Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Norman David Mayer (March 31, 1916 - December 9, 1982) was a anti-nuclear weapons activist who was shot and killed by the United States Park Police after threatening to blow up the Washington Monument.
A former drifter with numerous run-ins with the law for drug possession, Mayer focused late in life on protesting nuclear weapons in 1978. He wished to stage a destructive and dramatic event to grab attention for his cause, and unsuccessfully tried to purchase explosives. Mayer subsequently moved to Washington, DC in June of 1982, and spent every day for the next few months displaying large plywood signs in front of the White House and proselytizing to passing tourists. Mayer eventually found this manner of protesting frustrating and ineffectual and developed a new attention-getting scheme.
On December 8, 1982, Mayer drove a white van bearing the message "#1 PRIORITY: BAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS" in large letters on its side up to the base of the Monument and jumped out wearing a black motorcycle helmet, a bright blue snowsuit and carrying a remote control. Mayer claimed that he would destroy the Monument with 1,000 pounds of TNT loaded in his van unless a national dialogue on the threat of nuclear weapons was seriously undertaken. Mayer also claimed that he had a hidden accomplice who also could detonate the explosives.
The U.S. Park Police evacuated nearby buildings and closed down area streets for several blocks. Eight tourists were initially trapped inside the Monument, but were released by Mayer.
On December 9, after ten hours with little change, Mayer jumped in his van and started to drive off, threatening to become "a moving time bomb in downtown Washington." The police opened fire, striking Mayer four times—twice in the head—and killing him.
The Park Police later claimed that they did not intend to shoot Mayer, but were instead aiming for the van's engine. Their subsequent investigation disclosed that Mayer had neither explosives nor an accomplice.
George Stephanopoulos, then a 21 year old intern at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had met Mayer several times. Mayer stopped into his office to discuss nuclear disarmament. On December 8, 1982, Stephanopoulos made his first appearance on Nightline to discuss Mayer.
In 2003, a similar incident ended differently, when disgruntled tobacco farmer Dwight Watson surrendered and was convicted on federal charges after driving a tractor into a pond on the National Mall. Watson claimed he had explosives to protest about the government's treatment of tobacco farmers and Gulf War veterans.
- All too Human, by George Stephanopoulos, Back Bay Books; 2000.
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