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A lesson on Capitol Hill: Destroyers, deliverers, and the fine art of protest

I can still see the disappointment in the eyes of two young people who sat before me in the Capitol Hill office of then-Senator Lloyd Benson on a May afternoon in 1971.

The University of Texas students had come to Washington to help shut down the federal government to halt the Vietnam war. But they became disillusioned when they heard the brutal strategies proposed by the protest leaders.

The dream of the two students from Austin had perished in the rallies and backroom strategy sessions planning the details of the protests set for May 1,1971.

They had come to Washington to stand for principle, only to discover that the leaders of their movement seemed only to want destruction.

What the young man and woman heard alarmed them. They had tried to argue against the planned violence but had been ignored. They decided to reveal their concerns to one of their Texas senators, Lloyd Benson.

Alarmed, Benson’s staff then contacted the U.S. Department of Justice’s Internal Security Division, to which I had been detailed from the White House. Bob Mardian, assistant attorney general for internal security, dispatched me to Senator Benson’s office.

The young man and woman said they had come to Washington to, among other things, protest the napalming of Vietnamese villages, only to learn that protest planners were renting big trucks to load with drums of oil that that they would set ablaze in Washington’s traffic circles during rush hour, and incinerate people going home after a workday in the despised institutions of government.

The Texas students said the protest planners also spoke of ...