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RDR: Remembering Michael Phillip Wright

Michael P. Wright, doing what he loved.
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By Andrew W. Griffin

Red Dirt Report, editor

Posted: September 27, 2009

NORMAN, Okla. – Slowly, friends and family of Michael Phillip Wright filed into Norman’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship this past Saturday afternoon. Behind the lectern was a small table featuring photos of Wright at various points in his life. One featured him wearing a cap and gown and a gas mask, while standing in front of a red flag featuring Che Guevara. Another featured Wright, circa late 1970’s, posing with a bass guitar. Another was a drawing of Wright with a beard and playing a fiddle.

A recording of Wright’s mandolin solos played on a tape player. These were recordings he had done with the Norman Philharmonic. Clearly a talented musician. This was something I only recently discovered about Michael Phillip Wright, who died September 16, 2009, after suffering an aneurysm and heart attack on September 9, 2009.

I had come here because Mike, as I called him, was the first person I sought out when I arrived in Oklahoma back in late 2005. I was so impressed with some writing he did on the strange case of Joel Hinrichs, the University of Oklahoma engineering student who blew himself up outside the OU stadium on Oct. 1, 2005, during a game between the Sooners and Kansas State.

“Did The University of Oklahoma Bomber Try to Enter the Football Stadium?” Wright wrote at the time. His prolific writing at this time, featured on the website, was impressive. I felt it would be good to meet a fellow investigative reporter. And over the years I got to know Michael Wright, I learned that I was in the presence of a brilliant, if misunderstood man.

I thought about that as I sat in my pinstripe suit in the un-air conditioned fellowship hall. I looked at those old photos of Mike and wondered what it was like to be someone who saw the world in black and white, right and wrong. Over the few years I knew Mike, if you were wrong, he would tell you.

And most recently, on September 10, I was to meet Mike to discuss some new findings related to the 9/11 Commission and the fact that more than one 9/11 hijacker had been in Central Oklahoma in the months prior to 9/11. Mike was surprised this information was not highlighted by the 9/11 Commission. We were going to talk about this information – from the National Archives – at his usual haunt, Café Plaid. When he didn’t show that day, I knew something had to be wrong. It wasn't like him to show up for a meeting, particularly when it involved something important. Little did I know he was in the hospital, fighting for his life. I wouldn’t find out until days later that he had had an aneurysm and heart attack. And then I found out he died September 16. He was 62.

Wright’s brother, Charles Wright, hosted this “get-together,” as he called it, and shared with the room – nearing capacity at this time – life with his brilliant brother. We discovered Mike was born here in Norman and grew up here and in Oklahoma City, not far from “Packingtown,” known these days as the stockyards.

At Stand Watie Elementary, Mike was a favorite of the teachers. A “word nerd,” as his brother put it. He would put on puppet shows, having designed the stage and charging an exhorbitant $.10 to attend. This resulted in a laugh from those assembled in the fellowship hall.

As part of the Class of 1965, Mike would enter OU, as a National Merit Scholar, as part of a group of radicals who were interested in stopping the war in Vietnam.  The war, Charles Wright said, agreeing at the time, “was wrong and not consistent with American values.”

He was active in the student movement, becoming president of the local chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society and marching in civil rights marches in Oklahoma City, including one promoting fair housing. Charles Wright said their mother was instrumental in getting them to be active in the cause of equal rights for all.

Charles Wright said Mike’s active involvement in marches against the Vietnam War and support of civil rights were primarily between 1967 and 1972 and it was this period where Mike helped thwart a “second Kent State” which involved the ROTC at OU and anti-war demonstrators. This was where a student unfurled a pro-communist flag and was arrested. Clashes ensued and Mike was there to help keep the peace, despite a few heads busted by cops.

This era was important to Mike. One Saturday, about two years ago, Mike took me on a walking tour of OU campus, noting the absence of pictures from that time period. Mike felt that OU President David Boren was behind the censoring of historical photos of a nearly 10 year period during the Vietnam era. It was a disgrace, he told me.

“It was natural for him to be active in the movements of the day,” Charles Wright said, noting that Mike always took a non-violent approach to civil disobedience. In the spring of 1972, Mike and 11 other anti-war demonstrators, were arrested for trespassing onto Tinker Air Force Base, in a desire to meet with the general. When the judge told them they could get avoid prison if they “said they were sorry,” Mike defiantly stood his ground and refused to apologize, ending up in a Texas prison for six months.

Now that school was behind him, Mike focused more on his music – Irish and Italian folk music – and being a citizen activist in Norman. He helped form the Norman Citizens for Civic Responsibility and tried to sue a city official for slander after he said Mike was part of a conspiracy to burn down the OU ROTC building.

While he lost – he was considered a public figure by the judge in the case – he learned a lesson, his brother said.

“Mike, let’s face it, remained rebellious.”

And he maintained a decidedly nonconformist lifestyle. He worked when he could and stood by his convictions.

“He never became a consumer,” Charles Wright said. “The role of consumer was not part of who he was. He remained a citizen.”

He researched everything from AIDS to the slighting of the Comanche Code Talkers in World War II to the travesty of OU finances.

“He simply wanted OU to be a better university,” Charles Wright said.

And of course his research into 9/11 and specifically the role of the University of Oklahoma in that horrible attack. Mike’s research revealed an amazing amount of previously unknown information about characters like Mohammed Atta, Zacarias Moussaoui and the doomed “businessman” in Iraq, Nick Berg. He was the American beheaded by Al Qaeda in 2004.

“Mike would not like to be remembered as a conspiracy theorist, but as a conspiracy researcher,” said Dick Hilbert, a sociology professor Mike once had.

This was the time period I met Mike. Late in his life. He was concerned about noise pollution and the devastating affects it was having on his health. He was exceedingly critical of David Boren – “Porky,” as he called him – and the OU administration.

His work was thorough, well-researched and very logical. While his conclusions about 9/11 and other terror attacks did not always click with mine, I respected his research and dedicated pursuit of the truth.

And so did many of the people who stood up and eulogized about Mike and what they remembered about the man.  From nearly losing a gig at Shotgun Sam’s Pizza for playing a song – quite innocently – called “Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” a Jelly Roll Morton classic that upset the African-American manager.

People like an editor from the OU student paper, The Oklahoma Daily, stood and spoke of receiving emails from Mike – and Mike was a prolific emailer – and she said they were long emails. She said she appeared at the memorial to “ask his forgiveness for deleting his emails.”

 A man named James remembered getting a tour from Mike of OU campus – he loved giving those tours – and being shown Boren’s monument to his dead dog and other weird things on campus.

Yes, these are just examples of the memories people had of Mike. He really touched a lot of people. My neighbor, noticing me in my suit, got to talking to me after the memorial service and even she knew Mike back in the day, remembering a day in western Oklahoma where she and her father picked him up while he was hitchhiking.

With someone like Mike, you expect him to always be around. And now he’s gone and he will be missed dearly. Fortuntately, his work lives on on the Internet, some of which can be found here.

Now, the question several have already asked me: "Do you suspect foul play?" He had made enemies and a few times had sent me messages allegedly from people at OU, who said some pretty nasty and hateful things to him. And then there was his 9/11, AIDS and other conspiracy research. Charles Wright will be the first to say that hypertension is a real problem in their family and that Mike did not take medicine of any kind, so far as he could tell. I guess at this point it's a matter of finding out more about his last moments on campus and where he was and where he ended up. This still remains a bit of a mystery, even with his family.

If you have any memories of Mike, please email me at the address at the top of the page. Here is the obituary that originally ran in The Norman Transcript and was reprinted here several days ago. Feel free to leave a comment there, as others have.

In the meantime, Red Dirt Report will look further into Mike’s final hours and where he was found, supposedly outside the OU campus library.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Copyright 2009 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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