When Bob Woodward speaks at Kent State on May 4, someone should ask him about an article he and Carl Bernstein he wrote for the Washington Post way back in 1973 (May 17, to be precise). Quoting their infamous source, "Deep Throat," the reporters wrote that the Nixon administration used an array of dirty tricks against protestors of the war in Vietnam, including the use of paid provocateurs to encourage violence at antiwar demonstrations early in the first Nixon administration."
If Woodward can provide evidence supporting this claim (Bernstein could not remember the report when I chauffeured him to a speech in L.A. years ago), the question has to be asked: was one of those paid provocateurs a part-time Kent State student named Terry Norman? On May 4, 1970, Norman took photographs of protestors for both the campus police and FBI. He has always been a compelling and mysterious figure in the debate over what caused the Ohio National Guardsmen to kill four Kent State students. At one point, the late Indiana Senator Birch Bayh even accused him of being the tragedy's "fatal catalyst."
Stuart Allen, one of the two audio experts who examined the only continuous recording of the shootings, was convinced that Norman was involved in a scuffle with his fellow students and that he whipped out his concealed .38 caliber pistol and fired four bullets 70 seconds before the main volley. Several witnesses indirectly support this claim; while others, including Norman, insist he never fired at all. But even if Allen was right, and Norman fired before any Guardsmen did, it seems highly improbable that the National Guard would have twiddled their rifles for 70 seconds before responding. A minute and ten seconds is a very long time to react to gunfire.
Still, there are other reasons to wonder about how Terry Norman fits into the larger puzzle. A photograph surfaced during discovery before the 1975 wrongful death and injury trial revealed that Norman was on what was then the university's practice football field (where a gym annex now stands), and that he was literally surrounded by a semi-circle of soldiers. This photograph was taken approximately five to ten minutes before the Guard retreated up a hill and opened fire. There has never been an explanation as to why Norman, among the thousands of students present that day, waltzed up to the soldiers or whether his presence was even welcome.
We do know, though, that shortly after this encounter, Norman positioned himself in between the students and the Guardsmen and threw rocks at the students. Guard captain John Martin witnessed this and asked himself, 'What is that idiot doing?" Norman himself admitted in his pretrial deposition that he threw two or three rocks. And a third witness, Tom Masterson, who admitted that he was the person who jumped Norman (supposedly to take out his frustration over the killings), insisted that the number of rocks Norman threw was closer to "half a dozen, a dozen."
Why? Was Norman trying to provoke an incident between the students and the Guardsmen, and if so, was he acting on his own or at the behest of the FBI? Could he have been one of the out-of-control informants that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover warned his agents about?
All we know for certain is that Norman supplied the police and the FBI with photographs of antiwar demonstrators because he liked to see them go to jail. And after the shootings, Kent State Detective Tom Kelley wrote Norman a letter of recommendation that helped him secure a job with the Washington, D. C. police department, where he later became a member of its S.W.A.T. unit.
Terry Norman's role on May 4, 1970, is of course, only one of the many unresolved mysteries of the killings at the university. So is the question of whether or not the Guardsmen took the law into their own hands and either agreed among themselves to shoot the students, or were ordered to do so by a commanding officer. Six of the eight authors of major May 4 studies, including myself, concluded the shootings were no accident: that they were a deliberate response to the mostly verbal abuse they received from the students.
By inviting luminaries like Woodward to speak on the anniversaries--or by doing what the university did on the 20th anniversary: inviting thousands of poets to participate in festivities--the university, of course, guarantees that the tragedy itself will be overshadowed and that the university will get some positive publicity. Kent State says it is trying to "bring high-profile, world-renowned experts to Kent State for serious, thought-provoking discussions and conversations.''
If only the university were as welcoming to the Bob Woodwards in Ohio who sought what Woodward and Bernstein called "the best obtainable version of the truth."
CNN aired a major story last night about Terry Strubbe tape, and it provided the clearest enhanced version of the tape I have heard so far. The segment clearly did one thing: it made the FBI's analysis of the tape look absurd. The sounds that preceded the shootings--which Stuart Allen identified as gunshots believed to have been fired by FBI informant Terry Norman--do not sound anything like doors slamming (the FBI's conclusion). The sounds resemble gunfire, which is why Allen dubbed the FBI's explanation "beyond ludicrous."
70 seconds later, some of the words that preceded the gunfire were sometimes difficult to make out, but they certainly were not unintelligible, as the FBI's experts had claimed. You can distinctly make out a voice with an apparent accent telling the soldiers to "prepare to fire," followed by the words: "Get down," and then "Guard . . . " Although CNN accepted Allen's analysis that the words were "Guard, fire," there was too much noise to convince me that there was a second, follow-up order to fire, as Allen told me. Those words would have to isolated and magnified several times before I would accept that explanation.
In any event, it is hard to believe that the FBI listened to the same version of the tape that Allen did, and we cannot say for sure if the bureau actually did. That the FBI came to these conclusions only raises additional questions about its own objectivity. It makes me wonder if the FBI agents were simply looking for ammunition to provide the Justice Department with a reason to close the case forever.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich has already asked Justice to provide him with the FBI report, and today I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the entire Justice Department and FBI review. As might be expected at this late date, the public is simply tired of hearing about it (as evidenced in the letters to the editor to the Cleveland and Akron newspapers mostly condemning any further investigations.) There is talk that some of the surviving wounded students might appeal to the governor of Ohio (a conservative Republican who is highly unlikely to do anything) or appeal an international court to further investigate the matter. (The Hague only settles international disputes.) As far as I am concerned, the wounded students are grasping at straws. The best they can hope for is additional testing by the National Academy of Sciences, which investigated the tapes of the JFK assassination. Even then, there is no guarantee that another study would result in a scientific consensus.
One of the things that surprised me about last year's Cleveland Plain Dealer exposes is that not a single Guardsman reacted to the news of Stuart Allen's findings. Over the weekend I came to understand why: some of them were unaware of his conclusions, and had nothing to react to.
I finally managed to get the first two interviews any journalist has had with former Ohio National Guardsman who were on Blanket Hill since Allen's conclusions were made public. The first, that is, since the Plain Dealer reported that Allen and another audio forensic specialist, Tom Owens, concluded there was a preliminary "prepare to fire" order to fire at Kent State (and Allen said there was an actual follow-up order).
Last weekend I spoke with both John E. Martin, the captain of Company A, the 145th Infantry; and one of his sergeants, Matthew McManus. McManus was one of the eight Guardsmen who were indicted by the Justice Department; in his case, he fired a shotgun into the air that may or may not have caused a student's wounds. (A second Guardsman, Leon Smith, was also charged with shooting the same student.). The case against McManus was always considered to be the weakest of the eight, and a federal judge later acquitted him and his fellow indictees of depriving the victims of due process of law.
Neither Martin nor McManus were familiar with the new findings and Martin stuck to the story he told all along: that he never gave nor heard any order to fire. McManus claimed the only order he ever heard was the one he admitted issuing long ago. After the firing had already started, McManus gave an order: “Fire over their heads” (the Justice Department’s version, or, as he tells it, “If you have to fire, for Christ’s sake, fire over their heads.”)
McManus also insisted that the order audio experts Stuart Allen and Tom Owens detected on the tape—“Prepare to fire,” was not an order that anyone in the military would give. After 40 years, he could not remember how a verbal order to fire should have been phrased, but he insisted “prepare to fire” was something one would only hear at a military funeral. In fact, McManus suggested that the words might have been uttered not by a Guardsman, but by a student protestor affiliated with the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
This defense had been used once at the 1975 wrongful death and injury trial, when the Guards’ attorneys tried to pin the entire blame for the shooting on the students themselves. At one point the lawyers suggested that Charles Deegan, an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam and subsequently returned to Kent as a student, had heckled the Guard by shouting cadence and issuing fake orders for the troops to follow. Deegan denied the claim, which I always thought was ludicrous and an act of desperation on the attorneys' part. The claim also reminded me of something else said to me by another of the Guards’ attorneys: “Let’s face it. We’re paid hatchet men.”
Significantly, neither Martin nor McManus noticed Terry Norman on Blanket Hill. Martin said that several of his men heard a single shot prior to the main volley. McManus told me that just before shooting, he was on the far left of the Guard’s V-shaped formation (and on their far right after they turned around and fired). Before the shootings the only incident of note that he was aware of was between Major Harry Jones and a student who emerged from the crowd, threatening to throw a part of a torn-off tree branch at Jones and his communications officer. McManus said that Jones drew his pistol and told the student to stop. The shooting started shortly after that, and McManus said that that both he and Jones were “mad at the troops for firing.” McManus because, from his position, he could not see a reason to fire (although he was quick to defend his men by adding he could not see everything going on). He was also angry because he was in the line of fire and saw dirt kicking up within a few feet from where he was standing. (I had never heard that story before.) Jones, he said, was so mad he immediately and forcefully pushed the firing soldiers’ rifles in an upward position. We had known that for years. In fact, a private in McManus’ unit, Jeffrey Jones, told me years earlier that the first thing Jones demanded to know was: “Who gave you men the order to fire?”
As an sidenote, McManus added that on the afternoon of May 3, the day before the shootings, he, another Guardsmen, and some students played euchre and touch football on the practice football field by Taylor Hall.
McManus also felt “there is never going to be an end to” May 4 and alluded to "all the grief it brought to me,” including family turmoil he did not want to talk about.
McManus clearly was not close enough to see what was happening on the other side of the Guards' V-shaped formation, where Troop G of the 107th Armored Cavalry did most of the firing. If nothing else, the captain and the sergeant provided us a preview of what the National Guardsmen's defense strategy would have been had any official investigation had gone forward.
There has been another major bombshell in the Kent State shooting case--this one following a year of startling disclosures about what apparently happened during at the university during an anti-Vietnam War protest on May 4, 1970.
Last year, less than a week after the 40th anniversary, Cleveland's Plain Dealer reported that two nationally renowned audio forensics experts studied a tape of the shootings and concluded there was an order "prepare to fire" issued just six seconds before the troops actually did.
Five months later, the paper reported that one of the experts, Stuart Allen, had continued to study the tape on his own, focusing on a commotion he heard 70 seconds before Ohio National Guardsmen killed the four students. Allen further concluded that four additional shots were fired by Terry Norman, a part-time Kent State student and later a Washington, D.C. police SWAT officer, who was carrying a concealed .38 caliber pistol. Given that both Norman and the FBI long denied the gun had been fired, and that after initial denials Norman was ultimately discovered to have been an undercover photographer working for both the FBI and the campus police, questions were raised about whether Norman was just a loose cannon or part of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO operation designed to "disrupt and destroy" radicals on the New Left.
Now, Allen reports that by isolating even more sounds on the tape, he has been able to make out a second and actual order to shoot the students. Allen says he can make out these words: "Squad, fire."
Allen's findings, of course, contradict every public statement Guard officials made and the sworn testimony of at least a dozen soldiers. At the 1975 wrongful death and injury trial every Guardsman at the scene from the senior officers to the lowest-ranking privates insisted every "shooter" individually made the decision to fire in self-defense, without receiving any orders from commanding officers.
Allen suspects the killings may have been the culmination of "a perfect storm" of multiple coinciding events. Given all the other contributing causes, he is probably right. However, I personally doubt that the bullets Norman allegedly fired could have precipitated the Guards' volley. Even if Norman fired four times, as Allen reports, the troops did not return fire in his direction (which would have directly behind them and off to their side) . Instead, they fired directly into a crowd of protestors off to their distant right. In fact, all but one of the 77 soldiers who faced the students seemed oblivious to Norman's presence on Blanket Hill. A man with the gun was not even mentioned in virtually all of the troops' after-action reports or in their statements to the FBI. Moreover, none of the troops fired their weapons until after 70 seconds had passed. Perhaps most telling, no soldier tried to pin the blame on him at the 1975 wrongful death and injury trial, even though Norman would have made a perfect scapegoat.
Still, Norman's behavior on May 4 remains highly suspect. In addition to the claims that he fired his gun, there was disturbing testimony--confirmed by Norman himself--that he positioned himself in between the protestors and the Guardsmen minutes before the shooting broke out and that he threw rocks at the students. Norman swore under oath that he only threw two or three rocks, but the student involved in an altercation with him, Tom Masterson, thought the number was closer to "half dozen, a dozen." One could reasonably conclude that Norman behaved almost as if he wanted to provoke an incident between the students and the Guard.
All of this begs the question: what can or should be done with this information? More than four decades have passed since the killings and with the exception of a few relatives of those killed, there are not that many people who want to see another prosecution of the former Guardsmen. The state of Ohio has already refused to consider further action and the Justice Department has for 16 months simply ignored the pleas of the next-of-kin who seem to believe the truth will somehow magically reveal itself if another federal grand jury investigation was held.
The case remains where it has always been: in limbo. We are no closer to realizing anything resembling a final resolution. To date, no Guardsman has said a word publicly about Allen's conclusions.
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.