When we saw the images of the chaos in Chicago on Friday night that resulted in Donald Trump canceling his scheduled rally, it evoked memories of the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, which of course also took place in the Windy City. Although the events of those three hot August nights took place before I was born, I was among those people making that comparison. I made the comparison because the chaos in Chicago played a role in Richard Nixon’s ascendance to the White House. Should Donald Trump be sworn into office next January, the events of Friday night will loom very large.
Yet I also believe that before the end of the presidential campaign season we will have an event that will evoke another dark memory of the late 1960s — Altamont.
The Altamont Speedway Free Concert was held on December 6, 1969, near San Francisco. The bill included Santana, the Jefferson Airplane, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and with the Rolling Stones as the featured act. Many of these acts had appeared less than four months earlier at Woodstock. Indeed, organizers of the Altamont concert were dubbing their show Woodstock West. There would be plenty of music, but peace and love were notably in short supply.
The main reason for this was the presence of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. Ostensibly they were there to provide security, but the environment was anything but secure when Jefferson Airplane vocalist Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by one of the Hells Angels after Balin tried to aid a black man in the audience who was being assaulted. When Balin’s bandmate Paul Kantner took the Hells Angels to task, they told him and his band they were nothing. The Grateful Dead would cancel their performance when Santana drummer Michael Shrieve told Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh about what had happened to Balin. They chose wisely because the worst was still to come.
It came to a head during the Stones’ set. Fights would break out between the Hells Angels and the crowd during the playing of “Sympathy for the Devil.” The fights forced Mick Jagger to frantically appeal for calm. Order was temporarily restored, but during “Under My Thumb,” a Hells Angels member would stab Meredith Hunter, an 18-year old black male, to death. Apparently unaware of Hunter’s death, the Stones would finish their set. But Hunter’s murder would be caught on film and immortalized in the documentary Gimme Shelter,which was released the following year.
I believe that it is only a matter of time before someone is murdered at a Donald Trump rally. Trump may have been joking when he said that he said his poll numbers wouldn’t go down if he shot people on Fifth Avenue, but he sure isn’t joking when he encourages his supporters to engage in violence with the assurance that he would pay their legal. As Trump stated at a rally in Oklahoma City late last month, “I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”
Well, this past week in Fayetteville, North Carolina, one John McGraw took Trump up on his advice. McGraw, who could easily be mistaken for an aged Hells Angel, sucker-punched a black protester. McGraw bragged about his act. “Next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” (It is worth noting that McGraw made this statement with the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” playing in the background.)
As Trump told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning, “You’ve got to stop them, do whatever you have to do.” Trump went on to say, “I have no objection to what I said. I would say it again. People are there doing harm, you have to go and you have to use equal force.” Today, it’s a Trump supporter sucker punching a black man. Tomorrow, another Trump supporter could choose to use a gun or a knife instead. This principle evidently applies to his campaign staff, namely campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who saw fit to assault Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. He did so, well, because he could. Lewandowski would have got his walking papers if he worked for any other candidate. But as we well know, Donald Trump isn’t any other candidate.
Naturally, I hope I am wrong. But if Donald Trump has effectively told his supporters to bring matches, what are the chances they won’t be struck?
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