought of that day's issues: "That's good, I'll fucking use that!" he'd say, and did.

In one of his many pieces for the Weekly, his 1999 story on the trial of Whitewater figure Susan McDougal reflects his personal sense of cause and justice. He  was appalled, he said, watching McDougal being dragged in chains to testify before Ken Starr's Whitewater grand jury. She had already spent nearly a year and a half in prison, including eight months in solitary. Walt and wife Marie McCaffrey printed up buttons with a black star bisected by a red slash stating "Free Susan McDougal/No Starr Chamber."

Then-Times columnist Jean Godden wrote up an item that caught the attention of Pat Harris, McDougal's fiance and co-counsel. They corresponded and Harris and McDougal, temporarily freed, came to Seattle for a fund-raiser hosted by Walt and Marie, a graphics designer. In turn, the Seattle duo went to Little Rock for McDougal's subsequent contempt trial for refusing to testify, and wound up creating evidence charts for the defense - four large posters to illustrate key points in the closing argument by McDougal's attorney, Mark Geragos - "rhymes with 'asparagus,'" Walt wrote.

"Mark is tall and lankily graceful as a giraffe. With his hawk nose and swept-back hair, he looks like he's constantly leaning into an oncoming gale, which, in a legal sense, he is."

Walt and Marie became part of the defense team, even doing the daily perp walk into the courthouse. The team dined together, too, sometimes at a Little Rock joint called the Faded Rose. "This is what the Blue Moon would look like if it served food," wrote Walt.

But perhaps the best obit about Walt Crowley was written by J. Edgar Hoover. In a 1998 SW piece, Walt revealed what Hoover et al had discovered about him, after obtaining copies of his file from the FBI - the kind then commonly kept on "radicals."

The FBI's interest in me had been triggered by a secret informant (all names are blacked out with a marker the size of a tar brush) who "telephonically furnished" information on my politics, college studies, freelance art work, amateur dramatics, and even my "extensive library containing numerous works on Marxism." In other words, somebody I knew well enough to welcome into my home had dropped a dime and reported me to the FBI as a "subversive."

I haven't the vaguest idea who this person was, but I have to confess that I find myself speculating from time to time, weighing one suspected rat against another. "Paranoia strikes deep . . . " and it remains one of the most powerful weapons in any secret police arsenal.

It is also an occupational disease for agents, and the FBI took this initial report seriously enough to start tracking a scrawny, confused 19-year-old college dropout as a potential "threat to national security." My life was assigned file number 100-28836, which quickly fattened as the bureau documented my ideological peregrinations through a succession of socialist and radical organizations, counterculture gestalts, and a three-year stint with Helix, Seattle's underground newspaper.

Despite the hyperbole of the era, none of these groups posed any threat to anyone, let alone the Republic, although my Trotskyist comrades could bore you to death if you let them. It never occurred to my FBI biographers that I and my associates were merely exercising our First Amendment rights to speak, publish, and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

On the plus side, the FBI was a most diligent clipping service. My files are full of reprints of articles I wrote for the underground press and other papers, as well as articles on me. They are marked up with scribbles indicating referrals to other agents and agencies. I figure that the FBI must have doubled or tripled my readership during the 1960s.

The FBI made some embarrassing, even comical errors as it chronicled my subversive activities. It placed me in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1967, for example, apparently not realizing that Stokely Carmichael had already banished honkies from SNCC's ranks. The bureau also repeatedly confused me with another band of Crowleys, anarchists George and Louise and their brood of hooligans, who were unrelated to me except for some ancient Celtic genes.

Other errors were not so benign; one almost led to my indictment.

On February 17, 1970, a motley crew of radicals called the "Seattle Liberation Front" staged a protest of the contempt rulings against the "Chicago Seven." The ensuing melee resulted in federal conspiracy charges against a septet of SLF leaders (including Michael Lerner, now editor of Tikkun magazine), who were promptly dubbed the "Seattle Seven."

My files reveal that I almost made it an octet based on the misidentification of my face in police photos of the incident and the testimony of a notoriously obvious and inept informer, one Horace "Red" Parker. I had in fact been miles away, lecturing a Mercer Island High School class on environmentalism. For all the FBI's scrutiny, it had never noticed that I was also a vocal critic of SLF and its tactics, and a most unlikely co-conspirator.

These details did not deter months of intense scrutiny by the FBI and attorney general's office. No less than J. Edgar Hoover listed me on the "Security Index" as a "Priority II" threat to President Nixon on the grounds of being "potentially dangerous" and a member of a "group or organization inimical to the U.S."

In 1973, a year after I had joined the staff of Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman, my secret admirers reluctantly concluded that while my "philosophy is obviously at odds with traditional American concepts," I no longer posed a "realistic direct current danger to the national security."

The FBI kept an eye on me through 1975, in case I sputtered back to life like a damp fuse. I feel like I've let them down, but perhaps there's still hope.

So take a memo, Mr. Freeh: I just joined the AARP.


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