The Day John Sinclair Died

John Sinclair. Photo: Wayne Dabney. CC BY 3.0

The poet, musician, writer, pot liberator, raconteur, Tigers fan, jazzbo, political radical, producer of MC5, founder of the White Panthers and occasional CounterPunch, John Sinclair died this week at 82.

He seemed older. He seemed younger. He seemed like he’d always, or never really, been here. He seemed timeless, tapping into some deep roots of the strange American psyche.

The day John died I had just finished reading Leon Wilde’s excellent book (John Lennon v. the USA) on the deportation trials against John and Yoko. Wilde was John & Yoko’s lawyer and the long-running case ended up setting major precedents in US immigration law, many of them undone by Trump. Indeed, the so-called Einstein Visa should’ve been renamed the Ono-Lennon Visa.

The vile case against the Ono-Lennons (essentially one of the many nefarious branches of Watergate-style dirty tricks) was initiated by Strom Thurmond after a closed-door hearing of Joe McCarthy’s old committee, still functioning in the early 1970s, detailing their role in the Free John Sinclair concert and the fears that Lennon, Sinclair and Rubin were planning a similar kind of concert to disrupt the GOP convention, originally scheduled for San Diego, later moved to Miami.

The hearing was largely about Sinclair and the White Panthers and included speculation that they might try to kidnap leading political figures, including Gerald Ford and the chair of the committee, Senator Robert Griffin, (both Michiganders) and barter him for the freedom of jailed political prisoners in the US, or that they might try to slip someone like Spiro Agnew LSD, which would have been a truly great spectacle.

Thurmond highlighted these reports in his two memos to John Mitchell, urging Nixon’s INS to deport John & Yoko.  Sinclair and the Panthers figure prominently in Wilde’s dryly written but informative account. I was eager to interview John, who was an occasional contributor to CounterPunch, about his side of it, when I learned of his death. John Sinclair ¡Presente!


Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3