Dan White

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Dan White
Dan White on television.jpg
White during a television appearance
Member of the
San Francisco Board of Supervisors
from District 8
In office
January 8, 1978 November 10, 1978
Preceded byDistrict created
Succeeded byDon Horanzy
Personal details
Daniel James White

(1946-09-02)September 2, 1946
Long Beach, California, U.S.
DiedOctober 21, 1985(1985-10-21) (aged 39)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Cause of deathSuicide by carbon monoxide poisoning
Resting place Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)Mary Ann Burns (1976–1985)
ResidenceSan Francisco, California
ProfessionPolice officer
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Army.svg  United States Army
Years of service1965–1971
Rank Sergeant
Unit 101st Airborne Division
Battles/wars Vietnam War

Daniel James White (September 3, 1946 – October 21, 1985) was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, on Monday, November 27, 1978, at City Hall. In a controversial verdict that led to the coining of the legal slang "Twinkie defense", White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder in the deaths of Milk and Moscone. White served five years of a seven-year prison sentence. Less than two years after his release he returned to San Francisco, where he ultimately committed suicide.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors city legislature

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is the legislative body within the government of the City and County of San Francisco, California, United States.

Moscone–Milk assassinations assassinations of politicians Moscone and Milk

The Moscone–Milk assassinations were the killings of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who were shot and killed in San Francisco City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. White was angry that Moscone had refused to reappoint him to his seat on the Board of Supervisors, from which he had just resigned, and that Milk had lobbied heavily against his reappointment. These events helped bring national notice to then-Board President Dianne Feinstein, who became the first female mayor of San Francisco and eventually U.S. Senator for California.

George Moscone American politician

George Richard Moscone was an American attorney and Democratic politician. He was the 37th mayor of San Francisco, California from January 1976 until his assassination in November 1978. He was known as "the people's mayor", who opened up City Hall and its commissions to reflect the diversity of San Francisco. Moscone served in the California State Senate from 1967 until becoming Mayor. In the Senate, he served as Majority Leader.


Early life

White was born in Long Beach, California, [1] the second of nine children. He was raised by Irish-American, working-class parents in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. [2] He attended Riordan High School until he was expelled for violence in his junior year. He went on to attend Woodrow Wilson High School, [3] where he was valedictorian of his class.

Long Beach, California City in California, United States

Long Beach is a city in the US state of California located within the Los Angeles metropolitan area. It is the 39th most populous city in the United States with a population of 462,257 in 2010. A charter city, Long Beach is the 7th most populous city in California.

Visitacion Valley, San Francisco Neighborhood of San Francisco in California, United States

Visitacion Valley, is a neighborhood located in the southeastern quadrant of San Francisco, California.

Archbishop Riordan High School Private, all-male school in San Francisco, California, USA

Archbishop Riordan High School is a diocesan, all-boys Catholic high school established by the Society of Mary in San Francisco, California. It is part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. Originally called Riordan High School, the school was named after Archbishop Patrick William Riordan, the second Archbishop of San Francisco, and opened in the fall of 1949. In 1990, "Archbishop" was officially added to the school's name.

White enlisted in the United States Army in June 1965. He was a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1970 and was honorably discharged in 1971.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

101st Airborne Division air assault division of the United States Army

The 101st Airborne Division is a specialized modular light infantry division of the US Army trained for air assault operations. The Screaming Eagles has been referred to as "the tip of the spear" by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the most potent and tactically mobile of the U.S. Army's divisions by former Chief of Staff of the Army GEN Edward C. Meyer (ret). The 101st Airborne is able to plan, coordinate, and execute brigade-size air assault operations capable of seizing key terrain in support of operational objectives, and is capable of working in austere environments with limited or degraded infrastructure. These particular operations are conducted by highly mobile teams covering extensive distances and engaging enemy forces behind enemy lines. According to the author of Screaming Eagles: 101st Airborne Division, its unique battlefield mobility and high level of training have kept it in the vanguard of US land combat forces in recent conflicts. More recently, the 101st Airborne has been performing foreign internal defense and counterterrorism operations within Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was a conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war, considered a Cold War-era proxy war by some, lasted 19 years, with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, which ended with all three countries becoming communist in 1975.

White worked as a security guard at A. J. Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1972. He returned to San Francisco to work as a police officer. According to a SF Weekly newspaper account, he allegedly quit the force after reporting another officer for beating a handcuffed suspect. [2]

Dimond High School Public magnet secondary school in Anchorage, Alaska, United States

A. J. Dimond High School (DHS) is a public four-year high school in Anchorage, Alaska, and is a part of the Anchorage School District. It has been accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Dimond serves students in the Sand Lake, Kincaid, and Bayshore areas of suburban Anchorage, and had an enrollment of 1,709 as of November 25, 2016.

Anchorage, Alaska Consolidated city-borough in Alaska, United States

Anchorage is a unified home rule municipality in the U.S. state of Alaska, on the West Coast of the United States. With an estimated 291,538 residents in 2018, it is Alaska's most populous city and contains more than 40% of the state's population; among the 50 states, only New York has a higher percentage of residents who live in its most populous city. The Anchorage metropolitan area, which includes Anchorage and the neighboring Matanuska-Susitna Borough, had a population of 399,148 in 2018, accounting for more than half the state's population. At 1,706 square miles (4,420 km2) of land area, the city is the fourth-largest by area in the United States and larger than the smallest state, Rhode Island, which has 1,212 square miles (3,140 km2).

San Francisco Police Department municipal police

The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is the city police department of the City and County of San Francisco, California. The department's motto is the same as that of the city and county: Oro en paz, fierro en guerra, Spanish for Gold in peace, iron in war.

White then joined the San Francisco Fire Department. While on duty, according to the SF Weekly story, White's rescue of a woman and her baby from a seventh-floor apartment in the Geneva Towers was covered by the San Francisco Chronicle . [2] The city's newspapers referred to him as "an all-American boy". [4]

San Francisco Fire Department Provides fire and emergency medical services to the City and County of San Francisco, California.

The San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) provides fire and emergency medical services to the City and County of San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Fire Department, along with the San Francisco Police Department and San Francisco Sheriff's Department, serves an estimated population of 1.4 million people, which includes the approximately 850,000 citizens residing in the 47.5 square miles (123 km2) of San Francisco (including Treasure Island, Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the San Francisco International Airport, and the Presidio of San Francisco/Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

<i>San Francisco Chronicle</i> newspaper serving the San Francisco Bay area

The San Francisco Chronicle is a newspaper serving primarily the San Francisco Bay Area of northern California. It was founded in 1865 as The Daily Dramatic Chronicle by teenage brothers Charles de Young and Michael H. de Young. The paper is owned by the Hearst Corporation, which bought it from the de Young family in 2000. It is the only major daily paper covering the city and county of San Francisco.


Election as supervisor

In 1977, White was elected as a Democrat to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from District 8, which included several neighborhoods near the southeastern limits of San Francisco. At that time, supervisors were elected by district and not "at-large", as they had been before and then were again in the 1980s and 1990s. He had strong support from the police and firefighter unions. His district was described by The New York Times as "a largely white, middle-class section that is hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco." The New York Times stated that as a supervisor, White saw himself as the board's "defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics". [5]

Democratic Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with its main rival, the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.

At-large is a designation for members of a governing body who are elected or appointed to represent the whole membership of the body, rather than a subset of that membership. At-large voting is in contrast to voting by electoral districts.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 18th in the world by circulation and 3rd in the U.S.

Tenure as supervisor

Despite their personal differences, White and Supervisor Harvey Milk had several areas of political agreement and initially worked well together. [2] Harvey Milk was one of three people from the city hall invited to the baptism of White's newborn child shortly after the election. [2] White also persuaded Dianne Feinstein, then president of the board of supervisors, to appoint Milk chairman of the Streets and Transportation Committee. [2]

The Catholic Church in April 1978 proposed a facility for juvenile offenders who had committed murder, arson, rape, and other crimes, to be operated by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, in White's district. White was strongly opposed, while Milk supported the facility, and their difference of opinion led to a conflict between the two. [2] White held a mixed record on gay rights, opposing the anti-gay Briggs Initiative, yet voting against an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gays in housing and employment. [2]

Assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk

After a disagreement over a proposed drug rehabilitation center in the Mission District, White frequently clashed with Milk, as well as other members of the board. [6] On November 10, 1978, White resigned his seat as supervisor. [5] The reasons he cited were his dissatisfaction with what he saw as the corrupt inner workings of San Francisco city politics, as well as the difficulty in making a living without a police officer's or firefighter's salary, jobs he could not retain legally while serving as a supervisor. White had opened a baked-potato stand at Pier 39, which failed to become profitable. [7] He reversed his resignation on November 14, 1978, after his supporters lobbied him to seek reappointment from George Moscone.

Moscone initially agreed to White's request, but later refused the appointment at the urging of Milk and others. On November 27, 1978, White visited San Francisco City Hall with the later-declared intention of killing not only Moscone and Milk, but also two other San Francisco politicians, California Assembly Speaker and later S.F. mayor Willie Brown, and Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver, whom he also blamed for lobbying Moscone not to reappoint him. [8] He arrived that day by climbing through a first-floor window on the side of City Hall carrying a Smith & Wesson Model 36 .38 caliber revolver and 10 rounds of ammunition. By entering the building through the window, White managed to avoid the recently-installed metal detectors. After entering Moscone's office, White pleaded to be reinstated as supervisor, but Moscone refused. White then killed Moscone by shooting him in the shoulder and chest, and twice in the head. He then walked to the other side of City Hall to Milk's office, reloaded the gun, and fatally shot Milk five times, the final two shots fired with the gun's barrel touching Milk's skull, according to the medical examiner. White then fled City Hall, turning himself in at the San Francisco's Northern Police Station where he had been a police officer. While being interviewed by investigators, White recorded a tearful confession, stating, "I just shot him."

Trial and "Twinkie defense"

At the trial, White's defense team argued that his mental state at the time of the killings was one of diminished capacity due to depression. They argued, therefore, he was not capable of premeditating the killings, and thus was not legally guilty of first-degree murder. Forensic psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that White was suffering from depression and pointed to several behavioral symptoms of that depression, including the fact that White had gone from being highly health-conscious to consuming sugary foods and drinks. When the prosecution played a recording of White's confession, several jurors wept as they listened to what was described as "a man pushed beyond his endurance". Many people familiar with City Hall claimed that it was common to enter through the window to save time. A police officer friend of White claimed to reporters that several officials carried weapons at this time and speculated that White carried the extra ammunition as a habit that police officers had. The jury found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. Outrage within San Francisco's gay community over the resulting seven-year sentence sparked the city's White Night riots; general disdain for the outcome of the court case led to the elimination of California's "diminished capacity" law. [9] [10] Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, a critic of forensic psychiatry, gave a speech to a large audience in San Francisco in June 1979 calling the White verdict a "travesty of justice" which he blamed on the diminished capacity defense. [11] [12]

Imprisonment and suicide

White's headstone. Dan White headstone front.JPG
White's headstone.

White served five years of his seven-year sentence at Soledad State Prison and was paroled on January 7, 1984. Fearing White might be murdered in retaliation for his crimes, California State Corrections Officials secretly transported him to Los Angeles, where he served a year's parole. At the expiration of that year, White sought to return to San Francisco; Mayor Dianne Feinstein issued a public announcement of his plans, and a statement formally asking White not to return. (Joel Wachs, a Los Angeles City Council member, also argued to keep White out of Los Angeles.) White did move back to San Francisco and attempted to rebuild his life with his wife and children, but his marriage soon ended.

On October 21, 1985, less than two years after his release from prison, White committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage. White's body was discovered by his brother, Thomas, shortly before 2:00 pm the same day. [13]

White was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, with a traditional government-furnished headstone issued for war veterans. He was survived by his two sons, an infant daughter, and his widow. [13]

Alleged confession

In 1998, Frank Falzon, the homicide inspector with the San Francisco police to whom White had surrendered after the killings, said that he met with White in 1984, and that at this meeting White had confessed that he had intended to kill not only Moscone and Milk, but another supervisor, Carol Ruth Silver, as well as then-member of the California State Assembly and future San Francisco Mayor, Willie Brown. Falzon quoted White as having said, "I was on a mission. I wanted four of them. Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake ... and Willie Brown, he was masterminding the whole thing." Falzon indicated that he believed White, stating, "I felt like I had been hit by a sledge-hammer ... I found out it was a premeditated murder." [14]

The story of the assassinations is told in the Academy Award-winning documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), which came out a year before White committed suicide.

White was portrayed by Josh Brolin in the 2008 film Milk . The film depicted White from his first meeting with Harvey Milk up to and including the assassination of Milk. [2] [15] Brolin's nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor was one of eight nominations the film received overall.

White's life, the assassinations, and his trial are covered in the 1984 book Double Play: The San Francisco City Hall Killings by Mike Weiss, which won the Edgar Award as Best True Crime Book of the Year. An expanded second edition, Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, was issued in 2010 and updated White's story to include his life after prison and his suicide. The second edition also includes a DVD with a half-hour video interview of White.

Execution of Justice, a play by Emily Mann, chronicles the events leading to the assassinations. In 1999, the play was adapted to film for cable network Showtime, with Tim Daly portraying White.

Dan White is the subject of the punk band Dead Kennedys' cover version of "I Fought the Law", with the lyrics changed to satirize White's legal case.

The assassinations were the basis for a scene in the 1987 science fiction movie RoboCop in which a deranged former municipal official holds the Mayor of Detroit and several aides hostage and demands his job back. The situation is defused by the negotiator stalling the hostage taker until RoboCop can get upstairs and overpower him. [16]


  1. "California Birth Index", hosted at ancestry. "Daniel James White, born September 2, 1946 Los Angeles County"
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Geluardi, John (January 29, 2008). "Dan White's Motive More About Betrayal Than Homophobia". SF Weekly . San Francisco, California: San Francisco Media Co.
  3. Weiss, Mike (2010). Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. San Francisco, California: Vince Emery Productions. pp. 213–216, 474.
  4. Ebert, Roger (November 24, 2008). "Milk". Chicago Sun-Times . Chicago, Illinois: Sun-Times Media Group.
  5. 1 2 Turner, Wallace (November 28, 1978). "Suspect Sought Job". The New York Times. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
  6. Lillian, Faderman (2018). Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN   9780300222616. OCLC   1032649719.
  7. Sides, Josh. Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of San Francisco. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009. p. 164. Available at Google Books.
  8. Weiss, Mike. (September 18, 1998). "Killer of Moscone, Milk had Willie Brown on List", San Jose Mercury News, Page A1
  9. Pogash, Carol (November 23, 2003). "Myth of the 'Twinkie defense'". San Francisco Chronicle. p. D-1. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  10. "Daniel James White Trial: 1979 – Double Execution". law.jrank.org. Net Industries. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  11. Winer, Paul (July 1979). "Was Psychiatry Dan White's Accomplice?". Noe Valley Voice. Retrieved March 18, 2017 via archive.org.
  12. Szasz, Thomas (August 6, 1979). "How Dan White Got Away With Murder". Inquiry. San Francisco, California: 17–21. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  13. 1 2 Lindsey, Robert (October 22, 1985). "Dan White, Killer Of San Francisco Mayor, A Suicide". The New York Times . Retrieved December 29, 2008.
  14. Weiss (1998).
  15. "Edelstein D. 'Milk' Is Much More Than A Martyr Movie". NPR. November 26, 2008. Retrieved January 3, 2009.
  16. Booker, M. Keith (2006). Alternate Americas: Science Fiction Film and American Culture. Greenwood, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 205. ISBN   0-275-98395-1.

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