Steven Conliff (November 24, 1949 – June 1, 2006) was a Midwestern-based, Native American writer, historian, social satirist and political activist in the 1960s and 1970s.
He is chiefly remembered for throwing a banana cream pie at James A. Rhodes, the governor of Ohio, in 1977, at the opening of the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. Conliff and others protested against the governor in part for Rhodes’ direct involvement and use of violence against anti-Vietnam war protestors at Kent State University in May 1970. By ordering the Ohio National Guard on to the campus at Kent with live ammunition, and by comments made to the public on May 3, 1970, Rhodes approved the infamous Kent State Shootings, which took place on May 4, 1970. Conliff was later acquitted of charges of assault on the governor, as sequential and clear photographs showed the airborne pie nearly completely missing the back of the governor’s head.
Conliff was an important leader of the Yippies' second wave, which included well-known activists such as AJ Weberman, Aron Kay (another famous pie thrower), David Peel, and Dana Beal. He was also the transatlantic coordinator of the Rock Against Racism USA campaign of 1979, helping to organize concerts in Columbus, Chicago, and New York City. In his own words, he "reversed dangerous historical trends through antics like 'the Conliff precedent' (disrespect which doesn't impede justice isn't contempt of court)." He grew up on absorbing oral history dating to the Revolutionary War from relatives like his great-uncle Carl Miller, the first Indian Reorganization chief.
In the summer of 1970, Steven E. Conliff started his first alternative publication, Purple Berries, and met artist Suzan Bird. They married in 1973 and had three sons; Byron (1981), Nicholai (1986), and Leon (1993)). Both contributed to the Columbus Free Press (1971–92), YIPster TImes (1972–78), Subversive Scholastic (1978–84), HVPTA / Bite Magazine (1978-80), and Overthrow (1979–98). One of his continuing characters, "the Leader of the Street People" Zorba the Freak, became legendary. Suzan's artwork frequently accompanied her husband's writings.
With Dana Beal and the YIPPIES (Youth International Party), Conliff put out the anthology "Blacklisted News: Secret Histories from Chicago 1968 to 1984", forward by William Kunstler (Bleecker 1983). Steve's work also appeared in High Times, New From Indian Country and The Mohican News, and he ran the Columbus Entertainment magazine from 1986 to 1988. He edited and published his father's account of World War II in the Aleutians, E.B. Conliff's History of the 37th Infantry (Bleecker 1994), ghost-wrote a 1992 campaign biography that helped oust a local despot (Smith: Portrait of a Sheriff), and authored several influential reports condemning Battelle Memorial Institute's involvement in the Fernald uranium processing facility clean-up.
A tribal descendant, Conliff presented papers detailing Mohican Indian history on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation (2001) and at the New York State Museum in Albany (2004). He contributed American Indian ethnography to Notable Native Americans (Gale 1993) and Volume 1 of the Gale Encyclopedia if NAtive American Tribes (Gale 1998).
His published poetry includes Peace in Persia (1981) and the 1979 epic Zeitgiest: The Ballad of Tom Forcade (Blacklisted News), a history of the counter-culture The Dreaded Yippie Curse, ibid and two novels available on-line, Chief Buffalo and The Green Arm, a satire of weapons of mass destruction. His most recent work published after his death is "8060 Olentangy River Road", a history of land in Delaware County Ohio.
An account of Conliff's early career is in Steve Abbott's Karl and Groucho Marxist Dance Voices Underground: Insiders Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Vol.1, Ken Wachsberger, ED, (Mica's Press 1993)
He died of lung cancer on June 1, 2006.
Picture of Steve circa 1978, as one friend remembers