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Wednesday, 15 December 1999 22:00

Jesse Ventura Takes On the Establishment re JFK Case

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[His] statements, to say the least, are not the pre-recorded stock answers that advisers beat into their bosses. Whatever one thinks of them, they show that, at least for right now, Ventura is his own man. And only that type could have made the remarks he did – to an audience of 3.4 million readers – on the murder of President Kennedy, writes Jim DiEugenio.


From the November-December 1999 issue (Vol. 7 No. 1) of Probe


Word starting leaking out in Washington in early October. Well-connected Washington lawyer Dan Alcorn called Probe and told us what the town was abuzz about. The word was that Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota had made some controversial remarks in the upcoming November issue of Playboy. Alcorn told me that Ventura's comments on organized religion and gun control would be talked about. But he added that his comments on the JFK case were really something.

I picked up a copy of that issue at the newsstand. As I read the interview I immediately could see that the governor was no blow-dried, Madison Avenue fashioned slick politician. Whatever one feels about the content of the interview, Ventura was quite candid and unguarded about his thoughts on important issues. Consider:

On gun control: "You want to know my definition of gun control? Being able to stand there at 25 meters and put two rounds in the same hole. That's gun control."

On the Christian Coalition: "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business. I live by the golden rule: Treat others as you'd want them to treat you. The religious right wants to tell people how to live."

On the press: "They need [to be attacked]. Nobody holds them accountable. No one holds their feet to the fire."

On prostitution: "Prostitution is criminal, and bad things happen because it's run illegally by dirtbags who are criminals. If it's legal, then the girls could have health checks, unions, benefits, anything any other worker gets, and it would be for the better."

On the crime issue: "That's a local issue and I don't believe in micromanagement. Sure I'm concerned about it, but it's not the governor's job to handle it. That's for mayors, city councils. I'm not going to sit here and be a typical politician [bangs his desk] and say 'I'm going to fight crime.' Half these guys wouldn't know crime if it bit them on the ass."

On the 2nd Amendment: "Our forefathers put it in there so the general citizenry has the ability to combat an oppressive government. It's not in there to make sure I can go hunting on weekends."

On cynicism about political leaders: "The answer is that people are searching for the truth, for someone they can truly believe in. The truth may not be what they want to hear, but they at least know they're getting it."

These statements, to say the least, are not the pre-recorded stock answers that advisers beat into their bosses. Whatever one thinks of them, they show that, at least for right now, Ventura is his own man. And only that type could have made the remarks he did – to an audience of 3.4 million readers – on the murder of President Kennedy. Ventura led off with this blast at the Warren Commission:

Name me one person who can verify that the Warren Commission is factual. You're talking to an ex-Navy Seal here. Oswald had seven seconds to get three rounds off. He's got a bolt action weapon, and he's going to miss the first shot and hit the next two?

He then went on to the issues of Oswald and the classification process:

If Oswald was indeed who they say he was – a disgruntled little Marine who got angry and became pro-Marxist and decided to shoot the president – please explain why everything would be locked in the archives until 2029 and put under national security? How could he affect national security?

Ventura even went on to outline who he thought was behind the murder and what the motive was. He believed the actual assassins were hired guns, maybe Cubans, maybe Europeans. He added that they were hired by agents of the military-industrial complex. He then added their motive was to prevent Kennedy's impending withdrawal from Vietnam. Ventura then went on to explain the reason the media hasn't told the truth about the case:

That's because every bit of real evidence is ridiculed. The method is to dismiss it by saying: "Oh that's just those conspiracy nuts."

With these outspoken, bare-knuckled remarks on a political murder that will not disappear, as well as continuing remarks made since, Ventura has become the highest-level politician to launch a virulent and sustained attack on the official story. Jim Garrison was only a local District Attorney. Representative Tom Downing was a Congressman. And Senator Richard Schweiker was not this blunt in his public comments.

Of course, the interview made Ventura a lightning rod in Washington. Admirably, the governor did not shirk the battle. Shortly afterwards, Ventura appeared on This Week, the Sunday news program with Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson and George Will. Ventura talked about his role in getting Donald Trump to run for the Reform Party's presidential nomination. He also said that he was not as enamored of Ross Perot as he had been earlier because Perot offered him no help in his race for the governorship. Roberts, Donaldson, and Will went on to question him at length on some of his previous magazine comments. Ventura did well in fending off the three-headed buzzsaw. Consider the following exchange:

Roberts: The polls in the newspaper saying that instead of your attitude being refreshing that it's embarrassing. There's a recall petition out there ...

Ventura: Oh, come on. That guy – that's a joke. Don't even bring up the recall. This guy has brought four or five lawsuits against me that have been tossed out. He – he's, you know, he's meaningless.

Roberts: But what about the – what about the general public?

Ventura: Well, you know, the general public – remember, I like to quote my friend Jack Nicholson sometimes: "You can't handle the truth." And there's points where if you do tell the truth, and it makes people personally uncomfortable, they get irritated, not being able to face the truth and have it put in front of them. You know, a lot of people don't like that ... I can only be me, and I'm not going to change who I am.

George Will, the establishment's rightwing policeman, then zeroed in on Ventura's previous comments on the JFK assassination. Will compared Ventura to Oliver Stone and compared their beliefs about the military-industrial complex and the notion that Oswald could have done what he was officially supposed to do. Ventura responded, "I don't believe he could." Will said, without naming names, that there were forensic and firearms experts who said he could. He then asked, in predictable terms, "Were they part of the conspiracy?"

Ventura: No

Will: They were just ...

Ventura: They were just offering an opinion. Let me – if you want to get into that, we could do the whole hour. I can throw things at you, right back at you, that – that would do the same thing, that you couldn't answer either. I do not have the answer of who did it. But don't sit and tell me I have to accept the Warren Commission.

Ventura then went on to add why he and Stone were probably in agreement on the Warren Commission:

Maybe it comes with the fact, George, that Oliver Stone and I are both Vietnam veterans, and somehow maybe we feel we got deceived a little bit by our own country as to why we were sent to that war...

That zinger was in the last speech that Ventura was allowed. Sam Donaldson cut him off to go to Secretary of State Albright.

Four days before this appearance, Ventura was interviewed by self-proclaimed "gonzo journalist" Chris Matthews, but in reality closer to Darth Vader, opposed to honesty about past crimes of state. This particular show took place at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Over 800 people were turned away at the door. Illustrious former professor Alan Dershowitz had to pull strings in order to get in. When Ventura stepped onto the set, he got a standing ovation that went on for about 15 seconds. Matthews opened the show by saying he had been asked to do a Playboy interview. He asked Ventura if he should. Ventura disarmed the audience and the host by replying, "Do that before you do the foldout."

Later, Matthews began his attack on Jesse Ventura and John F. Kennedy by asking the governor what he thought about Vietnam. Ventura responded in a very sober, thoughtful and historically accurate overview of the roots of American involvement in that war. He said that it went back to the French intervention which created a civil war within the nation. America, misguidedly, sided with the French and began providing lots of logistical support to France. Clearly and implicitly, Ventura was saying that if we would not have sided with the French, we would not have begun the tragic spiral which led to having 550,000 combat troops in country by 1967, with the military asking for more.

This sound and sensible synopsis was shunted aside by Matthews who tried to press the notion that it was Kennedy who started the build-up there. Matthews completely left out what happened between 1954 and January of 1961. By 1954, the last year of French involvement in Vietnam, not only was America doing much of the logistical support for France, but also it was funding about 80% of their war effort. That prior to the climactic defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the French wired President Eisenhower to use atomic weapons against the Vietnamese nationalists. To his everlasting shame, Eisenhower seriously entertained this idea and had discussions about it in is cabinet. The point man lobbying for it was his Vice President Richard Nixon. Second year Senator John F. Kennedy called it an act of lunacy. As both John Prados and Fletcher Prouty describe, at one time the bombs were on the runway waiting for the order to be loaded. Eisenhower finally rejected the option, which Secretary of State John F. Dulles also pushed. Upon the rejection, his brother Allen Dulles then got Eisenhower to approve a giant CIA operation headed by Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale. It was Dulles and Lansdale who actually partitioned the country and placed the Americanized Ngo Dinh Diem in charge of the south. Lansdale then began building an ersatz army for Diem and imported over one million Catholics from the north into the south to try and westernize the south. Lansdale also provided CIA case officers for both Diem and his wife Madame Nhu and her brother, the head of the secret police. Eisenhower fiercely supported the CIA involvement in Vietnam by invoking the "domino theory," the belief that if Vietnam fell it would set off a string of collapses in that area.

All this and more was done before Kennedy's inauguration. In 1961, Kennedy was being pushed by his advisors, the military, and Lansdale to send in combat troops to save the day. Kennedy refused. But he did let in more advisors. When Kennedy was killed, not a single combat troop was in country. Kennedy had also arranged for his withdrawal program to commence by Christmas of 1963 and to be completed by early 1965.

Matthews, predictably, ignored all of this well-documented record and tried to pin the blame for U.S. involvement on Kennedy! In reality, that involvement was cemented years before he came to office; JFK was trying to extricate us from that quagmire; it was Johnson and Nixon who spun that involvement out of control into a huge military expedition that ended in horror and dual epic tragedy for both nations.

When Ventura commented that there were factions in our nation who advocated war for economic reasons, namely the military-industrial complex, Matthews said that it was JFK who presided over that build-up for them in 1961-1963. Ventura didn't think fast enough to say that the military-industrial complex can only make large profits if the Pentagon is directly involved in a war. Since there were no military troops there in 1963, no profiteering could occur.

Matthews next turned to the assassination itself. He asked about Ventura's remark in Playboy that "We killed Kennedy." Ventura responded that he "cannot buy the fact that Oswald acted alone." To this he got a large round of applause. Matthews, like Will, tried to ridicule Ventura over the "big conspiracy" idea by saying that if you believe in that then you have to believe that too many people and institutions were involved. To which Ventura replied that if an institution, like the Dallas Police, was involved, it was because of their negligent handling of the case, not necessarily because of their before-the-fact planning of a conspiracy.

Then a humorously incongruous exchange occurred. Ventura tried to ask Matthews a question. The host interrupted and said the he was asking the questions on the show. Ventura, to large laughs from the crowd, said "I'm a talk-show host too." He then scored the Warren Commission again for ignoring witnesses who smelled gunpowder on the grassy knoll. Matthews then did a strange thing. He called the Warren Commission a "rush job" and later said that he agreed with Ventura's critique of their work and added "You're safe on that one." This is strange because in the host's awful book, Kennedy and Nixon, he endorses the verdict of the Commission by saying that Oswald shot Kennedy! It seems that the author wants to have it both ways, especially since the crowd was clearly on the governor's side.

Matthews concluded with two incredible remarks. First, he said that Stone's film portrayed Nixon as being involved in the assassination, Johnson being involved, and Hoover knocking off Bobby Kennedy. I have seen the film over 12 times, and I recall none of this in it. In fact, Nixon, except for the opening montage, is not in the film. Except for still photos, Hoover is not either. The film does depict the FBI being involved in the cover-up, a fact which is quite clear today. It also depicts Johnson as endorsing a phony Warren Report, which is a fact we have in his own words today. Even if we expand our focus to Stone's later film on Richard Nixon, this is still a bizarre and untenable position.

Matthews gave away his role in all this late in the show. He vilified Stone for portraying Kennedy as a "peacenik" and called JFK a Cold Warrior. He then went on to say that there was no one in his administration who endorsed the view that Kennedy was trying to get out of Vietnam. These are provably false presumptions. Apparently, Matthews never talked or read works by Roger Hilsman, Army Chief Earle Wheeler, Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor, advisor Ted Sorenson, assistants Ken O'Donnell and Dave Powers, or read Defense Secretary's Bob McNamara's book on this subject. Not a record to be proud of for a serious writer on a subject that is quite important to modern history.

In light of these fallacies and his self-proclaimed stance that Kennedy was a Cold Warrior, it is time to cast even more light on his "dual biography" Kennedy and Nixon. Newly declassified documents illuminate just who one of Matthews' major sources for the book was. One of his main sources for Kennedy's attitude toward covert action and Cuba was former Senator George Smathers. And whenever Matthews tried to dodge the documentary record on this subject he trotted out an interview he did with Smathers. Matthews left out the serious qualification that Smathers had changed his story for him, that he told a different one about the Castro plots by the CIA to the Church Committee. But there is even more material that causes us to question Smathers today, released through the work of the Assassination Records Review Board.

Among the new documents declassified by the Board are two of special interest about JFK's old drinking buddy Smathers. It seems that Smathers had a CIA contact to which he agreed to convey information about the new president (CIA memo of 11/18/60). The contact said he "had established a new ... channel to President Kennedy through George Smathers." According to the memo:

Smathers' conversations with the President Elect have led [him] now to take the position that he [Kennedy] should not go along with the Department of State and have the Dictator step down. It appears that Mr. Kennedy may take a considerably more conservative position than many people in the Department and "the fun house."

"The fun house" is CIA jargon for the covert side of the CIA. And it appears that the man Smathers is reporting to is Bill Pawley, the wealthy anti-Communist fanatic who supported many anti-Castro exile groups. So Smathers is telling Pawley and the CIA that Kennedy's approach to Cuba will not be as militant as the State Department's and the CIA's.

The second declassified document was written right about the same time, 11/2/60. The second one contains a letter requesting the CIA support one Eladio Del Valle. This letter appears to have been passed on to the CIA by Pawley. One line says, "If we can offer help for him, his sacrifices will bring better results than allowing him to work by himself." Del Valle seems to have ideas about opening up a multi-front attack against Cuba. The letter reveals that Del Valle had discussed with both Pawley "and our mutual friend Senator Smathers" those plans. Toward the end, the letter notes that the Cuban "was ready to invade Cuba last week, but on my suggestion he postponed it."

Of course, today we know that Del Valle was a close associate of prime Garrison suspect David Ferrie, and that he was murdered on the same day as Ferrie under quite suspicious circumstances. In a memo to Garrison, investigator Lou Ivon (2/26/67) writes that Del Valle, "was shot in the chest and it appears to be 'gang-land style' and his body was left in the vicinity of Bernardo Torres' apartment." Torres was a high-level infiltrator sent into Garrison's camp in the late part of 1966. So we now know that Matthews' source Smathers took advantage of his "friendship" with Kennedy and became a CIA informant in his camp. Smathers was also an ally of a Cuban exile who was a close friend of a man who remains a top suspect in the conspiracy to kill the president. None of this is revealed to the reader by Matthews.

Ventura's candid approach and his bravery in taking of the Kennedy case are admirable. We do not agree with all he has said, but just on his honesty about the events of November of 1963 he warrants inspection as a serious man and a forthright one. In fact, Ventura may be able to put the questions of that mystery on the political map if he keeps pressing it. In fact, it may be an issue if he ever becomes his party's candidate for the presidency.

One comment that the governor made to Matthews worries us. One of the early questions that Matthews asked Ventura was what he would do on the first day he was elected. Ventura replied, "I'd call you Chris, I'd call you in for an interview." Ventura was responding tongue-in-cheek. But from what we know about Matthews and what he stands for, this is not a joking matter. There could be no hope for reform in this country, or truth about past crimes of state, with a man like Chris Matthews anywhere near the White House.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 23:10
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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