Kent State University Massacre - 4 May 1970
Dr. Glenn Frank, Professor of Geology, Kent State University, was a hero on 4 May 1970.
Four students lay dead and nine others wounded following 13 seconds of rifle fire by Ohio National Guardsmen (ONG). Hundreds of students stood in shock and bewilderment on the KSU campus Commons and in surrounding parking lots that day.
Dr. Frank knew he had to do something to try to de-escalate the situation or the Guard would likely advance again on the defenseless, unarmed students and unleash another volley of death. So he and a few other faculty colleagues ferreted out the Kent State University administration and ONG Brig. Gen Robert Canterbury and begged for permission to talk with the students.
Then Dr. Frank pleaded with the students, saying, “…even if you've never listened to anyone in your whole lives… please listen now. Please disperse… because otherwise there will be another massacre…”
Because of Dr. Frank's efforts no one else died that day and the students left the Commons and the university safe from gunfire but unprepared to deal with the aftermath of the murders they had witnessed.
Ohio Gov. Rhodes and ONG Gen. Del Corso Fan the Flames
KSU was in chaos on 4 May 1970, because Ohio Gov. James Rhodes came to campus the day before. In a press conference he unleashed a tirade against the students, calling them “worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes … They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America, he continued. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.”
Then he stated that he would get a court injunction banning future protests and left the impression that something like martial law had been declared. Then he departed the KSU campus.
Rhodes actually did neither. But, the Guardsmen and their officers, the university administration and the student protesters did not know that. Rhodes did accomplish inciting Guardsmen and the general public against the students and muddling the "chain of command" so that no one really knew who was in charge.
That night, Sunday, 3 May, students confronted Guardsmen demanding that the Guard leave their campus. Several students taunted the Guard and were bayoneted.
The previous Friday, 1 May, KSU students and students at other universities, such as Yale, protested President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the expansion of the war in Vietnam. That night, KSU antiwar student leaders moved their protests from campus into the nearby downtown Kent bar area where students and local townspeople faced off – renewing past confrontations, albeit with a new excuse to tussle.
The confrontations got uglier than normal on 2 May. That’s when Kent mayor Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency and called Gov. Rhodes for state assistance. Rhodes ordered the ONG to Kent.
It was also on 2 May that ONG Adjutant General Sylvester Del Corso issued a prescient foreshadowing statement that "sniper fire would be met by gunfire from his men". After the massacre, Maj. Gen. Del Corso and his subordinates repeatedly declared that sniper fire had triggered the fusillade. (1.)
Who Set Fire to the Old ROTC Building?
As the Guardsmen arrived on the evening of 2 May they found the old, boarded up Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) building on the Kent State University in flames. It is unclear who set the building on fire. It may have been anti-war protesters, but it also could have been someone seeking to have the protesters blamed. “Fortunately” Kent State officials had already emptied the old wooden building and were planning to raze it.
Protesters were celebrating the building's destruction as firefighters arrived. The protesters, who included both students and non-students, jeered the firefighters and even sliced the hoses that the firefighters were using to extinguish the flames. The Guard reestablished order using tear gas and bayonets.
From eyewitness accounts, the burning of the ROTC building at Kent State was completed by undercover law enforcement determined to make sure it could become the symbol needed to support the Kent State war on student protest.
FBI Undercover Informant and Provocateur
Unlike the 60s and 70s, we now know through several Freedom of Information Act disclosures that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered infiltration of and outright compromising of a multitude of organizations and groups which he deemed “subversive”. Among them were: antiwar organizations and student organizations, such as Students for a Democratic Society, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panthers, American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Christian Leadership Conference labor unions, civil rights organizations, and many, many others.
In fact, from photos and film evidence and even FBI pay records, we know for certain that FBI undercover informant / provocateur Terry Norman was on the payroll and active at KSU during the antiwar protests using the cover of a photographer.
“According to Dr. Elaine Wellin, an eyewitness to the many events at Kent State leading up to and including May 4th, there were uniformed and plainclothes officers potentially involved in managing the burning of the ROTC building. Wellin was in close proximity to the building just prior to the burning and saw a person with a walkie-talkie about three feet from her telling someone on the other end of the communication that they should not send down the fire truck as the ROTC building was not on fire yet.” (2.)
Blunder After Blunder
What followed is now known as one of the biggest series of blunders ever committed by the United States military: egregious failures of preparation, communication, leadership, equipment and tactics.
The next day, Monday, 4 May 1970, student antiwar protesters went ahead with a planned 12 noon antiwar rally on the campus Commons. The protest had been planned the previous Friday. KSU administrators said that they told the protest leaders to cancel the rally but word didn’t get out to the student population. Also, classes were not cancelled and KSU administrators told students to go to class, just like any other day, even though the Guard remained on campus.
Seeing the scheduled peace rally about to begin, the highest ranking Guard officer on campus, Brig. Gen Canterbury, ordered the students to immediately leave the area. When they did not respond, Gen. Canterbury ordered tear gas fired toward the students. Then while a multitude of "non-rally-participating" students were going to classes or just enjoying the warm spring day on the Commons, Gen. Canterbury ordered his troops to “lock and load” their M1 rifles (with live ammunition) and advance to disperse the students, most of whom were more than 300 feet away.
The Guardsmen Were Ordered to Fire
To this day no one knows who ordered the Guard to fire on the students. For years the Guardsmen, ONG officers and the State of Ohio maintained that no one ordered the troops to fire. Then in May 2010, a tape recording surfaced proving that the order to fire was given.
"John Mangels, science writer at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, commissioned forensic evidence expert Stuart Allen to professionally analyze a tape recording made from a Kent State student’s dormitory window ledge on May 4, 1970, forever capturing the crowd and battle sounds from before, during, and after the fusillade."(See video below.)
"The cassette tape—provided to Mangels by the Yale University Library, Kent State Collection, and housed all these years in a box of evidence admitted into lawsuits led by attorney Joseph Kelner in his representation of the Kent State victims—was called the 'Strubbe tape' after Terry Strubbe, the student who made the recording by placing a microphone attached to a personal recorder on his dormitory window ledge. This tape surfaced when Alan Canfora, a student protester wounded at Kent State, and researcher Bob Johnson dug through Yale library’s collection and found a CD copy of the tape recording from the day of the shootings. Paying ten dollars for a duplicate, Canfora then listened to it and immediately knew he probably held the only recording that might provide proof of an order to shoot. Three years after the tape was found, the Cleveland Plain Dealer commendably hired two qualified forensic audio scientists to examine the tape."
"But it is really the two pieces of groundbreaking evidence Allen uncovered that illuminate and provide a completely new perspective into the Kent State massacre."
"First, Allen heard and verified the Kent State command-to-fire spoken at noon on 4 May 1970. The command-to-fire has been a point of contention, with authorities stating under oath and to media for more than forty years that 'no order to fire was given at Kent State,' that 'the Guard felt under attack from the students,' and that 'the Guard reacted to sniper fire.' Yet Allen’s verified forensic evidence of the Kent State command-to-fire directly conflicts with guardsmen testimony that they acted in self-defense."
"The government claim—that guardsmen were under attack at the time of the ONG barrage of bullets—has long been suspect, as there is nothing in photographic or video records to support the 'under attack' excuse. Rather, from more than a football field away, the Kent State student protesters swore, raised their middle fingers, and threw pebbles and stones and empty tear gas canisters, mostly as a response to their campus being turned into a battlefield with over 2,000 troops and military equipment strewn across the Kent State University campus."
"The other major piece of Kent State evidence identified in Allen’s analysis was the 'sound of sniper fire' recorded on the tape. These sounds point to Terry Norman, FBI informant and provocateur, who was believed to have fired his low-caliber pistol four times, just seventy seconds before the command-to-fire." (3.)
"Mangels wrote in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, 'Norman was photographing protesters that day for the FBI and carried a loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Model . . . five-shot revolver in a holster under his coat for protection. Though he denied discharging his pistol, he previously has been accused of triggering the Guard shootings by firing to warn away angry demonstrators, which the soldiers mistook for sniper fire."
"Video footage and still photography have recorded the minutes following the 'sound of sniper fire,' showing Terry Norman sprinting across the Kent State commons, meeting up with Kent Police and the ONG. In this visual evidence, Norman immediately yet casually hands off his pistol to authorities and the recipients of the pistol show no surprise as Norman hands them his gun."
Nixon Promulgates Alleged Student Protester Sniper Fire “Alternative Fact”
"Yet the Kent State 'sound of sniper fire' remains key, according to White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, who noted President Richard Nixon’s reaction to Kent State in the Oval Office on May 4, 1970:
'Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman told him [of the killings] late in the afternoon. But at two o’clock Haldeman jotted on his ever-present legal pad 'keep P. filled in on Kent State.' In his daily journal Haldeman expanded on the President’s reaction: 'He very disturbed. Afraid his decision set it off . . . then kept after me all day for more facts. Hoping rioters had provoked the shootings—but no real evidence that they did.' Even after he had left for the day, Nixon called Haldeman back and among others issued one ringing command: 'need to get out story of sniper.'" (4.)
It has taken 46 years to arrive at this understanding of what happened on 4 May 1970 at Kent State University. We still do not know who ordered the Guardsmen to fire their weapons that day.
This We Do Know
1. After promising that he would end the Vietnam War, President Nixon expanded it and invaded Cambodia. When protests erupted on college and high school campuses across the nation, he branded student protesters as “bums” and accused students of “blowing up campuses”. His Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew, chimed in calling universities “circus tents or psychiatric centers for over-privileged, and under-disciplined, irresponsible children of the well-to-do blasé permissivists.” Then without proof – he claimed a student sniper shot at the Guardsmen and continued laying full blame on student protesters for creating violence at KSU. He then further obfuscated the facts and used KSU as a rallying point in support of his political agenda.
2. J. Edgar Hoover orchestrated and carried out a vicious, relentless campaign against Americans of all flavors whom he deemed undesirable, including the KSU student protesters.
3. Ohio Gov. Rhodes ordered the Ohio National Guard to the City of Kent and Kent State University, incited them against the students, left the KSU campus in a leadership muddled, did not obtain an injunction stopping further campus protests / closing the campus, nor declare martial law as he said he would do.
4. ONG Maj. Gen. Sylvester Del Corso, sent his ill-equipped troops to Kent (the Guard did not have nor were they trained with nonlethal weapons - only M1 rifles and bayonets), incited his troops to fire and bayonet the students, and personally “baited” student protesters and returned thrown rocks at them.
5. ONG Brig. Gen Canterbury ordered his troops to load their weapons with live ammunition, move on the students, even though the overwhelming majority were not participating in the 4 May noon peace rally, forced the students back into the fenced in practice football field thus trapping his own troops with no clear escape path, then ordering them back up the nearby hill where they were ordered to “turn, point and fire” at the students, murdering four and wounding nine others.
6. As recently as April 2012, in spite of the new evidence - the tape, photos and film - the federal government still refuses to reopen the cold case murders of Jeffrey Glenn Miller, Allison B. Krause, William Knox Schroeder, and Sandra Lee Scheuer.
Why the Kent State Massacre Matters Today
In the Trumpian era of “alternative facts” and demagoguery we are ever slipping and sliding deeper and deeper into our own Fascist-American quicksand where our leaders mislead, confuse issues and make up “facts” to feed their narcissistic addiction and never-sated power and wealth appetite.
Kent State offers one more jarring lesson for us here, as well, built on a foundation of innocent blood. It is one which the KSU administration displayed for all to see and hear, if only we had eyes to see and ears to hear (a wish I fervently make for Dan Adamini, disgraced former Marquette County Republican Party secretary and "conservative" radio commentator). That is their decision not to accept sculptor George Segal’s, In Memory of May 4, 1970: Kent State - Abraham and Isaac.
Segal’s sculpture is a contemporary version of Abraham and Isaac “in an allegory for the May 4, 1970, tragedy at Kent State University. A poignant visualization of humankind's struggle between ideology and paternal love, it mirrors the conflict that led to the death of four students at the hands of the Ohio National Guard.”
In other words Segal is mirroring our willingness to sacrifice our own children to our gods, whoever or whatever they are. I fear many will continue the practice, cheerfully following the whims of our current president.
After commissioning it in 1977, Kent State refused the sculpture in 1979, saying that it “depicted violence”.
It is now on display outside of the Princeton University Chapel as part of the John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Collection, funded by a partial gift of the Mildred Andrews Fund.
Please go here for Paul Keane’s* illuminating and thought provoking words about Segal’s Abraham and Isaac.
*Paul D. Keane, Teacher, M.A. (1972, Kent State University), M.Div. (Divinity School, Yale University) and M.Ed. recently passed. He taught English at Whitcomb High School and Hartford High School, Connecticut.
The Day the 60s Died
KSU Rare Audio Recording from May 4th 1970 - 12:24pm
1. "Inexcusable": Investigating Kent State, Kainah, Daily Kos, 5 June 2006, See:
AkronBeacon Journal newspaper investigative report, May 24, 1970.
2.The Project Censored Show on The Morning Mix, “May 4th and the Kent State Shootings in the 42nd Year,” Pacifica Radio, KPFA, 94.1FM, May 4, 2012 live at 8:00 a.m., archived online at VmP. For Wellin on ROTC, see recording at 28:45.
3. Kent State tape indicates altercation and pistol fire preceded National Guard shootings, John Mangels, 8 Oct 2010, The Plain Dealer.
4.Uncovering the Kent State Cover-Up, Laurel Krause and Mickey Huff, counterpunch.org, 27 Sept 2012.
5. Akron Beacon Journal Pulitzer Prize reporting, Kent State University, 4 May 1970.
6. Kent and Jackson State, Susie Erenrich