What We Know About Jane Fonda's Arrest Record

In addition to being an Academy-Award winning actress, Jane Fonda is also a committed activist. She's so committed, in fact, that she's been arrested a total of six times for reasons related to her political work. Fonda's first arrest occurred in 1970, according to her website. At the time, Fonda was traveling around the country speaking out against the Vietnam War. Specifically, she was working with Vietnam Veterans Against the War to encourage returning soldiers to participate in the Winter Soldier Investigation, which would expose atrocities carried out by the U.S. in Vietnam. Her anti-war stance didn't make her very popular with the administration of President Richard Nixon, according to The Washington Post. Unbeknownst to Fonda, the CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency had all been keeping tabs on her. 

Things came to a head for Fonda in November of 1970. She was flying to Cleveland, Ohio, after delivering the first speech of her tour in Canada, according to her website. At the airport, authorities confiscated and searched her luggage. "They discovered a large bag containing little plastic envelopes marked (in red nail polish) 'B', 'L', 'D' — signifying breakfast, lunch and dinner — that contained the vitamins I took with each meal," Fonda recalled. Mistaking her vitamins for illegal drugs, two FBI agents locked Fonda in a room for three hours, according to The Washington Post. Fonda tried to force her way past one of her guards to use the bathroom and was arrested for assaulting an officer and drug smuggling. 

Mug shot seen 'round the world

The two officers handcuffed Jane Fonda and brought her to Cleveland's Cuyahoga County Jail, according to The Washington Post. Fonda spent 10 hours in her cell before being released on bonds of around $5,500. During her time in jail, Fonda posed for a mugshot with a raised fist and the uneven bangs she wore for the movie "Klute." "I was brought from jail in handcuffs past a phalanx of TV cameras and photographers," Fonda wrote in her memoir "My Life So Far" (via The Washington Post.) "As my hands are slender and double-jointed, I easily slipped out of one handcuff and threw a 'power to the people' fist in the air, much to the chagrin of the guards." The image became an iconic symbol of the feminist movement, telling women "you can be something different than what society has told you you can be," Fordham University women's 'history profesor Kirsten Swinth told The Washington Post. Women around the copy began to copy Fonda's "Klute" haircut.

Fonda later learned that her arrest had been ordered by the White House. She speculated on her website that perhaps the Nixon administration hoped the scandal surrounding her arrest would derail her tour. If so, that strategy backfire. "The irony was that as a result of all the bruhaha over this, the college audiences for my speeches were never less than 2,000 and sometimes as large as 10,000," she wrote. Eventually, the vitamins were tested and the charges dropped. 

Fire Drill Fridays

Jane Fonda managed to stay out of jail for nearly 50 years. Then, in the fall of 2019, she moved to Washington, D.C., to bring attention to another timely cause: the climate crisis. Fonda's plan was to leverage the success of her Netflix series "Grace and Frankie" to draw attention to the issue and demand that politicians take action by launching something called Fire Drill Fridays. "I'm going to take my body, which is kind of famous and popular right now because of the [television] series and I'm going to go to D.C. and I'm going to have a rally every Friday," she told The Washington Post

The name Fire Drill Fridays was inspired by teenage activist Greta Thunberg's statement that, when it comes to climate change, we should act like "our house is on fire," according to cause's website. The central demands of the demonstrations were for the federal government to stop drilling for fossil fuels on public lands and to ensure a just transition to renewable energy within 30 years, so that oil-and-gas workers could find alternative, well-paying jobs, Fonda told the Los Angeles Times. As part of her awareness-raising, Fonda planned to get arrested at every Friday demonstration for 14 Fridays, she told The Washington Post. She would achieve this by standing with a sign on the steps of the Capitol building and disobeying three orders from Capitol Police to cease and desist. 

Fonda's second arrest

Jane Fonda accomplished her goal during her first Fire Drill Friday demonstration. She and 15 other people were arrested October 11, 2019 for protesting illegally on the Capitol's East Front, People reported. In her 2020 memoir "What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action," she recalled the experience of how it felt to be arrested for the second time in her life and the first time on purpose (via Marie Claire). "This time was different," she wrote. "I stood chanting on the steps of the Capitol, energized. I was doing what I had wanted: putting my body on the line and aligning myself fully, body and spirit, with my values. I felt empowered."

Fonda and her fellow activists were handcuffed with plastic zip ties and taken to a police station for processing by van. At the station, all of their belongings were seized and placed in plastic bags. "Given what we were committing civil disobedience for, the extensive use of plastic was glaring," she observed. Fonda spent around four hours in a cell with the other women she had been arrested with before she was fingerprinted and released after paying a $50 fine. As she left, a Fox News reporter asked her why she had been arrested. "To get you to cover climate," she answered. 

A second night in jail

For the next four Fridays in a row, Jane Fonda continued to get arrested at the Capitol for civil disobedience, dragging a different celebrity friend to jail with her each time. On October 18, she was joined by her "Grace and Frankie" co-star Sam Waterston, as USA Today reported. The next week, October 25, Ted Danson joined her in plastic cuffs, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The October 25 arrest was also notable because Fonda accepted the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for excellence in film from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in the midst of it, as Time reported.  "I'm sorry I'm not there. But as you may have heard I've been getting arrested," she said in a video shared at the ceremony (via YouTube).

Fonda's fourth Fire Drill Friday arrest took place alongside actresses Rosanna Arquette and Catherine Keener on November 1, 2019, as USA Today reported. For Fonda, however, this arrest was different. During her third arrest, she had been given a court date in November, she told The Hollywood Reporter. Because she was arrested again before that date, the police kept her overnight for a total of 20 hours. It was Fonda's second night in jail in her life, and she noticed a major difference. "When I was overnight in jail in Cleveland ... it was all white, and now it's all Black — it's called the new Jim Crow," she told The Washington Post, "And that makes me sad."

Final arrest and legacy

Jane Fonda did not end up risking arrest for all 14 of the Fire Drill Friday demonstrations. She told The Hollywood Reporter that, if she was arrested after being given three warnings, she would be held for 90 days, which would interfere with getting ready for "Grace and Frankie" in January. The Fire Drill Friday organizers also agreed it was best to keep Fonda out of jail so that she could regularly lead the demonstrations, according to Deadline. Therefore, Fonda's fifth and final arrest came December 20, 2019, the day before her 82nd birthday. The crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to her as she was being led away, The Washington Post reported.

After Fonda's Fire Drill Friday's concluded in the nation's Capitol in January of 2020, the actress brought the tradition with her when she returned to Los Angeles, holding a demonstration at LA City Hall February 7, 2020, according to Los Angeles Magazine. Just like her 1970 mugshot, Fonda's D.C. arrests left behind an iconic look. For every protest, Fonda had donned the same red Neiman Marcus coat and, sometimes, a black beret, according to Mashable. The coat, beret, and handcuffs even became a Halloween costume during 2019, she told The Hollywood Reporter. Fonda bought the coat for $500 because the Fire Drill Fridays team decided everyone should wear red, and she didn't own red clothing. Fonda, who is trying to reduce her consumption, said it was the last piece of clothing she would ever buy.