Today is the 43rd anniversary of the Hard Hat Riot in NYC, which occurred on May 8, 1970.
On May 4th, 1970, four days prior to the Riot, 13 students had just been shot, four fatally, by national guard troops at Kent State.
The Mayor of NYC ordered the flags flown at half-mast in recognition of the murders at Kent State. An anti-war protest by mostly university students began on Wall Street at 7:30 a.m. At 5 minutes till noon, about 200 workers, wearing hard hats, entered the protest area, from 4 directions in a coordinated manner, and brutally attacked the peacefully assembled protestors.
Later, it would be claimed that the construction workers acted spontaneously. However, a New York Times article quotes Edward Shufro, of the brokerage firm of Shufro Rose & Ehrman, as he watched through binoculars from his 32nd floor office at 63 Wall Street, two men in gray suits and gray hats who, he said, seemed to be directing the workers. [Another account has the men wearing matching colored patches on their suit jackets.]
“These guys were directing the construction workers with hand motions,” Mr. Shufro said.
The mob of workers beat the demonstrators down, focusing according to witnesses on men with long hair & beards and african americans.
Many in the mob carried American flags and chanted with signs saying “America – Love it or Leave it”…and …”All the Way USA”
The mob stormed the Federal Hall National Memorial, against police orders, and planted American flags on a statue of George Washington. The mob then stormed City Hall and raised the flag that had been lowered out of respect for the Kent State dead. The Mayor himself actually got out and lowered the flag again to half-mast. Upon seeing this,
The mob reacted in fury. Workers vaulted the police barricades, surged across the tops of parked cars and past half a dozen mounted policemen. Fists flailing they stormed through the policemen guarding the barred front doors.
Uncertain whether they could contain the mob, the police asked city officials to raise the flag…
As the flag went up, the workers began singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The mob tore down a red cross flag from a church, and tried to tear down the Episcopal flag from the church until the gates of the church were shut against the mob.
This mob was a fascist mob, as a technical matter…elevating symbols of STATE, brutally silencing all opposition to THE STATE, even removing symbols like the red cross flag and church flag as threats to THE FLAG.
So, it is easy to guess the US government’s view of the mob violence, right?
I mean, the mob broke the law, destroyed private property, assaulted numerous people, INJURED FOUR POLICEMEN, intimidated the free expression of citizens…
Our government just hates this stuff, right?
Well, as it turns out, not when it helps them.
Peter J. Brennan was high-ranking Union official in New York and even the vice president of AFL-CIO. By most accounts, the hard hat riots were organized, and he would’ve been the person whose tacit approval, at a minimum, would have been required.
May 20, 1970, less than two weeks after the Hard Hat Riots, Peter Brennan organized over 20,000 workers to march in support of Nixon’s Vietnam policies.
On May 26th, 1970, Brennan met with Nixon, presenting him with a hard hat (remember, this is only 18 days after the Hard Hat Riots). Nixon liked Brennan and his potential ability to steal energy from McGovern and the Democrats and seize it for himself. Brennan, although a Democrat, pledged his support to Nixon and promised the support of other labor officials.
In 1972, AFL-CIO refused to endorse McGovern, with Brennan’s orchestration.
Nixon won in a landslide, easily carrying New York with the huge support of Brennan’s union, who had voted Democratic in the prior election.
As a result of Brennan’s fealty to Nixon, he was made Labor Secretary (after promising to block an investigation into Teamster leadership that Nixon wanted stopped).
I found the Hard Hat Riot to be an important event. You can see the importance of a social movement that spoke out against and eventually ended the Vietnam War. You also get a little peek at the fascist, blindly patriotic strain that courses through our society.
So, celebrate the Hard Hat Riot in your own way…beat a hippie down while goose-stepping & wearing a flag toga or speak out against one of our many wars.