In honor of John Lennon’s birthday, we’re bringing you an article about the former Beatle turned activist by Bill Weinberg, originally published in the May, 1992 edition of High Times.
Why would the FBI want to withhold their files on a rock star who has been dead for over ten years? That’s what Jon Wiener wants to know.
Jon Wiener is a history professor at UC Irvine who wrote a biography of John Lennon’s radical years, Come Together. For the past several years he has been waging a legal battle against the Justice Department’s Federal Bureau of Investigation to get them to cough up the secret Lennon files, which they still refuse to release.
“There are 300 pages in John Lennon’s FBI file,” says Wiener. “I have about 200, all about his peace movement activities.”
What could be in the remaining 100? “I can only speculate. It could contain material that would embarrass the FBI…expose FBI misconduct or lawbreaking. John Lennon claimed there was an illegal wiretap on his apartment. The FBI denied it at the time. Or it could be material indicating Richard Nixon’s interest in the case.”
Are these valid grounds for withholding documents from the public? According to the law, absolutely not. But under the Reagan administration, loopholes in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) appeared so big as to make the law virtually unenforceable. Under President Carter, federal agencies such as the FBI could withhold documents only if disclosure would cause “identifiable damage to national security.” A 1981 executive order signed by President Reagan dropped the word “identifiable” from the law. The FOIA had been gutted with the stroke of a pen.
It was also in 1981—in February, just three months after John Lennon had been shot to death—that Jon Wiener, then researching Come Together, asked the FBI to release the Lennon Files. When Wiener started to receive the pages, he found that many of them were almost entirely censored with thick black lines of ink. In 1983, after battling the agency for two more years, Wiener filed suit in federal court, charging the FBI with violating the FOIA. In 1984, Come Together was published. But the FBI remained intransigent, and the suit went on. Losing the case in a California district court in 1987, Wiener appealed. In July 1991, the persistent researcher received a favorable decision: The San Francisco Federal Appeals Court ruled that the FBI’s reasons for withholding the files were inadequate. “The appeals court requested that the FBI say how release of the files would endanger national security,” explains Wiener. “The FBI says that saying how would itself endanger national security.”
The FBI can now either turn over the files or take the case to the Supreme Court. “We still haven’t got any of the documents we’ve been seeking,” says Wiener, “but we’re much closer than we’ve ever been before. This is one of the strongest FOIA decisions in the last several years.”
Wiener says that if the FBI releases anything “interesting and historically significant, I’d like to do an updated edition of the book.” But, in the meantime, Lennon fans can only wonder what it was about the musician and the federal heat he attracted that, 20 years later, the FBI still wants to hide.
From Abbey Road To The Yippies: The Walrus Turns Rad
Rock ’n’ roll has, of course, always been associated with rebellion. But compared to bad boys like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles seemed clean-cut lads, despite the Bible-Belt fury following Lennon’s 1966 comment to a reporter that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ. Lennon’s first scrape with the authorities came in the fall of 1968 when police, with drug-sniffing dogs, raided the London apartment he shared with his new lover, Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. The dogs sniffed out a small chunk of hashish. He only had to pay a £150 fine, but the negative publicity compounded other problems in Lennon’s life. Yoko had just suffered a miscarriage, and the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up. The group’s last sessions together at their historic Abbey Road studios were under way. Lennon’s first solo single, Cold Turkey, released the next year, cried of the pain and horror of heroin withdrawal. It was clear that the “brainy Beatle” wanted to make a radical departure from the catchy pop of the famous foursome.
While all four Beatles had signed a full-page London Times ad in 1967, calling for marijuana legalization, it was also evident that Lennon wanted to use his notoriety to have a far more overt and radical political impact. In protest of British support for the US war in Vietnam, Lennon returned to the Queen, “with love,” his MBE (Member of the British Empire), a high honor which had been bestowed on the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania. He started a worldwide billboard campaign that placed the message WAR IS OVER—IF YOU WANT IT from Times Square to Tokyo. He started hanging out with London’s political radicals. When one London underground newspaper, the Oz, was threatened with closure for violating obscenity laws, Lennon recorded a benefit single, “Do the Oz,” and led a London demo in support of the paper, chanting “POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” and holding a placard that read, FOR THE I.R.A., AGAINST BRITISH IMPERIALISM.
Lennon’s first post-Beatles album, Plastic Ono Band, made clear that he wanted to make a break with the past. “The dream is over,” he told his fans. The year after its release, John and Yoko relocated to New York City, renting a small apartment on Bank Street in Greenwich Village. His first US demonstration was with the Onondaga Indians, protesting a government land-grab to build a freeway through their traditional territory in upstate New York. It didn’t take long for New York’s radicals—with Abbie Hoffman’s and Jerry Rubin’s Yippies at the forefront—to seek out John and Yoko.
The Bank Street apartment became a hangout for Yippies, Black Panthers and figures such as feminist writer Kate Millet and poet Allen Ginsberg, who says that he was the first to tell Lennon about CIA involvement in the international heroin trade and the use of drug laws for political repression. Lennon started playing on the streets with the Yippie songster David Peel— something he never would have been able to get away with in London without being mobbed. With Rubin and Hoffman, he launched the Rock Liberation Front, dedicated to protesting the capitalist rip-off of the youth counterculture. Lennon loved New York, with its radical street scene, and wanted to make it his new home. But he probably didn’t realize the danger he was flirting with by taking up with a bunch of radicals in the America of Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover.
Enter The Blue Meanies, Stage Right
December 11, 1971, John Lennon performed with David Peel, Phil Ochs and Stevie Wonder at a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to demand freedom for John Sinclair. Sinclair was a leader of the Detroit-based radical group White Panthers and had just been sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two joints to an undercover cop. It was a perfect example of what Allen Ginsberg had told Lennon about drug laws serving as a cover for political persecution. Two days after the Ann Arbor rally/concert, which was attended by 15,000, Sinclair was set free at an appeals court hearing. Jerry Rubin, one of the organizers, hailed it as “an incredible tribute to the power of the people.”
But FBI agents were among those in the audience at Ann Arbor that night. The following month, January 1972, one of the First FBI documents on Lennon appeared—a memo to the FBI’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC) in New York. It is one of the documents which was released to Wiener almost completely blacked out. But handwritten across the page and underlined are the words ALL EXTREMISTS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED DANGEROUS.
The agency had been keeping tabs on Lennon ever since he arrived in the US. In April 1970, when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover got wind that John and Yoko were flying into the country with George Harrison, he sent a secret memo to his New York and Los Angeles offices. The memo informed Hoover’s apparently very square underlings that “[t]hese individuals are affiliated with the Beatles musical group.” While admitting that Lennon and Harrison “have shown no propensity to become involved in violent antiwar demonstrations,” the memo instructed all agents to “remain alert for any information of such activity on their part or for information indicating they are using narcotics.”
So it certainly did not escape the FBI’s notice when, shortly after the Ann Arbor rally, John Sinclair visited Lennon and Ono at Bank Street. There, in a brainstorming session with Yippie leaders, they decided to take the idea of rock concert/political rally on the road—with the ultimate destination being that summer’s Republican National Convention in San Diego, where Richard Nixon was expected to be nominated for a second term. Lennon would be the star who would draw thousands of kids to San Diego to protest Nixon and the war in Indochina.
Of course, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were among the “Chicago 8” defendants who faced conspiracy charges for their role in organizing protests at the 1968 Democratic convention, which exploded into a riot. The violence of the Chicago police was caught by the TV cameras, and America was electrified. The Chicago protests had put the Yippies on America’s political map. But Nixon won the ’68 election, escalated the war in Vietnam, and invaded Cambodia in 1970. When campuses erupted in protest, the National Guard was called in. Student protestors were killed by government forces at Ohio’s Kent State University, Mississippi’s Jackson State University, and the University of California at Berkeley.
This is what Allen Ginsberg told Jon Wiener about Lennon’s concept for the ’72 convention: “It seemed…like the great breakthrough that everybody was waiting for…to redo Chicago ’68, but in a much wiser way—as a real festival of life, instead of an aggressive contest. I thought that an enormously important social, political and artistic vision was taking place. And Lennon seemed to be taking the responsibility.”
At a time when the antiwar movement seemed to be on the wane following the violence of 1969 and 1970, and as “people drugs” like LSD were being squeezed out by “death drugs” like heroin, Lennon told a reporter: “The main thing Yoko and I are doing is to change the apathy that all the youth have, especially in America. They think there’s nothing to do and it’s all over and they want to be on speed and junk and just kill themselves. Our job now is to tell them that there is still hope and we still have things to do…. It’s only the beginning. We’re just in the inception of revolution.”
In 1968, Hoover had sent a memo to his agents in the COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) regarding the FBI crackdown on domestic dissent to the Vietnam war:
“For maximum effectiveness of the Counterintelligence Program… long range goals are being set. 1. Prevent the coalition of militant…groups. In unity there is strength; a truism that is no less valid for its triteness…. 2. Prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify.”
Perhaps this mentality explains why an FBI report on Lennon’s 1972 appearance with Jerry Rubin on The Mike Douglas Show termed Rubin an “extremist” and Lennon a “security matter, new left”—and why the report was forwarded to such unlikely agencies as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and Naval Intelligence.
In the spring, John and Yoko recorded their most political album, Some Time In New York City. While the previous year’s Imagine had been utopian, the new album was full of anthems for radical causes: the liberation of Northern Ireland (“Bloody Sunday,” “Luck of the Irish”), US political prisoners like John Sinclair and Angela Davis, women’s liberation (“Woman Is the Nigger of the World,” “Sisters 0 Sisters”), and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s massacre of prisoners in the previous year’s Attica State Prison uprising.
Plans were moving along apace for the summer’s “political Woodstock” in San Diego. Lennon and the Yippie leaders had formed the Election Year Strategy Information Committee to organize the tour. Lennon was aware at this point that the authorities had taken note. He would later tell Hit Parader: “We knew we were being wiretapped on Bank Street. There was a helluva lot of guys coming in to fix the phones.” He would also tell Capital Radio in the UK: “I was so paranoid from them tappin’ the phone and following me; how could I prove they were tappin’ the phone?”
The Battle Begins
Clearly, the authorities had got wind of the San Diego plan. On February 4, 1972, South Carolina’s reactionary Republican senator, Strom Thurmond, sent a memo to Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, noting that Lennon had taken up with the Chicago veterans:
“This group has been strong advocates of the program to ‘dump Nixon.’ They have devised a plan to hold rock concerts in various primary states for the following purposes: to obtain access to college campuses; to press for legislation legalizing marijuana, to recruit persons to come to San Diego.”
“They…intend to use John Lennon as a drawing card to promote their success.”
“This can only lead to a clash between a controlled mob organized by this group and law enforcement officials…. If Lennon’s visa is terminated, it would be a strategic countermeasure.”
The fix was in. Ten days later, Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindeinst sent a memo to the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) on John Lennon, asking: “Do we—if we so elect—have any basis to deny his admittance?”
By then John and Yoko had applied for citizenship. Among other things, they were engaged in a stateside search for Yoko’s child from a previous marriage, with whom the father had disappeared. A February FBI report on Lennon’s citizenship application was stamped COPY TO CIA. That same month, a CIA report (one of four Central Intelligence Agency documents that have been released to Wiener) noted that Lennon had paid for activist Rennie Davis to attend the World Assembly for Peace & Independence of the Peoples of Indochina, held in Paris that month.
On March 1, INS informed Lennon that he had two weeks to leave the US before deportation hearings would begin. Lennon didn’t leave. On his way to his first INS hearing on April 18, he stopped at a Manhattan antiwar rally, where TV reporter Geraldo Rivera stuck a microphone in his face.
Rivera: “Why are you being deported?”
Lennon: “The real reason is that I’m a peacenik.”
Rivera: “Will you give up your opposition to the war because of the deportation order?”
Lennon: “No. Nothing will stop me.”
That same day, an FBI memo to Hoover read: “Lennon was observed by representative of the FBI to make press release in which he inferred INS was attempting to deport him due to his political ideas and present policy of US government.”
Given the crew that was snooping on Lennon, it is entirely believable that illegal methods were being used against him, such as warrantless wiretaps. An April 25 FBI report on the Lennon deportation proceedings prepared for H.R. Haldeman, the Nixon White House aide who, along with Attorney General John Mitchell, would later be convicted on charges related to the Watergate scandal, referred to another FBI report relating to the musician by Special Agent Edward S. Miller. Miller and fellow agent Mark Felt would later be convicted of burglaries committed in an investigation of the radical Weathermen group in New York. Miller and Felt were the only FBI men ever to be convicted of crimes on the job. They would both be pardoned in 1983 by President Reagan.
In May 1972, J. Edgar Hoover, who had lorded over the FBI since its inception in the 1920s, died. But the Lennon investigation continued, and his official FBI classification was changed from “Security Matter—New Left” to “Revolutionary Activities.” The campaign was successful, at least in part. Faced with a full-time struggle to maintain their US residency, John and Yoko were forced to abandon the political-tour concept.
Rocked by scandal, the Republicans moved their convention from San Diego to Miami at the last minute. The Yippies split, with a more radical faction known as the “Zippies” (including HIGH TIMES founder Tom Foçade) abandoning the leadership of Rubin and Hoffman because of the duo’s support for the liberal Democratic candidacy of George McGovern. Despite the first tremors of the Watergate scandal, Nixon was elected to a second term, claiming that he had a “secret plan” to end the war. It would later be revealed that the “plan” was to use nuclear weaponry against North Vietnam, and that the threat of massive protest at home was the only thing that had reined him in.
Instead of going on tour with the radicals, Lennon organized a National Committee for John & Yoko. With a lineup of famous musicians, authors and film stars, the National Committee succeeded in flooding the White House with letters protesting the deportation. Following Nixon’s re-election, the FBI closed the Lennon case, “[i]n view of subject’s inactivity in Revolutionary Activities and his seemingly rejection [sic] by N.Y. radicals….”
Although an INS memo referred to John and Yoko as “undesirable and dangerous aliens,” the linchpin of the deportation case was Lennon’s 1968 hashish bust in London—under INS regulations, drug offenders can be denied residency. However, in 1973, Lennon launched a suit against INS for alleged wiretapping. Lennon’s attorney got the INS to admit that over 100 drug-offender aliens had been allowed to stay in the US for “humanitarian reasons.”
In 1975, a federal court of appeals overturned the deportation order on a narrow legal point—British law, in 1968, did not require that the accused know of the illegal nature of the substance in possession. John Lennon finally got his green card, allowing him to stay in the US indefinitely.
Watching The Wheels
The government’s harassment deeply changed John Lennon’s life. In 1973, just as the last US troops were leaving Vietnam, the INS had granted Yoko Ono residency. The reply to INS read: “Having just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, we are not prepared to sleep in separate beds. Peace & Love, John & Yoko.” Later that year they moved out of Bank Street, uptown to the swank Dakota apartments on Central Park West, and broke their ties with the downtown radical scene. But although Lennon had bought seclusion, he couldn’t buy peace. His relationship with Yoko turned stormy. In October 1973, Yoko, tired of being perceived as “Mrs. John Lennon,” asked John to leave. Feeling that his world had fallen apart, he departed for a year-long binge of drunkenness and debauchery in Los Angeles. The counterculture “messiah” which Hoover had warned of had been defused.
Lennon’s attorney, Leon Wildes, explained to Jon Wiener why the Nixon administration took such a keen interest in the Lennon case: “Remember, that was the first year they gave 18-year-olds the right to vote in a presidential election. Lennon was the guy who could have influenced the 18-year-old vote the most. In my mind there is a moral certainty that Mr. Nixon had discussions about Mr. Lennon.”
In 1975, John and Yoko reunited, and their son Sean was born two days after their legal battle with INS was won. John withdrew professionally as well as politically, putting his music career on hold to be a house-husband and raise Sean (with ample help from hired nannies, of course). Yoko handled their financial affairs from an office at the Dakota, investing heavily in cattle and New York State real estate.
In 1980, Sean turned five, and a rejuvenated John Lennon found the sudden inspiration to return to the studio for the first time in years. The result was the tremendously optimistic Double Fantasy album.
Lennon had weathered the storm—but at the price of abandoning his political commitment. He told a Rolling Stone interviewer that the INS case had made him “jumpy” and “nervous” about even “commenting on politics.”
But politics have a way of being inevitable. John and Yoko were putting the finishing touches on Double Fantasy—and emerging from their long seclusion—just as Ronald Reagan was being swept into the White House by the xenophobic hysteria of the Iran-hostage crisis. For the first time since the demise of the Nixon administration, the right wing was on the offensive in America.
A trace of the old activist Lennon also emerged along with the release of Double Fantasy. Yoko’s cousin, Shinya Ono, was a prominent labor organizer in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, a former Weathermen supporter, and shop steward at the Japan Foods Corporation (JFC). JFC workers were striking in protest of the company policy of a separate pay scale for Japanese and white employees, and Shinya appealed to the Lennon-Onos for help. In their last political statement, released in December 1980, John and Yoko told the striking JFC workers: “We are with you in spirit. Both of us are subjected to prejudice and abuse as an Oriental family in the Western world.” The pair also purchased plane tickets to join the strikers at a California demonstration the next month. But before their date of departure, John Lennon would be assassinated.
Did Lennon have a premonition that somebody was gunning for him? Surely the incoming Reagan regime would remember his strident activism against Nixon. Lennon was reviving his career at an ominous moment. Could the new administration, with Vice President George Bush a longtime CIA man, trust Lennon to maintain his silence in the face of US aggression in Central America and invasions of small countries like Grenada? Just before Double Fantasy, Lennon had courted the criticism of his former radical friends by making a public donation to the New York Police Department for the purchase of bulletproof vests. Was the 40-year-old rock star trying to buy protection?
Paul Krassner, Yippie co-founder and editor of The Realist, told Jon Wiener about a conversation he had with Lennon in 1972. He says he told John about his “theory that, with all the political assassinations, there were also cultural assassinations. I was wondering what he thought about the possibility that the deaths of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and maybe Otis Redding may have been made to look like suicides, because they were rebels and role models…. John said, ‘No, no, they were just going in a self-destructive direction.’ A few months after that, when things must have gotten really heavy with him, he reminded me of that conversation and said, ‘Listen, if anything happens to Yoko and me, it was not an accident.’”
The Dream Is Over
Was the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980 another political assassination of the type more and more people believe was responsible for the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X? FOIA research has revealed that the FBI did maintain files on Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, though not as extensive as that on Lennon. It has also been revealed that the CIA engaged in extensive snooping on domestic dissidents during the Vietnam era, despite the fact that the agency’s own charter confines them to foreign intelligence-gathering.
Fenton Bresler’s 1989 book, Who Killed John Lennon?, raises many questions about Mark David Chapman, Lennon’s deranged killer who now sits in Attica State Prison. A born-again Christian from Atlanta, he had traveled to Lebanon in 1975 with the YMCA’s International Camp Counselor Program (ICCP). His ICCP form shows that his first choice was the Soviet Union. Bresler asks why a born-again Christian would prefer the ICCP’s small program in war-torn Beirut to their far more extensive program in the holy city of Jerusalem, just 150 miles to the south.
On returning from Lebanon later in 1975, Chapman started working with Vietnamese refugees at a resettlement camp in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. By 1977, he was in Hawaii, where, severely depressed, he received psychiatric treatment at Kailua’s Castle Memorial Hospital. He then worked at the hospital as a maintenance worker until 1979, when he departed on a trip around the world, flying to Tokyo, continuing through Asia and Europe, then back to Atlanta and Honolulu. Personal letters Bresler dug up make reference to a “loan” for the trip. But who made the loan, and why?
Back in Hawaii, Chapman took a job as a guard at a Waikiki apartment complex, where he got into a feud with the Church of Scientology, headquartered across the street. The Scientologists have been accused of being a mind-control cult, and their founder, L. Ron Hubbard, was a veteran of Naval Intelligence. According to some reports, Chapman sometimes blasted loud Beatles music at the Scientologists to disrupt their activities.
In 1980, Chapman suddenly developed a fixation on the J.D. Salinger novel Catcher in the Rye, purchased a handgun and quit his job—signing out on his last day “John Lennon,” and then crossing out the name.
Flying to New York and taking up residence in a local hotel, Chapman waited outside the Dakota until John and Yoko showed up—fresh from a Double Fantasy recording session. Chapman assumed a military firing stance and methodically pumped four bullets into Lennon’s back. He then dropped his .38, opened a copy of Catcher in the Rye and waited for the police to arrive.
Even while on “suicide watch” at New York’s Rikers Island prison, Chapman was allowed to make unlimited collect calls, and he made several—as had accused JFK killer Lee Harvey Oswald in police custody in Dallas in 1963.
A more direct link to the Kennedy killings lies in the fact that Chapman’s defense psychiatrist, Dr. Bernard Diamond, had also been defense psychiatrist for Robert Kennedy’s accused killer, Sirhan Sirhan. In an amazing parallel, Chapman went into a violently delirious state at Rikers Island in August 1981 and was taken, bound, to Manhattan’s Bellevue psychiatric hospital—much as Sirhan Sirhan had climbed the bars of his California prison cell like a monkey. In his book Operation Mind Control, author Walter Bowart maintains that Sirhan Sirhan had been put into a hypnotic trance by Dr. Diamond.
Lee Harvey Oswald was killed before he could stand trial. Chapman never stood trial either. In June 1981, he telephoned his lawyer from Rikers Island to tell him to change his plea to guilty, saying he had been instructed to do so by the “voice of God.”
Bresler argues that Chapman was a mind-control puppet, a so-called “Manchurian Candidate.” Conspiracy researcher John Judge has more pieces to the puzzle. For instance, he says, the answer to the question of where Chapman, who had never served in the armed forces, learned his military firing stance may lie in his 1975 stay in Lebanon. Lebanon has been the base of operations for numerous terrorist groups, and many of them have links to the CIA or private spy networks made up of former CIA agents.
John Judge also reports that the Vietnamese refugee resettlement program that Chapman was involved with at Fort Chaffee was overseen by Worldvision, a right-wing evangelical Christian group with links to the CIA. In Vietnam, Worldvision, seemingly doing humanitarian work for war refugees, served as an “ear” for US military intelligence, and would later play a similar role in Central America. When Chapman was working with the refugee program, Wordvision’s president was Ted Engstrom, a close friend of John Hinckley Sr., whose son John Hinckley Jr. would attempt to assassinate President Reagan in 1981. Hinckley Sr. is described as a “generous donor” to Worldvision by an organization spokesman. Judge thinks that Hinckley Jr. may have been another “Manchurian Candidate”—like Chapman, he had received psychiatric treatment, and this may have been when the programming took place. Hinckley’s family is also close to the Bush family. According to Judge, in the 1960s, George Bush’s Zapata Oil Company bailed out John Hinckley Sr.’s foundering Vanderbilt Oil Company. Judge says the small Vanderbilt company seemed to exist mostly on paper, and may have been a front for CIA covert operations. Judge smells an attempted Bush coup against Reagan in the assassination attempt. Hinckley and Chapman might have been products of the same mind-control operation.
In his insanity-defense trial it would be revealed that Hinckley Jr., like Chapman, was obsessed with the book Catcher in the Rye. He was also a Lennon freak. While his brother Scott went into the family business (and was friends with George Bush’s banker son Neil), John Hinckley Jr. was more interested in playing Beatles songs on his guitar. After Lennon’s assassination, he spent several days mooning outside the Dakota. Interestingly, his father’s company, by then reorganized as Vanderbilt Energy, would be bought out by a company called Chapman Energy in 1983, according to Texas investigative journalist David Armstrong. Is there a possible family link to the Lennon assassin?
The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog group over the psychiatric industry, founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology, has on file an affidavit from one Dr. Barnett S. Salzman, a former physician at Hawaii’s Castle Memorial Hospital where Chapman received psychiatric treatment in 1977. Dr. Salzman’s affidavit says that in the late 1970s, the hospital was engaged in a “behavior modification program,” which he characterized as “brainwashing,” run by a Dr. Ram Gursahani. In addition to “verbal abuse” of patients to cause “confusion” and “breakup,” the program “would use mind-altering drugs to enforce compliance similar to brainwashing techniques used in prisoner-of-war camps.” Dr. Salzman says it is likely that somebody like Chapman, with suicidally low self-esteem, “would come to Dr. Gursahani’s program, which demanded compliance to authority through covert techniques of subliminal approval and disapproval.”
Whatever the truth may be about Mark David Chapman, it is clear from Lennon’s own lyrics that his vision of a better world was bigger than any one man, that he rejected the idea of a messiah. On his Plastic Ono Band album, he sang: “I don’t believe in Jesus…I don’t believe in Kennedy…I don’t believe in Beatles.”
Meanwhile, a Beatles fan-turned-historian named Jon Wiener is waiting to see if the FBI is going to release the missing Lennon files or take the case to the Supreme Court.
Wiener personally places little credence in Chapman conspiracy theories such as those of Bresler and Judge. But he recognizes that Lennon’s inspiration to his generation was perceived as a threat by the powers that be.
“John Lennon provides an example of a person who made an effort to break out of the world of pop music and experiment with radical politics,” says Wiener. “And he paid heavily for those experiments—which shows the power of the government to harass and silence those who speak out against it. We like to think that those days are long gone, now that Nixon and Hoover are gone, that we live in different times. But I’m not so sure.”