Source – timeline.com
- “…To figure out how many hippies it would take to encircle 6.5 million square feet military office space, Hoffman and and a friend alternated holding hands, counting body lengths as they circled the building…Before long security guards rushed out of the Pentagon and arrested them for littering. (They had put some leaflets on the windshields of cars in the parking lot.) They were brought before a General Services Administrator, at which point the pair explained they would like to obtain a permit to levitate the Pentagon 300 feet. By forming a circle and chanting Aramaic exorcism rites…According to Time magazine, a compromise was reached in the end: a permit was granted, but it only allowed a maximum levitation of 10 feet. The littering charges were dropped”
The plan to levitate the Pentagon was the perfect absurdly inspiring protest for the time
How many hippies does it take to make magic happen?
The Pentagon squats across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. like a beige, concrete cookie cutter. Yet the drab building was the beating heart of America’s operations in the Vietnam War. And in the 1960s and 1970s it was a smirking, imperious challenge to hundreds of thousands of hippies nationwide.
Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman were up to that challenge. Leaders of anti-war efforts during the counterculture movement, they made their name with creative, waggish stunts. The Pentagon was ripe for that treatment, and the timing was perfect. It was the end of the Summer of Love in 1967, and there was already a massive demonstration planned for the Lincoln Memorial on October 21 of that year.
But a simple march wasn’t enough — they needed something to titillate the media, an event that would draw both cultural spectators and serious revolutionaries. And by then, everyone needed a good laugh.
It was settled, then. They would perform an exorcism on the Pentagon, and at the same time levitate the building 300 feet in the air.
To figure out how many hippies it would take to encircle 6.5 million square feet military office space, Hoffman and and a friend alternated holding hands, counting body lengths as they circled the building.
“Everybody knows that a five-sided figure is evil,” explained Hoffman. “The way to exorcise it is with a circle.”
Before long security guards rushed out of the Pentagon and arrested them for littering. (They had put some leaflets on the windshields of cars in the parking lot.) They were brought before a General Services Administrator, at which point the pair explained they would like to obtain a permit to levitate the Pentagon 300 feet. By forming a circle and chanting Aramaic exorcism rites, the monstrosity would “rise into the air, turn orange, and vibrate until all evil emissions had fled. The war would end forthwith.”
According to Time magazine, a compromise was reached in the end: a permit was granted, but it only allowed a maximum levitation of 10 feet. The littering charges were dropped.
On the day of October 21, more than 100,000 protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, capping a week of nationwide anti-war demonstrations. After the speakers spoke and the last plink of folk rock had plunked, Abbie and his group — which included fellow dissidents like Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, the Fugs, and Dr. Benjamin Spock — led a crowd of 35,000 across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, toward the Pentagon.
“Within the tide of dissenters swarmed all the elements of American dissent in 1967,” wrote Time, “hard-eyed revolutionaries and skylarking hippies; ersatz motorcycle gangs and all-too-real college professors; housewives, ministers and authors; Black Nationalists in African garb-but no real African nationalists; nonviolent pacifists and nonpacific advocates of violence-some of them anti-anti-warriors and American Nazis spoiling for a fight.”
They marched on, a band of misfits and moderates, hippies and hypocrites. One outfit called Wagon Wheels East drove a group of Shoshone medicine men all the way from California, which only lent more credible mysticism to the day.
Norman Mailer was there, too. He had joined the march for the story, after having too many cocktails. “The Pentagon,” he wrote later in Armies of the Night, “rose like an anomaly out of the sea from the soft Virginia fields, its pale yellow walls reminiscent of some plastic plug coming out of the hole made in flesh by an unmentionable operation.”
For its part, the Pentagon had ordered all but crucial staff to stay home that Saturday. Military police formed a barricade around the building, flamethrowers filled with tear gas at the ready. Army vehicles parked in the underground tunnels. The 82nd Airborne Division was on call, just in case. Helicopters circled overhead. Roughly 8,500 men greeted the oncoming marchers.
The protesters were armed with flowers, guitars, and lysergic acid crypto ethylene (LACE), intended to counter the effects of mace. They called it a purple aphrodisiac that “makes you want to take off your clothes, kiss people, and make love.” In reality, it was Shapiro’s Disappear-o, a disappearing ink from Taiwan.
If levitation or love didn’t work, Abbie promised:
“We will dye the Potomac red, burn the cherry trees, panhandle embassies, attack with water pistols, marbles, bubble gum wrappers, bazookas, girls will run naked and piss on the Pentagon walls, sorcerers swamis, witches, voodoo, warlocks, medicine men and speed freaks will hurl their magic at the faded brown walls…We will dance and sing and chant the might OM. We will fuck on the grass and beat ourselves against the doors. Everyone will scream ‘VOTE FOR ME.’ We shall raise the flag of nothingness over the Pentagon and a mighty cheer of liberation will echo through the land.”
It was a sexualized, egalitarian army against the real thing. It was absurd, and that was the point.
When the horde finally reached the Pentagon, they found that to circle it would be impossible. Military ramparts blocked the way. Protesters hesitated; a few tucked flowers into police rifles, others yelled, “Burn the money, burn the money, burn it, burn it!” Mailer called it a “frenzied carnival,” full of clanging cymbals, finger bells, and acid rock.
In response, troops flung tear gas and clubbed protesters with rifle butts. Several dissidents broke through the ranks and made it into a Pentagon door. They were swiftly apprehended, arrested, and dragged out. Mailer was among the 200 arrested. He found himself in a paddy wagon on the way to jail, sitting across from a shrieking American Nazi.
Whether the building had levitated imperceptibly or not at all was by then a moot point. The exorcism of the Pentagon marked a shift from the old Left to the new, one that drove a political message and championed free love. It was about tearing down the absurd authority and corruption of the Pentagon using absurdity itself as the means.
And in case you were wondering, it would have taken 1,200 hippies to complete the circle.
Stephanie Buck – Writer, culture/history junkie ➕ founder of Soulbelly, multimedia keepsakes for preserving community history. soulbellystories.com