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Profile: Dwight Eisenhower
Positions that Dwight Eisenhower has held:
- President of the United States (1953-1961)
Dwight Eisenhower was a participant or observer in the following events:
Fears of a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union inspire the US government to construct a network of 96 nuclear-resistant fallout shelters around Washington, DC. The underground “Federal Relocation Centers,” collectively known as the “Federal Relocation Arc,” are designed to serve as both living quarters and command bunkers for a post-nuclear government. The underground installations will later be described as the “backbone” of the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency. Under Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US government spends billions of dollars carving out caves and assembling the underground fortresses in preparation for nuclear war. Upon completion, the bunkers are said to resemble small cities, each capable of sustaining a population in the thousands for months at a time. Each facility is equipped with its own self-generating power supply, fresh water source, living quarters, food rations, command posts, telecommunications equipment, and other requirements for housing officials and running the federal government from deep underground. In the event of a crisis, high-ranking officials, most notably the president and those in the presidential chain of command, are to be secretly whisked away to the underground installations in order to ensure the continuation of government functions. Some of the known underground locations include Mount Weather, fortified within the Blue Ridge Mountains about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1952-1958); Site R, along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border near Camp David (see 1950-1954); and the Greenbrier, underneath a hotel resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (see 1959-1962). [Progressive, 3/1976; Time, 12/9/1991; Washington Post, 5/31/1992; Time, 8/10/1992; New York Times, 12/2/2000; Gannett News Service, 6/25/2002]
Time Magazine’s Man of the Year cover for 1951. [Source: Wikipedia]Iranian President Mohammad Mosaddeq moves to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in order to ensure that more oil profits remain in Iran. His efforts to democratize Iran had already earned him being named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1951. After he nationalizes it, Mosaddeq realizes that Britain may want to overthrow his government, so he closes the British Embassy and sends all British civilians, including its intelligence operatives, out of the country. Britain finds itself with no way to stage the coup it desires, so it approaches the American intelligence community for help. Their first approach results in abject failure when Harry Truman throws the British representatives out of his office, stating that "We don’t overthrow governments; the United States has never done this before, and we’re not going to start now." After Eisenhower is elected in November 1952, the British have a much more receptive audience, and plans for overthrowing Mosaddeq are produced. The British intelligence operative who presents the idea to the Eisenhower administration later will write in his memoirs, "If I ask the Americans to overthrow Mosaddeq in order to rescue a British oil company, they are not going to respond. This is not an argument that’s going to cut much mustard in Washington. I’ve got to have a different argument.…I’m going to tell the Americans that Mosaddeq is leading Iran towards Communism." This argument wins over the Eisenhower administration, who promptly decides to organize a coup in Iran (see August 19, 1953). [Stephen Kinzer, 7/29/2003]
In a report to President Eisenhower, the Joint Chiefs of Staff make the following observation: “We should do what is necessary even if the result is to change the American way of life. We could lick the whole world if we are willing to adopt the system of Adolf Hitler.” [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 5]
Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1953 is signed into law, restructuring the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) within the Executive Office of the President. The ODM, originally created by President Harry S. Truman in December of 1950 (see December 16, 1950), will incorporate the responsibilities of the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), which shares similar objectives. The purpose of the ODM is to ensure the continuation of essential government and industry functions, particularly during times of crisis. President Dwight D. Eisenhower says merging the ODM and the NSRB will “enable one Executive Office agency to exercise strong leadership in our national mobilization effort, including both current defense activities and readiness for any future national emergency.” [New York Times, 4/3/1953, pp. 1; US Congress. House. Senate., 6/12/1953]
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, attempting to protect government files from Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI)‘s anti-Communist “witch hunts” and to prevent government officials from being forced to testify at the Army’s hearings on McCarthy, cites a never-before-used phrase, “executive privilege,” to resist giving over information or allowing aides to testify. While presidents have withheld information from Congress before in narrow and defined circumstances—in 1792, George Washington refused to allow Congress and the courts to obtain information about a disastrous military expedition against Native Americans along the Ohio River, for example—Eisenhower is the first to assert that the executive branch has the right to withhold any internal documents or block officials from giving testimony to other branches or agencies of the government. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that Eisenhower’s actions “creat[ed] a potentially boundless new category of government information a president could deny to Congress.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 20; National Public Radio, 6/28/2007]
One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom. [Source: Library of Congress]The landmark US Supreme Court case Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, rules that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The unanimous decision overturns the doctrine of “separate but equal” education codified in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (see 1896). The case was argued by the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organizations filed the suit as a challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine, and combined five separate cases under the one Brown v. Board of Education rubric. The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case three different times in three years. In a unanimous decision, the Court finds that the “separate but equal” doctrine violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and orders desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” Chief Justice Earl Warren wants to send a powerful signal to the nation in the ruling, and works to craft a unanimous decision with no dissents or even concurrences. He writes the Court’s opinion himself, but seeks the input of the other justices in two draft opinions that he tailors into his final opinion. One of the compromises he is forced to make is to put off the question of actually implementing desegregation until a later time, inadvertently allowing many states to keep segregationist practices in place for decades. Warren says the opinion should be “short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional, and, above all, non-accusatory.” Justice William O. Douglas is delighted by Warren’s opinion, and in a note to Warren, writes: “I do not think I would change a single word in the memoranda you gave me this morning. The two draft opinions meet my idea exactly. You have done a beautiful job.” Justice Harold H. Burton writes a memo to Warren reading in part: “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court.… I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.… To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.” In an internal memo, Justice Felix Frankfurter writes of the practice of segregation: “That it is such has been candidly acknowledged by numerous accounts & adjudications in those states where segregation is enforced. Only self conscious superiority or inability to slip into the other fellow’s skin can fail to appreciate that.” Frankfurter says the ruling makes for “a day of glory.” Some right-wing and segregationist organizations condemn the ruling; Warren is forwarded a letter from an official of the Sons of the American Revolution claiming the ruling is attributable to “the worldwide Communist conspiracy” and that the NAACP is financed by “a Communist front.” President Eisenhower will take strong action to reduce segregation in America, but refuses to endorse the Court’s ruling. In 1967, one of the NAACP’s lead attorneys in the case, Thurgood Marshall, will go on to serve on the Supreme Court. [Library of Congress, 1994; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]
During a news conference, President Dwight D. Eisenhower answers a question about the idea of an American “preventative war” against Communism by saying the following: “All of us have heard this term ‘preventive war’ since the earliest days of Hitler. I recall that is about the first time I heard it. In this day and time, if we believe for one second that nuclear fission and fusion, that type of weapon, would be used in such a war—what is a preventive war? I would say a preventive war, if the words mean anything, is to wage some sort of quick police action in order that you might avoid a terrific cataclysm of destruction later. A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled, the transportation systems destroyed, sanitation implements and systems all gone? That isn’t preventive war; that is war. I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.” [White House, 8/11/1954]
Senator Strom Thurmond (right) supervises the typing of an early draft of the document that will come to be known as the ‘Southern Manifesto.’ [Source: Strom Thurmond Institute]A hundred and one congressmen, mostly conservative Southern Democrats, sign a document forwarded to President Eisenhower that becomes known as the “Southern Manifesto.” The document, formally entitled “The Declaration of Constitutional Principles,” is prompted by the recent Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision mandating the desegregation of American public schools, and is designed to pressure wavering Southern lawmakers into defying the Court’s decision as part of what researcher Tony Badger will later call “the massive resistance strategy so passionately advocated by the conservatives.” It is read aloud on the floor of the Senate by Walter George (D-GA), and was originally conceived by Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC) with the assistance of his colleague Harry Byrd (D-VA), though the final version was tempered by a rewrite overseen by Senator Richard Russell (D-GA). The “Manifesto” declares that in certain instances, states are free to ignore federal laws and court decisions such as Brown v. Board. The document declares the Court decision an attempt to “substitute naked power for established law,” calls it “a clear abuse of judicial power,” and says that the states can and must defy the Court’s decision in the interest of establishing the rights of the states against the federal government. The principle of “separate but equal” treatment of white and black Americans, codified in an 1849 case and upheld by the 1896 Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, is, the signers state, “the established law of the land” and cannot be overturned by the current Court. It is up to the states, not the federal government, to determine if and when they will desegregate their separate school systems. Far from mandating equal treatment, the signers state, the Brown decision “destroys the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races,” and “has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.” The “judicial encroachment” of the decision must be resisted by “any lawful means,” they write. The signers conclude, “Even though we constitute a minority in the present Congress, we have full faith that a majority of the American people believe in the dual system of government which has enabled us to achieve our greatness and will in time demand that the reserved rights of the States and of the people be made secure against judicial usurpation,” and ask their supporters not to give in to the “agitators” determined to sow chaos and disorder in the name of desegregation. [US Senate, 3/12/1956; Time, 3/26/1956; Badger, 4/1997]
Disparate Group of Non-Signers - Cambridge University scholar Tony Badger will later write of the Southern lawmakers who refuse to sign the document, “The evidence from Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and North Carolina highlights the diversity of political opinion among the non-signers—from New Deal liberal to right-wing Republican ideologue—and the disparate sources for their racial moderation—national political ambitions, party loyalty, experience in the Second World War, Cold War fears, religious belief, and an urban political base.” [Badger, 4/1997]
Thurmond Calls NAACP 'Professional Racist Agitators,' Says Southern Whites Are Nation's 'Greatest Minority' - After the reading, Thurmond delivers a far less measured television address, calling the organization that brought the original lawsuit, the NAACP, a group of “professional racist agitators” and saying: “All of us have heard a great deal of talk about the persecution of minority groups. The white people of the South are the greatest minority in this nation. They deserve consideration and understanding instead of the persecution of twisted propaganda.” After his speech, one Georgia woman praises Thurmond’s “courage and wisdom,” and asks: “Wouldn’t it be possible to remove much of the Negro population from the South? I sincerely wish that this might be done, and would be glad to even contribute personally to the expense of such a plan.” [Cohodas, 1993, pp. 284-300]
Counterattack in Congress - In the following days, a succession of Northern Democrats lambast the manifesto on the Senate and House floor, and none of the signatories rise to speak in its defense. Wayne Morse (D-OR) says the document advocates nothing less than the “nullification” of the federal government, and if taken to its logical conclusion, the dissolution of the United States into 50 disparate entities. “If the gentlemen from the South really want to take such action,” he says, “let them propose a constitutional amendment that will deny to the colored people of the country equality of rights under the Constitution, and see how far they will get with the American people.” [Time, 3/26/1956; Cohodas, 1993, pp. 284-300] One Southern senator says shortly after its reading, “Now, if these Northerners won’t attack us and get mad and force us to close ranks, most of us will forget the whole thing and maybe we can pretty soon pretend it never happened.” [Time, 3/26/1956] The “Manifesto” heralds a split in the Democratic Party, between conservative, segregationist “Dixiecrat” Southerners and the moderate-to-liberal remainder of the party’s lawmakers. Thurmond will lead an exodus of the segregationists from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party shortly thereafter. [Cohodas, 1993, pp. 284-300]
US President Dwight Eisenhower rejects a Soviet proposal that North and South Vietnam remain permanently divided and join the United Nations as separate states. [Karnow, 1997, pp. 692]
President Dwight D. Eisenhower attends the dedication of an Islamic center in Washinton, DC, and tells his listeners: “I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience.… This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are.” [Dwight D. Eisenhower, 7/28/1957]
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1957, the first such law to pass Congress since the federal civil rights laws of 1875. The law allows the US attorney general to bring suits to address discrimination and voter intimidation against African-Americans and other minorities. The CRA is the jumping-off point of successive legislative attempts to grant equal rights and protections for minority citizens. President Eisenhower was never a vocal supporter of civil rights, believing that such changes had to come from within the “heart” and not be imposed by legislation from Washington. However, he does support the CRA, and helped push it through Congress against entrenched resistance, largely but not entirely from Southern Democrats determined to protect segregationist practices even after the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954). The CRA originally created a new division within the Justice Department to monitor civil rights abuses, but Senate Democrats, led by Lyndon Johnson (D-TX), worked to water down the bill in order to keep Southern Democrats and more liberal Democrats from the west and northeast from tearing the party apart along ideological lines. Johnson, along with Senator James O. Eastland (D-MS), rewrote the CRA to take much of its power away. The final version does grant new protections for African-American voters, pleasing the liberals of the Democratic Party, but contains almost no enforcement procedures for those found obstructing African-Americans’ attempts to vote, thus mollifying the conservative wing of the party. Eisenhower himself admitted that he did not understand parts of the bill. African-American leader Ralph Bunche, a prominent US diplomat, calls the act a sham and says he would rather have no bill than the CRA. But Bayard Rustin, a leader of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), says the bill has symbolic value as the first piece of civil rights legislation passed in 82 years. [History Learning Site, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]
President Dwight D. Eisenhower appoints CBS executive Theodore F. Koop, who served as deputy director of the Office of Censorship during World War II, to head a new, secret, 26-member emergency censorship board. The group is placed in charge of developing plans to restrict the free flow of information to the public in the event of a national emergency or war. The plans were first adopted in 1949 (see 1949). Approximately 40 “civilian executives” agree to work for the standby censorship unit should a crisis lead to its activation. [Prescott Courier, 10/1/1970; Time, 8/10/1992; Carpenter, 1995, pp. 112-113]
Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1958 is signed into law, merging the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) and the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) into a single agency, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM). The OCDM will be responsible for ensuring the continuation of essential government and industry functions in the event of a national emergency. President Dwight D. Eisenhower submitted the reorganization plan to Congress in April 1958 with the intention of establishing a “single pattern with respect to the vesting of defense mobilization and civil defense functions.” In addition to merging the civil defense agencies, the reorganization plan transfers to the president the authorities previously delegated to the FCDA and the ODM (see December 1, 1950 and December 16, 1950). [Message of the President, 4/24/1958; US Congress. House. Senate., 7/1/1958]
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1960. This legislation goes somewhat farther than its 1957 predecessor (see August 29, 1957). It requires election officials to have all records relating to voter registration and permits the Department of Justice to inspect them, making it more difficult for white interests to oppress African-American voters. Additionally, the law allows African-Americans barred from voting to apply to a federal court or voting arbitrator to gain those rights. Like its predecessor, it was ushered through by President Eisenhower, who pushed for the bill after an outbreak of violence against African-American churches and schools throughout the South in late 1958. And as with the first bill, Southern legislators line up in opposition to it, calling it an unacceptable interference in states’ affairs by the federal government. The second Civil Rights Act is not a major enhancement for voting-rights protections, and many critics call it little more than a sop to engage African-American voters in the 1960 elections. The new bill does provide for the creation of a Civil Rights Commission in the Justice Department, a provision that was eliminated from the 1957 bill. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]
President Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the following warning during his farewell speech: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 47]
President Dwight D. Eisenhower and President-elect John F. Kennedy meet at the White House for a final briefing before Eisenhower leaves office. Eisenhower tells Kennedy that he must assume responsibility for the overthrow of Fidel Castro and his government in Cuba, and recommends the hastening of the proposed Cuban invasion. Eisenhower says, “[W]e cannot let the present government there go on.” [Gravel, 9/29/1967, pp. 635-637; National Security Archive, 3/23/2001]
A Time magazine profile lambasts the racist, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS—see December 2011), in what is many Americans’ first exposure to the group. It delineates the organization’s penchant for secrecy, its domination by its “dictatorial” leader, Robert Welch, and its hardline battle against almost every element of the federal government as “agents of Communism.” Forty to 60 percent of the federal government is controlled by Communism, the JBS believes. Time calls the organization “a tiresome, comic-opera joke” that nonetheless has cells in 35 states and an ever-widening influence. In Wichita, Kansas, JBS student members are trained to inform their cell leaders of “Communist” influences they may detect in their classroom lectures, and the offending teacher is berated by parents. A Wichita businessman who wanted to give a donation to the University of Wichita decided not to donate after being hounded by local JBS members, who wanted the university to fire professors and remove selected books from its library. “My business would be wrecked,” the businessman explains, “if those people got on the phone and kept on yelling that I am a Communist because I give money to the school.” Nashville, Tennessee, JBS members organize community members to verbally attack neighbors whom they suspect of Communist affiliations. JBS’s current priority, Time writes, is to bring about the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Welch, who obtained his wealth from his brother’s candymaking business, believes that Social Security and the federal income tax are all part of the “creeping socialism” that is taking over the federal government. He retired from the business in 1957 and founded the JBS shortly thereafter, naming it for a US Navy captain killed by Chinese Communist guerrillas after the end of World War II. Welch’s seminal tract, “The Politician,” accuses President Eisenhower and his brother Milton Eisenhower of being Communist plants, and accuses both men of treason against the nation. [Time, 3/10/1961]
W. Cleon Skousen. [Source: Skousen2000 (.com)]Author W. Cleon Skousen, a supporter of the John Birch Society (JBS—see December 2011), writes an article attacking the Time profile of the JBS (see March 10, 1961) as being part of an orchestrated Communist attack on the organization. The article came about after the international Communist Party “ordered” the “annihilation” of the JBS, Skousen says. Skousen denies the group’s penchant for secrecy, saying that it was openly set up in 1958 as a network of “study groups” examining the threat of Communism to American society. The organization, he writes, is nothing more than “a study group program with a strong bias in favor of traditional American constitutionalism.” By 1960, the JBS earned the enmity of competing conservative groups, Skousen says, because the organization “had rallied together most of the best informed and hardest working patriots in many cities.” However, he writes, JBS members tend to be part of other conservative movements as well. The JBS worked to defeat a bill, slated to be introduced in January 1961, that would largely defund the House Committee on Un-American Activities “so it could not investigate the Communist Party.” Skousen says that JBS efforts derailed the bill, handing the American Communist Party “an overwhelming defeat.” After the bill was defeated, Skousen says, “a manifesto… from Moscow” ordered the destruction of the JBS, as it posed the primary danger to “Communist progress” in the US. The Time magazine profile of the JBS was part of that effort, Skousen says, after the organization was attacked in the pages of the Daily People’s World, a West Coast publication that Skousen says was “the official Communist newspaper” of that area. Within days, the information in the article was reprinted in Time’s own article, which reached far more people than the People’s World. “[T]he thing which astonished me,” Skousen writes, “was the rapidity with which the transmission belt began to function so that this story was planted in one major news medium after another until finally even some of the more conservative papers had taken up the hue and cry.” Skousen calls the article a Communist plant filled with fabrications and lies. He says that JBS leader Robert Welch’s accusations that President Eisenhower and other pro-American world leaders are Communists were made in “private communication[s] to his friends” and were never part of official JBS principles, and took place well before Welch founded the JBS in 1957; therefore, Skousen writes, to report Welch’s characterizations is to smear the JBS. Skousen also denies any racism or anti-Semitism on the JBS’s part, and uses a sympathetic 1963 report by the California Senate Factfinding Committee to “prove” his claims. The report concluded that Welch and the JBS have “stirred the slumbering spirit of patriotism in thousands of Americans, roused them from lethargy, and changed their apathy into a deep desire to first learn the facts about communism and then implement that knowledge with effective and responsible action.” Skousen concludes that while Americans are free to disagree with JBS principles and actions, any criticism of the organization should be considered potential Communist propaganda designed to smear the organization and reduce its effectiveness. If the criticism does not come from Communists themselves, it plays into Communist hands. As he claims to have been told by “[a] former member of the Communist Party National Committee,” “The Communist leaders look upon the stamping out of the John Birch Society as a matter of life and death for the Party.” [Our Republic, 1963]
Time magazine cover from May 9, 1977 touting the Frost/Nixon interviews. [Source: Time]Former President Richard Nixon meets with his interviewer, David Frost, for the first of several lengthy interviews (see Early 1976). The interviews take place in a private residence in Monarch Bay, California, close to Nixon’s home in San Clemente. One of Frost’s researchers, author James Reston Jr., is worried that Frost is not prepared enough for the interview. The interview is, in Reston’s words, a rather “free-form exercise in bitterness and schmaltz.”
Blaming Associates, Justifying Actions, Telling Lies - Nixon blames then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman for not destroying the infamous White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973), recalls weeping with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger over his resignation, and blames his defense counsel for letting him down during his impeachment hearings (see February 6, 1974). His famously crude language is no worse than the barracks-room speech of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he asserts. Frost shows a film of Nixon’s farewell address to the nation (see August 8, 1974), and observes that Nixon must have seen this film many times. Never, Nixon says, and goes on to claim that he has never listened to or watched any of his speeches, and furthermore had never even practiced any of his speeches before delivering them. It is an astonishing claim from a modern politician, one of what Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie calls “Unnecessary Nixon Lies.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 81-91] (In a 1974 article for Harper’s, Geoffrey Stokes wrote that, according to analysis of transcripts of Nixon’s infamous Watergate tape recordings by a Cornell University professor, Nixon spent nearly a third of his time practicing both private and public statements, speeches, and even casual conversations.) [Harper's, 10/1974]
Nixon Too Slippery for Frost? - During the viewing of the tape, Nixon’s commentary reveals what Reston calls Nixon’s “vanity and insecurity, the preoccupation with appearance within a denial of it.” After the viewing, Nixon artfully dodges Frost’s attempt to pin him down on how history will remember him, listing a raft of foreign and domestic achievements and barely mentioning the crimes committed by his administration. “What history will say about this administration will depend on who writes the history,” he says, and recalls British prime minister Winston Churchill’s assertion that history would “treat him well… [b]ecause I intend to write it.”
Reactions - The reactions of the Frost team to the first interview are mixed. Reston is pleased, feeling that Nixon made some telling personal observations and recollections, but others worried that Frost’s soft questioning had allowed Nixon to dominate the session and either evade or filibuster the tougher questions. Frost must assert control of the interviews, team members assert, must learn to cut Nixon off before he can waste time with a pointless anecdote. Frost must rein in Nixon when he goes off on a tangent. As Reston writes, “The solution was to keep the subject close to the nub of fact, leaving him no room for diversion or maneuver.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 81-91]
H. R. Haldeman’s “The Ends of Power.” [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in his autobiography The Ends of Power, advances his own insider theory of the genesis of the Watergate burglaries (see July 26-27, 1970). Haldeman, currently serving a one-year prison sentence for perjuring himself during his testimony about the Watergate cover-up, became so angered while watching David Frost interview former President Nixon, and particularly Nixon’s attempts to pin the blame for Watergate on Haldeman and fellow aide John Ehrlichman (see April 15, 1977), that he decided to write the book to tell his version of events. Some of his assertions:
Nixon, Colson Behind 'Plumbers;' Watergate Burglary 'Deliberately Sabotaged' - He writes that he believes then-President Nixon ordered the operation that resulted in the burglaries and surveillance of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters because he and Charles Colson, the aide who supervised the so-called “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), were both “infuriated with [DNC chairman Lawrence] O’Brien’s success in using the ITT case against them” (see February 22, 1972). Colson, whom Haldeman paints as Nixon’s “hit man” who was the guiding spirit behind the “Plumbers,” then recruited another White House aide, E. Howard Hunt, who brought in yet another aide, G. Gordon Liddy. Haldeman goes into a more interesting level of speculation: “I believe the Democratic high command knew the break-in was going to take place, and let it happen. They may even have planted the plainclothesman who arrested the burglars. I believe that the CIA monitored the Watergate burglars throughout. And that the overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that the break-in was deliberately sabotaged.” O’Brien calls Haldeman’s version of events “a crock.” As for Haldeman’s insinuations that the CIA might have been involved with the burglaries, former CIA director Richard Helms says, “The agency had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in.” Time magazine’s review of the book says that Haldeman is more believable when he moves from unverifiable speculation into provable fact. One such example is his delineation of the conspiracy to cover up the burglaries and the related actions and incidents. Haldeman writes that the cover-up was not a “conspiracy” in the legal sense, but was “organic,” growing “one step at a time” to limit political damage to the president.
Story of Kennedy Ordering Vietnamese Assassination Actually True - He suggests that the evidence Hunt falsified that tried to blame former president John F. Kennedy of having then-South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem assassination (see Mid-September 1971) may have pointed to the actual truth of that incident, hinting that Kennedy may have ordered the assassination after all.
US Headed Off Two Potentially Catastrophic Nuclear Incidents with USSR, China - He also writes of a previously unsuspected incident where Nixon and other US officials convinced the Soviets not to attack Chinese nuclear sites. And Haldeman tells of a September 1970 incident where the US managed to head off a second Cuban Missile Crisis. Both stories of US intervention with the Soviets are strongly denied by both of Nixon’s Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, and William Rogers.
Duality of Nixon's Nature - Haldeman says that while Nixon carried “greatness in him,” and showed strong “intelligence, analytical ability, judgment, shrewdness, courage, decisiveness and strength,” he was plagued by equally powerful flaws. Haldeman writes that Nixon had a “dirty, mean, base side” and “a terrible temper,” and describes him as “coldly calculating, devious, craftily manipulative… the weirdest man ever to live in the White House.” For himself, Haldeman claims to have always tried to give “active encouragement” to the “good” side of Nixon and treat the “bad” side with “benign neglect.” He often ignored Nixon’s “petty, vindictive” orders, such as giving mass lie detector tests to employees of the State Department as a means of finding security leaks. He writes that while he regrets not challenging Nixon more “frontally” to counter the president’s darker impulses, he notes that other Nixon aides who had done so quickly lost influence in the Oval Office. Colson, on the other hand, rose to a high level of influence by appealing to Nixon’s darker nature. Between the two, Haldeman writes, the criminal conspiracy of Watergate was created. (Colson disputes Haldeman’s depiction of his character as well as the events of the conspiracy.) Haldeman himself never intended to do anything illegal, denies any knowledge of the “Gemstone” conspiracy proposal (see January 29, 1972), and denies ordering his aide Gordon Strachan to destroy evidence (see June 18-19, 1972).
Reconstructing the 18 1/2 Minute Gap - Haldeman also reconstructs the conversation between himself and Nixon that was erased from the White House tapes (see June 23, 1972 and July 13-16, 1973). Time notes that Haldeman reconstructs the conversation seemingly to legally camouflage his own actions and knowledge, “possibly to preclude further legal charges against him…” According to Haldeman’s reconstruction, Nixon said, “I know one thing. I can’t stand an FBI interrogation of Colson… Colson can talk about the president, if he cracks. You know I was on Colson’s tail for months to nail Larry O’Brien on the [Howard] Hughes deal (see April 30 - May 1, 1973; O’Brien had worked for Hughes, and Nixon was sure O’Brien had been involved in illegalities). Colson told me he was going to get the information I wanted one way or the other. And that was O’Brien’s office they were bugging, wasn’t it? And who’s behind it? Colson’s boy Hunt. Christ. Colson called [deputy campaign chief Jeb Magruder] and got the whole operation started. Right from the g_ddamn White House… I just hope the FBI doesn’t check the office log and put it together with that Hunt and Liddy meeting in Colson’s office.” Time writes, “If the quotes are accurate, Nixon is not only divulging his own culpability in initiating the bugging but is also expressing a clear intent to keep the FBI from learning about it. Thus the seeds of an obstruction of justice have been planted even before the celebrated June 23 ‘smoking gun’ conversation, which ultimately triggered Nixon’s resignation from office.” Haldeman says he isn’t sure who erased the tape, but he believes it was Nixon himself. Nixon intended to erase all the damning evidence from the recordings, but since he was, Haldeman writes, “the least dexterous man I have ever known,” he quickly realized that “it would take him ten years” to erase everything.
'Smoking Gun' Allegations - Haldeman also makes what Time calls “spectacular… but unverified” allegations concerning the June 23, 1972 “smoking gun” conversations (see June 23, 1972). The focus of that day’s discussion was how the White House could persuade the CIA to head off the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate burglary. The tape proved that Nixon had indeed attempted to block the criminal investigation into Watergate, and feared that the money found on the burglars would be traced back to his own re-election campaign committee. Haldeman writes that he was confused when Nixon told him to tell the CIA, “Look, the problem is that this will open up the whole Bay of Pigs thing again.” When Haldeman asked Helms to intercede with the FBI, and passed along Nixon’s warning that “the Bay of Pigs may be blown,” Helms’s reaction, Haldeman writes, was electric. “Turmoil in the room, Helms gripping the arms of his chair, leaning forward and shouting, ‘The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.’” Haldeman writes, “I was absolutely shocked by Helms‘[s] violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story?” Haldeman comes to believe that the term “Bay of Pigs” was a reference to the CIA’s secret attempts to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The CIA had withheld this info from the Warren Commission, the body that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, and Haldeman implies that Nixon was using the “Bay of Pigs thing” as some sort of blackmail threat over the CIA. Haldeman also hints, very vaguely, that Nixon, when he was vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a chief instigator of the actual Bay of Pigs invasion. (Time notes that while Vice President Nixon probably knew about the plans, “he certainly had not been their author.”)
Other Tidbits - Haldeman writes that Nixon’s taping system was created to ensure that anyone who misrepresented what Nixon and others said in the Oval Office could be proven wrong, and that Nixon had Kissinger particularly in mind. Nixon kept the tapes because at first he didn’t believe he could be forced to give them up, and later thought he could use them to discredit former White House counsel John Dean. He says Nixon was wrong in asserting that he ordered Haldeman to get rid of the tapes. Haldeman believes the notorious “deep background” source for Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was actually Fred Fielding, Dean’s White House deputy. Interestingly, Haldeman apparently discovered the real identity of “Deep Throat” in 1972 to be senior FBI official W. Mark Felt (see October 19, 1972). It is unclear why Haldeman now writes that Fielding, not Felt, was the Post source.
Not a Reliable Source - Time notes that Haldeman’s book is far from being a reliable source of information, characterizing it as “badly flawed, frustratingly vague and curiously defensive,” and notes that “[m]any key sections were promptly denied; others are clearly erroneous.” Time concludes, “Despite the claim that his aim was finally to ‘tell the truth’ about the scandal, his book is too self-protective for that.” And it is clear that Haldeman, though he writes how the cover-up was “morally and legally the wrong thing to do—so it should have failed,” has little problem being part of such a criminal conspiracy. The biggest problem with Watergate was not that it was illegal, he writes, but that it was handled badly. He writes, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind today that if I were back at the starting point, faced with the decision of whether to join up, even knowing what the ultimate outcome would be, I would unhesitatingly do it.” [Time, 2/27/1978; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Fred F. Fielding, William P. Rogers, E. Howard Hunt, Democratic National Committee, David Frost, Charles Colson, W. Mark Felt, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, US Department of State, Lawrence O’Brien, Richard Helms, John Dean, Jeb S. Magruder, Howard Hughes, Henry A. Kissinger, Gordon Strachan, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John F. Kennedy
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Historian Ernest May. [Source: Belfer Center]An eminent historian finds serious flaws in a historical treatise about former President John F. Kennedy. The book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, was written in 1997 by conservative historians Ernest May and Philip D. Zelikow, and purports to be an unprecedentedly accurate representation of the events of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis based on transcriptions of recorded meetings, conferences, telephone conversations, and interviews with various participants. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/2000] Zelikow is a former member of George H. W. Bush’s National Security Council and a close adviser to future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [US Department of State, 8/5/2005] May is a Harvard professor. Both will participate heavily in the creation of the 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 387-393] Almost three years after the Kennedy book’s publication, Sheldon M. Stern, the historian for the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 through 1999, pores over it and the May/Zelikow transcripts. In the original edition, May and Zelikow admitted that their final product was not perfect: “The reader has here the best text we can produce, but it is certainly not perfect. We hope that some, perhaps many, will go to the original tapes. If they find an error or make out something we could not, we will enter the corrections in subsequent editions or printings of this volume.” But when Stern checks the book against the tapes, he finds hundreds of errors in the book, some quite significant. Stern concludes that the errors “significantly undermine [the book’s] reliability for historians, teachers, and general readers.” May and Zelikow have corrected a few of the errors in subsequent editions, but have not publicly acknowledged any errors. Stern concludes, “Readers deserve to know that even now The Kennedy Tapes cannot be relied on as an accurate historical document.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/2000] One error has then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy talking about the planned “invasion” of Russian ships heading to Cuba, when the tapes actually show Kennedy discussing a far less confrontational “examination” of those vessels. May and Zelikow imply that the Kennedy administration was discussing just the kind of confrontation that it was actually trying to avoid. Another error has CIA Director John McCone referring to the need to call on former President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “facilitator,” where McCone actually said “soldier.” May and Zelikow will be rather dismissive of Stern’s findings, saying that “none of these amendments are very important.” Stern will express shock over their response, and respond, “When the words are wrong, as they are repeatedly, the historical record is wrong.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 42]
Entity Tags: Kennedy administration, Philip Zelikow, John F. Kennedy, Sheldon M. Stern, Robert F. Kennedy, Ernest May, John A. McCone, 9/11 Commission, George Herbert Walker Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Dwight Eisenhower
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Historian and presidential biographer Richard Reeves fundamentally misrepresents history in a New York Times editorial asking Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) to end the Florida election standoff by conceding to George W. Bush (R-TX). Reeves notes correctly that the 1960 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy was extraordinarily close. Reeves asserts that Nixon and Kennedy discussed the situation after the votes were initially tallied and Nixon decided not to challenge the results. “If Nixon had decided to pursue a challenge, he might have had a good case,” Reeves writes. “Republicans were producing claims of fraud, waving sworn depositions from election officials in Illinois and Texas. It was great stuff: there were 6,138 votes cast by the 4,895 voters registered in Fannin County, Texas; in the 38th precinct of Chicago’s sixth ward, 43 voters seemed to have cast 121 votes in the hour after the polls opened. But whatever else he was, Nixon was a patriot. He understood what recounts and lawsuits and depositions carried out over months—even years—would do to the nation. He was also a realist, and he knew that investigations might well turn up examples of his own party’s tradition of recording votes for folks dead or alive in southern Illinois and a few other venues.” Reeves goes on to note that Kennedy’s slight popular vote lead translated into a strong Electoral College lead, and that Nixon’s patron, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was angry about the alleged fraud but finally told Nixon that he could not back him in a challenge to the results.” As Nixon reportedly explained to a reporter afterwards, “The country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis, and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.” Reeves uses the example of Nixon’s patriotism and restraint in arguing that Gore should emulate Nixon and gracefully concede the election. [New York Times, 11/10/2000] However, Reeves fundamentally misrepresents Nixon’s actions and historical events. Nixon was, as Reeves writes, convinced that Kennedy fraudulently won the election. And rumors of election fraud had circulated even before Election Day, such as in Chicago, where Democratic majorities were considered suspect. When the votes were tallied and Kennedy declared the winner, angry Republicans demanded an investigation. Nixon later said in both interviews and his own memoirs that he refused to dispute the election. Publicly, Nixon conceded the election to Kennedy, but privately, he encouraged his aides and fellow Republicans to overturn the results. In the weeks after the election, many newspapers pursued the story, fueled by Republicans who made a bevy of allegations and charges of election fraud and rampant cheating. Slate’s David Greenberg later writes: “[T]he Republican Party made a veritable crusade of undoing the results. Even if they ultimately failed, party leaders figured, they could taint Kennedy’s victory, claim he had no mandate for his agenda, galvanize the rank and file, and have a winning issue for upcoming elections.” Three days after the election, Senator Thruston Morton (R-KY), the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), launched bids for recounts and investigations in 11 states, including Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey. Days later, close Nixon aides sent agents to conduct what they called “field checks” in eight of those states. Another aide tried to create a “Nixon Recount Committee” in Chicago. Recounts were indeed obtained. Grand juries were empaneled and a special prosecutor was appointed. The FBI launched investigations into voter fraud and election theft. The recounts and investigations proved nothing of significance, and one by one, they lapsed. The last recount, in Illinois, lasted for over a month after the election; on December 9, 1960, when recount tallies gave Nixon a mere 943 extra votes, Republicans filed a lawsuit in federal court to summarily grant Illinois’s 27 electoral votes to Nixon, which was dismissed. Republicans then took their case to the Illinois Board of Elections, which, even though it had a majority of Republicans comprising it, rejected the petition. Even after December 19, when the Electoral College formally certified Kennedy as the winner, recounts and legal challenges were still in the works. [Slate, 10/16/2000; Salon, 11/10/2000] Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan, considered a liberal like Reeves, echoes Reeves’s portrayal of Nixon in a column that is published the same day as Reeves’s. Nyhan calls Nixon’s supposed concession that president’s “most magnaminous act” and recommends that Gore step aside. [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 11/16/2000]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Nyhan, David Greenberg, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., US Electoral College, Thruston Morton, Richard M. Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, New York Times, Republican National Committee, John F. Kennedy, Illinois Board of Elections, Republican Party, Richard Reeves
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Domestic Propaganda
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. [Source: Broadcatching (.com)]The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 304]
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006]
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Entity Tags: David S. Broder, Chris Matthews, Tom Cruise, Texas Air National Guard, Ronald Reagan, Public Broadcasting System, Walter Mondale, Washington Post, Wendell Goler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Ann Coulter, Bob Schieffer, Pat Caddell, Brian Williams, CBS News, Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume, New York Times, Vladimir Putin, Michael Dukakis, George S. McGovern, Fox News, CNN, Elisabeth Bumiller, Detroit Free Press, David Sanger, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, NBC News, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keith Olbermann, Gwen Ifill, Karl C. Rove, Laura Ingraham, Jon Scott, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Maureen Dowd
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Speaking to students in China, Vice President Cheney says that former president Dwight Eisenhower first gave the vice president an office “in the executive branch,” and adds, “since then the responsibilities have gradually increased.” However, Cheney has repeatedly said that the vice president is not part of the executive branch (see 2003, June 26, 2007, and June 29, 2007). [Congress Daily, 6/29/2007]
Representative Ron Paul, profiled in a New York Times article, answers a question about his connections to the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961, 1978-1996, August 4, 2008 and December 2011). “Oh, my goodness, the John Birch Society!” Paul replies in what the reporter calls “mock horror.” “Is that bad? I have a lot of friends in the John Birch Society. They’re generally well educated and they understand the Constitution. I don’t know how many positions they would have that I don’t agree with. Because they’re real strict constitutionalists, they don’t like the war, they’re hard-money people.” [New York Times, 7/22/2007] The JBS is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent right-wing extremist group that has accused a number of lawmakers, including former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, of being “closet Communists,” and promotes “wild conspiracy theories” such as the “international Jewish” conspiracy to control the global economy and the idea that the World War II Holocaust never happened. The JBS has been a pioneer in what an analysis by Political Research Associates (PRA) will call “the encoding of implicit cultural forms of ethnocentric white racism and Christian nationalist antisemitism rather than relying on the white supremacist biological determinism and open loathing of Jews that had typified the old right prior to WWII.” PRA will note, “Throughout its existence, however, the Society has promoted open homophobia and sexism.” [Political Research Associates, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/17/2010]
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage repeats the false assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, a trope repeated by many conservative radio hosts (see January 22-24, 2008). In reality, Obama is a practicing Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ. The allegations that Obama is, or ever was, a Muslim have been debunked by, among others, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. Savage again lies to his listeners by telling them another oft-repeated falsehood, that Obama was educated in a radical Islamist “madrassah” during a childhood stint in Indonesia. Savage tells his listeners: “Look who we inherited in this country, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Hussein Obama, in one generation. A war hero to—a war hero who commanded the Allied operations against Nazi Germany was running for the presidency then. Now we have an unknown stealth candidate who went to a madrassas in Indonesia and, in fact, was a Muslim.… Yes, check it out.” [Media Matters, 4/7/2008] Weeks before, Savage told his listeners that Obama and his former pastor supported the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and Obama would bring chaos and devastation to the United States on a scale not seen since the Civil War (see March 13, 2008).
This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is co-sponsored by the far-right, openly racist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). CPAC spokesman Ian Walters says this is the first time the JBS has sponsored the conference. In the 1960s, influential conservative pundit William F. Buckley denounced the society and its founder Robert Welch as “idiotic” and “paranoid.” Buckley’s condemnation effectively exiled the group from mainstream conservatism for half a century. Welch had accused then-President Dwight Eisenhower of being a “conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy” and said the government was “under operational control of the Communist Party.” Buckley argued that such paranoid rantings had no place in the conservative movement or the Republican Party. Lisa Depasquale, CPAC’s director for the American Conservative Union, which runs the conference, explains why the JBS is now a sponsor, saying: “They’re a conservative organization. Beyond that I have no comment.” [ABC News, 4/19/2010]
John Birch Society logo. [Source: John Birch Society]John F. McManus, the head of the far-right, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS), releases a booklet through the organization entitled “Reality vs. Myth” that attempts to, in the words of the JBS, “set the record straight” about what the organization is and is not. According to McManus, the JBS has never held anti-Semitic or racist views, or tolerated such within its organization. All such assertions come from “enemies” of the organization, often from persons or organizations with Communist affiliations (see March 10, 1961 and 1963), he writes. [John Birch Society, 2011]
History of Anti-Communism - The organization was founded in 1958 by candy magnate Robert Welch, a former Massachusetts Republican Party official who began railing about what he considered the “pervasive” influence of Communism in all aspects of American society, particularly in the federal government. Liberals are inherently opposed to freedom and democracy, Welch argued, because liberals are in favor of collectivism/socialism, and therefore are witting or unwitting traitors to the individualist tenets that underlie the US Constitution. The JBS became a vocal opponent of the United Nations, alleging as early as 1959 that the UN intended to establish a “New World Order” (NWO) or “one-world government” (see September 11, 1990). The JBS has also portrayed itself as a fundamentally Christian organization, and views Communism and other non-American forms of government as inherently “godless.” Since the end of World War II, the organization has asserted, the US government has been actively attempting to implement “godless Communism” in place of a Constitutional democracy, including a 1958 claim by Welch that then-President Eisenhower was “a dedicated conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.” Some “Bircher” officials have touted the NWO as being rooted in the alleged Illuminati Freemason conspiracy. In 1964, the JBS enthusiastically supported the presidential candidacy of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), though a large number of members supported Eisenhower’s vice-president, Richard Nixon (R-CA) over Goldwater. The organization opposed John F. Kennedy (D-MA), accusing him of being a traitor and a Communist dupe (see November 1963), accusations it had also leveled against Eisenhower. After Goldwater’s defeat, Welch attempted to land the segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace (D-AL), as a standardbearer for the JBS. [Political Research Associates, 2010] McManus insists that the JBS’s overarching loyalty is to the Christian Bible, the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. ” Our organization was created to uphold the truths in the Declaration and the limitations upon government in the Constitution,” he writes. “Not alone in such an endeavor, we welcome all who treasure what our nation’s Founders produced.” [John Birch Society, 2011]
Less Overt Racist, Anti-Semitic Stances - During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the JBS painted the civil rights movement as a Communist conspiracy, accusing “ignorant” and “uneducated” African-Americans of either being witting or unwitting dupes of a Communist conspiracy against America. It launched a powerful and well-organized assault on the civil rights movement, calling it a “fraud” and labeling it the “Negro Revolutionary Movement.” Some JBS publications and officials also asserted that the nation’s financial system was controlled largely by Jews with little if any loyalty to the US, and in some instances actively working to undermine and destabilize America’s economy. Such assertions led many to characterize the JBS as a racist and anti-Semitic organization, characterizations that the organization has always disputed. It has touted its very small number of African-American and Jewish members as proof of its claims not to be institutionally racist or anti-Semitic. In 2010, the liberal Political Research Associates (PRA) wrote: “The JBS… discouraged overt displays of racism, while it promoted policies that had the effect of racist oppression by its opposition to the Civil Rights movement. The degree of political racism expressed by the JBS was not ‘extremist’ but similar to that of many mainstream Republican and Democratic elected officials at the time. This level of mainstream racism should not be dismissed lightly, as it was often crude and sometimes violent, treating Black people in particular as second-class citizens, most of whom had limited intelligence and little ambition. In [one JBS publication], Martin Luther King, Jr. is portrayed as an agent of a massive communist conspiracy to agitate among otherwise happy Negroes to foment revolution, or at least promote demands for more collectivist federal government intrusion.” PRA also went on to note that one of its founders, Revilo P. Oliver, was forced to resign from the JBS after making anti-Semitic and racist comments at a 1996 JBS rally. And, the PRA wrote, “When crude antisemitism was detected in JBS members, their membership was revoked[,]” though the organization still held that anti-American Jews were attempting to do damage to the nation’s economy. “At its core, however, the Birch view of the conspiracy does not reveal it to be controlled or significantly influenced by Jews in general, or a secret group of conniving Jews, nor is their evidence of a hidden agenda within the Society to promote suspicion of Jews. The Society always struggled against what it saw as objectionable forms of prejudice against Jews, but it can still be criticized for having continuously promoted mild antisemitic stereotyping. Nevertheless, the JBS was closer to mainstream stereotyping and bigotry than the naked race hate and genocidal antisemitism of neonazi or KKK groups. In a sense, the Birch society pioneered the encoding of implicit cultural forms of ethnocentric White racism and Christian nationalist antisemitism rather than relying on the White supremacist biological determinism and open loathing of Jews that had typified the old right prior to WWII. Throughout its existence, however, the Society has promoted open homophobia and sexism. The Society’s anti-communism and states rights libertarianism was based on sincere principles, but it clearly served as a cover for organizing by segregationists and White supremacists. How much of this was conscious, and how much unconscious, is difficult to determine.” [Political Research Associates, 2010] McManus calls attempts to point out the JBS’s history of implicit racism and anti-Semitism as deliberate, dishonest attempts to “stigmatize” the group, usually by persons and organizations who are working to implement a one-world government and see the JBS as a roadblock to that goal. “There was no evidence that the Society was racist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, or subversive of good order,” McManus claims. “But that didn’t stop many from making such charges.… There were some attempts to defend JBS against the flood of vicious characterizations but these were overwhelmed by widespread and undeserved nastiness. No private organization in our nation’s history had ever been treated so unfairly.” He calls efforts to show the JBS as racist “vicious” and false. “If truth were told,” he writes, “the John Birch Society should be congratulated nationally for its important work in diffusing racial animosities.” [John Birch Society, 2011] Many prominent white supremacist leaders used their membership in the JBS to help promote their more overtly racist organizations (see 1970-1974 and 1973). Former Ku Klux Klan leader Johnny Lee Clary has said the JBS “is just a political version of the KKK, without the name of the KKK. They center on the political ideas of the Klan and are not as vocal in public on the ideas of the racial superiority, but they attract the same people and say the same things behind closed doors.… They are racist, and full of hate and are officially listed as a hate group with several civil rights organizations throughout the USA” (see April 13, 2009). Among other non-white leaders, the JBS has labeled South Africa’s Nelson Mandela as a “Communist tyrant” (see December 11, 2009).
Reframing Itself - In the late 1970s, the JBS saw its influence waning as more modern organizations comprising what some have called the “New Right” came to the fore. In the 1980s, the JBS lost even more influence after attacking Reagan administration policies. It managed to revive itself by toning down its anti-Communist rhetoric and emphasizing its warnings about the New World Order and positioning itself as a long-time advocate of right-wing, muscularly patriotic popularism. Author and journalist Andrew Reinbach notes that the JBS provided an ideological “seed bank” for many of the tenets currently embraced by the various “tea party” organizations on the right (see February 4-8, 2010 and February 15, 2010), an assertion echoed by conservative journalist Matthew Boyle. [Huffington Post, 9/12/2011; Daily Caller, 11/29/2011] McManus credits the JBS with helping bring about the impeachment of then-President Clinton, stopping the establishment of a free-trade entity in the Western Hemisphere, and putting an end to what it calls “the drive to a sovereignty-compromising North American Union.” McManus says JBS efforts to “educate” the world about the UN has prevented that organization “from becoming the tyrannical world government intended by its founders.” He writes that the JBS successfully thwarted the federal government’s alleged plans to federalize all American law enforcement, and credits the JBS’s black membership with preventing wholesale rioting and insurrection during the Civil Rights Era. He touts the JBS as being one of the primary organizations that blocked the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. And he credits the JBS with being among the first organizations to warn about what it calls the dangers of illegal immigration. He touts the support of, among others, presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX—see 1978-1996 and July 22, 2007) and conservative commentator Pat Buchanan (see June 12, 2009, June 20, 2009, July 16, 2009, and October 18, 2011 and After) as validating the organization’s ideology and positions, and notes that in recent years, the JBS was an official sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference (see April 19, 2010 and February 9-11, 2012). And he claims that attempts to paint tea party organizations as far-right, racist, or homophobic are similar to the efforts by Communists and NWO conspiratists to destroy the Society. He concludes by writing to prospective members: “Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by the false image created by the Society’s enemies. Our country is under attack and The John Birch Society offers a workable plan to combat it.” [John Birch Society, 2011]
Entity Tags: John F. Kennedy, John Birch Society, Dwight Eisenhower, Conservative Political Action Conference, Barry Goldwater, Andrew Reinbach, George C. Wallace, Ron Paul, United Nations, Richard M. Nixon, Political Research Associates, Patrick Buchanan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Revilo P. Oliver, Johnny Lee Clary, Robert Welch, John F. McManus
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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