As an image of his much younger self, set against an American flag, was projected on a wall at the Sebastopol Community Center, Daniel Ellsberg, slight and white-haired, mingled with a welcoming crowd.
The ex-military analyst who in 1971 leaked 7,000 pages of secret reports that contradicted government statements about the Vietnam War remains for many an icon of truth-telling four decades later.
"The man has lived a life of great courage and great patriotism," said Alan Horn, 60, of Sebastopol.
Horn was among about 120 people at the community center Friday to meet Ellsberg and watch a screening of an Academy Award-nominated documentary about him, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers."
Ellsberg's leaking to the New York Times of a secret government history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and southeast Asia helped turn public opinion against the war. It also precipitated events that included a government-sanctioned break-in of his psychiatrist's office, which became part of the Watergate scandal that ended in President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.
"He spoke out and essentially helped end the war in Vietnam," said Eugenia Mackenzie, 78, of Santa Rosa.
"He is such a brave man, we need more people like him and Bradley Manning to speak out," she said, referring to the U.S. soldier facing a court martial for allegedly leaking thousands of confidential government documents to Wikileaks.
On Friday, handouts supporting Manning and posters calling for him to be freed provided a backdrop as Ellsberg chatted, signed autographs and plugged his books.
The Kensington resident earns his living as a lecturer and author, a career he fell into after his actions made him a virtual pariah in government and academic circles, he said.
"Nixon made me notorious enough that I've been able to make a living as a lecturer," he said, "fortunately."
The crowd was overwhelmingly older, and among them were some still trying to understand the times that they, and Ellsberg, had come from.
"Having lived through those years, I'm still trying to figure out what it was all about, 40 years later," said Gary Holm, 65, of Forestville, as he waited for the film to start.
But several rows back, a group of teenagers also awaited the film and the chance to hear Ellsberg.
"We're just very interested in world events," said Veeder Provost, 15, of Sebastopol.
"And politics," added Mirandi Dallas-Fuge, 15.
"Daniel Ellsberg was the predecessor of Wikileaks," said her twin brother, Forrest Dallas-Fuge, referring to the embattled website that publishes confidential documents submitted to it by anonymous sources.
"Only his job was way harder because he didn't have the Internet," Dallas-Fuge added.
In an interview, Ellsberg pointed out that, "I couldn't have done what I did prior to the Xerox age."
And, he agreed, "I couldn't have done what Wikileaks has done. For that you need digital."
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.