CONCLUSIONS AND NEW INFORMATION
IN WILLIAM A. GORDON'S BOOK
FOUR DEAD IN OHIO: WAS THERE A
CONSPIRACY AT KENT STATE?
Gordon concluded that there was no conspiracy among the enlisted
soldiers, but there probably was a localized order to fire issued by
one of the officers at the scene.
His argument is based on FBI interviews of eyewitnesses, which
consistently suggest that the soldiers turned and fired in unison. The
shooting broke out just as the troops reached a campus landmark, the
Pagoda near Taylor Hall, and were about to round the corner of a
building and pass out of sight of the demonstrating students.
The Guardsmen successfully thwarted investigators by falsely denying
that hand signals to fire existed; by removing their name tags so that
investigators could not subsequently identify which soldiers might have
received the order to fire; and by telling tales of being endangered by
encroaching students. A Justice Department summary of the evidence
reported that none of the four students killed were close enough "to
pose even a remote danger to the National Guard at the time of the
Two key witnesses
(ironically, both ex-Marines who saw combat in Vietnam) suggested that
a sergeant gave a hand signal to fire, while others implied that a
major gave the firing signal by motioning with his riot stick. Both the
sergeant and the major denied under oath giving the order to fire.
Mr. Gordon stops short of pointing a finger at either individual, but
he relentlessly ridicules their denials and their other sworn trial
testimony. He concludes: "While the smoking gun still eludes us . . .
there appears to have been extensive perjury at the trials. Even
considering all the mitigating and extenuating circumstances, the
Guardsmen literally appear to have gotten away with murder."
Mr. Gordon was able to penetrate secret federal grand jury testimony
and learn that in 1974, the Justice Department asked a federal grand
jury to indict eight Guardsmen on conspiracy charges. The grand jury
balked and instead indicted eight soldiers on charges they violated the
due process rights of the four slain and nine wounded students.
Previously undisclosed FBI files reveal that:
1. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover felt the victims deserved to be shot;
2. Hoover eagerly followed Nixon's
instructions to "knock down" (that is, discredit) accurate news reports
that the shootings were not necessary and that the Guardsmen could be
3. After Hoover relayed that order, one of his
top aides boasting of "scotching" those accurate news accounts.
the FBI and campus police covered up of an incident involving an armed
undercover photographer who was seen brandishing a .38 caliber pistol
at students shortly after the Guard fired. Because the photographer,
Terry Norman, was the only civilian with a weapon, he was initially
suspected of being the man who fired the first shot.
The author discovered that 13 Kent State
police statements mysteriously disappeared from the desk from an
officer when the FBI asked to see them; that Norman's sponsors in the
KSU police department attempted to influence the statements of at least
two eyewitnesses who thought Norman fired; that Norman positioned
himself between the students and the Guardsmen and threw as many as a
dozen rocks at the students; and that both the FBI and campus police,
in "Mission Impossible"-style tried to disavow any knowledge of the
actions of their undercover informant.
A newly discovered FBI lab report of Norman's
pistol also raises the question of whether Norman fired his gun at some
point during the May 4, 1970 incident. However, acoustical tests
commissioned by the Justice Department prove that even if Norman fired
his gun, he could not have fired the first shot and thus could not have
been, as Senator Birch Bayh once charged, "the fatal catalyst" for the
Kent State tragedy.
State administrators prevented the public from discovering that six KSU
police officers alleged that KSU's police chief, Donald Schwartzmiller,
was drunk during the burning of the University R.O.T.C. building on May
2, 1970, and could not take command.
This is important because KSU police never
attempted to stop the arsonists, and the burning of the R.O.T.C.
building was the one act of violence which resulted in the calling-out
of the National Guard.
Had the arson attempts failed (and the
university's own investigation concluded: "The persons involved in the
actual incendiarism were few, were separated from the main crowd, and
could easily have been apprehended by the police"), the Guard never
would have been called to campus, and no one would have been killed on
an extensive and exclusive interview for the book, President Richard
Nixon's chief domestic adviser John Ehrlichman claimed that Nixon
initially secretly nixed the federal prosecution of the Guardsmen at
the request of Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes. Ehrlichman also said it
was fair to say that Nixon "calculatingly exploited" antiwar protestors
for political gain.
Mr. Gordon also raises questions about why:
student or Guardsman indicted by the state and federal grand juries
ever spent a day in jail as a result of the criminal proceedings;
high school student named George Walter Harrington, who gave an
extraordinary confession to the FBI in which he admitted that he
facilitated the burning of Kent's R.O.T.C. building (a confession that
was mentioned prominently in memos circulated among top FBI officials)
was never prosecuted or publicly identified before now;
KSU police made no attempt to prevent the R.O.T.C. fire when their own
intelligence warned them of the impending arson. One detective even
admitted telling a camera crew: "Don't pack your cameras. We are going
to have a fire tonight";
Alan Canfora, one of the surviving wounded students, lied to the FBI and a civil jury not only about how close he was to the soldiers when he was shot, but about his involvement in the three nights of violent protests that preceded the tragedy. Canfora tried to convince a civil jury that he was never an activist and member of SDS (something he now proudly proclaims). He also testified he was merely an innocent bystander in the events that preceded the shootings, but has since admitted that he was with the arsonists and "in the thick of things". He has also said he was surprised that the only indictment brought against him was for second degree rioting.
To read what Mr. Gordon thinks of a 2007 claim that an enhanced tape recording of the shooting proves there was a verbal order to fire, click here. His op-ed commentary appeared on the May 4, 2007 op-ed page of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Individuals who can shed additional light on any of these questions are encouraged to e-mail Mr. Gordon at