Interview with Red
Regarding September 5, 1975
Q: What was your intention when you took the gun and went out to meet President Ford?
A: It was my intention to be a voice for the Earth, to say that before all political ways of life, before class and race and gender, the earth needs to be seen and heard and fought for. The earth comes first in importance.
This was a time in history when a terrible war had just ended, when people had been in the streets all over the country protesting the war, racial injustice, gender discrimination and poverty. I saw that underneath all these social problems, the source of all life was being destroyed. The San Jose mountains were almost totally obscured by smog; you couldn't see six blocks away in L.A. Workers were shown on TV with tremors due to neurological damage sustained in chemical companies after they had been assured that the stuff was safe. Their wives stood next to them weeping because the husbands had been rendered sterile. The head of the Natural Resources Department for California had announced that in Redwood Park the tallest trees on the planet--some as tall as a football field is long--were in danger of falling due to erosion caused by the over- logging of adjacent private lands.
I and many others had brought these concerns to the attention of public officials, and were often met with condescending contempt. There was a war going on for Christsake! There was political upheaval! Money and jobs were in the balance. I felt that we humans were allowing the destruction of the land which had always given us life. I felt a personal responsibility for the air, trees, water and animals.
Q: Why, in particular, President Ford?
A: In a sense he came to me. I had been feeling an increasing urgency. This wasn't something that came on without thought, or—as was later implied—a drug-induced impulse, or mental illness, or on orders from Manson. This was in response to a spiritual calling which was beyond life and considerations of death. We had already appealed to the heads of environmental groups, corporate CEO's, an Army Corps of Engineers general and several judges—to no avail. Who more logically next than the head of the country?
It wasn't Gerald Ford as an individual that I was approaching with my request or threat—whichever was necessary—but the chain of command. The very evening that I returned from San Francisco after speaking with the general, I saw President Ford on TV, getting off the plane in Sacramento. His visit was to address about 2000 area businessmen about enhancing their economic opportunities. Basically he was beginning his 1976 campaign.
Ford had never before been elected. He had been chosen for the job by President Nixon in 1973 when the Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign after criminal wrong-doing. Then, in 1974, Nixon had resigned the presidency, also after criminal wrong-doing, and Ford had been given that job.
Q: You were convicted of attempted assassination. Was that, in fact, what you were trying to do?
A: No, it wasn't. I took the gun with me but had not decided whether to use it. I was not philosophically opposed to physical force, and had I felt it was necessary I was prepared to use it. I had decided to proceed by perception, and standing in the crowd as the President approached, I had a sense of the faith that the people as a whole invest in their leaders, and a sense of myself as simply a member of that greater body. I also knew that after an assassination, no one sees the issues or problems leading to that act. The whole focus is upon mourning, upon the martyrdom of the slain individual.
For safety reasons I had not put a bullet into the chamber, but I knew how to do it. Instead, I simply stepped through the crowd to the President and raised the gun to his midsection between his heart and stomach at about two feet distance. I was quickly bowled over, and I experienced the panic of the Secret Service agents as they repeatedly dove for the weapon that had already been confiscated. I felt completely calm and relieved, but I realized that in order to cause the necessary change I would need to allow business people to believe that there were people everywhere willing to give their lives and take the lives of others, if necessary, for the life of the planet. It is 25 years later, and I am still satisfied that I did the right thing.
Q: What role, if any, did CM play in your decision or your action?
A: Manson is the most absolute environmentalist that I've ever witnessed, and he had told the women around him that the Earth came before us and anything else in his list of priorities. Blue and I had been doing everything we knew to obtain visiting rights with him and, at the same time, to find a way of getting a new trial that would exonerate him. He began exhorting us in letters to quit trying to make him a good guy, to understand that people want and need a bad guy, and to use his bad reputation for some good. He said we could use his name in whatever way would be effective for the protection of Earth. We did. But Charlie did not plan or order or even conspire with us about our activities on behalf of ATWA. He just gave us his faith to do what we believed was right.
Any other questions?