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The time the left almost took the White House

BY PAUL DeRIENZO | The pro-Trump raid on the Capitol is being touted as a once-in-a-lifetime assault by right wingers attempting to take control of the central government to bring a nightmare “Handmaid’s Tale”/high school dropout rule to America. The horn-headed, pelt-wearing wannabe Viking white boys thought they were cool until a cop popped a bullet into protester Ashli Babbitt’s neck inside a Capitol staircase. A rendezvous with reality.

The F.B.I. has arrested more than 100, who face long jail terms as they discover a federal misdemeanor or felony is a lot heavier, and expensive to defend against than violating a town ordnance in small-town America. Reality weighs hard on the ignorant.

Aron Kay, the “Yippie Pie Man,” addressed the counterprotesters. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

Despite what the pundits tell us, the assault on the Capitol isn’t the first attempt to storm the seat of power in the U.S.A.

The last occurrence came shortly after a bloody 1979 attack by the Ku Klux Klan on a group of communist anti-Klan radicals in Greensboro, North Carolina, in which five of the lefties were killed and several others seriously wounded. Anger against the Klan’s brazenness was palatable among the left, when the Klan inflamed the rage by announcing in November 1982 they would march on Washington, D.C.

In 1925 the KKK was a huge organization with millions of members nationwide. It organizers played down the KKK’s roots as a southern terrorist group aimed against Blacks and reinvented the organization as a pro-Christian, anti-immigrant group. The KKK of the 1920s had sparked the imagination of white, conservative America in ways similar to Trump today. It was no surprise when 35,000 Klansmen marched in the nation’s capitol.

After WWII the Klan morphed back into a more openly racist configuration, aimed against the civil-rights movement. Its followers tended to hide from plain sight, emerging here and there to support George Wallace or attack civil-rights workers. It was an unusual event when 57 years after the first KKK march on Washington, Arkansas Klansmen and Thom Robb, the Knights of the KKK chaplain, announced 200 members would hold their own commemorative march on Washington.

The leftist protesters pelted the police with stones and bricks. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

It all came to a head on Nov. 28, 1982, the day after Thanksgiving.

The violence started when anti-Klan demonstrators began throwing stones and bottles and attempted to break through police lines to assault the small group of Klansmen who actually showed up.

I attended on a Yippie bus, leaving from 9 Bleecker St, then the Yippie HQ, with Aron “Pieman” Kay, the staff of “Rock Against Racism,” which was a Yippie-connected music-promotion group, and a variety of antifascist enthusiasts looking to protest against the organized racists.

Mounted police charged toward counterdemonstrators. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

When we arrived in D.C. hundreds of angry multicultural protesters were already there, some openly frustrated the Klan was nowhere to be seen, having been kept away from the protests by the cops.

I joined a group of protesters heading along 15th St. from Constitution Ave. toward the White House. Suddenly I got a whiff of tear gas, not the usual mild protest variety, but the melt-your-eyeballs type that really hurts. The group I was with ran into a Neiman Marcus department store. As salespeople swept the expensive stuff off the counters, we reached the bathrooms, washing our faces of the caustic chemical.

Police fired tear gas near the White House as they were peppered with stones and bricks from anti-Klan demonstrators. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

As I came out, I was surprised to run in to my much more buttoned-down brother, who it turned out had a post-college job as a floor walker at the department store. We both laughed and he briefly joined the protest.

As our group made the turn onto Pennsylvania Ave. we were passed by a couple of hundred communists associated with the then infamously confrontational Progressive Labor Party, angry, chanting with red flags flying. I was across the street as this Maoist group passed the driveway to the White House and then, on some sort of signal, rushed the grounds.

The leftists retreated to Lafayette Park. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

I watched in shock as, within seconds, a phalanx of black-clad cops in gas masks emerged from nowhere, marching in formation toward the protesters who were battling to get past the guards on the White House lawn. The cops hit back with volleys of tear gas driving the protesters onto the street.

Protesters skirmishing near the White House. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

The cops withdrew as protesters scattered. But the PLP folks, a rare multiracial leftist group in those days, attacked a second time, pushing even further onto the White House grounds. The cops hit back hard and drove the protesters to Lafayette Park, where other protesters joined in ripping paving bricks from the park walkways and raining them onto the police. At the time, it was the most dangerous thing I had ever seen. Somehow nobody was killed, though some cops were lightly injured. Thirty-five people were arrested.

Protesters and journalists were hit with tear gas. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

A brief riot spread through the night, a few windows broken, a few street fires. By the next day it was like it never happened.

Our bus driver was hit over the head, but recovered, and we made it home the next day after a night at the Yippie D.C. HQ in a rented brownstone on Capitol Hill.

The Yippies’ bus driver was hit on the head during the clash but was able to drive them back to Bleecker St. (Photo by Paul DeRienzo)

Most progressives thought the PLP was wrong to risk injuries with their adventurism, shifting the focus from the Klan to the rioting protesters. You don’t hear much about the group anymore as the left at the time was more focused on the failed attempt by the Rainbow Coalition to get Jesse Jackson elected president

But as I watched the Trumpoids bum rush the Capitol on Jan. 6 it brought back memories of when the left were the invaders.


  1. Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 18, 2021

    Hi Mary, beginning in 1979 I was a Yippie journalist for Overthrow newspaper, where I wrote many articles, readable on the Internet from PDFs of the originals. I traveled to many hot spots as a correspondent and took my camera everywhere I went. In the early ’70s as a college student I was acquainted with many of the political and social groups of the time. Especially the ones fighting racism and war. I was elected to the student government and was either instrumental or helped initiate coalitions to end apartheid, legalize pot and psychedelics, support the victims of right-wing violence and marshal performers and musicians to fight racism. It started me on a lifelong quest for social change leading me to the LES, where I worked with squatters homeless people and drug reform activists. My resume is available on LinkedIn. Pax

    • mary reinholz mary reinholz January 19, 2021

      Thanks, Paul, but you didn’t answer my question about how the Left “almost” took over the White House.

      • Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 21, 2021

        It seems like a matter of opinion. All I can say, as I’ve said, I was there, it’s my call.

    • mary reinholz mary reinholz January 17, 2021

      Problem is, the current story/memoir doesn’t match the headline about the time the left “almost” took the White House.

      • Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 17, 2021

        You were’t there Mary. Sorry your missed it, twas a gas, tear gas.

        • mary reinholz mary reinholz January 18, 2021

          Again, Paul, I don’t understand why your story is billed as an event in which the Left “almost” took over the White House. Of course I wasn’t there, which is why I’m asking. Were lefty demonstrators trying to get inside the WH to talk to president? Or did they just battle the cops on WH lawn?

    • mary reinholz mary reinholz January 17, 2021

      Yes, your article confirms that the left-wing demonstrators from that day wanted to confront and scare away the Klansmen, and they attacked the cops who protected them. In no way were the demonstrators in D.C. to attempt a “takeover” of the White House.

        • mary reinholz mary reinholz January 17, 2021

          Are you saying that was the plan?

  2. Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 16, 2021

    Martha Gotwaos, the article doesn’t tarnish anybody. In 1982 seizing the White House was cool. If Trump had been reelected, it would probably have been cool again. As far as what I do, I’ll leave that to history to judge. I was there in 1982.

  3. Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 16, 2021

    Fascinating walk down memory lane when Yippies from NYC traveled to Washington D.C. to confront a small group of Klansmen and were apparently upstaged by Maoist members of the Progressive Labor Party. Those demonstrators battled police on the lawn of White House and later in Lafayette Park. But neither group of lefty protesters can compare in number to the the thousands of fanatic Trump supporters who actually invaded the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, trying to stop the certification of the Nov. 3 election and calling for the hanging of V.P. Mike Pence. The Trumpers also clashed with cops and the result was at least 5 people dead, including a police officer. I gather no one was seriously injured in the far smaller 1982 dust-up. No one died and it would appear that the small KKK group there to march suffered few if any injuries. Unlike Chris Flash, I don’t believe Trump’s followers had any right to break into the Capitol Building and stop the “people’s business” of certifying the election Trump clearly lost. Furthermore, the 1982 demonstration against the KKK, while violent, was no insurrection and was far less traumatic than 2021’s Jan. 6 “day of infamy.”

  4. Jane Doe Jane Doe January 16, 2021

    “The last occurrence came shortly after a bloody 1979 attack by the Ku Klux Klan on a group of communist anti-Klan radicals in Greensboro, North Carolina, in which five of the lefties were killed and several others seriously wounded.”

    This is an excellent article, but missing is the fact that Margaret Chin, a professed Maoist at the time, was a leader that day in North Carolina of the “communist anti-Klan radicals,” known as the Communist Workers Party, a radical pro-Mao group.

    It is unconscionable that she would lead her followers into a confrontation with armed KKK members, carrying signs reading, “Death to the Klan.” What did she think would be the Klan’s reaction to this blatant threat on their lives?

    She has blood on her hands, the blood of the slaughtered who believed in her.

    Realizing soon after that Maoism was dead in the water, she quickly turned capitalist and helped found AAFE, Asian Americans for Equality, one of the largest real-estate developers in Lower Manhattan and which has been charged with displacing Hispanics to renovate buildings it acquired.

    True to her innate mendacity, when she ran for City Council in 1991 as a Democrat, Chin denied any involvement in the Maoist group. Her pathological lying is well known.

    However, someone found a 1970s photo from the NY Times of her posing with her fellow Maoists under the banner of the Communist Workers Party.

    Richard Brookhiser wrote an excellent 1991 article on all this controversy.

    So Chin went from a wacky Maoist to an uber-capitalist to suit her political aspirations. And Downtown has been stuck with this mendacious political chameleon for the past 12 years.

    Incidentally, the Progressive Labor Party in DC that day was no longer a “Maoist group.”
    PLP forsook that ideology in 1971.

    • Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 16, 2021

      57 varieties, I remember the CWP when I was an idealistic college student, they seemed weird to me at the time. Their newspaper was unreadable, their line uber-doctrinaire and their goals vague at best. I liked PLP because I had a professor who was in the group and he gave me an A. So I went with them to Tupelo Mississippi to confront the Klan, that was fun. A story for another day.

      • Paul DeRienzo Paul DeRienzo January 16, 2021

        You’re right about the Maoism, they were once Maoists and became something else that was a bit hard to fathom.

      • Alan Flacks Alan Flacks January 22, 2021

        ” Their newspaper was unreadable . . . .” And how.

    • Chris Flash Chris Flash January 18, 2021

      I entirely AGREE that Margaret Chin is CORRUPT AS HELL!

  5. Chris Flash Chris Flash January 16, 2021


    It is important to point out that neither the White House nor the Capitol are sacred sites, nor hallowed ground. Both are occupied by career politicians who are supposed to be working for US, but who instead engage in massive corruption, represent corporate and foreign interests that pay them, pass repressive legislation vs. American citizens and who greenlight illegal/immoral bombings and invasions against and occupations of sovereign nations around the world.

    Regardless of a particular group’s political stripes, EVERYONE has the right to demonstrate against the powers that be, bringing them a slight taste of what they dish out to us and others overseas each day.

    Those who whine that those demonstrating in DC on January 6, 2021 were “nazis” “Q-anons” “proud boys” “white supremacists” (or whatever) and that they tried to “take over” the government that day, should keep in mind that if a group whose politics that you don’t like or disagree with can’t demonstrate against the government, then YOU and the group(s) that YOU support cannot demonstrate either.

    Rather than play the divide-and-conquer game, folks should organize along the lines of their COMMONALITY and become a unified force to be reckoned with. That is the LAST thing that the parasites in power would want.

    Chris Flash
    The SHADOW

    • Nick Zedd Nick Zedd January 17, 2021

      How right you are.

  6. Martha Gotwaos Martha Gotwaos January 16, 2021

    Sorry, but this is ridiculous. There are many different groups that are part of the left, and this article tarnishes everybody without the research to specify. I proudly have been a movement person for many years, but this isn’t my movement, and I challenge the author to say a lot more about the PLP, and how much of the left it represents. ’Cause gotta say, most of my progressive friends are either pacifist or at least peaceful, no matter how angry we get.

    And Paul, what are you doing to make a difference?

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