After a 13-year lull, Alan Canfora has revived his campaign to damage my reputation and dissuade people from reading my book on the 1970 Kent State shootings. Not only is he trying to undermine my expertise, but he is also trying to intimidate me into silence. In doing so, he only succeeds in reminding us that he is his own worst enemy.
My book seems to infuriate him for a number of reasons, including the fact I am not on board with his attempts to wholly rewrite the history of the Kent State murders. As I see it, far from being a hero or a patriot (as he has variously described himself), Canfora was one of the bad actors who stupidly tested the limits of the National Guard's patience. He was the one person who emerged from the crowd of protestors, walked within 100 feet of the Guardsmen, and provocatively waved what his sister has described as a "black flag of anarchy," much like a bullfighter in a ring. While Canfora remains proud of his actions, there is little question that his recklessness put himself and his fellow students in danger. Perhaps not mortal danger (the Scranton Commission, after all, determined the shootings were "unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable"), but he made it much easier for the troops to pull the triggers, resulting in the deaths of four students and the wounding of nine others, including Canfora, who received a minor wound when was shot in the wrist.
My book also undoubtedly infuriates Canfora because I do not give a crap about what he repeatedly refers to as "our revolt." Like many college students at the time, I was opposed to the war in Vietnam but I certainly never joined a group advocating violence to end violence like Canfora's Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). I believe that if you commit a crime you should be prepared to do the time, and that everyone who committed crimes at Kent State (students and Guardsmen alike) should have been brought to justice.
If new evidence is to be believed, Canfora may have even participated in the destruction of the university's Army ROTC building two nights before the shootings. A new book, Fortney Road, devotes a chapter to Canfora's close buddy Thomas "Aquinas" Miller, a Kent State dropout, local drug dealer, and fellow member of the SDS offshoot "the Kent Krazies." The book reports that Miller told his brother John that he helped burn down Kent's ROTC building. Since Canfora and Miller seemed practically joined at the hip on May 4 (both waved the anarchist flags), it is not unreasonable to ask if Canfora joined his friend in the repeated attempts to burn down the building.
Canfora is no doubt also upset that I've been the first author to expose his four-decades-long record of either outright lying and/or deceiving the press and the public about all kinds of matters pertaining to May 4. No one else at the university dares to challenge or correct him whenever he starts propagandandizing, lest they receive the same treatment he has given me and numerous other people involved in the Kent State case.
In the recently released expanded e-book edition of Four Dead in Ohio I wrote:
“COMPULSIVE, HABITUAL OR PATHOLOGICAL?: Alan Canfora’s disproven claim that the words, “Right here. Get set. Point. Fire,” appear on the tape of the shooting was hardly the only time Canfora misled the public . . .
Another untrue statement Canfora made came under oath at the 1975 wrongful death and injury trial, when he testified he was never an activist or member of the SDS (Krause vs. Rhodes, Vol. 16, pgs. 3719 and 3727) . Canfora has since proudly admitted publicly that both of these claims are true.
In a January 18, 1982 interview for this book, he admitted to me that he lied to the FBI (again while under oath) when he told them that he was 50-75 feet farther away from the soldiers then he actually was. Canfora told me the reason he lied was because he was worried about being indicted by the state grand jury (which he ultimately was).
He also testified at the trial that he did not participate in the ROTC fire and only watched it from a distance of 400 feet (Krause v. Rhodes, page 3653). Canfora later referred to “our original crowd” (ProActivist.com, June 24, 1999), as if he were a leader, and [wrote] how “we were thrilled that about 2,000 students left their dorms and joined our anti-war march.” In 2000 Canfora was even quoted by Erin Kosnac, a reporter for the the campus yearbook, the Burr, as saying he was in the “thick of things” during the pre-shooting protests, and that he was relieved that he was only indicted for second degree rioting. (“The Human Side of History,” Burr, Spring 2000, p. 41). That admission strongly suggests he is still covering up his involvement in more serious crimes . . .
Canfora’s lack of truthfulness at the 1975 wrongful death and injury trial so concerned Arthur Krause, the father of slain co-ed Allison Krause, that he confided to friends that he feared losing the case “because of Canfora’s lying.”
That is not all. Years later, Canfora conned William Canterbury, a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal, into writing a front-page story that Universal Studios would, in 1997, make a major motion picture about his life (“Kent State tragedy heads for silver screen,” Akron Beacon Journal, February 12, 1996). It turned out that all Universal did was option the rights to his still unpublished book, which he has claimed to have worked on since at least 1984 and which he has yet to produce. The proposed movie never went beyond the initial development stage and was abandoned by Universal long before Canfora eventually conceded the movie would not be made.
While Canfora had told reporters all he wanted was to find the truth about the shootings, and that he was not interested in revenge, he proved otherwise by establishing a web site, “Kent May 4th Central,” on the 30th anniversary of the killings.
“Kent May 4th Central” was, of course, a play on words of Canfora’s so-called “charity,” the “Kent May 4th Center.” Although Canfora denies any involvement in the establishment of the site, one does not have to be a linguist to recognize that “Kent May 4th Central” used language identical to what Canfora wrote in his other postings. “Kent May 4th Central” also included two telltale links: one back to Canfora’s personal website and the other to his so-called “charity,” the “Kent May 4th Center.”
“Kent May 4th Central” published the names, home addresses, and in some instances the telephone numbers of the Guardsmen who were on Blanket Hill on May 4 and urged his fellow activists to visit these men at their homes, ask them questions, and take their pictures. It was essentially an invitation to harass the soldiers a full 30 years after the fact.
Canfora removed the site after a few days, presumably so the site’s existence would not be traced back to him. However, as most readers know by now, once something appears on the Internet, it never can be completely erased.
Canfora was caught in yet another lie when he told reporters that as the “charity”’s director, he was volunteering his services for free. At the same time he made this declaration Canfora submitted a budget to the IRS (later made available to this author) indicating he intended to pay himself a salary of $30,000 a year.
Canfora also pretended to be a spokesman for the parents of the dead students and the other wounded survivors. While all of the parents wanted the soldiers who killed their children to be held accountable, none of them, as far as I can tell, gave a damn about his “revolt” or his glorification of student protest . . .
Canfora also fabricated out of whole cloth claims that I was “the National Guardsmen’s best friend,” despite the fact I did more than he did to get the soldiers prosecuted. He also falsely claimed on his website that I was in cahoots with the author of another book on May 4, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Caputo (whom I’ve had no contact with). And he maliciously repeats his fabricated claim that I was a disruptive person and was thrown out of meetings between the victims and their attorneys during the 1975 civil trial. It never happened. While it is true that I had attended earlier strategy meetings before the litigation started, I never attended any of the attorney-client trial meetings Canfora referred to. Moreover, I have never been thrown out of a meeting in my life or been involved in a disruptive event. I am simply not that type of person.
The “disruptive” tag, however, fit Canfora himself like a glove, and I have long noticed how he projects his own worst qualities onto others whenever he fights with them.
(End of Part One. Part Two to follow.)
I just discovered a post on the Facebook site "Kent State May 4th," which contains one of the worst booboos I've seen in a while. There, in a post by Gregory Payne, a professor of rhetoric at Emerson College (I like to call him "The Professor with the Suspicious Footnotes," because his footnotes do not match his text), was a photograph of Dean Kahler, Carl Barbato, and Tom Hensley, along with Payne's caption: "Heroes for Justice at Kent State."
Of the three individuals Payne portrays as heroes, only one of them, Dean Kahler, actually took part in the efforts to see that justice was done. Neither Barbato nor Hensley nor anyone else on the faculty showed much interest in the victims' struggle for justice.
That includes one credit-thieving professor, Jerry M. Lewis, who tried to convince me he helped the parents get a federal grand jury. He was so out of the loop that he did not realize he was talking to one of then-students who actually worked with parents and the students who petitioned for the grand jury investigation. In fact, Arthur Krause once warned his supporters: "That man is not to be trusted."
No one on the faculty did anything more than sign an ineffectual faculty resolution asking for the federal grand jury or sign the students' petition.
There is a professor at Kent State who has a rather nasty habit of sabotaging anyone he perceives as a professional threat. Although he does not dare say anything publicly, he has been quietly trying to discredit his competitors by claiming their work is riddled with errors.
For example, in 1990, when American History Illustrated published an article he wrote, he vehemently tried to convince Geneva Politzer, the magazine's editor, not to publish an accompanying article by freelance writer Lesley Wischmann. The professor claimed her article contained numerous errors of fact. Politzer then asked the professor to itemize the mistakes. When push came to shove the professor had to back down and admit he could not even cite one single example. Wischmann's article was subsequently published and, would not you know it? Neither I nor anyone else found any errors or problems with anything she wrote.
Word also reached me that the professor emeritus, Jerry M. Lewis, has been conducting a whispering campaign against my book, making the same unsubstantiated charges. Again, he would only talk in generalities and could not cite one single example. It was, of course, deliberate slander, pure and simple.
One of the reasons Lewis' lies infuriated me is that I take great pride in my journalism. In the 22 years since my book was originally published, no one--not a single scholar, journalist, or groupie--has ever identified any error of fact, either significant or nitpicking. No one has ever claimed I misquoted them or did not accurately report what was in any historical documents. No one has ever suggested that I was less than conscientious with the mountains upon mountains of raw material that attorneys deliberately created and preserved for historians to study. And, of course, I am still the only chronicler of this event who has actually studied and written about them.
The failure to find errors in my book is something that cannot be said about most other books about the killings, including books by two Pulitzer Prize winners, James Michener and Philip Caputo. Kent State professors, fellow journalists, and attorneys for the defendants found numerous problems with Michener's reporting, and Caputo committed a few sloppy errors that his more radical critics blew out of proportion because he was not one of them.
I have no problem with people disagreeing with my conclusions. May 4 certainly was not a black-and-white case, and disagreements are to be expected any time a writer tackles a highly controversial cause celebre. But as far as my basic reporting is concerned, I feel I deserve to be commended for treating an enormous body of evidence in such a conscientious manner. Instead, I found myself the subject of a smear campaign, and I do not like it one bit.
A few things need to be said here. First, Lewis has several reasons to be unhappy with my book. Not only did I not praise his scholarship, but I skewered his tortured subdisciplinary reasoning for recommending the main campus memorial be built. While others felt the memorial was needed because four students were killed in a tragedy a presidential commission called "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable," Lewis felt a memorial was needed because it "sensitized America to regimented lines of communication and authority. May 4 changed forever how future demonstrations--peaceful or otherwise--must be perceived, analyzed, understood. and settled nonviolently."
I also ridiculed him and his colleagues for their obstinate refusal to acknowledge the real debate. I also did not feed his supersized ego. One year Jerry, apparently confusing himself with a celebrity, actually gave his students a handout of his schedule of his upcoming TV appearances.
And perhaps most importantly, my book contains some highly embarrassing revelations about the nutty professor. On pages 256 and 257, the book reveals how, in a matter of a few days, Lewis shapeshifted himself from a champion of campus radicals who opposed a federal grand jury investigation, to someone who voluntarily became a secret informant against the victims. Jerry briefed then KSU President Glenn A. Olds about a confidential meeting among the victims in which their legal strategy was discussed. Four Dead in Ohio discloses a document I discovered in the archives which demonstrated this happened at a time when the victims were suing the university. It was akin to someone infiltrating a legal defense. Jerry did this after he spoke out in defense of the radicals who opposed the grand jury investigation, and was roundly humiliated by Arthur Krause, the father of slain student Allison Krause, who exploded: "Jerry, that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Lewis kept quiet for the rest of the meeting, but he later retaliated against Krause by briefing Olds and again later by telling me that Krause was crying on cue during a television interview, as if Krause was faking his grief.
And, of course, Jerry has also been threatened by my research. I did not quite understand why he urged me so strongly to give up seeking publication until the president of a U.S.-Canadian textbook distribution company told me that my book was perfect for classes in "Social Problems." That happens to be Lewis' field of expertise. Incidentally, he assigned his own May 4 textbook in that class. Jerry will not be happy to hear that my book has been adopted for classes at nine or ten universities.
I hope there are a few professors at Kent who are wise enough to challenge Lewis the next time he pulls this crap. As far as I am concerned, he is shamelessly intellectually dishonest. And an absolute disgrace to his profession.
My recommendation for a new word in The American Heritage and other dictionaries:
to "jerrylewis" someone
Definition: To sabotage one's competitor, especially one who has far surpassed his own work.
Yes, he wants to be the leading expert on the Kent State shootings so badly that I am going to oblige him. I intend to make him into a household name.
This blog is written by William A. Gordon, a Kent State alumnus and the author of "Four Dead in Ohio" and three other books. It offers commentary on the still unfolding developments in the Kent State shooting case.