The US vs John Lennon

US vs Lennon

It was 26 years ago today.

As they were leaving the Dakota, they were approached by several people who were seeking autographs. Among them was a man who would be later identified as Mark David Chapman. John Lennon scribbled an autograph on the Double Fantasy album cover for Chapman.

The Lennons spent several hours at the studio on West 44th Street, before returning to the Dakota at about 10:50 p.m. They exited their limousine on the 72nd Street curb, even though a car could have driven through the entrance and into the courtyard. Three witnesses (Jose Perdomo, who was a doorman at the entrance; an elevator operator; and a cab driver who had just dropped off a passenger) saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the arch.

The Lennons walked past, and Ono opened the inner door and walked inside — leaving Lennon alone inside the entrance archway. Chapman called out, “Mr. Lennon!” — then dropped into a “combat stance” and shot Lennon four times with hollow point rounds from a Charter Arms .38 revolver. According to the autopsy, two shots struck Lennon in the left side of his back and two in his left shoulder. All four caused serious internal damage and bleeding. The fatal shot pierced Lennon’s aorta.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon, a new documentary by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld traces John Lennon’s life from the period of 1966 to 1976, where Lennon transforms from loveable ‘Beatle John’ to outspoken antiwar activist reviled by the US authorities of the Nixon era.


“It seems silly to be in America and not mention Vietnam as if nothing was happening,” Lennon once said during a Beatles interview. Those anti-war sentiments grew when he married Yoko Ono in 1969. The couple held “Bed-In” events in Amsterdam and Montreal to promote peace. Over Christmas, 1969, they took out billboards in New York, Paris, Toronto and other cities that read, “War is Over! If You Want It.” “You’ve got to sell and sell,” Lennon explained, “until the housewife thinks, ‘Oh, there’s peace or war. That’s the two products.’ ”

Not everyone was pleased. “My dear boy, you’re living in a never-never land,” a “New York Times” reporter told him. Nixon loyalist G. Gordon Liddy believed Lennon “was being manipulated” by the likes of yippie activist Jerry Rubin and Black Panther Bobby Seale. The conservative U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond wrote a letter to the White House claiming: “[I]f Lennon’s visa is terminated, it would be a strategy counter-measure.”

Thurmond’s initiative led to a Kafkaesque five-year ordeal during which Lennon and Ono lived under constant threat of deportation from the United States. Ono and other confidants of Lennon take us inside his experience of the case. Former FBI agents make clear how seriously they took him. Observers such as Angela Davis, Ron Kovic and Gore Vidal testify to Lennon’s influence on others. In one memorable moment, Nixon’s opponent George McGovern sings a few bars of “Give Peace a Chance.”

“The thing the sixties did was show us the possibility and the responsibility that we all had,” Lennon said. “It wasn’t the answer. It just gave us a glimpse.” This film reawakens his wit, thoughtfulness and optimism for a new generation.

- Thom Powers


The U.S. vs. John Lennon is released in the UK today. It’s true to say Lennon’s outspoken activism is more relevant today than ever before.

77 Responses to “The US vs John Lennon”

  1. Kismet Hardy Says:

    I’m not usually one to find myself nodding in agreement with George Michael (he’s the worst drug & music advert on the planet because, unlike Lennon, it made his music shitter) but I’m with him on his sentiment that it’s unfair that Elvis & Lennon are dead. Now had he added, why don’t we shoot daniel beddingfield to make up for it, I’d have bought the record

  2. sid arthur Says:

    I do have a soft spot for George. If only he’d lay off the sex toys and the skunk for just long enough to release a good record.

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