The Ann Arbor Argus was an underground newspaper closely associated with John Sinclair's White Panther Party and the Students for a Democratic Society, although it was not the newspaper founded by John Sinclair (and Leni Sinclair and Gary Grimshaw). That was the Ann Arbor Sun. The Argus was published from January 1969 to mid-1971. Why the name “Argus?” Well, it’s nicely alliterative with Ann Arbor but it’s also the name of the giant in Greek mythology who had 100 eyes. It becomes a word for, according to Merriam-Webster, a “watchful guardian.” This is in keeping with the White Panthers’ goals of achieving freedom from establishment oppression in all its forms. Or, as two points of the White Panthers’ ten-point program put it, “We want an immediate and total end to all cultural and political repression of the people by the vicious pig power structure and their mad dog lackies the police, courts, and military” and “We want free access to all information media and to all technology for all the people.”
This issue's cover is a Gary Grimshaw rip-off of the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #69, February 1969 with Spidey cast as the Argus and the Kingpin restyled as the Oppressor, who has bombs and money in his hand. The Marvel Comics Group has become the People’s Comics Group, the Comics Code has become “Approved by the Broad Masses of the People” with the White Panther symbol underneath, and “Mission: Crush the Kingpin” has become “Mission: Crush the Oppressor,” although it’s not looking too good for the Argus against the Oppressor on this cover.
That’s the whole Spidey association here but we may as well crack the cover and see what’s inside.
Page two (The cover is page one.) begins with Fleagle’s regular legal advice column. More than fifty years after publication, this and some of the rest of the issue feel like satire but it all was quite serious. One letter from “Long Haired Freak” asks, “I got beautiful long-flowing hair. There is a warrant for my arrest on a traffic charge. If I go to the county slam, will Pig Harvey be able to get my hair?” “Pig Harvey” was Washtenaw County [Ann Arbor’s county] Sheriff Doug Harvey who had a campaign against longhairs and counter-culturalists. According to the Ann Arbor District Library Archives, “The Washtenaw County Jail was affectionately known as Harvey's Hotel and a cropped haircut was usually the result of an overnight stay” so Long Haired Freak’s concerns are genuine. Fleagle responds, in part, “Most probably Harvey will cut your hair even if it’s not legal. Your best bet is to make sure you have enough money to post bail so you don’t go to Harvey’s pigpen at all. Better yet make sure a lawyer is present when you give yourself up.”
“Luv Letters” are also on this page; “luv” clearly used ironically since one letter is filled with the “n word” (“Our country was founded by whites, never by blacks.”) Another, from an “ex-city policeman,” states, “You have also made statements about deputies threating [sic] to rape girls arrested. This I don’t believe, as no one in their right mind would touch any of those dirty girls. Most of them hadn’t had a bath in about 2 years I bet. Not only that, but they will have intercourse with any male that walks, clean or dirty!!” Really disturbing stuff.
But not as disturbing as the events discussed on page 3. From 1967 to 1969, a serial killer stalked Ann Arbor and nearby Ypsilanti, raping and murdering young women. The killer proved to be 22-year-old John Norman Collins. The full story can be found in the 1976 book The Michigan Murders by Edward Keyes. This article, entitled “Murder” was published shortly after Collins’ arrest. Here is a bit of it: “The day John Norman Collins was apprehended, the maidens of Washtenaw County threw away their teargas pens and unbolted their doors. The police finally had thier [sic] man – the sex fiend who had cut off the lives of – how many? – innocents. But is it true or even plausible that this ex-fraternity education major from Eastern Michigan University is the man who singlehandedly baffled the police for two years? An independent Argus investigation has uncovered sufficient evidence to indicate police are still confused – even though their desperate ploy to trap a murderer did yield Collins…According to sources, police are not satisfied Collins committed any or all of the murders, though they intend to press for a prosecution as fast as possible to allay public pressure…And police need more clues to solve the complete list of murders – which promises to continue if all the real killers aren’t apprehended.” The murders ceased with Collins’ arrest and he was tried and found guilty. Now 75 years old, Collins remains in prison.
The article on the bottom of the page, entitled “United Front” tells of “a solidarity meeting with the White Panthers, Black Berets, Congolian Maulers, God’s Children MC and the Sunnygoode Street Commune” at “the Trans-Love Energies Commune…to express their unity and their common aims. All of the groups mentioned the problem of marijuana supplies being cut while heroin is allowed to flow freely – the groups hope to educate their people to the dangers of smack…Pun Plamondon, White Panther Minister of Defense, was the spokesman for all of the groups and said the groups were forming a loose alliance for the purposes of letting masses of this country know what really is as opposed to the false image given by the straight press…The groups hope to unite to pool knowledge and resources for self-defense and in general for the facist [sic] elements and practices of Amerika. Prominently mentioned is the alliances’ backing of Recall Sheriff Harvey petitions and the Black Panther program to give each community a locally controlled and manned police force.”
Page 4 features “Liberate Brother John Sinclair” by Ed Sanders of The Fugs. In it, he writes, “John Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in the Southern Michigan Prison for passing out, free, two joints to a bearded undercover agent who with a policewoman posing as his wife, was running a psychedelic candle shop in the Detroit poetry-rock-publishing community. 10 years for 2 cigarettes of marijuana, the benevolent herb of Ra…Perhaps Sinclair will find some justice in the U.S. Supreme Court but that might not occur until 1971.” (This is sort of what happened.) “In the meantime, one of the most benevolent leaders of our era will be locked up away from his beloved music and poetry, surrounded by beastish guards, and godless walls of metal…John Sinclair is a successful leader and this is what it’s really all about. Since 1964 he has labored with brilliance and legendary energy to create an integrated community of artists, first in Detroit with the Art-Writers Workshop and then in Ann Arbor where he set up the famous Trans-Love Energies community. His success has been amazing, John has that rarest quality among leaders, the ability to inspire love energy and self-confidence in fellow creators so that as the Trans-Love community grew, the energy was directed toward art and stability…During the past months, John has been most active in managing the MC5, a rock group that has rocketed forward with John into national prominence under the aegis of social change, rock-lust and Ra music. Also during this period he was co-founder of the White Panther Party and has been serving as Minister of Information…People like ‘Judge’ Robert Columbo, who sentenced Sinclair to the 10 year term, would probably like to murder him because they are angered at what they consider to be John’s real crime: standing up tall in the hail of paralyzed rat vomit and napalm that is the psyche of America and declaring himself to be a man freed from the repressive fascistic marijuana legislations…[W]e shall bring our brother forth into the light of freedom!!! Freedom!!!Freedom, Columbo! Freedom, Michigan! We have the God-Breath.”
On December 10, 1971, with John Sinclair still in prison, the John Sinclair Freedom Rally was presented with performances by John Lennon and Yoko One, Phil Ochs, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Bob Seger and Stevie Wonder and speeches by Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, Rennie Davis, Jane Fonda and Ed Sanders. John Lennon unveiled his song John Sinclair (“They gave him ten for two! What else can Judge Columbo do? [They got Pun Plamondon too.] They got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to got to set him free!”) John Sinclair was released three days after the rally when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state’s marijuana statutes were unconstitutional. By that time, the Argus had ceased publication.
“I Just Wanna Testify” by Magdalene “Leni” Sinclair follows. She describes meeting John (“I had met him in the Wayne State University Cafeteria where we both were students. I often saw him on Second Ave. where he lived in the apartment house next to mine. But on one occasion I remember specifically was the day he got busted for the first time.”), their marriage (“On June 12, 1965 we were legally married so John wouldn’t be in violation of probation because of illegal cohabitation with me.”), subsequent arrests (“A]ll of a sudden, the doors were broken down and a bunch of crazed pigs, about 20 of them, came from all over , thru the doors, thru the windows, pointing guns at us and telling us not to move while they took the whole house apart, room by room.”) and the current arrest, unfortunately marred by some missing text or misplaced text or something. (Of the two undercover police: “I thought Louie couldn’t possibly be a cop, or if he was, Pat must not know about it.”) Of the affair, she writes, “I still have all the clippings. They’ll make an important document someday” and, yes, the Sinclairs donated their papers to the Bentley Historical library of the University of Michigan in 1977; the same year that they were divorced. Leni finishes her article with “Giving John 9 ½ to 10 years for allegedly possessing 2 joints is a greater threat to their society than 100 John Sinclairs out on the street. John can do the time. I can wait. Soon there’ll be two little Sinclairs raising their little fists and saying: All Power to the People! And they’ll mean it.”
Next is “Chipigs Bust Panthers” about the gunfight between the police and Black Panthers at Panther headquarters in Chicago. “CBS reported it this way: ‘The police say the Panthers shot first; the Panthers say the police shot first; Civilian witnesses tend to agree with the Panthers’.”
Some articles, divorced from their time and place, are a little hard to fully understand, such as “Rudd Defends SDS.” Mark Rudd was “SDS National Secretary” and he was defending the Students for a Democratic Society from the Black Panther accusations that SDS’ refusal to distribute the “Community Control of Police petition adopted at the United Front Against Fascism conference” in white communities was “because they’re afraid of getting their ass kicked by the real fascists in the white community – they’d have to deal with fascism on a direct level – and they’re afraid to do it.” The rift widens from there. Rudd replies, “The Panthers have been fed a lot of lies by cops…Hopefully, we can work this thing out, but I really don’t think so – the Panthers don’t usually back down from a public position.” Mark Rudd increasingly called for violence in the battle against the government and, at the 1969 SDS convention, divisions formed that essentially ended the organization. Rudd went on to form the Weathermen who were dedicated to overthrowing the government. Three Weather members were killed in 1970 when a bomb they were building exploded prematurely, destroying a Greenwich Village townhouse. This event accelerated the FBI’s determination to stop the Weathermen, forcing Rudd and others to go underground. Seven years later, Rudd turned himself in. He served less than one year in prison.
Even more obscure is “Krasny Concedes!” “In an unprecedented move, Ann Arbor Police Chief Walter Krasney conceded defeat to the street people.” He said, “As long as they keep nipping away at the Police Department, breaking out spirit, breaking our morale, driving us into the ground, they’re going to win.” One anonymous source in the police department said, referring to street people, “yep – I seen ‘em in action, and all I’m doing is biding my time until I can retire to my plot of land up north and raise my two cows with my brother.” The article is accompanied by a cartoon, entitled “Rising Up Angry” which details a street person getting the best of a cop.
The center spread is a “Letter From Vietnam,” in which the writer says, “no Vietnamese peasant ever came to us when we entered his village to thank us for what we were doing. The people didn’t stand in the streets and cheer after we rocketed and machine-gunned the town of Cu Chi, 20 miles west of Saigon, during Tet on Feb. 3, 1968. There were not tears of joy and thanks in the eyes of those people, believe me. I was there…The average Vietnamese has no respect for American soldiers. If they had the nerve to send me over there again – it’s off to Canada for me, baby. We must tell Ho Chi Mihn and the world that we will unconditionally withdraw all of our troops as of this moment. This may take up to a year to do. The North will accept and stop the fighting to give us a chance to leave, and the Vietnamese will then determine their own political future, If they rally to Uncle Ho, that’s fine with me. If they want Thieu or Ky, that’s fine also.” The letter ends with “Peace” and a signature…which I cannot read.
“Bringing the Boys Back” follows, featuring an image of a North Vietnamese soldier holding his gun high in the air. The article deals with three American soldiers released by the North, two shot down over Vietnam, one of whom fell off his boat and was rescued by Vietnamese fishermen. “The U.S. calls the men POWs, prisoners of war. The Vietnamese consider them to be war criminals.” The article goes on to say that the release was arranged by seven anti-war movement Americans who were touring North Vietnam, including “Rennie Davis of the National Mobilization; Linda Evans of SDS; Grace Paley, Greenwich Village writer and pacifist; [and] James Johnson, one of the first GIs to refuse to fight in Vietnam, who spent 28 months in the stockade.” The article claims “The release was planned by North Vietnamese, in part, as an expression of solidarity with the American anti-war movement. But the Pentagon took over the whole show by force.” To that end, the anti-war Americans were prevented from attending the press conference, so they held their own. “Davis observed that the American military policy in the North has been one of devastation; but in spite of the devastation, the Vietnamese are surviving, sure of eventual inevitable victory.” The article concludes, “If you watched television that night, you might have learned that three prisoners who the North Vietnamese released had returned to the U.S. Despite all the cameras, lights, wires and microphones at the press conference, however, you would not have heard a single word suggesting that people from the American movement were involved in the release, that those movement people had some words to say. Maybe there wasn’t time or maybe there’s something about those words that just didn’t serve the interests of the Pentagon and their friends who control the TV networks.”
Up next: “Conspiracy,” which was the name under which the Chicago 7 set up an office in Chicago. At the time of this article, they were the Chicago 8. Wikipedia says, “The Chicago Seven, originally the Chicago Eight and also known as the Conspiracy Eight or Conspiracy Seven, were seven defendants—Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Lee Weiner—charged by the United States federal government with conspiracy, crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot, and other charges related to anti-Vietnam War and 1960s counterculture protests in Chicago, Illinois, during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The Chicago Eight became the Chicago Seven after the case against co-defendant Bobby Seale was declared a mistrial.” The article is accompanied by a photo of five of the defendants with the caption, “From left: Davis, Dellinger, Rubin, Weiner, Hoffman. Missing: Seale, Hayden, Weiner.” No, there weren’t two Weiners. This is a screw-up. My favorite part of the article is “The presiding judge assigned to the ‘conspiracy trial is Judge Julius Hoffman, often called Mr. Magoo for his startling resemblance to the General Electric Company’s near-sighted mascot. Judge Magoo is 74 years old and many Conspiracy staff members are making bets that he won’t live past the trial. His wife is a major stock-holder in a corporation which makes gadgets for the Vietnam war, and, not surprisingly, he has a record of giving draft resisters and other ‘subversives’ the harshest penalties permitted by law…Conspirator Abbie Hoffman retaliated with a claim that he is Judge Hoffman’s illegitimate nephew, but Magoo was unmoved.” Wikipedia again: “On February 18, 1970, the jury acquitted all seven defendants of conspiracy and acquitted Froines and Weiner on all charges. The jury found Davis, Dellinger, Hayden, Hoffman, and Rubin guilty of traveling across state lines with intent to incite a riot… Judge Hoffman sentenced each convicted defendant to five years in prison as well as a $5,000 fine and costs of prosecution… On November 21, 1972, all of the criminal convictions were reversed…The majority opinion of the court unanimously found several errors by Judge Hoffman and censured Judge Hoffman and the prosecutors for their conduct during the trial.” Judge Hoffman did survive the trial. He died in 1983 at the age of 87, If you ever wondered to whom John Prine was referring in his song Illegal Smile (“Well, I went to court and the Judge’s name was...Hoffman.), now you know. Abbie Hoffman committed suicide in 1989. Jerry Rubin was struck by a car and died in 1994. David Dellinger died in 2004, Tom Hayden in 2016, Rennie David in 2021, and John Froines in 2022. At the time I’m writing this, Bobby Seale and Lee Weiner are still alive.
The article features an untitled insert informing us that “As Argus went to press, it was learned” that “Magdelene Sinclair…and Pun and Genie Plamondon…were being held in the New Jersey jail for possession of dope and knives.”
The article “Obedience” tells us, “Bruce ‘Gypsy’ Peterson, founding editor of the Fatigue Press, may walk out of Fort Leavenworth a free man this fall. Gypsy has spent the last year at Leavenworth, where he is serving a six-year sentence imposed on him by an Army court martial for possession of a ‘microscopic amount’ of marijuana.” The real reason for this arrest may just be that he was the “founding editor of the Fatigue Press,” an anti-war underground newspaper sub-titled “By GIs for GIs.” Peace activist and soldier David Cline explains in the online article The Controversial GI Coffeehouses of the Vietnam War “We used to distribute it clandestinely on base. We’d roll around and leave bunches of them in barracks and in footlockers at night. If you were caught distributing on base, that was a court-martial offense.”
The next two pages consist of “Head Lines,” short news features such as “Admen Enlisted to Recruit Cops” and “Hippies Arrested and Deported from Mushroom Land” (“In an effort to keep Mexican and foreign hippies away from the psilocybin mushrooms which grow in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, repressive measures have been adopted.”)
We wrap up with “Dear Dr. HipPocrates,” Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld’s counterculture medical advice column, many of which were collected into a book from Grove Press. This particular column has three questions. Our first questioner says that marijuana is “often heavily weighted down with sugar” and that “sugar, when smoked, turns to tar in the lungs which can easily and rapidly cause emphysema.” He wants Dr. HipPocrates’ opinion on that and adds, “Personally, I am going back to baking brownies.” The doctor says, in part, “Even when marijuana hasn’t been sugared, its smoke leaves a tarry residue. No one knows at this time whether marijuana smoke is more or less harmful to the lungs than an equivalent amount of tobacco smoke.” Question #2 wonders if it’s true that LSD use “has been linked to leukemia.” Dr. H. replies, in part, “At present, there is no scientific evidence that LSD causes leukemia.” Finally, question #3: “I am 18 and have had sexual relations on and off since the age of 14. I find sex wonderful and beautiful. The boys [men] involved have been those I dated for more than 4 months steadily…I secretly fear that I am sterile and have used few precautions. A couple of times my lovers have, but last year we were having relations 3-4 times a week and I didn’t get pregnant. Do you think something is wrong with me?...Could it be that my lovers [5 in all] have all been sterile, that I am sterile or that we have all been extremely lucky?” Dr. HipPocrates replies, in part, “The chances are you’ve just been fortunate. Whatever else you press, don’t press your luck.”
A peek at Wikipedia tells us that Dr. Schoenfeld “has been the primary care physician to several famous individuals, including Timothy Leary ]Hunter Thompson, and David Crosby. Schoenfeld now practices psychiatry in San Rafael, California, where he lives with his wife and daughter.”
Hey look! “Steve Miller & Butterfield blues bands” at Meadowbrook Pavilion on September 5 for $4.00. The Grande Ballroom has (Iggy and the) Stooges with Stoney and the Jagged Edge on August 22nd for $2.50. (The Stooges also play on the 23rd.) Keif Hartley (who will have just played at Woodstock) appears on August 29th also for $2.50. The August 31st “Rock and Roll Picnic at Benedictine Stadium” has “Light House, Keif Hartley, Stooges, Orange Crush, The Sky, 3rd Power, Steve Grace, many, many more” for $3.50.
Oh, and there’s the back page. “Right On, Councilman” explains the accompanying photo. “’A typical picture in the Argus shows the male genital in a discernibly turgid state,’ fumed City Councilman Stephenson, one of three Republicans on Ann Arbor City Council, at a recent meeting of that august body. Well, we combed our files, and damned if we couldn’t come up with any male genital in a turgid state…Anyway, not wishing Mr. Stephenson to be guilty of persiflage…we hereby honor Mr. Stephenson’s remarks. It’s what you call having your words and eating it too.” And the photo? It’s a smiling Councilman Stephenson with a large “male genital in a turgid state” drawn in so it looks like he’s holding it in his hands.
Every era has its share of significant events, but this issue with features on the arrest of John Norman Collins, the arrest of John Sinclair, the resistance to Vietnam and the trial of the Chicago 7 highlights the turbulence and excitement of Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1969. A read-through of this issue brings it back to life and immerses you in the fears and dreams of the time. As you read, you feel it and you understand it in ways that reading a history will not do. Plus, the Stooges were playing for $2.50 almost every night!
I usually try to write my reviews as if I’m reading the issue in its time. In that frame of mind, the Argus provides me with so much of what I would want to know. Is it now safe for women on campus? Will the Black and White Panthers form a coalition? Will John Sinclair be released? Does LSD cause leukemia? But, in many ways, this issue is more interesting as a historical document read over 50 years later, putting so much of the 1969 counterculture in perspective for those too young or not yet born at the time to appreciate it. And there’s that great Gary Grimshaw rip-off cover. It's got to be five webs!
The petrified tablet exits the scene but the story is not all told because… the Lizard Lives! ASM #76 is next.