"Camden 28": A Draft-Board Break-In That Put Activism on Trial (Documentary)





Concise, inventive and unabashedly partisan, “The Camden 28” is a small movie that contains multitudes.

Directed by Anthony Giacchino, the film is specifically about a Camden, N.J., antiwar group’s 1971 plot to break into a draft-board office and destroy government records, and the long trial that ensued when the protesters were caught by the F.B.I. It is also about the tradition of left-wing Roman Catholic activism (the Camden 28 was composed mainly of working-class priests and young, devout laypeople) and the threat it posed to those conservative Americans who wished to conflate Christianity and unquestioning acceptance of government policy.

And it is about the F.B.I.’s push to infiltrate and undermine dissident groups — a process that trapped the Camden 28 and that, once exposed in court, led to the protesters’ freedom. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. called the legal proceeding “one of the great trials of the 20th century.”

Mr. Giacchino tells the Camden 28’s story with energy, imagination and a nearly evangelical belief in their rightness. The movie endorses every aspect of the group’s motivation for plotting the draft-board break-in — from its certitude that the draft was an example of class bias and a form of government-sanctioned kidnapping to its conviction that Camden’s decayed neighborhoods were economic collateral damage caused by racism, government oppression and the diversion of tax dollars to Vietnam....

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