On November 22, 1963, as soon as news of the shooting began to spread, in Dallas, in Texas and in many other places the immediate thought – and deep concern – was that individuals from the ultra-right would be found to have been behind the attack. To a large extent that was driven by the extreme amount of publicly visible right wing hate associated with Dallas itself.
Adlai Stevenson, American ambassador to the UN had been physically assaulted during an earlier visit to Dallas. The Vice President and his wife had been chased down the street in Dallas, fleeing from violent right wing women protesters. The situation was so dire that Texas Congressmen had advised JFK not to come and the Dallas Chief of Police had gone on television to plead for calm and call for individuals to support efforts to deal with the anticipated violence. Law enforcement had also very quietly called in press and others familiar with recent protests and prepared photo books, performing special recognition training for the security personnel assigned to the Trade Center, location of the President’s luncheon address.
It’s something that a great deal used to be written about, not so much anymore. I dealt with it at length in November Patriots, a book I did with former Dallas reporter Connie Kritzberg. The Mayor and Dallas City Council even went so far as to pass a special ordinance addressing the dangers and Chief of Police Curry underlined it by a public call endorsing citizen’s arrest if law enforcement was not adequate to deal with any threat.
In that context, and with public expressions of opposition and literal hate from right wing elements, it’s natural that first thoughts were of the ultra-right. But with so much right wing hate, who would it actually come immediately to mind? Leading right wing media advocates such as Bunker Hunt and his family had spoken bitterly against JFK, we have a good deal of anecdotal evidence that they had even offered reward money for his death. The FBI and Secret Service both had registered threats from some of the more violent elements of the right wing – generally traceable to groups affiliated either with the National States Rights Party or the Minutemen. In his first order after the assassination, FBI Director Hoover directed proactive contact with any and all FBI contacts and informants – including those connected to the ultra-right. Of course that order was rescinded within less than 24 hours.
In The Awful Grace of God Stu Wexler and I write about FBI reports on rifle teams actually being trained to shoot JFK and others, there was even a Secret Service alert out of San Antonio regarding a possible NSRP planned attack during JFK’s visit to Texas. A recent warning out of Miami from an FBI source had described a sniper attack from a high building during a motorcade. But due to Secret Service protocols, since Washington had been mentioned in that report, the warning was sent to DC but not passed on to the Secret Service security team doing the Dallas trip.
Of course there were highly visible public voices speaking out against JFK from the right. In Texas and nationally some of the most prominent included H. L. Hunt and his family as well as , former General Edwin Walker – outspoken against not only JFK’s policies but against integration and the civil rights movement in general. Walker was virulently anti-Communist, seeing the communist party behind the civil rights movement and threatening the nation’s Christian religious foundation. He was politically active, having run for Governor of Texas (supported by Hunt oil money), but in 1963 seemed to be more concerned about difficulties in fund raising than anything else. He had most recently joined fundamentalist preacher Billy Hargis in a national appearance tour touting the Communist threat and calling for military action against Cuba.
And those were just a few of the names and groups on people’s minds. The Minutemen, the NSRP, the Hunt family, Edwin Walker – of course it could have been a simple matter of radical locals, taking their guns to the Plaza and putting talk into action. While we can’t trace all that, we can take a look at what went on with the most suspect groups, with Hunt, with Walker and see if that suggests either actual involvement or at least a guilty conscious. I’ll make an effort to do that in Part 2.