Yet the declassified FBI files show the FBI already had developed credible evidence suggesting that there was indeed a sniper and that one or more shots may have been fired at the guardsmen first.
Rumors of a sniper had circulated for at least a day before the fatal confrontation, the documents show. And a memorandum sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on May 19, 1970, referred to bullet holes found in a tree and a statue — evidence, the report stated, that “indicated that at least two shots had been fired at the National Guard.”
Another interviewee told agents that a guardsman had spoken of “a confirmed report of a sniper.”
It also turned out that the FBI had its own informant and agent-provocateur roaming the crowd, a part-time Kent State student named Terry Norman, who had a camera. Mr. Norman also was armed with a snub-nosed revolver that FBI ballistics tests, first declassified in 1977, concluded had indeed been discharged on that day.
Then there was the testimony of an ROTC cadet whose identity remains unknown, one of the pervasive redactions concealing the names of all the FBI agents who conducted the interviews and of all those whom they interrogated. Although presumably angry over the demonstrators’ destruction of the campus ROTC building, the cadet’s calm, precise firsthand account nonetheless carries a credibility not easily dismissed.
Before the fatal volley, the ROTC cadet told the FBI, he “heard one round, a pause, two rounds, and then the M-1s opened up.”
The report continued that the cadet “stated that the first three rounds were definitely not M-1s. He said they could possibly have been a .45 caliber. … [He] further stated that he heard confirmed reports of sniper fire coming in over both the National Guard radio and the state police radio.”
The cadet also told the FBI he observed demonstrators carrying baseball bats, golf clubs and improvised weapons, including pieces of steel wire cut into footlong sections, along with radios and other electronic devices “used to monitor the police and Guard wavelengths.”
Separately, a female student told the FBI she “recalled hearing what she thought was [the sound of] firecrackers and then a few seconds later [she] heard noise that to her sounded like a machine gun going off, but then later thought it may have been a volley of shots from the Guard.”
Absent the declassification of the FBI’s entire investigative file, many questions remain unanswered — including why the documents quoted here were overlooked, or discounted, in the Justice Department’s official findings.
At a minimum, the FBI documents strongly challenge the received narrative that the rioting in downtown Kent was spontaneous and unplanned, that the burning of the ROTC headquarters was similarly impulsive and that the guardsmen’s fatal shootings were explicable only as unprovoked acts.
The FBI files provide, in short, a hidden history of the killings at Kent State. They show that the “four dead in Ohio” more properly belong, in the grand sweep of history, to four days in May, an angry, chaotic and violent interlude when a controversial foreign war came home to American soil.
• James Rosen, a Fox News correspondent, examined previously undisclosed FBI files on the Kent State shootings while researching his biography “The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate.”