History

The Great Pentagon Exorcism of '67

Friday A/V Club: Driving the demons from the Pentagon

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Fifty years ago tomorrow, thousands of antiwar protesters marched on the Pentagon. Armed troops formed a barrier outside the building; hippies stuck flowers in their weapons. Demonstrators dressed as cheerleaders chanted "Beat Army! Beat Army!" Other protesters tried to storm the structure, with a handful managing to get inside. And some of the political pranksters who would later form the Yippies led a ritual to exorcise the demons from the Pentagon and then levitate it into the air.

Abbie Hoffman claimed in Revolution for the Hell of It that his crew had come out to measure the building some time before:

Icarus Films

"67-68-69-70-"

"What do you think you guys are doing?

"Measuring the Pentagon. We have to see how many people we need to form a ring around it."

"You're what!"

"It's very simple. You see, the Pentagon is a symbol of evil in most religions. You're religious aren't you?"

"Unh."

"Well, the only way to exorcise the evil spirits here is to form a circle around the Pentagon. 87-88-89…"

The two scouts are soon surrounded by a corps of guards, FBI agents, soldiers and some mighty impressive brass.

"112-113-114-"

"Are you guys serious? It's against the law to measure the Pentagon."

"Are you guys serious? Show us the law. 237-238-239-240. That does it. Colonel, how much is 240 times 5?"

I suspect the dialogue didn't go exactly like that, but it's a funny story anyway. When the day of the demonstration arrived, the levitators chanted "Out, demons, out!" but did not in fact form a ring around the building, prompting Norman Mailer to declare that "exorcism without encirclement was like culinary art without a fire."

The protest was captured in The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, a short documentary by the French directors Chris Marker and François Reichenbach. (Marker is probably best known for La Jetee, the science-fiction film that inspired Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys.) Antiwar veterans marching in formation, Castroites carrying "Avenge Che!" signs, Nazi counterdemonstrators, a preacher in a hydraulic crane denouncing communism: They're all here. And of course there's footage of the hippies trying to levitate the building—though not, alas, of the building actually leaving the ground. I guess the camera must have been pointed in a different direction when that happened.

Marker later reused some of that footage in A Grin Without a Cat, his mammoth 1977 documentary about the global New Left and its times. Besides the bigger canvas, there was a substantial change in tone between the two pictures. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon was made by a couple of radical partisans who believed the march had marked a shift from "protest" to "resistance." A Grin Without a Cat was made by a guy who still dreamed of a utopian society but had seen a lot of defeats and betrayals in the last 10 years.

Bonus links: For a Washington Post story on the anniversary, go here. For an oral history of the exorcism of the Pentagon, with appearances by everyone from Kenneth Anger to the Fugs, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another Friday A/V Club with Yippies in it, go here.

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  1. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon

    It’s either the top or the bottom.

    1. Or one of the inside walls.

  2. A great way to see how the political attitudes have changed within their respective labels is to watch documentaries on the 60s, I’d recommend anything on Woodstock.

    1. Gimme Shelter if you want the darker side of the 60s. About Altamount Speedway Festival.

  3. the Pentagon is a symbol of evil in most religions.

    That’s actually not true. In fact, the pentagon and it’s cousin, the equilateral pentangle, used to be regarded as symbols of Christ and of the essential harmony of the Divine Order.

    An upside-down pentangle is considered sacrilegious to some Christians, as a perversion of the sacred symbol of Christ turned upside-down to resemble a goat-head, i.e. the Baphomet (ironically demonized because the pentangle was used by Templars to signal their status as sacred warriors, but it came to represent unholiness after the Templars were condemned as heretics by Philip IV of France, who coincidentally owed them lots of money).

    Symbols for summoning demons are also often distorted pentangles, again in mockery of Christ, because demons and devils don’t have forms of their own.

    But Hoffman was never known as a careful thinker.

    1. Not that Hoffman wasn’t my favorite of the Chicago Seven.

    2. It gets weird. The other example is the back and forth over inverted crosses and whether they are sacrilege.

      1. That’s the genius of the Teutonic Cross – it can’t be inverted!

    3. Hoffman said that not one person should be homeless in the richest country in the world. If he were alive, I’d invite him to the leftiest of the left cities in America and have him start dropping some advice on local polity.

      1. There was a pretty good biopic made about him starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Janeane Garofalo that I don’t remember the name of, but it portrayed him as essentially a crazy person who needed to protest something wherever he went, but who in his personal life was actually a really selfish and egomaniacal asshole. He got famous protesting Vietnam because a lot of the youth were on board with him, but later in life he was just kind of flailing.

        Still think he had a fair ways more integrity than Hayden, Ruben, et. al., though.

      2. One of the most difficult things to recognize is that money cannot solve all the problems of the world. Homelessness is often more complex than them just being poor.

  4. Castroites carrying “Avenge Che!”

    They should have gone and fought in Bolivia if they wanted to man up and avenge him.

  5. And it all seemed like a great idea, but all their incantations really did was to let Yog Sotthoth escape and go munch up all those souls in Vietnam.

    1. The best laid plans . . .

  6. Colonel, how much is 240 times 5?

    Goddamn hippies. That’s how much it is. But then divide by some soap and a job.

  7. Can we get a Kenneth Anger Friday A/V club?

  8. If the Pentagon were to be levitated, who would claim authority over the building proper, Navy or AirForce?

  9. …These Leftists and their anti war marches. its sad to see them just not suck up to the war machine Leader Le Reason.com did on the run-up to the Iraq War.

    1. Yeah – that one article fourteen years ago where that one guy said that maybe not all of the stated reasons behind the Iraq invasion were completely 100% illegitimate is the whole magazine forever “sucking up to the war machine” like libertarians always do.

      You are an idiot. Go home.

      1. It wasn’t just one article. I didn’t see any libertarians at the hundreds of anti war marches I attended until about 2007 when attending anti war marches became cool. Until then it was mostly communists and socialists.

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