KENT STATE AUTHOR DONATES FREE EBOOKS TO STUDENTS, FACULTY MEMBERS, AND ALUMNI
By Guest Columnist, cleveland.com
This post originally appeared on the op-ed page of the March 6, 2020 Cleveland Plain Dealer.
LOS ANGELES -- Even though I received some of the best reviews of any book about the May 4, 1970, killings at Kent State University, I have been repeatedly prevented from speaking on the campus. Every time my original publisher or I tried to schedule a speaking engagement, it was made clear to me that I was, in the words of a sociology professor, “not welcome” at Kent State.
The reasons are varied and include the fact that I exposed some abominable behavior by some of the tragedy’s best-known characters, including that professor, who was laden with multiple conflicts of interest. Also, as far as the May 4 Task Force is concerned (the student group supposedly in charge of keeping alive the memory of May 4 ), I am much too respectable and middle class. That group, by the way, also blocked other May 4 authors from speaking at Kent, including Philip Caputo, a distinguished Pulitzer-Prize-winning author.
As an exercise in “creative revenge,” I decided that in 2020, during Kent State’s yearlong 50th anniversary commemoration of the shootings, I would donate the updated ebook version of my book, “Four Dead in Ohio,” to any student, faculty member, and alumnus or alumna who is interested. I figured that If the university was going to repeatedly censor me, I would make it impossible for KSU to prevent its students from discovering what I had to say.
I do not expect many students to take me up on the offer because, let us face it, the university still has not provided today’s students with a good reason to even remember May 4. If we were to be brutally honest about it, we would stipulate that May 4 (as it is called in shorthand) has very little to do with anything going on in the world today. The people who want to keep its memory alive are mostly the stuck-in-the-'60s protesters who want to be remembered as heroes of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
For this year’s commemoration, Kent State’s administration has been conned into honoring several not-so-former radicals who either have not been truthful about their own roles in the tragedy, or who still champion violent protest.
I have been particularly disturbed by the claims of two of Kent State’s “honorees,” wounded student Alan Canfora and his sister Chic, that they represent the views of the parents of the four students killed. As someone who actually worked with those parents in an attempt to get some semblance of justice, I can tell you they were, more often than not, not on the same page, particularly when the parents sought a federal grand jury investigation.
Kent’s “honorees” actually opposed a full investigation because they feared that they would be criminally prosecuted themselves instead of the Ohio National Guardsmen. In fact, another “honoree,” wounded survivor Thomas Grace, whose book “Kent State” is essentially a “love letter” to the defunct Students for a Democratic Society, disparaged the parents’ struggle for justice, telling fellow student Paul Keane that “the only way to get justice is to pick up a gun.”
The parents of those killed May 4 would never have approved of this behavior, nor wanted their “search for the truth” and “the struggle for justice” obliterated from KSU’s official history. Unfortunately, that is what Grace and his friends primarily accomplished when they served as consultants for Kent’s May 4 Visitors Center.
The reason May 4 deserves to be remembered is not because it single-handedly ended the war in Vietnam (although it obviously played some part), but because it quietly morphed into one of the greatest injustices in modern American history. The country may have grown weary of the war, but it had also lost its patience with the protesters who, in the name of peace, committed violence. In fact, the unpopularity of the victims was exactly why it was so easy to cover up the real story of the May 4 shootings.
Perhaps if Kent State had a law school instead of a sociology department, someone there might have recognized what transpired right in front of their eyes. If nothing else, I hope the donation of my book will help point Kent State’s scholars in the direction of the debate around these questions: Why did the Guardsmen fire? Why was no one held accountable in the courts?
And perhaps it might help students better understand why I and others who examined the hard, cold physical evidence concluded that murder may have been committed at Kent State.
William A. Gordon is a 1973 Kent State University graduate and the author of “Four Dead in Ohio” and three other books.
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.)
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.