“Stop being juveniles,” a Lindsay aide, Donald Evans, admonished a construction worker. “What do you mean, being a juvenile?” he replied, punching Mr. Evans on the chin.
On May 8, 1970, New York mayor John Lindsay order that all flags on city buildings lowered to half staff, in memory of the students who’d died in the Kent State shootings four days earlier.
Construction workers at the World Trade Center building site got wind of the plan. When anti-war protester assembled at the George Washington statue on Wall Street that day — complete with Viet Cong flags — suits and hard hats joined forces against the hippies, in one of the weirdest 70s events you’ve never heard of: the Hard Hat Riot.
I commemorate Hard Hat Day ever year, as my feeble attempt to re-awaken awareness of this once-infamous event.
Last year, I received this wonderful email on May 8:
Your post on Hard Hat Riot Day, and your pondering about the validity of the remark, “There was an epidemic of hippie lynchings in New Mexico in 1970 and 1971,” brought back memories of all those wonderfully, leftist-inspired paranoid days that began in the late 1960s, and especially after the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I actually made it to the latter event as I just finished my summer school college finals, and was lucky enough to get tear-gassed on South Michigan Avenue by the Chicago PD. But I got to hear Peter, Paul and Mary live along with the ever-sad Phil Ochs, and to walk with Dick Gregory. But that’s another story of another America.
The paranoia, however, was literally rampant, and further institutionalized by the druggie movie, “Easy Rider”. Almost every liberal and leftist sympathizer had some horror story about “someone” they knew, or knew of, who was picked up by a redneck cop or sheriff and had his or her head shaved with a dull, rusty razor. In 1969, I went to Mexico and Guatemala by bus and thumb. and was more terrified of going through Texas on a Greyhound Bus than on the back of campesino trucks in rural, gun and machete-toting Mexico.
A couple months later on my return to Chicago, my traveling buddy and I were offered a ride just on the US side of the border in Laredo by a big, red-faced Texan VFW type driving a Cadillac. We took the ride to San Antonio — and this guy, acting like a miscast George Kennedy, played Christian Country music and quietly drove us right to downtown, dropping us on the expressway with a friendly and laconic farewell. No rusty razors, no mean cops, no rednecks threatening us… just nice decent, rural Texans.
The only mean, nasty, lynch-minded people whom I ever met in my two decades on the Left–were Leftists, especially some progressive Catholic nuns who could have doubled for Felix Dzerzhinsky, beards and all.
Finally, I get to post something new about the Hard Hats Riot this year — an excerpt from the new liberalish book Nixonland, courtesy of the American Prospect:
‘These hippies are getting what they deserve,’ said John Halloran, one of the construction workers, while the mêlée was still going on. As he talked a coworker standing with him yelled, ‘Damn straight,’ and punched a young man in a business suit who said he disagreed.”
The mob moved on to nearby Pace University, setting fire to a banner reading VIETNAM, LAOS, CAMBODIA, KENT. The glass doors to the building were chained shut from the inside against attack. Hard hats crashed through them and chased down unkempt students, joined by conservative students angry at strikers interfering with their education. Some longhairs were beaten with lead pipes wrapped in American flags. Trinity Church became a makeshift field hospital (the mob ripped down the Red Cross banner). The New York Times ran a picture the next day of a construction worker and a man in a tie charging down a cobblestone street to beat someone with an American flag. Pete Hamill, who had only the previous year offered his solidarity to “The Revolt of the White Lower Middle Class,” now withdrew his endorsement in horror: “The police collaborated with the construction workers in the same way that Southern sheriffs used to collaborate with the rednecks when the rednecks were beating up freedom riders.”
Police made only six arrests. Perhaps they agreed with the construction worker who told The Wall Street Journal, “I’m doing this because my brother got wounded in Vietnam, and I think this will help our boys over there by pulling this country together.”
If Scorcese had an ounce of sense, he’d make this movie.
UPDATE: actually, Rick Perlstein, I’m not interested in debating (yawn). That the world would be a better place today had the hard hats “won” and the hippies “lost” is simply a given. Alas, the hard hats lost, and we can only wait until the last hippie is strangled by the entrails of the last commie, to bring this awful era to its blessed end.
PS: I’ll bet Rick’s book doesn’t include anything about what was going on at Kent State before the shooting. Nope: hippies = good, normal people = bad in the sorry mythology his book perpetrates.