Levitate the Pentagon Oct 1967

I drove down to Washington D.C (from New Jersey) in late October 1967 with two high school friends: Wanda and Joel.

The turnpike down to Washington was a sight: the big multi-island gas stations were so jammed with cars and busses it took almost an hour to get gas at one point. People were hitch-hiking along the highway carrying signs waving yelling singing passing joints and playing guitars. The demonstration had already started by the time we traveled a few miles south of Philadelphia.

....that's me in the photo below. In the black and white checked jacket
That's me
We stayed at somebody's apartment in DC that night, somebody my friend Joel knew. They were a young white couple living in a bad ghost-cars neighborhood in the city. They didn't seem to worry about it much. They left the door to their apartment wide open all night. They didn't have anything to lose and they seemed to know everyone else on the tenement floor.

The next day we wandered over across the mall to the Lincoln Memorial where we heard some black panthers talk about how "All you honkies gonna get a taste of the same head-cracking black people had been living with for years"....and how "Vietnam was a white people's war no black man wanted any part of." We moved on from the Lincoln Memorial going with the flow of bodies across the Potomac to the vast parking lots surrounding the Pentagon. I'd never seen so many people before. We pushed our way through the crowds to the end of an oval-driveway that led up to a north-facing entrance to the Pentagon. The driveway was roped off.

We saw a gay man step over a rope that marked the boundary of the legal demonstration area and run towards a group of US Marshals. The gay man threw his hands up in the air (releasing his grip on a large floppy peace sign) and ran forward with his arms outstretched and waving as if he was about to leap off a water fall. He was quickly pushed to the ground hand cuffed and led away.

Someone yelled "Hey that's Norman Mailer!" I looked across the grassy knoll again and saw a bolder square-shouldered man marching toward the US Marshall's. This guy radiated confidence and determination. He held out his arm like a fullback straight-arming a Rose-Bowl linebacker on new year's day. He was wearing a dark pin-striped suit like a leftist banker on his way into battle. The Marshall's didn't push him to the ground but they did hand cuff him quickly and led him off. I was carrying a 35mm Honeywell Pentax with standard 50mm lens. I clicked a few shots of Norman Mailer getting arrested but I was too far away to get an interesting shot so I kept my trigger finger at least a little under control.

I saw a hand reach out in front of me--with a pocket knife outstretched. The hand and blade began to surreptitiously saw away at a rope stantion at the entrance to the forbidden front entrance to the Pentagon. I took my lens-cap off and fired off a few closeup shots of the knife and hand.

Then I heard a loud voice say "This is bullshit!" Another hand reached out and pushed the rope stantion over. A sudden rush of bodies surged across the now missing rope line--flowing like a broken dam spilling uphill toward the main entrance to the Pentagon. I tucked my camera under my arm and ran as fast as I could. I felt my foot come down hard on a running ankle. I heard a voice cry out in pain. I looked back and saw a young long-haired guy falling into a fetal position as hundreds of running legs swarmed over him like stampeding cattle. I didn't stop to help him even though it had been me who had stepped on his ankle. Instead I ran even faster.

I ran up the steps of the Pentagon and got to the front door before anyone else. I was the first one there. The doors were huge dark hardwood slabs with slightly elaborate raised panels. They must have been 4' wide and 9' tall. Both of the doors I found myself in front of had large round non-turning knobs near the center of the door. I grabbed one with both hands and stepped backwards pulling hard enough to open the huge door.

Three or four long-hairs ran past me through the open door into the Pentagon itself only come flying back out like bleeding unconscious ping pong balls a 1/2 a second later.

A swarm of US Marshals and worried-looking soldiers quickly squirted back out the same door. I struggled with a US Marshall who was trying to force me to the ground. We both stumbled and almost fell, me backwards and him forwards down the steps. A soldier in front of me looked scared to death. I looked back over my shoulder. I saw a sea of brown hair...tens of thousands of moving undulating hairy heads stretching all the way back across the pentagon parking lots across the river and back to the Lincoln memorial. What a sight. That sea of hair I will never forget.

Someone from our side yelled on a bullhorn. Everybody sat down and calmed down pretty quickly. Another competing bullhorn told us we were were congregating in an illegal area. No one moved. There must have been a thousand demonstrators up on the semi-circular approach to the front of the Pentagon beyond the rope markers at the edges of the legal demonstration area. There were scattered moments of yelling and excitement. A contingent of green-painted hippies from Haight-Ashbury carried signs smoked reefer and talked about levitating the Pentagon. Some of them were clearly tripping.

I saw a uniformed soldier carrying what looked like a World War II flame thrower. But he was spraying some kind of tear gas rather than flames. He was down below the raised driveway trying to keep any more of the eager masses from gaining access to the forbidden driveway. A few days later I was surprised to see the NY Times reported only the demonstrators had used tear gas and "not the authorities."

I watched a young man shoving flower stems into the barrel of a soldier's rifle near the steps at the east end of the entrance. The soldiers seemed to enjoy the spectacle. They smiled and frowned mugging playfully for the photographers. I must have fired off a dozen 35mm frames. These would be good photos I was sure of it.

Television cameras showed up pretty quickly. It was late in the day and gradually growing dark. They set up banks of television lights. Someone yelled "there's McNamara." I looked up to the second floor window everybody was pointing to. His face and dark slicked-back hair were unmistakable. I pulled out my wallet found my draft card and reached out to someone's lighter. There must have been several dozen burning draft cards at that moment.

Eventually it got quite dark. The television crews packed up their bright lights and moved out. Within a half an hour or so--as soon as the TV cameras were completely gone--things got busy again. A solder started pressing his rifle butt down hard on the top of my head. Suddenly the whole line of soldiers surged forward. Heads were cracking. People were yelling. I wanted to protect my camera. One guy had his night stick around my throat with his knee in the middle of my back. Another had his night stick jammed behind my knee while pushing forward on my foot. Another was wacking me on my side yelling at me to stop resisting.

They hand cuffed us and put us in paddy wagons several floors below ground level. They marched us out of the paddy wagons one-by-one to take Polaroid photos of us and to write down minimal who-are-you information. I saw them hold up several bodies by the hair on unconscious heads for photos.

They took us to an aging minimum security prison near Occoquan Virginia. There must have been 1000 of us crammed into two large detention rooms. I remember watching Norman Mailer patrolling the crowd trying to dominate every conversation at once. His purpose seemed not so much to say anything in particular but only to make it clear he was the guy in charge.

The following morning when they fed us a breakfast of stale donuts carton milk and soggy cereal I sat down by chance at table of four with some anonymous blonde longhair myself Norman Mailer and Tuli Kupferberg (who was I think the song writer for a New York City jug band called the Fugs). I tried to take part in the conversation. Tuli Kupferberg looked at me once or twice with an annoyed look as if to say "Ok say your piece and get it over with." But Norman Mailer wouldn't even look at me.

Later that morning most of us agreed en mass to plead nolo contendre (no contest) to charges of "Attempting to break through the line." The judge gave us 24 hours to get out of town. Anybody brought back to his attention after 24 hours wouldn't leave town for several months he warned.

I had no money. My wallet had been lost in the chaos. They did give my camera back but I never did see any of my film again. I'll bet they did develop it. It's probably sitting in a folder somewhere 4 or 5 floors below ground level at the Pentagon.

I walked toward what looked like the highway and started hitch hiking. I noticed a slightly crumpled newspaper in the gutter. On what looked like the the front page of an inner section of the Washington Star were two large tight-upper-torso photos over the wrap-up story on the demonstration. One photo was the famous photo of the flower child pushing flowers into the rifle barrel. The other photo like Dr Jeckle and Mr Hyde was of me in a white and black checked jacket snarling and fist fighting with a US Marshal.

When I got home about 12 hours later my father who was the dean of the Graduate school at Princeton then already knew the whole story. He had been awakened at 1:00 in the morning the night of the mass arrests by Mr Kopliner--the campus proctor--who had a caller from Washington on another line. The caller wanted to know if it was the dean of the Graduate School at Princeton who was in jail in Virginia or if it was his son (of the same name).

Although computer technology was in its infancy in those days we (my father and I) quickly concluded a computer-related name list had made that phone call possible. How else could they have picked my name out of a list of nearly a thousand and made that call in the middle of the night....only and hour or two after my arrest?

Had J. Edgar Hoover and Army intelligence indexed every college dean in the USA? This one (my dad) was clearly on a computerised list of some kind. But maybe not every college dean. A few months earlier in an attempt to calm down some agitated Princeton University graduate students my father had said "No graduate student who goes to jail following his conscience would be denied re-entry to Princeton." i

The following morning the graduate school was mobbed by TV crews and reporters who wanted to talk to the dean who "Recommended dodging the draft." So if he wasn't already on J. Edgar Hoover's Cointelpro dangerous domestic subversives list already he was by then.

Post Script Oct 2013

I just Googled some dates. In the story above I mentioned Dean Colin S. Pittendrigh advising students about jail issues of conscience and re-entry to Princeton. That happened in 1968 a year after I got arrested on the steps of the Pentagon. So maybe J. Edgar Hoover did index every college dean in the country. Hoover was ahead of his time?

Post Script 2016

In the story above I mentioned breakfast with Tuli Kupferberg, Norman Mailer, myself and an anonymous blonde longhair. But he wasn't so anonymous. I ran into him about five years later in Menlo Park. He was a disfunctional car mechanic part time dope dealer and cousin of Judith Quarnstrom/Corcoran, aka Space Daisy. What a small world. A few hours after that breakfast--while we were waiting for an afternoon court date--two guys broke a window (it was minimum security) and tried to escape. Those two ended up in a DC City jail for 30 days it turns out. I know that because one of them was Judith's cousin, who was the other guy at the breakfast table. I paid him some money to rebuild an engine for me at one point, and that's when we both figured out we'd had that breakfast together five years earlier. In jail. I did get the engine back but it wasn't rebuilt. I ended up doing that myself.

Post Post Script 2017

I'm retired. About ten years ago I worked as a programmer in a neurocience lab. My boss John invited an oil and gas billionaire up from Aspen one weekend. We wined and dined him for a few days. I took him fishing on a private spring creek. John was fishing for an endowment for the lab. The billionaire, with a name unrelated but similar to the founder of Playboy Enterprises, brought a contingent of rich friends with him for the weekend. One was an attractive sixtyish woman from San Diego who maintained a bit of a snotty, holier-than-thou attitude toward me as the weeekend's wining and dining progressed. Eventually she opened up. "My father was in Army Intelligence," she said. "I remember your name. I remember your father's name. My father investigated your father for security clearance, because of (your father's) membership on the Nasa Space Science board."

Ok. Investigating for security clearance makes sense. But this woman made it clear her father tracked and followed mine for a decade or more. There is a lot of this going on and there always has been. Snowden got all upset because he thought something new was going on. But it's been this way forever. FISA warrants and the like are only needed if they want to use their surveillance information as evidence in court--if for some reason they expect to be public about their normally secret snooping. Being public about it is the rare exception rather than the rule. Secret surveillance is secret. Everywhere. All the time. Then now and in the Bladerunner future.