I lost a long-time friend and mentor, John Judge, on April 15 of this year. The memorial held in his honor is worth watching in full if you were not among the 100 or so activists, artists, scholars, and dear friends (John has no living relatives) who attended. On the day I write this, December 14, he would have turned 67.
Every year on his birthday he invited all of his friends to dinner at one of his favorite Washington, D.C. restaurants. For several years that restaurant was Buca di Beppo, and I will never forget how he would end the night with a ‘Hinckley Hilton tour’ a few blocks away at the Washington Hilton Hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW explaining what really happened in 1981, when then-President Ronald Reagan was shot. Despite the frigid temperatures of mid-December, John would speak for more than an hour without pause, and his spellbound friends and supporters would listen without complaint or interruption. His most notable assertion was that John Hinckley Jr., despite popular wisdom, did not shoot the president and was actually set up to take the fall by then Vice President George H.W. Bush and his advisers, who were not happy with Reagan’s decisions in office.
This was just one of John’s many areas of focus that his detractors would ridicule as ‘conspiracy theories.’ John would retort by saying that they were ‘coincidence theorists.’ Yet, he never bought into many of the popular conspiracy theories like the one claiming the Twin Towers were brought down by controlled demolitions or that the United States never landed on the moon. He was perhaps best known for his work with the Committee on Political Assassinations (COPA), for which he organized an annual conference to commemorate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and share research refuting the Warren Commission’s findings and exploring new leads. While he was only a teenager at the time, John was greatly affected by this event and would go on to research the hidden facts behind many other famous assassinations including that of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy. He maintained that the unelected military industrial complex, which functions as a de facto secret government, had a hand in all of them.
Despite a voluminous home library consisting of books on just about every topic imaginable, John was not just a researcher. John was a consummate revolutionary and humanitarian. He not only wanted to bring truth to the masses by way of deconstructing government propaganda and lifting the veil of historical secrecy but also find solutions to the world’s most intractable problems, such as climate change, war, racism, and poverty. He began as a peace activist at the University of Dayton in Ohio and led a successful campaign to abolish mandatory ROTC at his campus. For more than 30 years he visited high schools across Washington, D.C. and promoted alternatives to military service while debunking recruitment myths with the help of veterans turned peace activists. I joined him at times, and he helped me spread the effort to my now alma mater, the University of Maryland, where I met him after a two-hour lecture he delivered on the connection between racism and militarism that left me more impressed and informed than any of the hundreds of lectures I had previously attended.
One of my clearest memories is when John worked with former Congressman Dennis Kucinich on drafting (originally about 100) Articles of Impeachment against President George W. Bush, and I watched Kucinch fight back fatigue on C-SPAN as he read them into the congressional record and did not stop until after midnight. I felt privileged to have read many of the Articles prior and thus be able to recognize John’s influence. It was an amazing moment despite the lack of interest from the rest of the Democratic party. Prior to his involvement with Kucinich, John served on the staff of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, where he helped draft the Martin Luther King Jr. Records Collection Act. “Times are so bad that even the anarchists are working in Congress,” he would say as justification.
John never let the prevailing political climate discourage him. He was a dreamer. He had the audacity to call for restraint after 9/11 and was proven right in his predictions of the government’s response and the resulting consequences. He insisted on truth when the lie was so much easier to swallow. I often thought that if I knew all that he knew, I would hide under the covers of my bed until the revolution was imminent. The awful truth can be crippling, especially when systemic change is years away, but I never felt cynical while in John’s presence — and if I had displayed even a shred of it, John would have kept me up until 3 a.m. enthralling me with his vision of a more just world. He never backed down from a dream.
What I remember most is his laugh. He would throw his head back and guffaw with full abandon. I have never known a genius who was so comfortable in just about any social situation and who loved people so much. I have also never known a genius who was so humble — he treated everyone as an equal, even those who understood none of his research and shared none of his interests. To me his best quality was his ability to inspire. Many who knew him continue his legacy — most notably his partner for the last four years of his life, Marilyn Tenenoff, who is realizing the dream of a Hidden History Museum that John did not live to build himself.
Given the ongoing police killings at home, the bombing campaigns abroad, and the general fog of war that grips our nation, the Judge who never held a gavel but held the conscience of the United States should be remembered on this day — and every other.