If the first thoughts in Dallas turned to the right wing, they might well have begun with a couple of the city’s most outspoken critics of the Kennedy Administration – and President Kennedy himself. H.L. Hunt’s conservative Lifeline radio program was one of the earliest anti-communist, anti-integration mass media outlets, it had a substantial listener-ship and opposed virtually every aspect of Kennedy Administration policy.
Hunt, acting largely through his sons, was a contributor to a variety of ultra-right causes including paramilitary actions against Castro and Castro’s Cuba. How much money actually changed hands is debatable but there is no doubt that people like Jerry Hemming, Felipe Vidal and others traveled to Dallas to seek money from Hunt, and from individuals such as General Walker, who Hunt had supported in an earlier campaign effort to become governor of Texas.
To the extent that we accept Hemming as a source he places people like Hunt, Murchison and Gordon McClendon in meetings where there was talk of eliminating both JFK and Castro – given the way people like Hunt and Murchison routinely talked it’s not hard a visualize such remarks in that sort of group. But Hemming also stated that in any dealings with the Hunts, they were careful to remain at arm’s length, promising or even giving some money but never wanting to discuss details of how it would actually be used. Aside from Hemming, there are other anecdotal sources, some quite credible, who support remarks from H.L. Hunt (or his sons) essentially offering money for the murder of JFK and/or Castro – at most expecting that something might come of it but doing nothing more direct than essentially offering a bounty.
What becomes especially interesting is that immediately following the assassination, Hunt certainly acted as if he might be connected to the attack in Dallas. On November 23 Hunt left Dallas, traveling to Washington D.C. and telling associates that he was “going to help Lyndon” – although there is certainly in record of any direct contact between the two men during the days immediately following November 22. Alternatively Hunt told other people that local FBI contacts in Dallas had suggested he leave town for his own safety (which made no sense at all) – Hunt routinely employed former FBI agents for security and essentially as his own private intelligence service.
Before he left Dallas, Hunt directed one of his chief aides, John Currington, to go downtown and assess the police security being put in place around Lee Oswald on the evening of his arrest. Currington was well enough connected to circulate freely and reportedly managed to end up on an elevator with Will Fritz (an old friend of his) and Lee Oswald, introduced to Oswald as the “the blankety blank” who shot the President. If true we have two instances of people being directed to assess Oswald’s security that evening, Currington and Jack Ruby.
Apparently Hunt’s concerns continued, during the Garrison investigation a second aide, Paul Rothermel, was sent to New Orleans to collect information on Garrisons’ efforts and according to Rothermel ensure that Garrison not get the idea that anyone connected to Hunt had been involved. If possible Garrison was to be steered to a left wing conspiracy. Of course that would have been standard political practice for Hunt, in his view all conspiracies were either left wing or Communist. Interestingly Rothermel was not to introduce the idea of Cuba or Castro – possibly because Hunt and his sons had indeed been in contact with Cuban exiles and anti-Castro activists.
It should be noted that none of those concerns deterred Hunt from being publicly visible or from funding and personally touting his political views – if anything he became more outspoken as time passed. In the end Hemming may have made the most insightful observation on Hunt’s involvement – saying that the man had made offers and floated money and then become panicked that someone would show up to collect afterwards.
The second name that might have come up in Dallas was that of former Army general Edwin Walker, also an outspoken critic of JFK but personally most involved in political action and right wing speeches. Walker had been forced out of the Army over his right wing activism and become prominent in protesting integration, personally involved in the violent 1962 protests at the University of Mississippi. Robert Kennedy ordered him into a mental asylum for a 90 day evaluation after the campus riots but he was released after only five days and was not indicted for his in inciting violence. Funded by H.L. Hunt, Walker failed in his effort to win the Texas governorship in 1962.
Walker had spent 1963 on a nationwide anti-Communist speaking tour and that summer had gone to Miami to encourage the Cuban exiles in actions against Castro. His time in Miami doesn’t get all that much discussion, possibly because the people he talked to simply needed money and that was one thing Walker didn’t have. But that did not stop them from coming to Dallas that fall and trying to fund raise from him – but Walker couldn’t even come up with funds for his own political efforts, much less theirs.
Walker was a far less subtle rabble rouser than H.L. Hunt, the violence against Adlai Stevenson in Dallas has been connected back to him and the infamous Wanted for Treason: JFK hand bills of November 22 were traced back to him and his associates. Walker had also been in the papers in April, 1963 – the supposed target of a shooting attempt at his home, something now commonly thought to have been staged to help boost his flagging public visibility and add credit to him as a significant threat against the Communists he continued to speak out against.
Actually Walker’s fortunes (and funding) had fallen so low by the time of the assassination that his name might not have immediately surfaced. It did, after about a week, but only because of an article in a German newspaper, connecting him to Lee Oswald in the context of the April shooting attempt at his house. While still actively debated, it seems likely that it was Walker himself who made that connection for the paper, very likely in yet one more attempt at visibility and to add to his reputation as an anti-Communist force. Anyone interested in that discussion will find more than enough material online to pursue it …forever it seems.
What can be said is that over the years Walker continued to either tie the shooting incident to Oswald, or seemingly deny that. He also talked up Oswald as part of a conspiracy, obviously a Communist conspiracy of some sort…but Walker’s remarks became increasingly disjointed, causing speculation that he did have some level of mental dysfunction. All in all his “afterwards” behavior was far different than H.L. Hunt’s, and to me much less suspicious. In addition you would also have to assume a good bit of dysfunction in someone who would sponsor a JFK Wanted for Treason campaign on same day they were knowingly involved with a conspiracy to murder him.
In the next segment, we’ll move from local ultra-right figures to some of the “afterwards” behavior from organizations that were on record with the FBI as having plans to actually kill JFK.