This is the second interview in a series entitled, “The White Panther Interviews.” The first one was with John Sinclair. This month’s is with White Panther Party co-founding member Larry “Pun” Plamondon.
Pun Plamondon, John Sinclair and Wayne Kramer
(credit: Leni Sinclair)
After my conversation with John Sinclair, I was left hankering for a deeper understanding of the White Panther Party (WPP) and many of the radicals who participated actively to spark its creation. So I did some investigation to find another founding member, Lawrence “Pun” Plamondon, to see if he was willing to converse about his experiences and “the happenings” that took place while part of the affiliation.
After a request was sent, Pun replied promptly…He agreed to speak with me.
In case you are a stranger to Pun Plamondon’s extraordinary history, I will fill you in appropriately. Pun was a participating left wing activist throughout the 1960’s and along with John and Leni Sinclair founded the White Panther Party in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At 21-years old, Pun was living on the streets, actively partaking in the underground scene with Gary Grimshaw, Peter Werbe, Allen Ginsberg and many more. His name hit the papers in May of 1969 when he was listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for being accused as a conspirator in the bombing of a CIA office in Ann Arbor. But this didn’t stop him…he didn’t submit…he went underground. Pun was the first hippie EVER to be listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
In July of 1970, he was arrested and later released after government officials admitted to wiretapping without a warrant.
Seems Big Brother was always watching after all.
Here is his story.
THIRSTY: Hey Pun, Jarrod Dicker here from Stay Thirsty.
Pun Plamondon: Hey Jarrod how are ya?
THIRSTY: Great man thanks. Let’s get right into this shall we?
PP: Fire away.
THIRSTY: Cool. So you were the first “hippie” to be listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Is this something that you are proud to promote today?
PP: Being listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List is one of my proudest accomplishments. Although I can’t say I set out, as a life goal, to be listed. I don’t advertise it, but if asked I don’t deny it. It looks impressive on a resume for certain gigs. I’ve always said you can judge a person or organization’s effectiveness by who their enemies are. I was proud to have the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, John Mitchell, Richard Nixon and the CIA as my enemy. I must have been somewhat effective.
THIRSTY: Was it overwhelming when you became aware that you were adopted and in fact part Ottawa and part Ojibwa Indian? I read that this knowledge was revealed to you during your prosecution later in life, correct?
PP: A year after I was released from prison as a result of the Supreme Court victory, I found myself reading, along with my attorney, my psychological report prepared by the Behavioral Science Division of the FBI. I was sitting in the Judge’s chamber in northern Michigan waiting to be sentenced on an extortion beef that was connected to a pot deal gone awry. The FBI psych profile was part of a pre-sentence report submitted by the probation and parole department. I was fearful of going back to the penitentiary; after all, my record didn’t look good. We were on a recess from the sentencing proceedings and had a limited time to peruse the entire pre-sentence report. The FBI is thorough; they did my genealogy for me and found the records of my biological parents showing they were mixed-blood Ottawa and Ojibwa. I filed the information away, but didn’t do anything with it until some 10 years later when I was trying to get off drugs and alcohol.
THIRSTY: Did you always notice something uncanny throughout your childhood in the need to belong, in regards to your adoptive parents and eventual involvement with the White Panther Party?
PP: I was always apart. Apart from family, church, school. I never connected or fit in. I didn’t want to really. From an early age it seemed to me that the life of my parents, and the parents of my friends were the most boring imaginable. I didn’t understand why grown-ups weren’t living more exciting lives. I think that’s why I got into so much trouble at a young age—I would do anything to break the crushing boredom.
THIRSTY: And as history translates, we see you eventually did. When did you decide to dive into politics?
PP: We were poor and I knew it which gave me an attitude. When I worked for the union, that’s when I began to get a political consciousness. I was working with cats that were talking about the working class and ruling class, and exploitation, and racism, and they had an analysis and a method of working toward change. This blew my mind. The WPP was an organic outgrowth of the youth rebellion that swept across western civilization during the 60’s and 70’s. It was the gathering of all the scattered dreams and aspirations of a naturally rebellious generation and provided the means, machinery and vision to fulfill those dreams and aspirations. That we ultimately failed shows the success of the Federal, State and local governments and police forces to harass, frame and destroy us politically. And it shows our own shortcomings and inexperience in leadership and analysis. But what the fuck, we did the best we could with what we had. “There is grace from it…” David Sinclair said. “…to have seen one’s ego stark naked in the harsh light of its demands…”
THIRSTY: Are you still militant?
PP: I’m not a militant anymore. I still have a Marxist/Leninist/Mao/Fidel/Ho Chi Minh world view. I still believe in self-determination for nations. I still believe the capitalists will rape, pillage and destroy the world and all its peoples in their endless quest for profits. Now I push young people to the front, offer advice and encouragement whenever I can.
THIRSTY: Did you have a relationship with the poet Allen Ginsberg? I know he spent some time with John (Sinclair).
PP: Allen and I crossed paths many times, at conferences, poetry readings, gatherings, concert’s on both coasts, Madison, Ann Arbor/Detroit and Buffalo, N.Y. Of course he stayed with our commune whenever he was in town and he testified on our behalf during our CIA bombing trial in Detroit in 1970. Allen was a good friend. “A gentle panda bear poet” someone once called him. My great regret is that I didn’t see him before he passed.
THIRSTY: I spoke with John about his duties at the Fifth Estate? What was your role at the bi-weekly publication?
PP: At the Fifth Estate I was a general hooligan on call. I hung-out mostly, since I lived up-stairs in the Detroit Artists Workshop commune with Sinclair, Grimshaw, Leni and others. I wrote an article or two once, but nothing worth remembering, I’m sure.
THIRSTY: I recently interviewed Machinegun Thompson from the MC5. Were you friendly and/or involved with the musicians in Detroit at that time?
PP: Fuck yeah! I hung with all them cats. Kramer, Davis, Sonic Smith, Thompson. That’s just the MC5. I worked for Bob Seger for 5 years as his bodyguard. I was at the garage, on Halloween, the Zenta New Year, when Iggy and the Stooges did their first ever performance. Iggy was on claw hammer and 55-gallon oil drum with an Electrolux vacuum cleaner. For three years I helped organize free Sunday concerts attended by as many as 10,000 people, so I knew tons of musicians.
THIRSTY: After the notorious CIA Ann Arbor office bombing, you went underground to San Francisco, New York and Germany. Who did you stay with at these destinations? Were you harbored?
PP: Of course I was harbored. I stayed with people who I knew from my years as a member of the Detroit Artists Workshop and my time as a cultural activist. Poets, filmmakers, rowdies and radicals of every description, these are the people who took me in.
THIRSTY: How have your political views changed over the years? Have they remained the same or altered?
PP: My political views have modified and become richer and deeper over the years. However, my fundamental analysis holds true. Capitalism, if allowed to run amuck, will suck empty the earth resources, wreak havoc on the peoples of this place and ultimately turn the planet into a lifeless cinder floating in space. All in the quest for profits.
THIRSTY: Anything you hope to see happen politically in the upcoming years?
PP: I hope for a radical new electoral party that can be in true opposition to the two major capitalist parties. During the last Bush administration I was very active locally. We organized demonstrations, teach-in, movie showings, and public debates. Of course I’m constantly active in Native issues. Treaty rights, graves protection and repatriation of sacred objects to the Tribes.
THIRSTY: How have you been spending your time as you get older? Activities? Goals?
PP: Generally I’ve been involved in the day-to-day struggle for survival. I live on a mosquito ranch in Michigan with my wife Patricia where I write, make fine furniture and try to avoid difficult tasks. I’m working on a play about the forced removal of Ottawa and Pottawattomie from southern Michigan in the early 1800’s. I lecture at colleges and universities from time-to-time, go to conferences and pow wows, spend time with friends and work around the farm.
THIRSTY: What advice do you have for the younger generation of children and adults entering the political and social spectrum today?
Pun Plamondon (center), John Sinclair (right) - 1972
PP: Advice for young people? Well, don’t leave roaches in the ashtray. Do keep journals and papers from the present, later they’ll be artifacts. Don’t be the first one to bring out your stash. Decide if this is the type of world you want to live in, if not, take action to change it.
THIRSTY: What can we expect from you in the future? More books, film?
PP: As I mentioned before, I’m working on a play. I’m trying to pull together some resources so I can write a book about the history of the White Panther Party/Rainbow People’s Party and Ann Arbor during the 60’s and 70’s.
THIRSTY: Well Pun, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Good luck to you in the future!
PP: Thanks Jarrod, you too man.
For more on the incredible history and life of Pun Plamondon and the White Panther Party, visit his website at punplamondon.com and also check out his book, “Lost From the Ottawa: The Story of the Journey Back”.
All opinions expressed by Jarrod Dicker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.