Vive Le Resistance: Ex-Member of the Buffalo Five to Speak at Burning Books
by Buck Quigley
On the hot summer night of August 21, 1971, seven young people identifying themselves with the Catholic Radical Left broke into the old post office building on Ellicott Street in Buffalo. Today, the Romanesque revival structure is known as the Erie Community College City campus. Back then, during the Vietnam War, it was being used to house draft records and US Army security papers.
Once inside, the perpetrators took off their pants and shoes to aid stealth. Silently, they glided down the terrazzo hallways. They were able to gain access to records that they stuffed into three sacks. Three flights up, standing in a huge office filled with row after row of locked filing cabinets, in his underwear and T-shirt, Jeremiah Horrigan was trying to gain access to the sought-after draft files when he noticed a strange crimson glow pulsating through the windows. He came to the glass and peered down as a number of police cruisers, red lights awhirl, came to a halt outside.
In the corridor outside the office, he heard shouts echoing off the walls. He quickly walked to meet a friend in another room that was a designated rendezvous in case the party ran into any SNAFUs during their mission.
This was a major SNAFU.
Soon, a pair of fired-up cops were at the door. The war protesters raised their hands in surrender, and were quickly thrown to the floor, their hands cuffed behind their backs. As Horrigan recalls, one of the officers figured out what was going down: “Draft board raiders, huh? Fuckin’ draft board raiders.”
In all, five activists were apprehended. Meaux Considine, Ann Masters, Jim Martin, Chuck Darst, and Horrigan. Two others at the scene, Jim Good and Michael Hickey, were able to dash out of the building and over a challenging security fence in their underwear. Miraculously, they then ran through the night streets until they persuaded a resident of some nearby housing projects to give them a ride to a safehouse. The police concluded that two suspects must have gotten away when they found seven pairs of shoes and pants at the scene.
Today, Horrigan works as a journalist in Middletown. To understand where he was coming from at the time of his arrest, he explains a bit about the movement of which he was a part.
“Catholic Radical Left was the term that we would refer to ourselves as,” he says. “And, you know, you can trace that back to the Berrigans, who in ’68 in Catonsville, Maryland, went into the draft board during the day, appropriated a bunch of files, took them out on the lawn and burned them with homemade napalm. Then they stood around and waited to be arrested. Which was kind of a classic civil disobedience approach to things. It blew peoples’ minds.”
Horrigan is quick to point out that the Buffalo activists had no intention of sticking around to be arrested. That’s just the way things worked out.
“These were all priests, ex-priests, nuns, ex-nuns—with I think maybe one or two exceptions. I didn’t know a lot of them personally. I didn’t know the Berrigans at all. In ’68 I was in high school and I probably thought they were fools when I heard about it—if I remember hearing about it. But when I discovered the movement that they had spawned, in ’69 or ’70, I was pretty fed up with the various possibilities of protest. I’d done any number of mass protests, and it seemed like the opposite pole was to go trash things. Our violence was directed against paper. We totally rejected blowing up things. In Michigan a couple of guys blew up a chemistry building and killed a guy who was doing late-night research. It was awful. We took great pains not to involve anybody accidentally.”
Another tenet of their philosophy was that they had to risk themselves. “You couldn’t pass it off on someone else, and you couldn’t do it without some risk to yourself—otherwise, what was the point?”
Judge John Thomas Curtin presided over the trial of the Buffalo Five. The prosecution’s case was cut-and-dried because the suspects had been apprehended with their pants down (or off, as it were), and the law was pretty straightforward when it came to the attempted theft or destruction of government property.
However, Curtin allowed the defense to freely argue that it was not what happened but why it happened that was important. The suspects were taking nonviolent action against a war that an increasing majority of Americans were recognizing as an insanely brutal conflict that was chewing up and spitting out young draftees while killing countless innocent Vietnamese. The reasons for being there were being questioned, and under such scrutiny those reasons were losing substance.
Before the jury left to consider their fate, Meaux Considine addressed them: “Because of the war we acted last August, out of hope, not despair. We came here out of hope, with respect for life. Respect for the sacredness of life. You can join us.”
Eleven hours later they were all found guilty. At sentencing, Curtin let them off with youthful offender status, and none served any prison time.
Nevertheless, the high profile of the case caused strain between Horrigan and his father, who was well-known around town for his role as an executive with the Buffalo Bills. The fierce emotions stirred by the Vietnam War caused rifts in many American families. But when the press asked the father what he thought of his son the war protester, the younger Horrigan recalls his father’s reply: “He said, ‘He’s my son. And I love him.”
Nearly 41 years after the event that put him in the headlines, Jeremiah Horrigan will return to Buffalo to tell his story at 7pm on Thursday, August 16, at Burning Books (420 Connecticut Street).
You can view a trailer of a work-in-progress documentary focusing on the Catonsville 9 and the Catholic Radical Left at www.hitandstay.com.blog comments powered by Disqus
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