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Saturday, 28 November 2020 20:13

Steven Gillon: Mark Lane Equals Donald Trump?

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Historian Steven Gillon blames the existence of QAnon on Warren Commission critic Mark Lane in a piece commemorating the 57th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Jim DiEugenio sets the record straight by tracing the true source of right-wing conspiracy culture.


On the 57th anniversary of President John Kennedy’s death, historian Steven Gillon was given a platform to write an opinion piece relating to Kennedy’s assassination, except he did not write about John Kennedy’s presidency; nor did he address any new facts about his assassination. The title of his column for the Washington Post was: “The Tie Between the Kennedy Assassination and Trump’s Conspiracy Mongering.” Gillon was going to comment on the refusal of President Trump to concede the election and the failure of his lawyers to turn his loss into a legal victory.

As a lead in to his real subject, Gillon wrote:

…conspiracy theories have a long history in right-wing politics. But tempting though it may be to chalk conspiracies up as a conservative phenomenon, the truth is more complicated.

In itself, that statement is an historical humdinger, because what Gillon is trying to do is not just sweep the right-wing QAnon under the rug; which would be quite a magic trick in and of itself. But when he only alludes to the fact that “conspiracy theories have a long history in right-wing politics”, he is trying to somehow neuter the entire ultra-conservative movement that sprung up against President Dwight Eisenhower, because of his perceived mild reaction to the Cold War. To give that movement the back of one’s hand is both irresponsible and ahistorical, because it morphed and mushroomed into the pernicious and frightening far right force we live with today.

That began with the pure force of the second Red Scare. In large part, this was caused by Richard Nixon as a member of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC). That committee was designed to pursue Nazi espionage activities in America, but the HUAC was quickly sidetracked by conservative Republicans. It now explored any kind of suspected domestic communist infiltration. Nixon used that committee to advance the questionable case of journalist Whitaker Chambers against former State Department employee Alger Hiss. Nixon, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, used an array of questionable tactics both in congress and then at two trials. At the second trial, Hiss was convicted of perjury. He could not have been convicted for espionage simply because Chambers had so many liabilities as a witness. Plus, as we have come to learn, the typewriter produced at the trial was the wrong machine. (There has been a flurry of recent books on this case that show just how unethical the Nixon/Hoover case was e.g. Joan Brady’s America’s Dreyfus.)

It was this case that added great torque to the second Red Scare of the fifties. This resulted in the faux senate investigations of Senator Joe McCarthy and his chief counsel Roy Cohn. Robert Kennedy was an attorney on the committee, but resigned after he saw what Cohn was really up to. He later returned as counsel for the Democrats. And it was through his efforts, plus the exposure of McCarthy on national television by Edward R. Murrow, that brought an end to the McCarthy/Cohn demagoguery.

But there can be little doubt that a certain part of the Republican Party found the McCarthy/Cohn movement politically useful. The constant refrain of innumerable communists infiltrating 1.) the State Department, 2.) the Pentagon, 3.) the CIA and 4.) even the White House, this created a climate of fear, loathing, and paranoia. When this was turned on the Democratic Party, it could be used for political impact e.g. the slogan that the Democrats lost China.

It was this emotional, almost pathological, anti-communist appeal that led to the rise of the John Birch Society (JBS) and its affiliated rightwing groups e.g. the Minutemen. The founder of the John Birch Society wrote a controversial book called The Politician. In the original draft of the manuscript, Robert Welch tried to insinuate that somehow President Eisenhower was really a kind of Manchurian Candidate, that is, he was a communist plant. (D. J. Mulloy, The World of the John Birch Society, pp. 15-16)

Welch’s view of the worldwide communist plot is depicted in The Blue Book of the John Birch Society:

Communism, in its unmistakable present reality is wholly a conspiracy, a gigantic conspiracy to enslave mankind; an increasingly successful conspiracy controlled by determined, cunning, and utterly ruthless gangsters, willing to use any means to achieve its end. (Mulloy, p. 3)

But that was just the beginning of Welch’s accusations. Welch thought water fluoridation was a communist plot. The JBS thought the civil rights movement was run out of Moscow. For that reason, they ended up opposing John Kennedy’s civil rights bill. Their legal pretext was the doctrine of states’ rights. (Mulloy, p. 110) In that respect, it should be noted that both Fred Koch and Harry Lynde Bradley were early promoters and members of the JBS. (Mulloy, p. 9) Fred Koch was the father of Charles and David Koch. Bradley was a co-founder of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. These present clear and powerful ties to the GOP establishment of today, which, for whatever reason, Gillon wants to air brush out of the picture.

It is significant to note that, through their publishing house, Western Islands, the JBS sponsored writers like Gary Allen. Allen propagated the idea that both the American government and the USSR were actually controlled by international bankers and financiers like David Rockefeller and Armand Hammer. Allen and the JBS saw the United Nations as a kind of front for this group to create a world government. Professor Revilo Oliver, a contributor to the JBS magazine American Opinion, wrote a two part essay about the Kennedy assassination for that journal. It was called Marxmanship in Dallas. (See Warren Commission, Vol. 15, p. 732) It turned out that some of the information Oliver used for that rather wild piece came from Frank Capell. Capell was another far right journalist and professional Red hunter who helped create the pernicious mythology about Robert Kennedy being involved in the “murder” of Marilyn Monroe. (Click here for details) Robert Alan Greenberg, in his book Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America, describes some of what Revilo Oliver thought about the murder of President Kennedy:

The conspirators had become impatient with Kennedy when his efforts to foment domestic chaos through the civil rights movement and “economic collapse” had fallen behind schedule. (Greenberg, p. 110)

By 1960, the JBS had become a fairly powerful political force that was threatening to enter the mainstream of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. It posed such a threat that, as Welch got further and further out in his conspiracy thinking e.g. Adam Weishaupt and the Illuminati, he sustained a series of attacks from first, the new publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Otis Chandler in 1961, then from William F. Buckley in his magazine The National Review. (February 13, 1962) In November of 1964, on the eve of the election, historian Richard Hofstadter wrote an article for Harper’s, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. This much misrepresented essay was really about how the McCarthy movement had influenced Welch and how, in turn, that had impacted the rise of Barry Goldwater.

Although many observers thought that the defeat of Goldwater would end the JBS, that was not really true. It exists to this day. (Click here for their website) Note that they greet the viewer with the slogan “America Needs Patriots.” This is how its influence has stayed alive: through the birth of the Patriot Movement and the growth of armed militias, for Robert DePugh, who founded the Minutemen, was originally associated with the JBS. This group was militaristic and featured training camps with caches of arms. DePugh later formed something called the Patriotic Party in 1966. President Kennedy criticized both groups in a speech in November of 1961. (Mulloy, p. 43)

Many commentators have noted that today’s militia groups are powerfully influenced by far-right conspiracy theories. D. J. Mulloy once wrote that, “The embrace of conspiracy theories by militia members is the most well-known and most thoroughly documented aspect of their ideological and rhetorical concerns.” (American Extremism, p. 169) As Mulloy writes, the themes of these theories center around an international cabal which is intent on disarming Americans and creating a formal One World government. A member group, the National Alliance, published what many consider to be the keystone piece of literature of the movement. The Turner Diaries has sold over half a million copies. Reportedly, after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Tim McVeigh had a copy of that book when he was pulled over for speeding in a vehicle with no license tag.(The Medusa File II, by Craig Roberts, p. 130)

In these anti-government/pro-gun circles, President Trump is depicted as a hero: exposing and expelling a Satan worshipping international pedophilia ring based in Washington. QAnon is also reminiscent of the JBS because of its not so lightly veiled anti-Semitism. (Revilo Oliver was expelled from the JBS when his anti-Semitism got too obvious.)

Everyone, except maybe Gillon, knows that the QAnon movement is tied to the modern GOP. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a former member of the group, is a Republican representative in Congress. So is Lauren Boebert of Colorado. (Click here for details) After Trump lost the election, QAnon followers began to send the bizarre claims of Trump election attorney Sidney Powell across the web. A movement follower was quoted as saying that Powell was “our attorney doing God’s work to preserve our Republic.” QAnon had to do this since the group was expecting Trump to win in a landslide. (CNN Business, 11/24/20, story by Donie O’Sullivan)

But it’s even worse than that. Lisa Nelson, an employee of the sprawling Charles Koch political network, met with a group of conservative activists back in February of this year. She told them that, although she wanted Trump to win in the fall, they had already been working with three attorneys on how to dispute the election results if he lost. She specifically mentioned how to foul the electoral college. This talk is captured digitally. (Crooks and Liars, 11/23/20, story by Susie Madrak) And we all can understand by now that President Trump’s complaints about Jeff Bezos and his influence over the USPS was a pretext. Trump knew that the Democrats were most likely to use mail in ballots than Republicans. Once Trump installed Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General, he went to work disposing of high-speed automatic sorting machines in states where mail in ballots would be impacted. (Click here for details)

Furthering this concept is the fact that certain key state legislatures would not allow mail in ballots to be counted on the day of the election. They had to be counted afterwards. This gave the White House an interval in which to create a controversy about election fraud. (USA Today, 11/4/20, story by Katie Wedell and Kyle Bagenstose) Trump cooperated with this by going on TV on November 5th and saying there should be doubts about continued counting of the ballots. He said, “They’re trying to rig an election and we can’t let that happen.” (Raw Story, November 9, 2020, “Has Donald Trump had his Joe McCarthy moment?”)

But that is not all. On his twitter account, Trump has cross posted the rather weird ravings of actor Randy Quaid. This was part of an attempt by the president to attack Fox News and Tucker Carlson, because, on his show, Carlson kept asking Powell for her evidence of vote fraud. In other words, Trump was even losing Fox News. In one of his videos, Quaid talks about a day of reckoning coming, which is similar to QAnon and their idea about the Storm: the day when Trump will root out the Washington pedophilia ring. (NBC News, 11/24/20, story by Minyvonne Burke)

In the face of all this discernible evidence about how the dispute over the election was foreseen and planned for by forces on the right, how does Gillon confront it? He doesn’t. He ignores it. Who does he blame for this instead? A man who has been dead since 2016: Mark Lane.

The way he explains controversy within the Republican party is by saying that it was all really caused by the critics of the Warren Commission, beginning with Mark Lane back in 1966. I‘m not kidding. Gillon writes that, beginning with Lane’s book Rush to Judgment, an entire “conspiracy culture” arose in America “that now permeates every aspect of American society.”

This is an historian? I have just pointed out how the rise of the so-called giant communist conspiracy preceded Mark Lane’s book by a decade. But Gillon has to discount that in order to create his phony argument. He then, of course, adds in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK as contributing to all this disbelief in our government and institutions.

I have to inform Gillon about the following: the assassination of Malcolm X, the war in Vietnam, the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Watergate, the colossal Iran-Contra scandal, the CIA/cocaine scandal, the heist of the 2000 election in Florida, the 9/11 attacks, the debacle of the Iraq War, our prolonged involvement in Afghanistan, the heist of the 2004 election in Ohio, the rise of ISIS, the near collapse of the world economy in 2007–08, the bombing war on Gaddafi, and Operation Timber Sycamore in Syria. Steve, these are not attributable to Mark Lane. If many Americans are frustrated with the way our government works, they have a lot of good reasons to feel that way. And this is what Trump was suggesting with his Make America Great Again slogan.

It is also logical to think that, since many people are fed up with this sorry trail of folly, they voted for a perceived outsider like Trump in 2016. In fact, if the powers that be in the Democratic Party would have not worked against him, another outsider, socialist Bernie Sanders, likely would have won the Democratic nomination that year.

What makes Gillon’s argument even more nonsensical is this: Trump does not think the JFK case was a plot. One only has to look in the pages of Michael Cohen’s book Disloyal, to understand that. Trump and his pals at the National Enquirer used a phony relationship between Ted Cruz’ father and Lee Harvey Oswald to defeat the Texas senator in the GOP primaries in 2016. Obviously that could only have an effect if one assumes Oswald was the killer the Warren Commission says he was. Somehow Gillon missed that important point also.

Gillon is a scholar in residence at History Channel. If you know what he did there at the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, it helps explain his rancidly over the top column. In 2013, Gillon co-produced a documentary—with the liberal use of recreations—called Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live. All one needs to know about this program is that, in addition to Gillon, two of the other talking heads were the late Gary Mack and Dale Myers. Myers was the guy who, in 2003, got on national TV and said that the single bullet theory was not a theory but a fact. In other words, he was telling the public that something that never happened—and could not have happened—actually occurred. Gillon put this guy on his show.

The result was predictable. This program was made 15 years after the Assassination Records Review Board closed its doors. One would think that a “scholar-in-residence” like Gillon would utilize at least some of the massive amount of new information made available by that body. Wrong. In the face of a veritable flood of new documents and interviews—which altered the calculus of the JFK case—this program was nothing more than a regurgitation of the Warren Report.

This helps explain why Gillon wrote what he did on November 22nd. People who back a lie as big as the Warren Report are always eager to attack those who know just how utterly false their position is. This helps explain why Gillon ignores the real reason why Trump’s claims of electoral fraud can prosper in the modern GOP, because followers of QAnon and the militia movement are daily stoked and amplified. Due to Ronald Reagan’s striking down of the Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time provisions of the Federal Communications Act, plus the liberalization of ownership laws under Bill Clinton, the Right has been able to create a giant communications network. It exists in television (Fox, OAN, Sinclair Network, Newsmax), in radio (iHeart and Cumulus), and in print, both online and newspapers (Newsmax, New York Post, Washington Times). The reach of this network is nothing less than staggering in scope. It’s hard to believe Gillon is not aware of it, since he worked for Rupert Murdoch and Fox News for two years.

Now that we know a little more about Gillon, it helps explain his vituperative column for the Washington Post. The professor definitely has a dog in this fight. And that is something a real historian should not have.

Last modified on Saturday, 28 November 2020 20:41
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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