Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America's Biggest Mass Arrest

Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America's Biggest Mass Arrest

by Lawrence Roberts
Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America's Biggest Mass Arrest

Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America's Biggest Mass Arrest

by Lawrence Roberts


    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, December 4
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores

Related collections and offers


A vivid account of the largest act of civil disobedience in US history, in Richard Nixon’s Washington

They surged into Washington by the tens of thousands in the spring of 1971. Fiery radicals, flower children, and militant vets gathered for the most audacious act in a years-long movement to end America’s war in Vietnam: a blockade of the nation’s capital. And the White House, headed by an increasingly paranoid Richard Nixon, was determined to stop it.

Washington journalist Lawrence Roberts, drawing on dozens of interviews, unexplored archives, and newfound White House transcripts, recreates these largely forgotten events through the eyes of dueling characters. Woven into the story too are now-familiar names including John Kerry, Jane Fonda, and Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers. It began with a bombing inside the US Capitol—a still-unsolved case to which Roberts brings new information. To prevent the Mayday Tribe’s guerrilla-style traffic blockade, the government mustered the military. Riot squads swept through the city, arresting more than 12,000 people. As a young female public defender led a thrilling legal battle to free the detainees, Nixon and his men took their first steps down the road to the Watergate scandal and the implosion of the presidency.
Mayday 1971 is the ultimately inspiring story of a season when our democracy faced grave danger, and survived.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780358561972
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/27/2021
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 654,549
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

LAWRENCE ROBERTS has been an investigative editor with ProPublica, the Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and the Huffington Post Investigative Fund. He was a leader on teams honored with three Pulitzer Prizes. Mayday 1971 is his first book.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: Nixon’s Insurrection City

At daybreak on saturday, May 1, 1971, two helicopters banked over the monuments of Washington, D.C., and hovered above the Potomac riverfront. The pilots relayed sobering news back to their superiors. It wasn’t long before Jerry Vernon Wilson, the city’s chief of police, left the downtown hotel room where he’d been sleeping all week. He headed to the Department of Justice for an emergency private meeting. There, he joined eleven men from Justice, the White House, the Pentagon, and the National Guard—the institutions most vested in preserving order on the streets of the capital.
     For weeks, demonstrators had been flowing into Washington for marches, rallies, and sit-down protests, demanding an end to America’s war in Vietnam. The nonstop action had exhausted the government men, eroded their patience and their confidence. Now they worried about what was coming next.
     Down by the placid blue-tinged river, a ragtag encampment was growing fast. Tens of thousands of young people were turning West Potomac Park into the staging area for the most zealous of the protests. When the workweek got underway on Monday morning, May 3, the militants, who called themselves the Mayday Tribe, planned to stream out of the park into the city, using their bodies and their cars to block bridges, traffic circles, and the approaches to government office buildings. Deprive Washington of its workers, and the federal city would stall. Mayday’s leaders hoped this unprecedented show of public disaffection would raise the “spectre of social chaos,” knocking President Richard M. Nixon off course and forcing him to bring all the troops home from Southeast Asia.
     Nothing about the protest was secret. The group published its order of battle in a twenty-four-page tactical manual, distributed by the thousands and reprinted in underground newspapers. It displayed detailed maps and photographs of the targeted chokepoints, as well as tips for thwarting police. For months, posters with the Mayday motto had been pasted on walls and bulletin boards at hundreds of universities, coffeehouses, and bookstores across the country: “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.”
     Despite more than six years of petitions, speeches, teach-ins, door-to-door organizing, electioneering, campus uprisings, and enormous parades for peace, the war was grinding on. Not only had Nixon failed to end the conflict as he promised when he ran for president in 1968, but he had expanded it—in secret, at first—by sending bombers and troops into Vietnam’s neighbors.
     The U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970 had triggered a national student strike. Now Nixon’s latest incursion, into Laos, fueled the series of protests that its leaders had labeled the Spring Offensive.
     May 1971 marked exactly ten years since President John F. Kennedy had dispatched a few hundred soldiers and advisers to South Vietnam, to prop up a regime besieged by a guerrilla force allied with the communist North. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, was initially skeptical of committing more resources to Indochina. “I don’t see of defoliants and herbicides over millions of acres of greenery, in a vain attempt to cripple the enemy by stripping away its cover.
     The conflict, with its mysterious battle lines and muddled military and political goals, so dominated headlines, the nightly news on TV, and debate on campuses and at kitchen tables that people in their teens and twenties could hardly remember a time when it hadn’t. The war had brought down LBJ and cost the Democrats the White House. The government’s new programs to combat poverty and injustice at home were being starved as billions of dollars poured abroad. The war inflamed class, generational, and racial conflict that sometimes turned violent, even deadly. National Guardsmen had shot and killed four young people at Kent State University in Ohio during a demonstration against the 1970 Cambodia invasion. Police fired into a Jackson State dormitory in Mississippi; two students died. When a crowd of student protesters in New York City tried to lower an American flag, construction workers stormed in and beat them bloody with their hardhats. The most fanatical members of the campus-based movement known as the New Left had declared themselves revolutionary soldiers and disappeared underground. They began setting off bombs at a string of police stations, courthouses, banks, and at college buildings with connections to the military. Vietnam was a centrifugal force spinning the nation’s self-image faster and faster, and pieces were flying off.
     The organizers of Mayday wagered that huge numbers of people opposed to the war were ready to escalate their tactics. At first, as the weekend approached, their camp on the field by the river was thinly settled. It resembled the bedraggled remains of a Civil War regiment. A few hundred people slept there on the ground, wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags. Most were young men, bearded and shaggy-haired. The temperature sank into the forties at night and a cold breeze came off the river. Intermittent rain showers soaked their clothes and knapsacks. They reeked of smoke from wet firewood and marijuana. Some cobbled together lean-tos from tarps, rain ponchos, even American flags.
     Informants walked among them—young police and federal agents, disguised in the worn green army-surplus field jackets favored by the peace movement, joining in the preliminary marches and the chants of “Stop the war!” and “Fuck the FBI!” They found the gathering less than impressive, predicting that in the end no more than five thousand hippies and radicals would show. One of Nixon’s top officials dismissed the boasts of the protest leaders as “just a lot of hot air.”
     Yet by Saturday morning, as he stood in the conference room on the fourth floor of the Justice Department, Police Chief Jerry Wilson knew they’d misjudged Mayday. The incursion had swelled from a trickle to a flood. The helicopter surveillance confirmed that at least forty thousand people had arrived so far. Caravans of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses continued to roll in from all over the country. Monday loomed as the largest act of mass civil disobedience the nation had ever seen, a coda to the most extraordinary season of dissent in Washington’s history. Nixon’s men were determined to make sure it failed. But how?

THE MAYDAY ENCAMPMENT rose on a couple of dusty playing fields, set roughly between the memorials to Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. It was the western edge of the National Mall, the grassy expanse that over a matter of decades had emerged as a platform for Americans to air their grievances with the government, a role not quite anticipated by the founders.
     To Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the artistic French engineer hired by President George Washington in 1791 to design a federal city from scratch, the grand “public walk” he imagined from the Capitol to the Potomac River would serve as a majestic inspiration for democratic values. Washington fired the testy Frenchman for scrapping with his colleagues before the plan could be executed. It would be nearly a century before L’Enfant’s greenway was fully realized. Standing in the way were big patches of marshy land where two creeks emptied into the Potomac, flooding during high water and storms. The pools sometimes wouldn’t dry up for months. Not an actual swamp in the tropical sense, but come the soggy choking heat of a mid-Atlantic summer, it could sure feel like one.
     As the city grew, parts of the riverfront turned into a steaming mess. Raw human waste from homes and shops, not least from the White House itself, less than a thousand yards away, dribbled into a wide canal. It had been built for navigation but became little more than an open sewer. The canal disgorged into the river. There, the grunge mixed with silt flowing downstream from where farmers were clearing the woods from the banks. Over the decades, the ugly weedy expanse only got larger, breeding malarial mosquitoes and spreading cholera. The winds off the river sent the acrid fumes wafting up through the city. “It is this cause more than all others,” wrote one congressman from Ohio, “that compels the residents of Washington to flee from it during the months of heat, and causes well-informed persons all over the country to avoid it during that season as they would the pest-house.”
     The city’s leaders resolved to get rid of these odiferous Potomac Flats. Congress in 1882 set in motion one of the largest public works projects of the time. The Army Corps of Engineers took on a thirty-year plan to dredge the channel and pile the mud up onto those flats. In the end, more than seven hundred new acres emerged, a permanent spot for recreation and quiet enjoyment. Best of all, the new dry land, divided into East Potomac and West Potomac parks, would fulfill L’Enfant’s vision. The completed Mall would be a fitting tribute to America’s soaring ambition—“the unexpectedly grand and new future opening before us as the leading nation in the progress of humanity, charity, and good will toward all others,” declared the head of the agency that would eventually become the National Park Service.
     The Lincoln and Jefferson memorials were erected. Groves of magnolia trees and shrubs planted along winding pathways and fountains and around a manmade lake (later transformed into the Tidal Basin) bloomed like an arboretum. The designers provided open fields too for baseball and polo, concerts and picnics. By the 1940s, a leading landscape architect pronounced it “the most beautiful place man has made in America.”
     The Congress and the White House, the monuments and the river were now all connected. L’Enfant had been right when he predicted, “The whole will acquire new sweetness.” Something had emerged that was greater than its components. The National Mall felt like an entirely new kind of public space, both ceremonial and democratic, owned by no one but the citizens wandering through at any given moment.
     Though it sat at the physical core of Washington, the Mall was nevertheless largely isolated from the business of the city. Not some well-worn European square, hemmed in tight by imposing stone buildings, not a manicured garden outside the palace of a prince, this was a big open vista in the heart of the republic. You could stand right in the middle, cheek practically grazing the white marble of the Washington Monument, and sweep your eyes from the tree-lined riverfront to the statues honoring those who had founded and sustained the place, then to the grounds of the president’s home, and finally to the Capitol’s bright dome. In a young nation you anoint hallowed ground where you can find it. The territory would come to be claimed not only by tourists but by the great social movements of the century.
     Before, citizens who came en masse to Washington to appeal to the government, including the unemployed seeking relief and women demanding the right to vote, bickered with police and bureaucrats over access to streets and federal buildings. Now the First Amendment’s abstract guarantees of assembly and expression seemed to materialize in the shape of the Mall. Veterans of World War I pitched their tents there to plead for their promised bonuses. People streamed in by the tens of thousands in the spring of 1939 to hear “America” (“My Country, ’Tis of Thee”) sung by the renowned contralto Marian Anderson, decrying her exclusion from the whites-only hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A little more than two decades later, Martin Luther King Jr. gathered a quarter-million supporters of civil rights for black Americans and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
     Then came a protest movement without precedent. Beginning in the mid-1960s, increasingly large crowds arrived to proclaim their opposition to U.S. intervention in Vietnam. And in the spring of 1971—which happened to be the numerical reverse of the year Washington the man got it all started—Washington the city would face ten tumultuous weeks, testing America’s idea of itself as the “leading nation in the progress of humanity.” The question at hand was whether the nation’s power and prosperity were being misused, whether an empire uniquely built on democratic institutions and constitutional rights could self-correct when it veered terribly off course. In the midst of this struggle, people convinced of their rectitude would go to extremes.
     It began with an explosion and ended with a mass arrest, the largest ever carried out in this country. More than twelve thousand people were taken into custody, a number that remains unsurpassed.
     These events, and the stories behind them, have been largely forgotten, rendered obscure by the momentous scandals that immediately followed, for which they were both prologue and catalyst: a battle over leaked government secrets, corruption in the White House, and the first resignation of a president. Yet, as this book will show, the demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the spring of 1971 were not only the most extensive and provocative of the era we call the Sixties. They also bequeathed consequential changes to American law and politics, including the rules governing protests in the heart of the nation’s capital, which remain in force today.

JERRY WILSONwas six foot four, with the calm self-assurance of a big man. He had been running the police department for less than two years but had spent his entire adult life as a D.C. cop. When he arrived in Washington as a twenty-one-year-old fresh from small-town North Carolina, his drawl was so thick, it stood out even in a city still deeply rooted in the South. The other officers at the Seventh Precinct in the Georgetown neighborhood nicknamed him “Hogmaw,” after a dish of roasted pork stomach—the stringiest, most backwoods food they could conjure. Jerry didn’t mind the teasing. To tell the truth, he sort of enjoyed it.
     Now the chief surveyed the men gathered to confront Mayday. He often liked to stand during this kind of meeting, with a good cop’s poker face, a quiet towering presence in the corner. Of those in the room, nine were lawyers educated at the nation’s top universities. Their résumés included stints in rough-and-tumble political campaigns. Two were army generals who’d commanded men in battle. For a few, career high points lay ahead: One would become the chief justice of the United States, another would come within a whisker of heading the FBI, and two would serve as federal judges. Three others faced a rougher future, behind bars.
     And there was Jerry. He was now forty-three. He’d never been to college, let alone law school, and had no political experience to speak of. Yet no one around the table was better equipped to deal with Mayday. The chief had educated himself on D.C.’s streets during dozens of protests, whether polite marches, running skirmishes, or the burning and looting that followed the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. How to keep your balance in that sweet spot between the rights of peaceful assembly and public order—that was something he’d studied up close. He understood the ebb and flow of a mass demonstration, the ever-shifting combustible edge between police and protesters.
     Only Jerry wasn’t in charge today. He answered to Richard G. Kleindienst, the number-two official at Justice. And to Kleindienst, this meeting was nothing less than the war council of a city and a government under attack.
     A couple of days before, Kleindienst had been the official publicly belittling Mayday as “hot air.” Now he acknowledged his error. “Everything is changed,” he warned the others. Our preparations are weak, he said. We could be facing a full-scale citywide riot. Besides clogging traffic on the main arteries, the protesters could abandon cars on the four bridges over the Potomac and set them afire. A big enough crowd might crash its way through police lines and barricades and even the entrances to federal agencies.
     Kleindienst’s high forehead and inward-sloping eyebrows gave his face an impish, almost devilish, cast. He could deliver a bawdy joke one minute and a squall of rage the next. Back in his native Arizona, when he had worked for Barry Goldwater, LBJ’s opponent in 1964, Kleindienst had been instrumental in making the phrase “law and order” a hallmark of Republican politics. Four years later he’d helped cement it as a centerpiece of Nixon’s campaign. Here was a chance to make good on that promise. To protect the government, Kleindienst explained, the White House had already arranged for city officials to mobilize the National Guard under Jerry’s command. Along with city police and officers from the Park Service and the Capitol, that would add up to a force of seven thousand. But Kleindienst wanted more. He looked over at the secretary of the army. How many troops were placed in or near Washington? About thirty-six hundred, came the answer. Not enough, Kleindienst said. He ordered another five thousand men flown in from North Carolina.
     Jerry quickly grasped how intimidating the military presence would be. Troops from the Eighty-Second Airborne Division would be ferried to the National Mall in five Chinook helicopters, their twin rotors chopping above the monuments. Hundreds of men, with fixed bayonets, would line the bridges. There would be marines from the base at Quantico, in Virginia, and a battalion of army engineers. A column of vehicles from the Sixth Armored Cavalry at Fort Meade in Maryland would rumble through the streets. Kleindienst had even secured an army V-100, a huge tanklike vehicle with a turret and giant rubber tires that could run right over a car.
     Kleindienst told his colleagues not to fret about needing any kind of executive order, such as a declaration of martial law. The president, he said, had already arranged things with the Pentagon.
     Jerry had been making his own preparations for Mayday. Police stockpiled canisters of tear gas and pepper-fogger spray. They requisitioned more portable radios and instant cameras. Jerry canceled all leave for the force and scoped out potential holding areas, in case they had to make large numbers of arrests. He borrowed forty trucks from the National Guard and four big prisoner-of-war transports from the marines. But it was one thing to be prepared for intense police action. It was quite another to turn the city into an armed camp, as Kleindienst was doing.
     In fact, Kleindienst and his boss, Attorney General John Mitchell, had been feeding the tension in Washington for weeks. At one point, after Mitchell had warned that some protest groups had vowed “to create violence,” Jerry had his spokesman tell reporters that police had heard no such threats. Now the chief made another attempt to deflate the pressure. He pointed out that so far, during the string of recent demonstrations, his officers had taken more than a thousand people into custody and had encountered no serious problems. Yes, we expect many arrests on Monday, he said, but he doubted the Mayday Tribe would form a destructive mob. After all, they were unarmed and preached nonviolence. Only a small core of militants might cause trouble worse than sitting in the streets and waiting for a bust.
     Jerry was hardly an apologist for the protesters. Shortly after taking over as chief, he had hurled one of the first canisters of tear gas at a crowd that refused to clear the steps outside Justice, an act that helped propel him onto the cover of Time magazine as America’s emblematic big-city police chief. But unlike many of his colleagues, he didn’t see demonstrators as unpatriotic. He kept it to himself that he had no love for this war. Some of Jerry’s friends came to the marches. They weren’t hippies or even left-wingers, just people sick of the conflict and what it was doing to the country.
     The draft was at the heart of it all, Jerry maintained. The young protesters hated the draft even more than the war. He’d helped one friend get his son into the National Guard to avoid conscription. Another friend asked for a recommendation to place his boy in the army’s finance office so he wouldn’t see combat. Jerry thought the system, which gave enrolled undergraduates an automatic deferment, imprisoned young men in college—if you left school, and your birth date drew a bad number in the annual draft lottery, you’d be classified 1A, subject to instant induction. No wonder they were angry and scared. Thousands of draft resisters had fled to Canada; hundreds had gone to jail. Get rid of the draft, go to an enlistment-only military, Jerry believed, and the protests would stop.
     So the chief wasn’t especially surprised that so many kids made their way to the riverfront. Naturally it wasn’t only about the politics—you had a dozen rock bands, even the Beach Boys, playing all day and night. It was springtime and the pink cherry blossoms had been painting a soft ring around the Tidal Basin. You could smoke some pot and probably get yourself laid. Hell, if he were young and not a cop, he might be there too, whether he cared about the war or not. He didn’t want the police to tear things up without a very good reason. He sent memos to his officers, warning them to stay professional as they confronted the “many unusual circumstances that may arise” during the Mayday protests. He ordered them to be “patient, discreet and solicitous of the citizens of our own city and of the visitors to our city.”
     To Jerry, dealing with a day or two of sit-down protests, keeping the traffic flowing, those were solvable logistical challenges, not ideological ones. If someone purposely stalled an old junk car on a bridge, you wouldn’t be able to get a tow truck through the jam. So maybe put a big crane on a barge, or get a helicopter with a tow cable, drop the car right into the Potomac. If hundreds of people, or more, refused to disperse and you had to arrest them, where would you put them after the jail cells were full? How would you feed them?
     For Nixon and many of his closest advisers, though, Mayday and the protests building up to it presented a political crisis.
     By the time of the Saturday meeting at Justice, the president already had left town. On short notice to fly out to what had come to be known as his Western White House, in San Clemente, California. It was meant as a public display of indifference. But the president and his aides were anything but indifferent to the possibility that the antiwar movement was taking a more dangerous turn.
     Nixon had taken office two years earlier, determined to wind down both the war and the domestic disorder it spawned. He yearned to devote his attention to what he believed was his calling, to reshape the Cold War world and earn an exalted place in history. Yet even as he reduced the number of U.S. soldiers on Vietnamese soil, his attacks on Vietnam’s neighbors inflamed the protests again.
     The president and Henry Kissinger, his chief foreign policy adviser, were gambling that breaching the borders to hit enemy bases and supply lines would force North Vietnam to negotiate what Nixon termed an “honorable” peace, one that could be sold to the U.S. public as a moral victory, or at least a stalemate, instead of a military defeat. If that could jell by the November 1972 election, Nixon’s second term in the White House was all but assured.
     But he was losing his grip on that plan, as polls showed opinion shifting in favor of immediate withdrawal. His standing among young people plummeted to a new low. They disrupted his inauguration and held dozens more demonstrations over the next eighteen months, including three huge marches outside the White House. No longer could Nixon visit a college campus without practically inciting a riot. Students at San Jose State had pummeled his limousine with rocks and eggs. He’d had to concoct a foreign trip to gracefully renege on his promise to speak at Ohio State University’s commencement.
     It wasn’t just the demonstrations that rattled Nixon and his confidants. In 1970 radicals had bombed or tried to bomb thirty-two federal buildings. The Black Panther Party, as well known for its periodic violent confrontations with police as for its ambitious service work among the poor, had branches in multiple big cities. Even religious pacifists seemed to be turning more extreme. Federal authorities indicted a nun and three priests on the Catholic Left for merely discussing a fantastical plot to kidnap Kissinger and hold him as ransom for an end to the war.
     During this period, the daily news summaries that landed on the president’s desk “conveyed a sense of turmoil bordering on insurrection,” Nixon would later recall. At press conferences, he and other government officials were asked quite seriously if the country was headed for a revolution. In early 1971, “the lowest point of my first term,” he even speculated that the party might not nominate him for reelection.
     The president’s public response was to adopt a statesmanlike pose, promising to unify a fractured nation. Speaking to Congress in January, a few months before Mayday, he acknowledged the widespread sense of disintegration. “America has been going through a long nightmare of war and division, of crime and inflation. Even more deeply, we have gone through a long, dark night of the American spirit,” the president said in his State of the Union address. “But now that night is ending. Now we must let our spirits soar again. Now we are ready for the lift of a driving dream.”
     In general, when he couldn’t avoid discussing antiwar demonstrators in public, Nixon trod carefully. He was politely dismissive and patronizing, telling the press that while he thought the participants misunderstood U.S. foreign policy, he shared their goal of peace and recognized their right of dissent. He left the vitriol to others. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, lambasted campus activists and their sympathizers as “ideological eunuchs” and “an effete corps of impudent snobs” and “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Attorney General John Mitchell suggested protesters were veering close to treason as tools of North Vietnam and the Vietcong, which was the nickname for the National Liberation Front, the communist guerrillas in the South.
     In the privacy of his office, though, Nixon didn’t hide his feelings. The demonstrators were “little bastards,” “animals,” from conservative unions like the Teamsters, or pro-war veterans, to confront demonstrators and crack the kids’ heads.
     The events leading up to Mayday had only reinforced the view at the White House. First, a bomb went off in the U.S. Capitol. Then organizations representing college students and hard-left radicals, old peaceniks and young ex-soldiers, had managed to overcome infighting and descend together upon the city in a kind of chaotic choreography.
     The initial arrivals, in mid-April, were more than a thousand U.S. military veterans of Vietnam. They came not to voice support for the war but to camp on the National Mall, march through the city, and return their combat ribbons and medals in anger and sorrow, hurling them onto the steps of the Capitol. The veterans stayed in town to join what probably was the largest march ever held in Washington up to that point, on Saturday, April 24. Sponsored by the coalition of antiwar groups, it drew hundreds of thousands of people. Unlike previous marches, which were overwhelmingly populated by college students, this one included throngs of older middle-class protesters, bringing home to Nixon’s aides how deeply antiwar sentiment had spread beyond the core.
     In the days that followed, thousands of people had roamed the streets, holding sit-ins and demonstrations outside the White House gates, inside congressional offices, and at the doors of federal buildings such as the Selective Service, which oversaw the draft. Guerrilla theater groups staged mock battles, ranging as far as the suburban home of the secretary of defense. On his porch they hung a Vietcong flag—a yellow star against a red-over-blue background. Among the hundreds arrested around the city during that week in April were veterans, Quakers, students, and mothers supported by welfare.
     Private opinion polls showed that the sustained protests, especially those by Vietnam veterans, were stoking public opposition to Nixon’s policies. And now Mayday approached—the most dangerous part of the offensive if you were in the White House, but the most thrilling if you were a militant.
     As Kleindienst, Jerry, and the others met at Justice that Saturday morning, churches around the country were preparing to ring their bells in unison for an hour, starting at noon. The heads of twenty-seven national religious groups had called for the action, to mourn the dead and plea for an end to the killing. The bells might have been tolling for Nixon’s men. A successful show of strength by the Mayday protesters, tying up the capital of the most powerful nation on the planet—that would only add fuel to talk that the government was on the run.
     The president had made his wishes clear. That was why Kleindienst was pushing a military solution. The police chief made one last attempt to dissuade him. Let’s just suppose the crowd is big enough to shut down the government, Jerry said. Wouldn’t it be better for us, he gently suggested, if the militants could crow only that they had defeated the police, rather than the mighty U.S. military? An army official chimed in on Jerry’s side. Why not wait a day, see if the troops were really necessary?
     Also in the room was John Ehrlichman, the president’s chief of domestic policy. He expressed astonishment at what Jerry was suggesting. Nixon wanted the streets kept open at all costs. The president didn’t care if it took 100,000 troops. If this turns into a riot and we are caught short, Ehrlichman warned, “It will mean some asses.” And, Kleindienst added darkly, “All those asses are in this room.”

Table of Contents

Map: Washington in the Spring of 1971 xi

Key People and Events xiii

Prologue: Nixon's Insurrection City xvii

March 1971

1 This Is Real 3

2 We Need Time 26

3 The Hot Buttons 39

4 A Mighty Waters 56

5 The Pivot Point 74

6 This Is 36 89

April 1971

7 The Courage Part 105

8 Move On Over 114

9 Fringe Group 126

10 The Last Man 141

11 The Saturday March 152

12 What's the Harm? 164

13 Public Defenders 178

14 Barricades 190

May 1971

15 War Council 205

16 Revoked 219

17 Mayday 230

18 The Interest of Justice 248

19 A Heavy Cloud 266

20 The Holdouts 282

21 Aftermath 297

Epilogue 318

Acknowledgments 343

Notes 346

Selected Bibliography 391

Index 399

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews