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The Ghost of Elections Past

Los Angeles, summer of ’72: a crowd of anti-establishment types gathered outside of the Wilshire Boulevard offices of CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, to hear Jane Fonda speak on the upcoming election. Mainly, this was pretty much a garden variety event for that era; “Nixon sucks,” “end the war now,” and “legalize pot” were the agenda of the day. The crowd was polite, but not overly enthusiastic.

The police were there in full force; obviously having anticipated a much larger crowd. Eventually they got restless and started busting heads. The next day they would tell the Times and the Herald Examiner that the crowd had become disruptive, which was a big lie.

The cops destroyed any evidence that disproved their story, however. A young photographer from the FREEP (the Los Angeles Free Press) was taking shots of a group of cops ganging-up on a young dude, beating him with billy-clubs as he sat on the asphalt trying to deflect the blows. Suddenly a lawman noticed the photographer, pointed at him and shouted at his buddies to “get him!” He was beaten to a pulp and his camera was destroyed in the process. The photographer was charged with resisting arrest.


Several month’s earlier I found myself at the Student Union on the UB campus in Buffalo, New York. I’d taken the bus down from Toronto after spending six months or so hanging-out with the hippies at Yorkville Square and Rochdale College.

In those days, the Student Union at any practically any college campus was a beehive of activity. Back packs and duffel bags were scattered everywhere and, in addition to students, you would always be sure to find vets who’d just returned home from ‘Nam and traveling nomads like myself. We were all united in our opposition to Nixon and the war.

I told the scruffy guy at the information counter that I was looking for a place to crash and he made an announcement over the PA system for me. A few minutes later, I was met by a couple of John Lennon wannabes and a young female student who told me that I was welcome to stay on the couch at their off-campus pad.

I spent about a month with them before moving-on to LA. We spent much of our time plotting the peaceful overthrow of Nixon.


The 1972 Republican National Convention was originally scheduled to be held in San Diego, California. Fearing an encore of the events at the Democrat convention in Chicago four years earlier, the Nixon administration decided to bend over backwards to be accommodating to the protesters, who were expected to arrive in droves to protest “Nixon’s war.”

Since most of the protesters would be hippies who wouldn’t have cash for hotels and would need a place to crash, an island, accessible by a single bridge, was set-aside as a place for them to camp. This seemed agreeable to all, and an uneasy truce developed between the antiwar folks, who promised to play nice and try to avoid the violence that had plagued Chicago, and the cops.

However, in April two men entered the offices of the Los Angeles Free Press with an amazing story. They claimed to be federal agents who had just quit their jobs because they couldn’t, in good conscience, continue. They said that the Nixon administration was planning on introducing agent provocateurs into the antiwar crowd to incite a riot.

Plans were under way, they said, to seal the protesters on their island and that Nixon would use the riots as an excuse to declare Marshall Law and to cancel the elections. This was before the Dems has nominated George McGovern, so Nixon did not yet know he had nothing to worry about.

The FREEP ran the story on their front page, admitting that they couldn’t prove that the two men actually were ex-federal agents or that the Nixon administration actually had any such plans in the works. However, a few weeks after the story appeared, just three months before the planned convention, the Republicans suddenly pulled-out of San Diego and moved their convention to Miami, which was already slated to hold the Democratic convention that year.


By the time the November election rolled around I was back in Toronto. It was no surprise to anyone that Nixon won the election by one of the widest margins in history. Just like now, most Americans were not yet fed-up with war and dirty tricks.

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