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Get Your Hard Hats On!

May 09, 2017

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Get Your Hard Hats On!

“Stop being juveniles,” a Lindsay aide, Donald Evans, admonished a construction worker.

“What do you mean, being a juvenile?” he replied, punching Mr. Evans on the chin.

Every May 8 for over ten years, I’ve marked the anniversary of the 1970 Hard Hat Riots by calling them “the weirdest ‘Sixties’ event you’ve never heard of”—“Sixties” because that protracted decade truly began, culturally speaking, with Little Rock circa 1957, and didn’t end until the April 1975 fall of Saigon.

Here’s the short version of what happened 47 years ago this week:

New York mayor John Lindsay ordered all flags on city buildings lowered to half-staff in memory of the students who’d died in the Kent State shootings four days earlier.

When antiwar protesters assembled at the George Washington statue on Wall Street that day waving Vietcong flags, construction workers who were building the World Trade Center teamed up with stockbrokers and cops to battle the hippies down the street.

Over seventy people, including four policemen, were injured, and six people were arrested.

“There’s no excuse for the nascent ‘Fight Back Right’ to end up as another forgotten footnote.”

Post-9/11, the Hard Hat Riot struck me as a particularly evocative, emblematic occurrence. Yet, for obvious reasons (that is, the hippies lost), it had never been crammed into our collective crania like, well, Kent State. (Which didn’t happen quite as subsequently advertised, by the way...)

For the longest time, a Google search of “Hard Hat Riot” served up this anorexic if well-intentioned “educational” website; a segment from a 1987 episode of Our World; the obligatory Wikipedia entry; and my blog posts. I became an informal clearinghouse of Hard Hat Riot ephemera. VDARE’s James Fulford has been particularly helpful, sending me stuff like a contemporaneous letter to The Nation and this more ambiguous eyewitness account.

Most memorably, I was contacted by fellow Torontonian Henry Gordillo—a New York City Communist Party member–turned–Catholic conservative—who’d photographed the skirmish. As a result, I was able to post previously unseen photos of the Hard Hat Riot—Henry has more in his files—which had been illustrated until then with the same three or four grainy pics.

The paucity of photographs contributed to the event’s relative obscurity, and video of the event is even rarer. Most stuff you’ll find actually depicts nonviolent, union-authorized hard-hat demonstrations later that month, in places like Buffalo and, again, New York City. Videofreex, a hippie alternative-media collective, shot one of these May rallies, interviewing participants on both sides, but their footage is behind a paywall.

The Videofreex had been gifted their A/V equipment from CBS, which briefly assigned them to shoot radical subculture goings-on. (Surely this was Paddy Chayefsky’s inspiration for Network’s Mao Tse-Tung Hour, no?)

But if Videofreex possessed the means of media production but not distribution, the hard hats (and the era’s populist right, generally) had neither, barring the odd (in every sense) right-wing talk-radio show.


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