At the end of a long day of antiwar protests in Washington on Oct. 21, 1967, beat poet Allen Ginsburg was leading the crowd in a Tibetan chanting in an effort to psychically levitate the Pentagon into space. The protests were in a bizarre new phase, having already turned violent, injuring dozens of protestors as well as the soldiers defending the building.
By the time of this protest, the United States had been increasing its presence and roles in South Vietnam while the draft and the body count was taking its toll on the American psyche. There was no precedent in American history for the level of government defiance and protest that was about to take place. With 500 American troops dying in Vietnam every month and no end to the war in sight, groups all over the country decided to convene on Washington – specifically the Pentagon.
It was organized by many groups – it was almost a “who’s who” of the antiwar movement – but the primary organizer was antiwar activist Jerry Rubin. Rubin believed the Pentagon was now the real seat of power in the United States and wanted to make a showing there, instead of the White House or Capitol Building. Also arriving among the tens of thousands of people there that day were Dr. Benjamin Spock, Norman Mailer, and antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman.
The younger people might remember his likeness from a scene in “Forrest Gump.”
Hoffman was one of the co-founders of the Yippies, or Youth International Movement. The Yippies were an anti-establishment anarchist group whose antics bordered on the theatrical when not outright ridiculous. They became known for displays of symbolic protests and street pranks, and often, some kind of merger of the two. Hoffman was present at the October 1967 Pentagon protests as were many of his fellow future Yippies.
The day began with a series of speeches on the National Mall, one of which saw Dr. Benjamin Spock declare President Lyndon Johnson to be the real enemy of the people. The crowd then marched across the Arlington Bridge to the Pentagon, where they were met by members of the National Guard and the 82nd Airborne who firmly stood their ground on the steps of the building. This is where one hippie, calling himself “Super Joel,” famously put a flower in the barrel of one of their rifles.
Hoffman and the Yippies began to call for the Pentagon to levitate, using psychic energy to lift the building 300 feet into the air and to end the war. They even got a permit for it from the General Services Administration, but the permit only allowed them to levitate the building 10 feet. They wanted to circle the building, arm-in-arm, and perform an exorcism ritual on it, to flush out the demons and end the war. They never made it that far.
When they arrived at the Pentagon, the crowd became unruly in some areas, and a group of 3,000 attempted to break the barricade and enter the building. Some of them were actually successful but were beaten back to their protest or arrested. Hoffman and the Yippies stayed put for the duration of their 48-hour permit. They never did finish the exorcism.