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Yippies and CREEPs
The official yippie organization, the Youth International Party, kept chugging away in the '70s and afterwards, putting out a paper filled with conspiracy theories and paeans to pot. More recently, its surviving members have opened an archive and performance space in Greenwich Village, dubbed the Yippie Museum and Cafe. Jerry Rubin's favorite uncle was a vaudeville star; now the movement he helped to start has its very own vaudeville venue.
And that, in a roundabout way, leads us to one more parallel between the yippies and the Nixonites. Both were masters of the media-savvy political prank.
In 1967, for example, Hoffman called a press conference to announce the invention of LACE, a drug that made people have sex. Three couples in his apartment demonstrated the imaginary chemical's alleged effects for the onlooking press corps, who went on to report that the protesters were planning to spray their new weapon at cops and National Guardsmen at a demonstration outside the Pentagon. "The function of this was to manipulate the media," says Krassner. "We said we were going to spray them at the Pentagon. Of course this made the local papers, the newsmagazines, and the wire services—and a lot of people became aware of a demonstration that they hadn't heard of before." The possibility of seeing some cops and hippies getting it on, or perhaps getting sprayed themselves, surely swelled the crowds as well.
There are obvious differences between such antics and the dirty tricks deployed by Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President, but there are structural similarities as well, a common interest in cracking open the media and playing with the narratives being projected. In 1972, when Pete McCloskey challenged Nixon in the Republican primaries, a young conservative named Roger Stone made a donation to the insurgent's campaign in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance. (The original plan was to use the Gay Liberation Front, but Stone felt that would be an affront to his masculinity.) According to the Senate Watergate Report, Stone and his confederate Herbert Porter then "drafted an anonymous letter to the Manchester Union Leader and enclosed a photocopy of the receipt."
I called up Stone and asked him about the yippies. "Classic street theater," he replied, with a hint of professional admiration. "The voters or the consumers are getting too much information. You have to cut through that by being provocative. It's what the yippies figured out."
What does that have to do with the Yippie Cafe? Just that Stone, who shares the cafe proprietors' distaste for New York's draconian drug laws, showed up there last month. He brought along a bunch of College Republicans with short haircuts and ill-fitting suits, and he performed a stand-up comedy act cum political rant. Some of the spectators laughed, some heckled, some clapped, some stared.
"I did OK," says Stone. "They said, 'Who are these short-haired guys with you?' I said, 'This is the national committee of the Hitler Youth.'" When Abraham Ribicoff invoked the Nazis in Chicago, all hell broke loose on the convention floor. Forty years later, Stone was greeted with laughter and beer.
Jesse Walker is reason's managing editor.