Special Collections and Archives

CHAPTER FOUR: THE BURNING QUESTION

Special Collections and Archives

CHAPTER FOUR: THE BURNING QUESTION

Return to the Charles A. Thomas Papers (KSU May 4 Collection)

 

Blood of Isaac
an e-book by Charles A. Thomas

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR: THE BURNING QUESTION

 

          Even as the forces of law and order in Columbus and Kent gave up trying to engage their elusive foe, a hundred thousand American and South Vietnamese armored and airmobile troops closed their massive pincers on COSVN, the communist central command for all Southeast Asia, in Cambodia.   “We think we have them in the bag,” the commanding general told the reporters, “In a day or two, we’ll reach inside the bag and see what we have…   that’s where our intelligence locates COSVN.”339    “[O]ne Nixon aide” gloated to a reporter, “Just wait till you see pictures of COSVN in the papers next week.”340   Two young aides to Senator Fulbright decided to see for themselves.   Dick Moose and Jim Lowenstein got a briefing by MACV in Saigon and then drove into Cambodia.   There one of the commanders told them, “We’ve got them in the bottle; all we’ve got to do is put the stopper in.”   “It was all pure bullshit,” in Moose’s assessment, “If Lowenstein and I knew the attack was coming, you can be goddam sure the NVA knew they were coming.”341

            The communists had indeed slipped the clubbing, telegraphed haymaker and let the blow fall where it always did in the Southeast Asian War: on the peasant and his family.   The saturation bombing that preceded the attack was but the groom leading the rider on the dark horse.    For the first time in its history, famine would come to Cambodia, the rice bowl of Asia, “since so many peasants had fled the combat areas, and were huddled unproductively in and around the towns…  Also, because of the bombardments – first the [Cambodian] government planes and later the American B-52s – the rice paddies could not be properly cultivated.”342   Meanwhile the bombing and the armored thrust drove the communist forces inland, to collide with a Cambodian army preparing to meet them in a dangerously fatuous mood, variously compared to “a Boy Scout troop going off on a jamboree” or “something out of ‘Catch-22’ or ‘Laugh-In’,” while their teenaged girlfriends, wearing come-hither parodies on military uniforms, cheered them on.343

            At 3:00 a.m., on the killing field-to-be across the world, a Kent State Military Science instructor (ROTC professor) was awakened by a phone call warning that the ROTC building on campus was going to be destroyed.344   He went back to bed.   Threats against the despised, ramshackle World War II-era “temporary” building were familiar campus fare.   But this time, if only in token fashion, the “shack” had already been attacked.  Student Michael Weekly had broken one of its windows because he was “pissed” about the invasion of Cambodia.345   (The broken window became the subject of an elaborate investigation by the campus police, as documented in the University archives.)   The administration immediately sought and obtained an injunction against Weekly and five hundred “John Does” (persons to be named after the fact) prohibiting further damage to the school’s property.

 

 

            The White House perceived itself under attack as well that morning.   When Haig learned that William Beecher of the New York Times was preparing a story on the plan to resume heavy bombing of North Vietnam, he called FBI White House liaison to demand wiretaps on Beecher and three of his suspected sources.   “For the first time, Haig asked that the taps be put on the office as well as the home of each man… Richard Nixon had in effect, despite the First Amendment to the Constitution, wiretapped the New York Times.346   Although it was a Saturday, the President kept Haldeman on the phone continuously from 9:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.   “Never even hung up between phone calls.”   Haldeman passed the pressure on to the staff.   Even when Nixon finally told everyone to “go home & relax”, Haldeman refused “I said no – not now that we’ve got things rolling.  He was pleased.”347   The order of the day was “Adverse Reaction – counteract”.   “VP warned may be new wave of dissent…  Turn campus story around… time for Goldwater, Reagan, inflammatory types to attack Senate doves – for knife in the back, disloyalty, lack of patriotism.”348

            There was a Republican in Ohio who also felt a desperate need to “attack” his enemies.   According to secret polls taken by his own campaign organization, Governor James Rhodes trailed Rep. Robert A. Taft, Jr., his rival for the GOP Senate nomination, 44% to 43%, with 13% undecided.349   Despite a $ 300,000 taxpayer-funded public relations machine he maintained to idealize his image,350 Rhodes could not but choke every time Taft mentioned the “integrity” issue (“My father [the late Senator Robert A. Taft] was known as “Mr. Integrity.”351   His irritability on the subject had been heightened by a Life magazine expose about his commutation of the life sentence of Mafia capo Thomas (Yonnie) Licavoli.   The piece had remarked the coincidence in the way the widely-known-of quarter of a million dollars in a “spring Yonnie” fund had been tapped at about the same time Rhodes had found himself in difficulties with the Internal Revenue Service.352

            On Saturday, May 2nd, Rhodes and Taft met in the last of four televised debates at the Cleveland City Club.  Neither man had mentioned the war in Southeast Asia or campus unrest in the third such encounter, a week before in Cincinnati.353   But now Rhodes attacked Taft for “coddling” students and having a “soft attitude on campus violence.”   He promised that if he, Rhodes, were elected, he would enforce an all-out crackdown on such “anarchy”.354  Taft asked Rhodes why he had sent in the National Guard at Ohio State/Columbus after he had said that they wouldn’t be needed.   “What is wrong with the wonderful world of Ohio when you have to send troops onto a campus amid a pall of tear gas?”    Couldn’t due process of law served better than official violence?   “Getting a court injunction is all well and good,” Rhodes snapped back, “except that they are usually ignored.   By the time you obtain one, buildings could be destroyed.”355

 

 

            Should the outsiders from Columbus and Washington push for confrontation now, there was no one left at Kent State in a position to resist.   President Robert White had left town.   Vice President Ronald Roskens was also absent.   Louis Harris, the Provost – the school’s “town marshal”, officially designated to take over when White was unavailable – was out sick.   That left only Robert Matson, the head of the Student Affairs “police state” – whose apparatwas fully informed of the disturbance downtown by dawn356 -- and Richard Dunn, Vice President for Business and Finance.   And when Lt. Barnette talked to Matson at eleven that morning, Matson was “visibly” surprised that anyone was considering bringing in the Guard. 357

            His surprise was logical.   Town and campus were quiet, the latter half-deserted as usual on a weekend.   The University had one of the largest and best-equipped college police departments in the country.   And the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the occasional antics of its undercover men aside, was known for its professionalism in crowd control situations.  In fact, campus security director Chester Williams told each of the five “crisis control” meetings that day that the Highway Patrol could deal with any situation that might arise.358   The atmosphere was so inert that virtually the only current that could disturb it was that which the KGB referred to as desinformatsiya, immeasurably polished by its American opposite number.   “You wouldn’t believe the type of intelligence that kept pouring into City Hall,” Lt. Barnette said.359  As noted above, SDS and Weathermen were being “positively identified” on every street corner.   “There were plans to burn down the city of Kent.   Special targets were to be the banks, the post office, the campus ROTC building.   LSD would be placed in the water supply.”360  But if Barnette were skeptical of the rumors, he made no mention of it in the “war councils” the authorities held all day.   He merely kept repeating that if the locals wanted the Guard to come in, he would have to know by five that evening  -- and if Guard did enter Kent, it would take charge of both the town and the campus.

            Perhaps the only rumors that would be borne out concerned the ROTC building.   One of the resident directors told his superior that it was “common knowledge” that the building would burn that evening.(1, 11, 1237)  One of his campus informers told town police chief Roy Thompson the same thing, and added that if the arson were successful, the Army recruiting station and the post office would be torched next.361   ROTC cadets securing their weapons there after returning from the “high-velocity range” at 3:15 p.m. heard a passerby shout in through the window, “[t]his would be a good place for you and your men to be tonight, because it is going to burn!” (4, 2, npn.)   One of the Military Science professors noted that he had heard such threats before, but that “on this occasion, thought it wise to take several personal items home that evening.” (4, 6, 101)   Captain Terry Klinger dropped by long enough to remove his radio and his camera.362

            Faculty ombudsman Harold Kitner thought it wise to start recruiting faculty marshals.   Jackie Stewart, the Honors College graduate assistant who had circulated the leaflets for the May Day noon rally, was one of the first.   Then Steve Sharoff showed up.   The dialogue between these two men was as oblique and shaded as any between Raskolnikov and his police inspector, mirroring no absence of respect or affinity, but rather the paranoia that had settled over the land.  Kitner asked Sharoff if he had been downtown the previous evening.   Sharoff evaded the question while wondering who had fingered him to the ombudsman.  Kitner asked Sharoff what he thought would happen after dark.   Sharoff thought he knew exactly what would happen, but ducked the question again, and wandered off into a diffuse discussion of the tensions ROTC evoked on campus.   The only question he did wind up answering was with, yes, he too would act as a faculty marshal.363

            At 5:00 p.m., the local authorities had their final meeting.   Williams recalled it as “a very disorganized one, with apparent confusion from City officials concerning the need for the services of the National Guard.”364   Chief Thompson stated that he had heard rumors that the ROTC building was to be burned, but not before stunning those present by announcing that “his office had received information during the day that the town was to be burned.”365   Lt. Barnette reminded all that if the Guard were required, he must know now.  Satrom turned to Williams and asked him if his campus police could reinforce the city police that evening, since the country sheriff had suddenly reneged on his promise to help.  Williams said no, he needed all his men on campus.   Satrom got up and left the room with Barnette to call John McElroy – who apparently had the power to send in the Guard (see above). (2, 33, 40; Williams’ statement).    The university was not informed of these decisions.”366

            At 5:35 p.m., the 1/145th Infantry troops policing the wildcat Teamsters’ strike were ordered to stand down and await a new assignment.   Twenty-one minutes later, all passes were cancelled.367   The After-Action Report states that this order was given at four, two hours earlier than the radio log records it.   It further states that the Guard was ordered in because the “City’s police force was fully committed in trying to control a rioting group of students from Kent State University” and that as of 1820 hours (6:20 p.m.), two to three hundred students carrying “all types of weapons including guns” had surrounded the heating plant and the ROTC building.368  This was sheer fantasy.

            Two troops of the 107th Armored Cavalry Regiment were added to the 1/145thto bring it up to strength.   It was an addition which was to make a catastrophic difference.  

            As the sun dipped toward the horizon, Allison Krause made an accustomed Saturday evening phone call to her parents in Pittsburgh.   She had already condemned the unknowns who had trashed North Water Street to her boyfriend Barry Levine.  “She knew the students were uptight about Cambodia, but she couldn’t see any justification for taking it out on the businessmen in town.”369  Now she told her father that the vandals were “horrible” and “idiotic”, but added that sometimes when people are called “bums”, they act that way.   Arthur Krause was nervous.   He had watched a convoy of non-striking truck drivers with their National Guard escort pull into the yard of his plant that day.   The militiamen struck him as tired and jumpy.   “They’re probably frightened and nervous,” he told Allison, “so keep out of trouble and stay away from them.”   “Dad, there’s no National Guard here.”   “Yeah, but I know a little bit about Jim Rhodes.   He calls them out at any excuse.   So be careful.”370

            At seven the faculty marshals gathered around Glenn Frank, a popular geology professor, to receive their blue armbands.   An unidentified professor told Frank that Sharoff shouldn’t get one, that he had been behind the trouble downtown and “similar type activities”.   When Frank asked Sharoff about this, the latter replied that he had been on Water Street, but only to “observe and maintain order”.   Frank gave him an armband. (4, 4, 377)

 

 

            As darkness enfolded the Kent State campus, it also descended on the anti-climax at Yale.   The original scenario – radicals trying to rescue the Black Panthers, police fending them off – was dead because the Panthers had become irrelevant.     Speaking at a rally for them that morning, Tom Hayden felt the crowd slipping away from, as they started to chant, “Strike!  Strike!  Strike! – “371  But even the strike could not kindle New Haven.   The youthful pilgrims had been leaving town “quietly in chartered buses”.   Trouble flared briefly in the evening, as a mysterious fire broke out in a storefront information center called the New Politics.   A platoon of National Guard ran up the steps of the Superior Court Building and took up positions as if to defend it from further arson.   “Within the crowd some youths muttered that the fire was the work of ‘pig provocateurs’.”372

 

 

            At 7:45 p.m., KSU police chief Schwartzmiller received a report that “long hairs” were picking up rocks and heading for the ROTC building.   He ordered his uniformed police to pick up riot gear.373  Some of the students were collecting on the Commons.   That they did owed as much to the Mayor’s eight o’clock curfew on the downtown area as anything else.   “If it hadn’t been for the curfew, I think everyone would have gone his own way.  As it was, they started crowding up on the campus.”374  There had been loose talk of a rally, but someone hadn’t followed through.   “There was supposed to be a speaker; but there was none.” (7, 20)  “There was no apparent student organization and it appeared ‘leadership’ went to the loudest mouth.” (5, 1, 270).   Some talked of  marching downtown to test the curfew.   But memories of the authorities’ brutal response the night before rendered the impulse far from unanimous.   In response to the universal question, “What shall we do?”, some shouted, “Let’s go to the dorms!” (6, 1, 34).  The logical impulse was to head for Tri-Towers, (6, 1, 57)  the high-rise dormitory complex where the administration was staging hopeful diversions like a dance with a live band.

            Of course what some present wanted to do was burn the ROTC building.   But be they radicals or provocateurs, they knew that it was still too light out to proceed with such a course without risking recognition.   A march of the dorms might pick up adherents and would kill time until the gloom was deep enough to bathe all in anonymity.375  “[T]his was a spontaneous and unorganized march”(5, 1, 64)  which nonetheless picked up hundreds of adherents on the way to Tri-Towers and back.   On the return march, someone started pulling fire alarms.   The Kent Fire Department did not respond, and would not, for an inexplicably protracted interval.   And this was not because it was the weekend.   Against all usage, the department was on full alert that Saturday evening.  “[O]ur chief knew --  he had heard the week before – they were going to burn the ROTC building.”376

            The marchers reissued onto the Commons under the cloak of night.   “KSU P.D. officer indicated it was too dark for them to identify unsubs {unknown subjects] at the time of the fire.” (4, 1, loose teletype).   The vanguard surged over the saddle by Taylor Hall and swooped down onto the Commons at a dead run, some letting out the “Yippie yell”.  Professor Frank thought he was under attack by Hollywood Indians. 

 

                        And they kind of marched down to the ROTC Building and they kind of, you know, stood there and yelled and things, and nothing happened, you know, nobody was there or anything, so they kind of half-heartedly threw a couple of rocks at it, not even the windows, but just at the building,  and nobody came still, and so gradually they became braver.377

 

 

                        [A] hardcore group of 20 to 25 persons moved in and threw rocks at the ROTC Building.  Then they moved back quickly, apparently waiting for a response from the police.   There were none. (4, 4, 387)

 

 

                        All the time, we were expecting for the police to come or something, you know, to arrest the kids or something.   But there were none anywhere.378

 

 

            In fact the police were everywhere.   Tom Dickerson saw a formation of twenty uniformed campus officers in full riot gear hanging back on the far side of the building379-- the contingent Schwartzmiller had mobilized at 7:40.   He (or another ranking campus officer; the name is blacked out in the FBI Report) justified this studied inaction with the comment, “we were observing”. (6, 1, 22)   Professor Frank, moving to the north end of the building, also saw “a group of campus policemen located directly across from him, none of which tried to stop the students from smashing the windows in the ROTC building.” (4, nvn, 378).   The town police had two twelve-man team in the area380-- despite the Mayor’s insistence to White just a few hours before that he would need every man downtown – most in plainclothes and unmarked cars.381

            The failure of the police to intervene when every logic and all precedent said they should invoked an appropriate sense of paranoia in the most perceptive of the faculty marshals:

 

 

                        As I thought about it at the time, that it was a trap.   Those people on the roofs of the buildings taking pictures knew that the ROTC Building was a target and they thought it was a delightful way of getting evidence against these people.   And they were the ones who were not there.   The political people, the most political students on campus, weren’t anywhere in the crowd…

            A railroad flare was thrown near the building.   In my paranoid state, I assumed that it was probably being done by the cops to get better light for their pictures…

                        Nobody tried to stop it.   Which is, you know, all the more implication that it was another one of their futile, stupid little traps…  [A]gain, I thought, ‘Oh, Jesus, is this ever a trap!’382

 

 

            It was a trap set for the most inept predator in the student bestiary.   For an hour and a half, no one molested the people in the crowd who tried to set fire to the building.   When they evoked no reaction with the barrage of stones, they pried the screens loose and broke the windows, then set fire to the curtains.   The curtains flared up and burned, the crowd applauded – and the wispy ashes dropped to the floor inside.   Some person or persons threw one or more railroad flares onto the roof, at the building, and/or in the windows, “and then these individuals allegedly got on their motorcycles and left.” (5, 1, 68)    Others threw gasoline-soaked rags inside.  “They must have tried 10 or 15 times to set the building on fire and they couldn’t.”383   The length of time it took the firemen to respond excited no less suspicion than the extraordinary dereliction of the police.   One disgusted conservative present concluded that “the school authorities were content to sacrifice an old building to appease the militant dissidents.” (5, 1, 338)    A witness with a different perspective feared that “the University might have had the building burned themselves as a method for getting rid of dissenters.” (6, 2, 613)

            While the would-be incendiaries botched every expedient they could think of in these ninety minutes or so, events began to overrun themselves.   The Guard convoy had left out of Akron at 2030 hours (8:30 p.m.),384  although this notation was lined out later in the Duty Officer’s log.   By nine they had been on the road to Kent for thirty minutes.   If the destruction of the building was to be the pretext for bringing them onto the campus, it would be awkward if they arrived with it still unscathed.    The fire trucks might have been coming from Akron as well, but they finally did arrive.   “The building was just smoldering at that point and there were no flames.” (5, 1, 232)   “When the firemen started arriving the fire seemed to go out.” (7, 33-34. The reader is reminded that the seventh segment consists of only a single volume.)   “The fire seemed to be out at this point inasmuch as he saw only smoke.” (6, 1, 35)   Nonetheless they hooked up a hose(s) and one of them dragged the nozzle end toward the west end of the building.   Four or five persons emerged from the crowd and attacked him.   A faculty marshal “ran around to the fire truck and saw two sheriff’s deputies in a police cruiser and told them that a fireman was being beaten, and they did not react at all to his statement.” (5, 1, 413)  The attackers and/or others dragged the hose out onto the Commons.   Witnesses saw water spurting from it and concluded that it had been cut, although one thought the lawn sprinklers had gone off.

            The firemen withdrew shortly after they had arrived.    “The fire truck seemed to have put out the fire and they left.” (5, 2, 702)   But according to White, they were ordered to leave “and return to the fire station lest the fire equipment to serve the city be damaged.” (6, 1, 33)   KCFD (Kent City Fire Department) fireman Colin Beekler recalled that “it was pretty well knocked down.  And this is where we had orders to leave.”   His comrade Richard Workman stated those orders came from “the second shift police sergeant at the command post.385   As the firemen departed and with the building still unburned, the two squads of university police finally moved in firing tear gas, and dispersed the crowd.  Part of it drifted onto the Commons, where someone set fire to an athletic equipment shed. (5, 1, 424 – includes the report of the KSPD on the fire, 5/3/70).    The others wandered off in the direction of the downtown area.   The police “concentrated on forming a ring outside of the parking lot area of the ROTC  building on the east side of the ROTC building and apparently left the front of the ROTC building on the southwest side completely unprotected.” (7, 16.  EMPHASIS ADDED.)   That was the side where the fumbling arson attempts had been concentrated.          

 As the area was being vacated, faculty marshal Denny Cooke looked in one of the windows and saw a faint glow, perhaps the residue of one of the failed incendiary missiles.   Satisfied that the building was in no danger, he and the other marshals pursued the people who were moving in the direction of the Prentice Gate, hoping to dissuade them from going downtown to test the curfew.    They overtook them right on the edge of the campus, but didn’t have to do any dissuading.   “[A]ll of a sudden we hear this strange kind of rumbling and we turned around and here comes the Guard.”386    “Right in the jeeps as they were coming in you could see them fixing their bayonets and you could see the gleam of the bayonets.”387   Bayonets were not the worst of it.   As the armored convoy halted at Lincoln and Main, Denny Cooke saw the soldiers dismounting from the vehicles load clips of .30 caliber ball ammunition into their M-1 rifles.   (The Garand M-1 rifle is a gas-operated semi-automatic weapon with an effective  range of two miles.)

            The Guardsmen formed into a skirmish line and drove the crowd back from the Gate with their rifle butts.   As it gave way, some of them shouted, “Let’s burn ROTC!” (4, 9, 15)   Cooke joined the mass climb of the steep slope that rises from the campus border to the aptly-named Hilltop Drive, his gaze drawn by the reddish glow suffusing the night sky beyond its horizon.   When he reached the crest, he was dumbfounded to look down on an ROTC building ablaze from one end to the other, flames leaping fifty feet into the blackness.  The same impression occurred to everyone who had originally come from the building.   “[T]he building was burning brightly.   He did not know how it came to be burning again.”(5, 2, 702)   “[T]he fire had again flared up although he did not witness anyone attempting to re-ignite it.” (5, 1, 397)   “[T]he ROTC building had suddenly burst into a ball of flame… [H]e did not think that the small  fires which he had last observed could have so quickly burned out of control.” (5, 1, 125).   “He assumed that when the main body of the crowd left the area of the ROTC building someone had either stayed back or returned and threw more incendiary devices into the building.” (6, 2, 11).

            They wanted to sit down on the grass atop the hill, bask in the glow of the fire, and applaud the spectacle.   But the Guard was right behind them, and the sight of the fire did nothing to arouse a calm, dispassionate approach to crowd control in its ranks.   “We were on the top of that hill when that fire was down there,” one of them told Ike Pappas of CBS News, “I never was so scared in my life.”388   “The sky was all lit up,” a sergeant later recalled, “It was like something out of ‘Gone With the Wind’, with Atlanta burning.”389   The soldiers drove the crowd back down the reverse slope of the hill, past the burning building, and out of the Commons area beyond.   It was just the beginning of a brutal sweep that would scour the entire campus.    Such was the expertise with which this second fire was set that the building burned up completely and collapsed in on itself before the pursuit had passed.

            As Jackie Stewart followed the fugitives around Merrill Hall, she encountered two of them beating up a third.   They told her their victim was an informer.   “Just get the fuck out of here and leave him alone,” she ordered, and they vanished into the night.   She ran into Ken Calkins, another marshal, and the two of them sought out the rest of the group, which was discussing what to do next. The rifle butt strokes some of them had absorbed at the Prentice Gate had suggested to some of them that the Guardsmen didn’t know what their blue armbands signified, or didn’t care.  Hoping it was the former, they decided to send a delegation to the invaders to open up lines of communication.  “Some sexist” insisted Steward be part of  it because she was a woman.   She and Calkins groped through the darkness, she waving a white handkerchief, until they heard someone shout, “Stop or we’ll shoot!”   They kept walking toward it, calling out that they only wanted to talk.   A formation of soldiers, the front rank kneeling in a firing position, took shape in front of them.    I won’t get shot, she thought, I’ll get stabbed.   Her eyes focused on the face of a pathetically young trooper and she realized he was more terrified than she was.    Then the face faded as the two marshals started backpedaling away from the formation, toward the other marshals.   They had no sooner rejoined them than the Guard fired tear gas into their midst, punctuating the role of the faculty marshals for the night.

 

 

            Student Primo Funari was walking past the Administration Building when the Guard arrested him.   Two of them fell out to escort him to jail downtown.   As they marched him past Kent Hall through an isolated area, a scuffle broke out; Funari would claim he didn’t know how it began.  He felt a rifle butt slam into his cheek before he wrestled the weapon away from its owner, then felt a stab of pain as a bayonet plunged into the back of his thigh.   He limped away, and the Guard made no effort to pursue.390    Elsewhere on its sweep, “the National Guard threw tear gas close to the dormitories and in one instance actually threw tear gas into one of the dormitory windows, forcing these kids back outside where the Guard chased them with clubs.” (5, 1, 126)   Posing as a reporter, one student approached General Sylvester del Corso, the state adjutant, and asked him to keep his men from gassing at least the two huge dorms Taylor Hall and Tri-Towers  (“Tri-Towers had been fixed up as a hospital-type center.”) (5, 1, 159)   As del Corso agreed, several rocks landed near them.   He picked one of them up and threw it at the nearest students, “indicating he could throw rocks if the students could.” (5, 2, 531).   A little later, he could be heard shouting at his men, “All right, get ‘em inside   I don’t care how!   Through the doors!  Through the glass!   Through the walls!   Any way.”   A sheriff’s deputy grabbed the ONG platoon leader by the uniform as his men advanced on students trapped against one of the dorms, screaming, “Oh, no!”   “When the guardsmen’s bayonets were less than five feet from the students, the platoon leader ordered his men to halt.”391

            That deputy would be sorely missed at the Prentice Gate the following evening.

 

 

            Unaware of the curfew, freshman Bobbi Moran and her fiancé had gone to the movies.   On their way back to the campus, they saw flames leaping into the air beyond Will’s Gym.   A passing student explained, “Those damn hippies are burning down the ROTC building.”   The two of them kept walking, through a cloud of what they thought was smoke.   It was tear gas.

 

                        I imagined my nostrils were spitting fire.   I had no air left in my lungs.   I tried to scream but couldn’t.   I felt close to death – at least closer to death than at any other time in my protected, warm, white Anglo-Saxon, Protestant life…  Lying there, gasping, in my grass-stained white Levis, I looked up to see a policeman standing over me.   He asked us if we were aware that we were breaking curfew.392

 

 

            It was the beginning of her coming of age in the new America.

 

 

            At eleven o’clock, Brigadier Robert Canterbury, the other Guard general on campus, advised headquarters in Fort Hayes that the “situation was under control in Kent.”393  His men had completely occupied the campus and driven the students indoors.   After meeting with him and del Corso, Mayor Satrom concluded, “It was my understanding at the time that they were in charge of the situation.”394     Meanwhile the battalion S-2, Captain Robert Thompson (“Captain Marvel”) briefed the other officers, telling them “there were definitely guns… present among the civilians.”395   The OSHP commander arrived on campus between 11:30 and midnight, and was immediately confronted with similar DI: “[D]uring the whole period of time of the disruptions at KSU the rumors were flowing hot and heavy…  that such and such a dorm was an armed camp and that there were snipers on the roofs of the various dormitories.” (6, 1, 336)  He had his men check each of them out.  Each was false.   That would make them no less lethal.

 

 

            But could it be, as the embers of the ROTC building cooled under the black predawn sky, that everyone had been satisfied in this fiery orgasm?   The university had gotten rid of a decrepit eyesore, a focus for student resentment and agitation, and hadn’t even had to pay a contractor to tear it down396 (the students were always crying for more parking spaces -- ).  The Military Science professors got to move into new office space and had another “war story” to tell at Happy Hour.   The governor had gotten an excuse to call out the National Guard which did not involve offending union voters, and to prove that he was tough on “hippies” and “anarchy”, maybe in time to pull out a primary victory on Tuesday.   If he could continue to parley the deed into a major causus belli, an excuse for an all-out crackdown on student protestors, he might still get back into the good graces of his President.   And the President had what he had been cheated of at Yale, a chance to confront and crush the academic antiwar movement.

            The students had also realized a major tactical victory, the reduction of an enemy beachhead in their supposedly sacred academic territory.   For that was what Reserve Officers Training had become by 1970, and had been becoming for a long time.   “If today the ROTC is being used as a stepping-stone for a fascist youth movement, the seeds of that development were planted long before.”   Thus the chronicler of the first – and now virtually forgotten – national student strike397 had assessed ROTC’s contribution to the cause of the American right between 1935 and 1970.   As early as 1925, Army counterintelligence chief Colonel James K. Reeves – whose service then as now was concerned more about domestic socialism than any credible foreign threat – pioneered the idea of turning reserve officer training programs, mandatory at all federal land grant colleges, into a fifth column on campus.  Reeves targeted those who protest against compulsory ROTC with surveillance, hostile propaganda, and the use of cadets as thugs to “rough up student activists in the 1930’s.”398   At some schools, secret cadet societies like the Pathfinders developed within the already elite Sword and Scabbard society whose primary mission was the multi-pronged attack on the campus left.399

            The anchoring prong was of course surveillance.  By 1970, each Military Science faculty on whatever campus was expected to contribute to the computerized files on American dissidents being maintained at Fort Holabird, Maryland.    At that point, “Army Intelligence maintained over 350 records centers on civilian political activity, ranging from a few file drawers of dossiers and photographs at field units to second-generation IBM computers at headquarters.400  There were more Army/CI specialists assigned to monitoring the thoughts and deeds of their fellow citizens than “to any counterintelligence operation in the world, including Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War   [T]he army conducted a de facto war against all citizen protest, legitimate and illegitimate, violent and peaceful, black and white.”401   The feeling of many students that ROTC were the invading redcoats and that the dissidents were the patriots may not seem far-fetched in this light.   But while the students had a legitimate motive for the arson, they lacked opportunity.   The authorities had given them every opportunity to burn the building and they had proven unequal to the task.

            Michener may have realized this – his own Digest researchers had told him as much – and yet of course needed to blame the students anyway.   He resorted to the implication that the students, manipulated by some shadowy outsiders – the SDS, Weathermen, and/or some cabal as yet unnamed – had done the deed.   This ducked the fact that the students had not been in the area when the arson had been committed, but this anomaly was lost in the verbiage.   His theory ran into difficulties during its first public expostulation, when he attempted to defend it on the Today television talk show on the first anniversary of the murders, to the skeptical audience of Mike Roberts and Joe Eszterhas (the authors of 13 Seconds) and investigative icon I.F. Stone.   As Roberts commented to Hugh Downs, their host,

 

                        Now I recall talking to police officers responsible for this investigation and listening to them talk about how this entire situation was developed and planned in Chicago, was manipulated and coordinated through a house at Kent State, and it sounded like a great story.   It sounded like a fantastic story.  It evaporated when we investigated.

 

 

Michener repeated that the masterminds were not “college students” and that he had gotten this “evidence” from the Ohio State Highway Patrol.   “Jim, we rejected entirely what the Ohio Highway Patrol told us after carefully checking it out,” Joe Eszterhas replied, “So evidently did the FBI Report and the President’s Commission.”402

            The irony of this extended exchange, which wound up with Michener shouting at the other guests, is that, all unwitting, he may have been right – or as right as he could get.   After a decade of being misquoted on the subject, Dr. Glenn Frank set the record straight about his read on the vicious young men he saw interfering with the firemen that night:

 

                        As an ex-Marine, as a former Boy Scout, as a flag-waver defending my country, I hesitate to even contemplate the possibility that my own government might have been involved in this.   But before that sounds like too radical an approach, then you have to look at the Dirty Tricks group and the Plumbers and all the other groups that were initiated by our government.403

  

 

            After ten years of investigating and reviewing hundreds of depositions and other documents generated by the 1975 trial, author Peter Davies tended to agree.

 

                        [T]he ROTC fire on May 2 was the work of agents provocateurs.   Acting on behalf of the Justice Department’s Internal Security Division, in conjunction with the intelligence community, whose domestic covert operations had become President Nixon’s secret weapon in his campaign to silence dissent, these provocateurs set the stage for the show of force that was to come two days later.404

 

 

Aside for providing the immediate pretext for the killings two days later, the arson further “the government’s strategy for destroying the movement… [by] swelling the movement’s reputation for violence.”405

            The FBI has provided the best indication of the subject’s sensitivity by investing an enormous effort in investigating the arson and then going to equally heroic lengths to keep its “burn report” from being released.    This would be logical if the real perpetrators turned out to be government agents, possibly even the FBI’s own.   There was precedent.   As one contract agent told a documentary filmmaker in 1971, “The FBI agent… told me to burn the buildings… so that the state troopers could have an excuse to come on the campus and crush… the rebellion on campus.”406   In subsequent Congressional probes into FBI outlawry, one ex-contract agent admitted that he briefed and provided the materials for an antiwar group to break into a Camden, New Jersey draft office; another joined his comrades in a right-wing paramilitary group in firebombings, vandalism, and burglarly in the San Diego area.407    About the same time as the Kent ROTC fire, an FBI agent in Alabama “committed arson and other violence that police used as a reason for declaring that university students were unlawfully assembled.”   This was one in a series of “firebombings, burglaries, and shootings, all with the knowledge of the government agencies responsible – in most cases the FBI, although one right-wing terrorist in Chicago claims that his group was financed and directed in part by the CIA.”408

            The reference to the CIA relieves a certain awkward feeling, like that of party-goers who have been killing time while the guest of honor is inexplicably delayed.   Given the swathes of lawless violence “the Agency” had cut across the world by then, the author approached it in 1977, citing the Freedom of Information Act and asking for its reports on Kent State University or any reference to May 4 1970, however small, in its files.   The Agency responded that it had never had and did not have any domestic operations and therefore could not have any records relating to Kent State.  (The response of the Defense Intelligence Agency was less brazen and more ingenious.   They would be happy to search their files for references, if the requester would furnish the coded file heading s/he was interested in.)

            In fact spying on American citizens has been the primary interest of the CIA since its inception.    In the early days, its Clandestine Service maintained bases in principal US cities, in tandem with the Office of Security, which reported separately to headquarters in Langley, Virginia.   From the beginning, both worked intimately with “several large corporations”.409   In 1964, the birth year of the antiwar movement, a new Domestic Operations Division was created, which operated just like any area division overseas410 -- i.e., treated the United States like any other foreign country.  “Its domestic operatives act just like operatives overseas would act.”411  Following the urban riots of 1967, the Office of Security recruited blacks in the District of Columbia to penetrate “black activist groups”; the program was turned over to the D.C. police once they were capable of running it on their own.412

            That same year, Ramparts magazine published an expose of the CIA’s massive penetration of the National Student Organization.  The Agency’s response, aside from the reflex of opening dossiers on everyone connected with the magazine, was to form a new Special Operations Group to shift the focus of domestic surveillance from black power to the academic antiwar movement.   “Every branch of the intelligence community was called upon to submit whatever information it had on the peace movement to Special Operations Group.”413  CI chief James Angelton ordered SOG, “the deep snow section”, to “search for communist connections to domestic disorder.”414   Like the FBI under a similar mandate, it was able to find none.   SOG was to be “free of the normal processes of review and approval of its records, finances, and methodology…. [T]he pressure on the operation was enormous, and the cables and computers hummed.”415   “[T]he Operation recruited persons from domestic dissident groups or recruited others and instructed them to associate with such groups in this country.”416

            In July 1968, after President Lyndon Johnson had been forced to renounce a second term – by the peace movement, Nixon was certain – parallel organizations within the Agency were directed to funnel their New Left reports into a single channel under the code heading Operation CHAOS, which would be supported by the HYDRA data banks on American dissidents.   “The information in the HYDRA computer system was compartmented into several layers of increasing sensitivity and correspondingly more restricted access”417

 Despite the effort to unify its resources, the Agency added a new Domestic Contacts Service in October 1969, to collect information on black militants, radical groups, the underground press, antiwar groups, and deserter/draft resister counselors and clients.   DCS recruited current and former FBI informers and contract agents, 418 whether despite or because of their reputation for violent acts.  At about the same time, CIA also added “Project 2”, which enlisted “individuals without existing dissident affiliation” to “acquire the theory and jargon and make acquaintances in the ‘New Left’ while attending school in the United States”, a process known as “reddening” or “sheep dipping”.419  The new Attorney General, John Mitchell, got DCI Richard Helms to agree on July 25, 1969 to share information with his new domestic surveillanceapparat the Civil Disturbance Group and “the military intelligence departments”.   In exchange, Justice turned over its annotated files on ten to twelve thousand US dissidents to CHAOS.420

            CHAOS was housed in a “vaulted basement area” under security measures that “were extreme even by normally strict CIA standards”.  CHAOS now had supreme authority over “the radical milieu”.   Agents received two to three weeks of retraining before being assigned there.  “[S]uch training was to be carried out with ‘extreme caution’ and the number of people who knew of the training was to be kept ‘at an absolute minimum’.”   Helms now passed down the extraordinary order that the activities of CHAOS would be kept secret even “to the Counterintelligence Chief.”421

            Would such a mega-apparat be capable of paying a motorcycle gang to stage a modest disturbance, starting the rumor that the SDS had been behind it, and then burning down a ramshackle wooden building on a campus whose police force had been told not to interfere?    ( And, having done as much, would it then stop at engineering the murder of a few students?  these men who had deposed and executed heads of state?)    Could they not come to the aid of a President who – aside from controlling their funding – was already paranoid about their loyalty to him?   Couldn’t they hear in his haunted dread of the student hordes the cry of another head of state wailing to his knights, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

            To reiterate – James Michener may have been unwittingly telling the truth when he wrote, “There is substantial evidence that mature leaders, not necessarily enrolled at the university, engineered this riot and quarterbacked the burning of the building.”422   But because the CIA has unilaterally exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act, as well as all the other laws relating to access to federal records, it is evidence that he did never saw – and that, until the Agency is forced to obey the law, no one outside it ever will.

 

 

            In 1978, Robert Stamps was awakened by a post-midnight phone call from an individual identifying himself as a former DIA agent.  The caller claimed that at ten o’clock on the morning of May 4, 1970, he and his fellow undercover agents had assembled at Perkins’ Pancake House across from the Prentice Gate.   The briefing officer informed them that, after President Nixon had been told of the ROTC fire, he had called Governor Rhodes and demanded that he “make a goddam good example of someone” at Kent State.

            The governor was on a plane to Kent the following morning.



339  Terence Smith, “Allied Forces Move on Foe’s Base in Fishhook Area,” New York Times, May 2, 1970, front page and p. 3.

340  “Mr. Nixon’s Home Front,” Newsweek, May 18, 1970.

341   Randall Bennett Woods, Fulbright: A Biography.  (Cambridge; University Press, 1995), p. 563.

342   Fr. Francois Ponchaud, Cambodia: Year Zero. (New York; Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1977), pp. 58-59.

343  Peter R. Kann, “People of Cambodia, Land’s Forlorn Armyh, Remain Serene in War,” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 1970, front page and p. 2.

344  FBI Report, 4, Section 6, p. 99.  I was allowed to see the portions of the “arson report” two and a half years after my initial request, during most of which time the FBI denied a separate report on the subject existed.

345  Ibid., p. 64.

346  David Wise, The American Police State: The Government Against the People.  (New York; Random House, 1976), p. 67.

347  Haldeman (J), 5/2/70, p. 33.

348  Haldeman (N), 5/2/70, “phone – CD [Camp David]”.

349  Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, “Rhodes Is Running Scared”, (column), Akron Beacon-Journal, April 15, 1970, p. A6.

 

351  “Politics: The Patrician and the Pol,” Newsweek, May 4, 1970, p. 30

352   Denny Walsh, “The Governor and the Mobster,” Life, May 2, 1970, pp. 28-32A.

353   Joe Rice, “Taft Blasts Away at Rhodes Gap,”Akron Beacon-Journal, April 28, 1970, p. A6.

354   Donald Janson, “Rhodes Urges Law and Order, Says Taft is Soft on Violence,” Akron Beacon-Journal, May 3, 1970, p. 21.

355   Joe Rice, “Off Camera, The GOP’s Sluggers Shake Hands,” Akron Beacon-Journal, May 3, 1970, p. A7.  EMPHASIS ADDED.

356   Phillip K. Tompkins and Elaine Vanden Bout Anderson, Communications Crisis at Kent State. (New York; Gordon & Breach Science Publications, 1971), p. 15.

357  Joe Eszterhas and Michael D. Roberts, 13 Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State.  (New York; Dodd, Mead & Co., 1970), p. 73.  This is a more substantial version of the edition put out by College Notes and Texts soon after the confrontation.

358  220-CU-KST, Witness File, Box 92, Folder: “Williams, Chester”, undated statement to George Warren.  Warren, a recently active Army counterintelligence officer planted on the Commission’s staff, rarely dated the statements he took.

359  Michener, “Kent State: Book File”, Box 44, undated interview with (former) Lt. Charles Barnette.

360  Eszterhas and Roberts, pp. 74-75.

361  Michener, “Kent State: Book File,” Box 40, Draft III-M.

362  Ibid., Draft III-N.  Professor Bob Dyal of the Philosophy Department told me that it was common knowledge on campus that the Army had removed everything of value from the building by sunset.

363  220-CU-KST, Witness File, Box 92; Folder: “Sharoff, Steven”, statement to Steve Friedman, August 3, 1970.

364  After-Action Report; Williams’ statement.

365  220-CU-KST, Witness File, Box 92, Folder: “Thompson, Roy”, statement to Kenneth McIntyre, August 5, 1970.

366  Tompkins and Anderson, p. 22.  EMPHASIS IN ORIGINAL.

367  220-CU-KST, Box 90, radio log, Headquarters Company (HHC), 1/145th Infantry, 2 May 1970.  Below, radio log, HHC, 1/145.

368  After-Action Report, pp. 2 & 3.

369  As related by Barry Levine in “Behind the headlines with a witness from Kent State,” Seventeen magazine, August 1970.

370  As related by Arthur Krause to Thomas Gallagher in “The Tragedy at Kent State”,  Good Housekeeping, October 1970.

371  Tom Hayden, Reunion: A Memoir.  (New York; Random House, 1988), p. 417.

372  Homer Bigart, “New Haven Rally Ends a Day Early; Attendance Down,” New York Times, May 3, 1970, front page and p. 40.

373  220-CU-KST, Witness File, Box 92; Folder: “Schwartzmiller, Donald,” statement to Kenneth McIntyre, August 7, 1970.

374  Knight Report, p. A18.

375  The events of the evening and night of May 2, 1970 not referenced elsewhere were recreated in a group interview arranged by Robert Stamps, lasting several hours, with all the survivors of the incident still in Kent who could be assembled on short notice, in the living room of  Sociology professor Thomas Lough, October 1978.

376  Testimony of Kent fireman David A. Hemling in Ohio v. Rupe; released to me by the ACLU along with the depositions and the Guard After-Action Report and now in the university archives.  Hemling’s line of testimony was halted by an objection from the prosecution. EMPHASIS ADDED.

377  220-CU-KST, Witness File, Box 92, Folder: “Woodring, James”, statement to Lloyd Ziff, August 5, 1970.

378  Ibid., Folder: “Stamps, Robert,” undated statement to George Warren.

379  Ibid., Box 91, Folder: “Morgan, Craig Allen,” statement to Terry Baker, August 5, 1970.  Dickerson was Morgan’s roommate.

380  Ibid. Staff Working Papers, Box 94, Folder: “Interoffice Memos”, draft chronology by George Warren.

381  Ibid., Box 93, Folder: “Bass, Buddy”, statement by William Bernier to Urban Bass, August 12, 1970.

382  Ibid., Folder: “Stewart, Jacqueline,” statement to Lloyd Ziff, August 6, 1970 – considerably augmented by a long telephone interview with Jackie Stewart Beverly in the summer of 1978.

383  220-CU-KST, Woodring’s statement.

384  After-Action Report, p. 4.

385  Grant and Hill, interviews with Beekler and Workman, pp. 42-43 and 44-45 resp.

386  220-CU-KST, Stewart’s statement.

387  Ibid.,  Sharoff’s statement.

388  “A Generation Gap,” in Walter Cronkite, Eye on the World (New York; Cowles Publishing Co., 1971), p. 210.

389  Furlong, “The guardsmen’s view,” p. 68.

390  FBI Report, 2, 39, 161.  Eszterhas and Roberts wrote of a “twenty-one year old senior” who was gashed in the cheek and stabbed in the leg.  But he stated that the Guard “picked me up and pushed me into the dorm”, so this must reference a second incident.

391 Eszterhas and Roberts, p. 86.

392  Moran, “For Someone Who Was There,” p. 4A

393  220-CU-KST, radio log, AG (adjutant general), 2 May 1970.

394  Ibid., Witness file, Satrom’s statement.  EMPHASIS IN ORIGINAL.

395  ACLU; depositions; Captain James Ronald Snyder.

396  Michener, “Kent State: Book File,” Box 40, Draft III-N-5.

397  James Weschler, Revolt on the Campus.  (Seattle/London; University of Washington, 1935), pp. 128-129.  “I say fascism because it possessed all the incipient characteristics of that credo – repression of minorities, forcible cracking down on the anti-war movement, the rise of hysterical jingoism, and, above all, an unwavering defense of the existing order.” (p. 197)

398  Dr. Joan Jensen, Army Surveillance in America. (New Haven/London; Yale University Press), pp. 201, 242-3.

399  Weschler, p. 188.  See especially Chapter Six, “Students in Uniform”, pp. 287-347.

400  Christopher Pyle, Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics, 1967-1970. (New York/London; Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986), p. 258.

401  Halperin et. al., pp. 156-157.  EMPHASIS ADDED.

402  Davies, Peter; Personal Papers (Reel One); Yale University Archives/May 4th Collection; transcript of NBC News Todayprogram, May 4, 1971.

403  Sharon Sayler, “13 Seconds On May 4, 1970 May Never Be Explained,” in “Kent State 10 Years Later”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 3, 1970, p. 4A.

404  Peter Davies, “The Burning Question: A Government Coverup?” in Scott Bills (ed.), Kent State/May 4th: Echoes Through a Decade (Kent, Ohio; Kent State University Press, 1982), p. 151.

405  Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. (Berkeley; University of California Press, 1980), p. 188.

406  Ungar, F.B.I., p. 469.

407  “National Security, Civil Liberties, and the Collection of Intelligence: A Report on the Huston Plan”, in U.S. Senate, 94thCongress, 2nd Session, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities: Book III; Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans.  (Washington, D.C.; U.S. Government Printing Office, April 23, 1976 ) – below, the Church Report, III; pp. 267-268.

408  Nelson Blackstock, COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom. (New York; Vintage Books/ Random House, 1976); from the introduction by Noam Chomsky, p. 11.

409  Peer de Silva, Sub Rosa: The CIA and the Uses of Intelligence.  (New York; Times Books, 1978), pp. 289-290.  In his three-hundred-plus-page book, de Silva sloughs over his Clandestine Service assignment in San Francisco in a page and a half, while making it clear that it was the most demoralizing point in his career.

410  Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary.  (New York; Stonehill Publishing, 1975), pp. 319-320, organizational chart VI, p. 361.

411  Michael Harrington, “The Problem and the Potential”, in Howard Frazier (ed.), Uncloaking the CIA.  (New York/London; The Free Press, 1978), p. 10.

412  Cord Meyer, Facing Reality: From World Federalism to the CIA.  (New York; Harper & Row, 1980), pp. 211-212.

413  [President’s] Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States, Report to the President. (New York; Manor Books, 1975), p. 133.  Familiarly known as the Rockefeller Report, for its chairman, millionaire and Republican politician Nelson Rockefeller.

414  Mark Riebling, Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and the CIA.  (New York; Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 265.

415  William Colby and Peter Forbath, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA.  (New York; Simon & Schuster, 1994), pp. 314-315.

416  Rockefeller Report, p. 131.

417  Church Report, III, pp. 694-696.

418  Riebling, p. 273.

419  Rockefeller Report, p. 138.

420  Ibid., pp. 119-121.

421  Ibid., pp. 136, 137, 145.

422  James Michener, Kent State: What Happened and Why.  (New York; Random House/Reader’s Digest, 1971), p. 224.