At last, it was Thursday evening, August 4th, 1977. GAA’s membership received a final briefing from its elected Chain-of-Command at the West Side Discussion Group meeting space. Watches were synchronized.
For its 11 p.m. report, WNBC-TV/Channel 4 News taped footage of the rally-like atmosphere as the GAA convoy prepared to depart the West Village shortly after 10 p.m. As a precautionary measure, the convoy’s destination was kept secret from the mass media and no cameras or recording devices were allowed in the convoy. On its 11 p.m. newscast, Channel 4 reported without elaboration that GAA was holding a demonstration on behalf of the New York City gay rights bill.
At about 11:35 p.m., “PERSONS UNKNOWN,” as the official Scarsdale Police Department Crime Report would later put it, cautiously crept into Walinsky’s property. Apparently they were persons with Telephone Company tools and know-how: the Scardsdale Police Report says the first thing they did was cut the telephone wires to Walinsky’s house. Walinsky had two phone lines; both were cut, said the Scarsdale Police Crime Report. (Note to younger readers: there were no cellular phones in 1977; when Walinsky’s lines were severed, his household was isolated.)
Suddenly, Walinsky and his wife Jane, who had just gotten into bed, were jolted by volley upon volley of powerful firecrackers exploding right outside their windows. Dozens of eggs pelted their house on all sides. Fierce, furious voices amplified by bullhorns began bellowing over and over again: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your house on fire! Gay power rules!” Minute after brutal minute, the relentless barrage continued: At the windows the powerful firecrackers exploding, so loud and jolting, like gunfire; the eggs, by the hundreds now, pelting the house from every direction, damaging its paint; and incessantly, the frenetic full-throated bellowing: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your house on fire! Gay power rules! WALINSKY, YOU LIAR, WE’LL SET YOUR HOUSE ON FIRE! GAY POWER RULES!”
According to the Walinskys’ later sworn testimony to the New York State Supreme (superior) Court, the fright that gripped Mrs. Walinsky as this commotion erupted around the house turned in one panic-stricken flash to sheer literally heart-stopping terror when the Walinskys grabbed desperately for their phones to summon police help - and found both phone lines DEAD! The Walinskys and their doctor swore that the terror Mrs. Walinsky suffered in that one moment was so unbearably acute that she could have died on the spot of shock and she would never be the same again for the rest of her days.
The Scardsdale Police Crime Report says Walinsky’s property was defaced with graffiti including “GO GAY!” spray painted in thick letters five feet tall on his driveway facing the street, and there were other acts of general vandalism.
Simultaneously, the Scarsdale Police Crime Report says, thousands of fliers were posted and scattered around Walinsky’s property and the whole neighborhood. The fliers explained why the protest was taking place, making these points:
Walinsky had uttered fighting words and committed a blood libel against gays and lesbians.
Walinsky had declared war on gays and lesbians.
Walinsky opposed civil rights legislation that would end existing discrimination and give gays and lesbians equal opportunity and equal protection under the law in the basic necessities of life - housing, employment, public accommodations - in our hometown of New York City.
Tonight, gays and lesbians were doing the only self-defensive thing we could do to survive: counter-attacking, bringing the war home to him.
No longer will gays and lesbians tolerate insults and discrimination that no other citizens would put up with, and we will be no less forceful than any other aggrieved minority in fighting back against our bigoted oppressors.
Ending gay-bashing is literally a life and death issue for us; henceforth we will make it one for our violence-inciting enemies as well.
No more can hate-mongers like Walinsky slander us and deny us our human rights by day in our hometown, our own ghetto, and then at night retreat to their safe suburban homes and leave all that controversy behind them.
The negative consequences of the bigots’ actions hurt the gay and lesbian community 24 hours a day; from now on the bigots will suffer likewise until they stop their evil-doing.
If Walinsky is really dumb enough to pursue his war to the death against our community, (the fliers thundered in conclusion) then we have no choice but to affirm that WE WILL SURVIVE and prosper, while he will PERISH LIKE A COCKROACH.
After four long minutes that surely seemed like an eternity to the Walinsky household, the firecracker and egg bombardment, spray-painting and leaflet-plastering, etc., finally ceased. The gay and lesbian renegade raiders who had perpetrated this wild vandalistic orgy made good their escape from Walinsky’s badly damaged property. They disappeared as abruptly and mysteriously as they had arrived.
Momentarily, 50 GAA pickets (accompanied by two civil liberties lawyers and a handful of gay media reporters) appeared in the distance, marching single-file briskly up the street toward Walinsky’s. No means of transportation was visible: As a precaution, the bus and cars in the GAA convoy had been parked in a deserted area of a posh country club more than half a mile away, and the GAA demonstrators had speed-marched silently to Walinsky’s over hilly terrain.
Only after the GAA protesters set up a picket line on the street (there was no sidewalk) in front of Walinsky’s did they suddenly and dramatically unleash their deafening cacophony: noisemakers galore - bells, whistles, drums, horns, tambourines - and a non-stop repertoire of bullhorn-led chanting.
They shouted: “BIGOT WALINSKY, you better start shakin’, today’s pig is tomorrow’s bacon!” They yelled: “2, 4, 6, 8, Gay is good, gay is great! Gay power now!” They howled: “Walinsky, you liar, we’ll set your ass on fire! Gay rights now!”
In spite of Walinsky’s heated - hysterical might be a better word - demands, the Scarsdale Police who finally showed up at the scene declined to arrest any of the GAA pickets. After conferring with GAA’s spokesperson and the two legal observers, the Scarsdale Police official in charge explained to Walinsky that the only thing police could see was a more-or-less legal, albeit very noisy, picket line of baseball-bat-wielding protesters in progress on a public street - and, purely coincidentally, evidence that telephone wire-cutting and numerous other felonies had recently occurred nearby on Walinsky’s property. The police official told Walinsky that GAA and the legal observers with it categorically denied that GAA’s pickets had trespassed or committed vandalism on his property; that GAA in fact insisted its pickets had an ironclad alibi (they were always together) and couldn’t possibly have done it; that no one including Walinsky could produce any proof to the contrary; and that therefore the badly-outnumbered police had no basis to detain or arrest anyone.
(Likewise, the Westchester County District Attorney, Republican Carl Vergari, days later rebuffed Walinsky’s demand that criminal indictments be brought against GAA and its elected leaders. The District Attorney found there was “insufficient evidence” to link the GAA pickets to the serious crimes on Walinsky’s property that precursed their arrival. GAA’s assertion that it had no knowledge of or connection to the renegade raiders was upheld for lack of a shred of contradictory evidence.)
During the nearly hour-long GAA picket line on the street in front of Walinsky’s, a dozen or more neighbors, some in bathrobes, emerged from their homes and came within viewing distance to find out what was causing the raucous din that was keeping them awake. They were alarmed to see 50 tough-looking pickets, many with baseball bats.
Just after half past midnight, GAA’s monitoring of police radio detected a call from the Scarsdale Police for emergency out-of-town reinforcements. On a cue from the elected Chain-of-Command, the GAA pickets immediately fell silent and dashed swiftly down the street away from Walinsky’s and into the suburban night. The Scarsdale Police, obviously relieved to see them leave, made no attempt to stop them.
GAA remained on guard as its convoy raced out of Scarsdale. There was still the danger that police in a more conservative neighboring Westchester County municipality - now that they had heard about the disturbance on their radios - might foolishly be looking for trouble. But there was none.
When the GAA convoy speeding down Interstate 95 crossed back into New York City, those aboard finally felt safe enough to end their adrenaline-pumping state of red alert and proclaim MISSION ACCOMPLISHED with a surge of exuberant high-fives and emotional hugs. Upon return to the West Village, GAA’s Social Affairs Committee hosted a special gala Victory Party. According to a contemporary wag, many denizens of the gay West Village, exclaiming “Hail the conquering heroes!” joined the fun at the GAA Victory Party, and - quoth the wag - “the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll were never better!”
Indeed, for GAA the Walinsky zap was a tremendous success. The organization’s goal of a noisy legal picket line had been achieved. The complicated logistics had been carried out. The Village Voice quoted former GAA President David Thorstad as declaring it had been an “UNUSUALLY UPLIFTING” evening for the gay and lesbian activists.
The non-GAA-connected renegade raiders also had to be pleased. They had arrived at Walinsky’s five minutes before the GAA pickets. They had trespassed, they had cut phone wires, they had vandalized with vengeance, they had taunted and tormented without mercy. Then, a minute before the GAA pickets showed up, they had vanished. Nobody saw them. Nobody knew how they did it or who they were. The police were baffled, clueless: “persons unknown” was all they could say. Free-spirited gays and lesbians fighting for their mutual survival had voluntarily enlisted and forged themselves into a tight commando unit - ninjas in the night - and executed a challenging task with great precision. Yes, the renegade raiders had reason to exult, to feel the great pride, the “not quite arrogance” in their own kind that Jim Owles first preached years before.
The demonstration at Walinsky’s received considerable coverage from the mainstream media. “FORMER CANDIDATE IRED AT PROTEST” was the front-page headline in the Gannett Westchester Newspapers (circulation nearly 200,000). Walinsky was quoted in The New York Times, TIME magazine, the Village Voice, and on National Public Radio (NPR), among other places, as describing the “50 avowed homosexuals” (his words) he saw picketing at the zap as “a brazen gang of thugs…storm troopers…brown shirts.” He accused GAA of using life-threatening terrorism. He even whined plaintively to the mass media that he couldn’t understand why those who sought civil rights for themselves would deny him his, a belated but nonetheless welcome concession that gay and lesbian rights are a legitimate civil rights issue after all.
Pressed hard by the media to comment on the renegade raid, GAA - on a legal and public relations tightrope - replied tersely: “We neither condemn it nor condone it. We understand the anger that motivated it.”
Mass media coverage of the Walinsky superzap would have been even much greater than it was, however, were it not for a damnable twist of fate: Son of Sam, a het who killed other hets as they “made out” in their cars, saw fit to claim another victim just as GAA was leaving Walinsky’s. With their lame-brained, low-brow heterosexist mentality, the daily tabloids and TV news had made Sam the “Story of the Decade” and followed a simple rule: whenever Sam struck, that was the only news that could be covered for the next day. A disappointed New York Post reporter told GAA how her dynamite sensationalist story (“RADICAL GAYS RAID SCARSDALE”) was yanked from Friday morning’s final edition just before deadline in order to clear the paper for Sam.
In the gay media, New York City’s weekly newspaper Gaysweek, published by Alan Bell (who years later became publisher of BLK and other magazines), provided good first-hand coverage of the zap by a team of several reporters, as did WBAI radio’s gay news show. To GAA’s disappointment, the normally-accurate Gay Community News of Boston carried only a brief, belated second-hand item describing a poorly planned action that embarrassed the movement as protesters ran amok.
It was soon evident that GAA had accomplished its prime objective: Amid the furor, the central fact was that Walinsky never again opened his mouth publicly against equal rights for gays and lesbians or against the gay “lifestyle.” The superzap permanently silenced his gays-are-sick comments and ended his “Liberals Against Gay Rights” blitz. GAA’s shock therapy had cured Walinsky of his avowed homophobia. His only public comments thereafter were to describe and deplore the militancy of the raiders’ tactics. Walinsky was thus doing exactly what GAA wanted in spreading the message that, contrary to stereotypical myth, gays and lesbians do indeed fight back.
Editorial comments such as the melodramatic “BATS AND BULLHORNS” in The New York Times (which declared itself appalled at the protesters’ out-of-bounds tactics) communicated the urgent warning to all bigots that there is no safe haven from angry gays and lesbians.
While the leaders of gay and lesbian lobbying organizations could not say so publicly, in private the Walinsky superzap brought smiles to their faces. They confided to GAA that it helped in their dealings with reluctant politicians and power brokers to have the veiled threat hanging overhead: Deal in good faith with us, or who knows what those militant street activists will do to you.
GAA’s zap had changed the subject in a profound way. No longer were gays and lesbians forced to engage in the inherently demeaning debate with Walinsky over whether we have a right to exist in the way that is natural to us, over whether we can “justify” who we are to the het majority. Walinsky no longer dared dispute that we are first-class people, entitled to the same civil rights protections every other citizen takes for granted. That argument was settled, on our terms. The new topic of discussion - our use of ultra-militant tactics, pro or con - was one we could only win: Every time Walinsky repeated to another audience or media outlet his new mantra that gay militants are ruthless rough tough bad-asses who whip their opponents from pillar to post (and slyly get away with it to boot), he was doing our work, a more convincing publicist for our don’t-mess-with-gays-and-lesbians message than we could be ourselves.
Fearing a repeat visit, Walinsky got a Constitutionally-questionable court order prohibiting demonstrations of any kind by anybody near his Scarsdale property and forbidding any other “harassment” by GAA.
Repairing the damage to his property was quite costly. And Walinsky spent many thousands of dollars more in a rush to install a sophisticated new home security system.
Frustrated that GAA had emerged triumphant with none of its pickets arrested while his expenses resulting from the zap mounted, Walinsky filed a $2,100,000 civil lawsuit against GAA and two named individuals: GAA’s elected spokesperson at the time of the zap, whom he denounced as “the brazen leader of the gang of thugs”; and a well-known civil liberties attorney, Lynne F. Stewart, a non-participant who had done nothing more than observe the legal picketing. The judge presiding over the lawsuit soon agreed with Stewart and GAA that she was not involved and should be dropped as a defendant, another rebuke for Walinsky.
Walinsky’s lawsuit, making no distinction between GAA and renegades, simply assumed GAA should be held responsible for everything that happened on August 4th and 5th. His lawsuit alleged that because of the extreme panic and fright caused by the raid, his wife was suffering severe “RECURRING NIGHTMARES” and health problems, could no longer eat or sleep properly, was losing weight and verging on a nervous breakdown, etc. The two Walinsky kids were away at summer camp on August 4th and missed the excitement. Walinsky’s lawsuit specified, however, that the children had heard all about what happened and that consequently they, like Mrs. Walinsky, now lived in nightly fear of gay militants lurking outside their house.
In protracted legal maneuvering, Walinsky’s lawyers tried mightily but unsuccessfully to compel GAA and its spokesperson to reveal the names of all 50 GAA pickets (presumably so each of them could be sued individually too and otherwise pestered).
In June 1978, on the first anniversary of the publication of Walinsky’s guest column in the Daily News, his law office’s telephone lines were tied up all day by what Walinsky told the Court were “cursing, threatening, gruff-voiced” callers who he swore just about reduced his female secretary to tears and halted all work in the office. (Some lesbians and others in GAA noted wryly that the chauvinistic Walinsky always hid behind women - claiming it was his wife or his secretary who were upset by the zaps, never himself. But he did all the complaining).
The phone zap’s demand was “Drop the Lawsuit.” Some gay and lesbian activists thought that with the battle to terminate Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” movement having been long since won, the anniversary phone zap was a bit of overkill. But many others thought he could use another stake through the heart.
Walinsky’s lawyers moved to have GAA held in contempt of court, alleging that the anniversary phone zap of his office violated the anti-harassment order. Walinsky hoped to have GAA’s elected leaders locked up in jail and the organization itself fined into bankruptcy for the alleged contempt of court. Correspondents from The New York Times (whose news reports now referred to the original incident as a “raucous late-night demonstration”), the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and several major radio stations were among the crowd on hand in State Supreme Court in White Plains, NY, for the high-stakes showdown. In the courtroom, GAA’s gay attorney Bill Thom (who years later became the first openly gay judge on New York City’s Criminal Court bench) called Walinsky’s motion for a contempt citation baseless and mocked it with withering sarcasm. Walinsky, said Thom, had failed to give the Court one iota of evidence linking GAA in any way to the phone calls; it could have been anybody calling. The judge agreed: Walinsky’s request that GAA and its leaders be found in contempt was summarily thrown out right then and there. Gay power had foiled Walinsky again.
In June 1978, there was also evidence - in the Daily News, no less - of the favorable fallout resulting from the show of strength at the Walinsky superzap the previous summer. The Daily News was notorious for ignoring news of interest to gay and lesbian readers. GAA told the paper’s editors this must change; amazingly, they now agreed. In 1978, for the first time, the annual Gay Pride March was splashed across page one of the Daily News; the year before it had not even been mentioned in the paper. Why the big shift? Consider this: Daily News bigwigs including editor-in-chief Michael J. O’Neill were Scarsdale residents, keenly aware of what happened at Walinsky’s. Could it be that the het editors had been so blinded by prejudice that they would not report fairly on gay and lesbian lives - until they were jolted to their senses by the specter of zappers in the night raiding their homes?
More than two years after the August 1977 superzap, Walinsky reached an out-of-court settlement with GAA and the named individual, ending Walinsky’s civil lawsuit. Instead of the $2,100,000 in damages Walinsky had sought, he got a paltry $100. Wags chortled that it had cost Walinsky more than that just have his telephones re-connected!
Sometimes history is a story not just of what happens but what is prevented from happening. Stopping a great tragedy and outrage before it can occur, strangling a potential Hitler or Bryant in their infancy, is a historic and heroic deed. The fact that Adam Walinsky’s “Liberals Against Gay Rights” campaign was crushed is an enduring tribute to the success of what the Village Voice called “THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED WALISNKY’S.” The tale of that midnight raid has earned its everlasting place in the folklore of our gay and lesbian heritage.