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Mike Gravel, political legend who read Pentagon Papers into Congressional Record, dies at 91

Former Sen. Mike Gravel has died at his home in Seaside.

The announcement of his death was posted on social media by the Gravel Institute on Sunday afternoon:

“We are sad to announce that Senator Mike Gravel passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, at his home in Seaside, California. He was 91, and had lived the fullest live anyone could have ever wanted. We will miss him every day.”

Gravel served two terms as a U.S. senator from Alaska from 1969 to 1981 as a member of the Democrat Party and ran unsuccessfully for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008 and 2020. The latter run led to his campaign staff founding the Gravel Institute, which describes itself as “a crowd-funded organization creating short videos to combat right-wing disinformation and bring progressive ideas to new audiences.”

Screenshot via Internet Archive Former Senator Mike Gravel, famously reads the Pentagon Papers into congressional record on June 29, 1971.

Citing his staunch anti-war position, he switched to the Libertarian Party for a short time in 2008.

Gravel’s death comes two days before the 50th anniversary of his risky decision to effectively declassify the Pentagon Papers — a top-secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam — by reading the study on the Senate floor and into the public record on June 29, 1971.

In a 2014 interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Gravel spoke about the principles behind his decision to reveal the truth behind the Vietnam War.

He said:

“This is fundamental to a democracy. If the people are not informed as to what their government is doing, then you do not have an operational democracy.”

The next day, the court order barring newspapers from continuing to publish the Pentagon Papers was lifted.

Gravel was born in 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts, one of five children born to French-Canadian immigrant parents, according to his 2008 book, “A Political Odyssey,” written with journalist Joe Lauria. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951 and attended Columbia University, before moving to Alaska — before it was a state — where he worked in real estate before running for local office while still in his 20s.

The same year he made his name with the Pentagon Papers, Gravel led a one-man filibuster that, according to his book, forced the Nixon administration to cut a deal, effectively ending the draft in the United States.

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