KEITH McHENRY, Food Not Bombs co-founder

The American Dream, cover art by Keith McHenry

Also see: Keith McHenry, An American Hero

Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs

By 2003 infiltrators started to encourage Food Not Bombs volunteers to organize and participate in a number of acts of property destruction.


The Sacramento Field office of the FBI paid a college student named Anna $75,000 to volunteer with Food Not Bombs.

Food Not Bombs, art by Keith McHenry

A year before the Republican National Convention in Minnesota the FBI, working with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, sent four people to join the local Food Not Bombs group.

New American Dream Interview

Food Not Bombs co-founder, KEITH McHENRY was born in Frankfurt, West Germany in 1957 while his father was stationed there in the army. His paternal great, great, grandfather was Dr. James McHenry, who signed the United States Constitution and served as a general in the Revolutionary War and as Secretary of War under George Washington he founded the U.S. military.

His paternal grand father was a ranger with the National Park Service. Keith's paternal grandmother Bona Mae (Ford) McHenry picked cotton as a child in the New Mexico Territory.

Two of her uncles, Bob and Charlie Ford joined Jesse Jame's gang in 1882 and killed the famous train robber for a $5,000 reward. Her uncles were the subject of several popular folk songs.

Keith's maternal grandfather was an intelligence officer for the U.S. Army during World War II and helped plan the fire bombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He also was a lawyer in the Massachusetts State Attorney General's Office. Keith's great great grandfather Charles Vanderpool designed the dynamo and co-founded the General Elecrtic Company.

Keith's mother Martha got her degree from Wellesley College, raised her family and ran their farm on Cape Cod.

Keith moved with his family to Logan, Utah in 1958 where his father worked for Morton-Thiokol testing Minuteman Missiles while he worked on his Masters Degree in zoology at Utah State.

Coincidentally, C.T. Butler's father also worked at Thiokol in Utah during this time.

However, Keith and C.T. did not meet until 21 years later at a protest of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in 1979. After leaving Thiokol, Keith's father worked for the National Park Service and Keith lived in the National Parks at Yosemite (CA), Yorktown (VA), Grand Canyon (AZ), Big Bend (TX), Shenandoah (VA), and the Everglades (FL).

By the fifth grade Keith started camping in the wilderness on his own. He played in the wild desert of Big Bend, Texas joining in games of basketball with the Mexican kids across the Rio Grande. He was stricken with cholera and the only one of 27 who lived.

In 1974, Keith began studying painting at Boston University and worked afternoons, weekends, and summers as a tour guide and museum curator at the historic Old South Meeting House where the Boston Tea Party began. After college, Keith worked three years for the National Park Service at Fire Island Seashore as a sign painter and two years giving presentations about the American Revolution at Boston National Historic Park.

He also worked many places including the Boston Paint Company, Budget Car Rental, Reilieys Roast Beef, and at the famous Passim Coffee House in Harvard Square. Keith was active with Clanshell Alliance and made trips to Seabrook, New Hampshire to protest Nuclear Power and organized actions in Boston, New York and Washington D.C. for peace in El Salvador and Iran, alternative energy and organic gardening as well as protests against the draft, drug testing, the Contra War in Central America, the nuclear arms race and many other issues.

Keith owned an advertising firm called Brushfire Graphics in Boston. He designed calendars, ads, and brochures for the Boston Celtics, the Boston Red Sox, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a multitude of commercial and alternative businesses. He won several Clio Awards for his designs.

His anti-nuclear war street art became the subject of an Off Broadway play called Murder Now! and a film called The Sidewalk Sector. Years later he worked as a graphic designer for Hallmark Cards and produced a full color weekly magazine in Kansas City.

Keith and seven friends started the first Food Not Bombs chapter in 1980 in Cambridge.

They participated in street performances with music, theater, puppets, literature, movies and food every week in Harvard Square, provided food to most of the housing projects and shelters in the Cambridge area, produced a free concert with free food in a park, organized and provided meals at protests all over the east coast.

After eight years of serving free food and doing graphic arts work in Boston, Keith moved to San Francisco where he started a second Food Not Bombs group.

Since then, Keith has been arrested over 100 times for serving free food in city parks and he has spent over 500 nights in jail.

In 1995 Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission joined thousands of supporter in working for his release.

He faced 25 years to life after being framed under the California Three Strikes Law, because of his Food Not Bombs work. He also co-authored and illustrated the book Food Not Bombs: How to Feed the Hungry and Build Community which has sold more than 10,000 copies in four languages. The 20th Anniversary English edition was published in Tucson by See Sharp Press.

His work with Food Not Bombs also appeared in Amnesty International's Human Rights Report in 1995, No Trespassing by Anders Corr, Interviews With Icons by Lisa Law and in Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

There is a chapter about him in 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know by Mickey Z and his work on the UnFree Trade Tour are detailed in Por el Reparto del Trabajo y la Riqueza by Jose Iglesias Fernandez published in Madrid, Spain. The movements Keith helped start are featured in a number of books including Recipes for Disaster CrimethInc. ex-Workers' Collective, Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, by Heather Coburn Flores and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz. Keith's character has appeared in several novels including Walking to Mercury by Starhawk and Homes Not Jails by Michael Stienburg.

He is also featured in a number of documentaries including The Art of Being Mayor by Steve Tobin and Flashing on the Sixties by Lisa Law For the entire list of books visit the Food Not Bombs books webpage.

He was the recipient the 1999 Local Hero Award by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Resister of the Year in 1995 and the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness gave him the Advocate of the Year Award in 2006.

Keith was also a pioneer in the Low powered FM radio movement and a co-founder of San Francisco Liberation Radio. He is a co-founder of the October 22nd No Police Brutality Day protests and he helped start Indymedia and the Homes Not Jails squatters' movement in the United States. He coined the term "freegan" while dumpster diving in Edmonton, Canada on the Rent Is Theft Tour.

In 1997 Keith helped organize and participated in the UnFree Trade Tour of North America where the idea to shut down the World Trade Organization in Seattle was first proposed. He has been maintaining the Food Not Bombs web site since 1994 and he still updates many of the movement's publications. Keith has been touring the world helping start Food Not Bombs groups and supporting existing chapters.

He is also writing a book about the movement and his travels will be part of a documentary filmed and produced by Australian journalist Liz Tadic. Liz featured Keith's work in Nigeria on SBS-TV's Dateline.

In 2005 Keith helped collect the food and prepared the meals for the activists participating in Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey protest in Crawford Texas. After camp Casey he helped coordinate America's largest food relief effort organizing bus and truck loads of food, kitchen equipment and volunteers to provide support for the people that survived Hurricane Katrina.

That same year NBC-TV reported that the Pentagon classified a 2004 protest Keith helped organize against torture as an on-going, creditable terrorist threat. According to internal government documents the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating and disrupting Food Not Bombs groups all across the United States. ABC TV's program 20/20 claimed Keith was one of twenty people planning to destroy New York City during the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Keith's name was in a New York Times article where they published a U.S. State Department list of the 100 people who were not free to travel outside the country to attend protests. Keith was taken off a flight from Heathrow to Chicago by Homeland Security. During an hour of questioning the contents of his wallet was input into a Homeland Security data base. Even so he still travels often and has visited Food Not Bombs groups all over Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas.

He is currently focusing his attention on the global economic crisis, building the Food Not Bombs movement and organizing World Peace Week in Taos.

He speaks at colleges and universities about the history, principles and current actions of the Food Not Bombs movement. He also leads workshops on non-violent direct action and speaks about the history and methods of domestic spying in the United States.

He helped open the Taos Peace House and Infoshop volunteering with the local collective. He works on the Taos Food Not Lawns Community Garden and cooks each week with Taos Food Not Bombs. He enjoys swimming, riding his mountain bike, hiking, camping and cross country skiing. His main passion is painting, drawing, graphic design and illustration.

You can see his art and learn more about Keith on the website below. Keith is also the co-founder of the Taos Peace House and Infoshop. He helps staff the peace house and works with events.


The New American Dream Trivia Question

To win a copy of one of Palecek's books, or leftover Christmas candy, or maybe a "Deception Dollar," be the first one to correctly answer the following.

Keith McHenry would rather be ....

a. Eating a little less of this vegetarian crap
b. Anywhere without all this adobe crap
c. Meeting Karl Rove in the alley behind Shadows Lounge & Grill
d. Headed to a John Prine concert
e. Curled up, with his Northern Exposure collection, surrounded by food, not bombs
f. Headed to a Natalie Merchant concert


NAD: Keith, hello, thank you for taking the time for this.

Why is the government so excited about Food Not Bombs? What makes them come after you?


In 1988 the San Francisco Police started to arrest us.

We soon learned the Bechtel, Chevron and Bank of America had met with the San Francisco Police Intelligence Department concerned that the public might believe that their tax dollars should be used for things like healthcare, education and other human needs.

According to internal police documents the visibility of so many people coming to eat at Food Not Bombs caused the defense contractors in San Francisco another concern that city taxes would be raised to provide help for the homeless.

Police memos also pointed out that if Food Not Bombs shared food without a permit that other people might feel that they too could organize projects without requesting permits from the government.

In 1989 we learned that the U.S. Defense Department considered Food Not Bombs "one of America's most hard core terrorist groups."

We also discovered that my home phone had been wire taped by the San Francisco Police in September 1988 when we were provided with a San Francisco Police memo.

NAD: Has it happened recently?


In the two years before the November 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle the FBI, Interpol and other intelligence agencies became even more concerned about Food Not Bombs.

The UnFree Trade Tour in 1997 visited 60 cities in the United States and Canada explaining the dangers of the trade agreements proposed by the WTO.

The tour also urged everyone to participate in actions against the next meeting of the WTO to be held in North America. An Interpol agent joined the tour and while he was disruptive he was not able to stop Food Not Bombs effort to organize the huge protest in Seattle.

The success of the "Battle of Seattle" inspired an increase in concern about Food Not Bombs.

A number of articles and books started to be published claiming nonviolent direct action was ineffective. The tradition of holding nonviolence training before actions was discouraged and a culture promoting the belief that nonviolent change as unrealistic was encouraged by U.S. intelligence agencies.

By 2003 infiltrators started to encourage Food Not Bombs volunteers to organize and participate in a number of acts of property destruction.

The Sacramento Field office of the FBI paid a college student named Anna $75,000 to volunteer with Food Not Bombs.

She disrupted the Food not Bombs kitchen in Miami during the protests against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas Meeting, helped sabotage the 2004 World Gathering of Food Not Bombs that was planned for the Republican National Convention in New York and stopped the final plenary of the 2005 Philadelphia Gathering.

She encouraged three West Philadelphia Food Not Bombs volunteers to ride with her in an FBI provided car to a number of actions in the United States ending up at a home that was provided by the FBI in Dutch Flats, California.

The car and house were bugged.

The FBI provided Anna with blasting caps and a book on how to make bombs. When it was clear Eric, Wren and Zachary wouldn't bomb the suggested dam, the FBI raided arresting the three Food Not Bombs volunteers.

Eric was convicted and is serving a 19 year prison sentence.


Food Not Bombs was first listed as a terrorist group
in 1988 and as far as we know this designation continues to this day.


A year before the Republican National Convention in Minnesota the FBI, working with the Ramsey County Sheriffs Department, sent four people to join the local Food Not Bombs group.

The four infiltrators proposed fire bombing bus loads of Republicans and other acts if violence.

The Food Not Bombs volunteers mistook these proposals as jokes until the morning before the convention when riot police and the FBI raided three Food Not Bombs cook houses at 8:00 am.

Eight cooks where charged with the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act and are facing decades in prison.

Food Not Bombs was first listed as a terrorist group in 1988 and as far as we know this designation continues to this day.

It is hoped that President Obama will see the logic in taking us off this list and pardon the nearly twenty Food Not Bombs volunteers sitting in prison.

NAD: You are a grassroots entrepreneur, sort of, right?

What is your most recent project?

And you are most often successful. Why? How?


You might say I am a grassroots entrepreneur.

I have helped start a number of popular projects like Food Not Bombs based on the principles of decentralized non hierarchical organizing.

I helped start the October 22nd No Police Brutality Day, Homes Not Jails, San Francisco Free Radio and many other grassroots projects. The most recent project is the Taos Peace House and World Peace Week.

I believe these projects have been successful in creating the Do It Yourself culture that is popular today.

We set out to inspire people to adopt the idea that we could build a new society.

Our communities would organize collectives or affinity groups organized around solving or providing basic needs.

Each collective would use consensus to make decisions and would reject the idea of following a leader.

We reclaimed public space and promoted the ideas of Temporary Autonomous Zones. Seeing that the corporations had seized society we set out to take it back.

Total noncooperation with the corporations and the governments they control was promoted and today thousands of young people across the world have adopted this lifestyle.

NAD: Would you like to choose one of these to answer, elaborate on?

We don't ask this to make fun. We ask because we really seek the answers.

Are UFOs real?

... What makes you think that?


I have seen a few UFO's so they looked real to me.

I saw a flying saucer in 1982 while sitting in War Memorial Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I was camping in Organ Pipe National Monument when everyone in the campground watched UFO's flying around the desert for hours into the evening.

One UFO we saw that night had more than a five mile long wing span and traveled very slow.


I believe capitalism is ending and those people
who are visionary are working to return to reality.


NAD: What caused the financial crisis? In four lines or less. Six.


The design and focus of the economy caused the financial crisis.

Investing in stocks and other unreal concepts was bound to be a failure.

I believe capitalism is ending and those people who are visionary are working to return to reality.

It won't be long before people see that food, water, clothing, natural healthcare, shelter and other basics should be the focus of the economy.

NAD:Do you have hope in Obama?


Why not?


I hope people use the election of Obama to mobilize for real change.

So far he isn't thinking outside the box in any major ways.

The stimulus package is a big disappointment.

Rather than more nuclear power, cars and highways the hundreds of billions he plans to spend could be going to the construction of a national passenger rail system, the development of household solar and wind power generation and the planting of organic community gardens.

He should ignore Wall Street and if anything organize an orderly plan to close down the stock markets.

It is unrealistic to think capitalism can continue.

Capitalism must end if we hope to slow climate change and end war and hunger.

Obama's first act should have been to call on all Americans to plant a vegetable garden this spring. After that he should have taken the TARP money from the banks and given it to people that can build home wind and solar power generation.

He should redirect the military funding towards the national passenger rail system.

There should be a total ban on evictions and every house should be powered by its own solar or wind system. Withdraw all homes from a central power grid as soon as possible and turn that system towards powering passenger trains.

It is also a huge mistake to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Even the U.S. appointed president of Afghanistan wants a time table for all U.S. troops to withdraw.

Obama was elected because the American people believed he would bring about the change that the peace, social justice and environmental movements had been working towards for decades.

Obama hasn't appointed even one progressive to any position even though we are the ones who put him into office.

Obama's capitalist agenda will continue to fail providing the people with the opportunity to build a new non hierarchal culture with a focus on the basics.

Because Obama is intelligent it is possible he will wake up and join the people in seeking realistic solutions to the global economic crisis.

His position as president could be of help if he started to encourage the public to organize locally and face the fact that the current economic and political systems are coming to an end.

He could support a smooth transition or work to save the current failed system.

So far he appears to believe that it is possible to continue our failed consumer based society.

It does seem that many Americans understand that Obama is leading the country along a path of failed policies and it is important that as community activists we provide a way for people to organize.

The collapse of the system could catch many Americans off guard so it is up to us to develop a frame work .

This is one of the main focuses of the Food Not Bombs movement, and why I am involved in organizing World Peace Week in Taos, New Mexico.


The collapse of the system could catch many Americans off guard, so it is up to us to develop a framework.

This is one of the main focuses of the Food Not Bombs movement, and why I am involved in organizing World Peace Week in Taos, New Mexico.


NAD: Does your favorite coffee cup have words on it? What are they?

What did you absolutely have to get done by noon today?

How about by Christmas 2009?


My coffee cup is wordless.

I need to sweep the the floor of the Taos Peace House by noon today, and by Christmas 2009 I intend to have the first draft of my memoirs in the hands of an editor.

NAD: What else would you like to add? What else should we have asked?


Stop shopping and start planting this summer's garden!

NAD: If you would like — please insert a link here to something you would like linked to, with a brief tag re: where that link goes:


The Food Not Bombs Movement

Keith McHenry
co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement
P.O. Box 424
Arroyo Seco, NM 87514 USA
"Food is a right, not a privilege."

[First published March 5, 2009]

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