I am researching the background of the shootings, and was trying to find out why the shootings occurred. What I ended up stumbling across was the idea of conspiracy theories surrounding shootings themselves, as well as the government’s reaction. I found a book by William A. Gordon called Four Dead in Ohio: Was There a Conspiracy at Kent State? which explores this idea in detail. According to an interview Gordon conducted with John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s chief domestic adviser, Nixon was prone to angry outburst against protesters. In one instance, he referred to them as “bums” and several times he jokingly told someone to have the Secret Service beat up demonstrators. Ehrlichman says that Nixon was simply venting his frustrations, since he knew that no one would actually carry out these orders. This does make a lot of sense. Who hasn’t said something they didn’t mean in a fit of anger or frustration. However, many Kent State revisionists have run with this idea and claim that someone took one of these statements to heart and set up a demonstration against the protestors at Kent State.
While this is an interesting idea, and would completely change how history views the cause of the Kent State shootings, personally, it seems a bit far-fetched. Ehrlichman describes Nixon’s view of the protestors like a poker player with a winning hand. Referring to Nixon he says, “the other people around the table were trying to get his money but he knew he had the winning hand” (213). The piece of evidence that I find most compelling is that Nixon seemed to have no foreknowledge of the event at all. Ehrlichman said that after Nixon decided to expand the war into Cambodia, he told Ehrlichman that he was not planning to attend to any domestic matters for about 10 days (210-11). Obviously he was not anticipating having to deal with the widespread domestic fallout that came with the Kent State shootings.
Conspiracy theories are far from being historical, but the fact of the matter is that there are several unanswered questions surrounding Kent State. Who burned the ROTC building the weekend before, and why in the world did the National Guard fire on the students? Maybe these ideas fit better in the legacy or immediate reception categories, but the questions it introduced me to are definitely interesting.
Gordon, William A.. Four dead in Ohio: was there a conspiracy at Kent State?. Laguna Hills, CA: North Ridge Books, 1995. Print.