A Conversation with Devo’s Gerald Casale (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from Part Two

I know you’ve been asked and answered questions about Kent State shooting many times before. But if you’d indulge me, I’d like you to tell me what that experience meant to you personally.

Gerald Casale: I was a student activist; I was a member of SDS. Mark Rudd from Columbia University came to Kent State’s campus in 1968, gave speeches, and recruited. So, I signed up with SDS then and there. And when May 4th ’70 happened, that day was a protest against the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia without an act of Congress perpetrated by Nixon and his cronies. It was the same kind of authoritarian unconstitutional kind of bullshit that Trump pulled all the time.

Back then, the student body of America was sufficiently educated about the three branches of government and the laws of the Constitution and when it was being transgressed, so they were outraged; unlike today. And there were only three [television] channels. There weren’t people watching their own news; everybody got the same news.

So, we protested that day, and the Republican right-wing governor, Governor Rhodes, conspired with the dean of the university to let National Guardsmen on campus the night before and hide them in the heating plant and in the gymnasium, because they knew we weren’t being secretive. We were gonna protest, and we were announcing it. “This was wrong!” and “This was an outrage!” And, you know, “Stop Nixon!”

When the protest started, “Boom!” Here come, you know, 100 National Guardsmen, full uniforms, gas masks, M1 rifles. And the plan was obviously [that] they were trying to corral us over the hill from this beautiful area, The Commons, where everybody would gather all the time whether it was a pep rally or a political rally. They would push us up over the hill into the student-teacher parking lot where buses were waiting to arrest us and take us to the Portage County Jail in Ravenna, Ohio.

We thought it was a ritual. You know, I’d been in protests before. So, the more brave students are trying to throw the tear gas back at the Guard, but the tear gas is thick, so we keep moving. We move over the hill, and they suddenly stop chasing us, and we stop and look at them like, “What’s going on? They’re stopping.” And it was like the Civil War. The first-row guys kneel, second row guys stand, they bring their M1 rifles [up], we think they’re gonna regroup and charge us with bayonets. Which is effective: we’re gonna keep moving.

But no. Somebody screamed an order behind a gas mask, did [wave] with his hand. Boom! 31 rounds in a few seconds. And, luckily, I was in a group closer to them. They shot over our heads and killed people behind us. And I think it’s because they were the same age as us, and they could see our faces, and I don’t think they had the guts to just shoot us that close, like a duck shoot where they could recognize you.

And so, it was the red pill moment that day: Seeing what really happens to people when they are shot by real bullets, the blood and the screaming. And then the ensuing national response where most publications agreed with the guards and said more students should’ve been killed. We were under martial law for a week, curfews at 7:00. I saw the way history was fraudulently written and how everything that I knew happened wasn’t portrayed.

It changed me. And it changed my politics. Suddenly, the myth of America and exceptionalism turned to bullshit. We could see the hypocrisy, and we could see that “history belongs to those who write it,” and we could see that illegitimate authority prevails unless you stand up against it. You have to fight for your right to party! You have to take democracy seriously.

So, I don’t think Devo would exist without that, because then I started formulating ideas and talking to my friends and my good colleague, Bob Lewis, and I came up with the concept of de-evolution to explain everything we were seeing, and then we shortened that to Devo.

Taken to its logical end, does January 6th of [2021] fit into that?

It certainly does, certainly does. See, that was the inverse. You were watching perpetrators with misplaced grievances pretend to be victims, to rob people who obey democratic rule of law from free and fair election. That’s a Nazi tactic.