Daily Kos: Attempted Coup Against the President of the USA

Attempted Coup Against the President of the USA
by Soj
Thu Aug 11th, 2005 at 12:21:14 CDT

Someone asked me this morning if the discharge of 4-star General Kevin P. Byrnes was because he was aware of (or wanted to take part in) a coup plot against George Bush.

I've certainly seen those reports on the "tinfoil hat" websites and it may or not be true, but I have absolutely no idea.

What I do know however is that there was once a well-financed and organized plan to overthrow the President of the United States in a coup. The year was 1933. The president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

* Soj's diary :: ::

Despite what many of the rabidly conservative, war hawks and neocons think today, traditionally the staunchest opponents of war are those who have fought it. And one of the bravest fighting men in the history of the United States was Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, a Marine for 33 years, who fought in dozens of wars and was awarded not one but two Congressional Medals of Honor. At the time of his death, he was the most highly-decorated Marine in American history.

No one could question his courage under fire or his patriotism. Today some people are aware of his quotes, the most famous of which is:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National city Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

He was also one of the first people to speak about the "military-industrial complex", which Eisenhower made more famous in his farewell address to the nation at the end of his presidency. After retiring from the U.S. Marines in 1931, Butler wrote a book called "War Is A Racket", which you can read here (highly recommended). Amongst other things, he predicted war with Mussolini and Hitler, who at the time were allies of the United States.

But this article is not about the heroism of General Butler. It is about a group of influential businessmen and politicians' attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of the United States.

The leaders of the attempted coup were:

* Irenee Du Pont - Right-wing chemical industrialist and founder of the American Liberty League, the organization assigned to execute the plot.

* Grayson Murphy - Director of Goodyear, Bethlehem Steel and a group of J.P. Morgan banks.

* William Doyle - Former state commander of the American Legion and a central plotter of the coup.

* John Davis - Former Democratic presidential candidate and a senior attorney for J.P. Morgan.

* Al Smith - Roosevelt's bitter political foe from New York. Smith was a former governor of New York and a codirector of the American Liberty League.

* John J. Raskob - A high-ranking Du Pont officer and a former chairman of the Democratic Party. In later decades, Raskob would become a "Knight of Malta," a Roman Catholic Religious Order with a high percentage of CIA spies, including CIA Directors William Casey, William Colby and John McCone.

* Robert Clark - One of Wall Street's richest bankers and stockbrokers.

* Gerald MacGuire - Bond salesman for Clark, and a former commander of the Connecticut American Legion. MacGuire was the key recruiter to General Butler.

As mentioned above, the way General Butler got involved in this was that the coup plotters wanted to recruit Butler to help bring in the military's support. Butler was extraordinarily popular and it was felt that with his support, the coup could be effected.

The plan was rather simple. General Butler would tell Roosevelt that his polio had overwhelmed him (which it would actually do a few years later) and then create a cabinet position to "run things in his stead". That person holding the reins of power would be one of the coup plotters. Macguire, who was the coup plotter who met with Butler, told him:

"You know the American people will swallow that. We have got the newspapers. We will start a campaign that the President's health is failing. Everyone can tell that by looking at him, and the dumb American people will fall for it in a second..."

The coup plotters had plenty of money and Butler was promised a sizeable amount.

You may be curious why these businessmen would even be considering a plot against Roosevelt. The answer, in short, was the New Deal, which was considered "communist" and "socialist" by the ruling capitalists of the day (which it was) and this was considered a grave threat to their way of life.

The coup plotters had both the money, the motive and enough control over the media that it is highly likely they could have succeeded. Why they failed is because Butler was a real patriot and refused to go along with their plan. In fact, Butler testified repeatedly to the United States Congress about the coup plot. This was done before the McCormack-Dickstein Committee, which later morphed into the "Special Committee on Unamerican Affairs" of Joseph McCarthy fame.

Much of Butler's testimony was sealed but some of it was released to the general public. So why do so few people know about this event? Why is it not something commonly taught in the classrooms and held up as an example of the fragility of democracy?

The answer is that, just like today, the media controlled the public opinion of the day. And the media, controlled and influenced by the coup plotters themselves, had no interest in backing Butler's testimony. Indeed, the media of the day, including the New York Times, spend most of their coverage ridiculing Butler:

The New York Times and those who dictated its policy were clearly upset by what was occurring and didn't think it sufficient to merely mangle and manage the news. Its lead editorial was entitled, ``Credulity Unlimited,'' and began: ``A Washington correspondent asked: `What can we believe?' Apparently, anything, to judge by the number of people who lend a credulous ear to the story of General Butler's 500,000 Fascists in buckram marching on Washington to seize the government. Details are lacking to lend verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.... The whole story sounds like a gigantic hoax. General Butler himself does not appear to more than half credit it. He and some others, however, ask us to follow the famous saying of Tertullian: `I believe it because it is impossible.' It does not merit serious discussion, but if the army and the navy authorities, or the Congressional committee can develop any `facts' about it, let them do so quickly, so as to prevent this nation from appearing as gullible as were the Germans in the case of the Hauptmann von Kopenick [the innocent person the Nazis blamed for the Reichstag fire].''

Yet it was not just Butler's say so. Butler's testimony proved that McGuire had perjured himself in testimony before the Congressional Committee.

Furthermore, James Van Zandt, who was the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars had also been approached by the coup plotters. The "enticement" for both Butler and Van Zandt was that soldiers would be paid promised war bonuses in gold, rather than paper scrip (the money we use today).

What is not well-remembered today is that prior to WW2, soldiers were often promised bonuses for enlistment that were not delivered when promised, or delivered at all. This was such a major issue at the time that 15,000 WW1 veterans marched on Washington in 1932 to demand their promised bonuses. They ended up getting attacked by federal troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur (with help from Eisenhower and George Patton) in yet another disgraceful chapter of the United States.

Butler had little direct testimony of the coup other than his interactions with McGuire and the other names listed above vigorously protected their innocence. It devolved into a matter of contrasting opinions and largely faded from the public's attention in a very short amount of time.

However it should be noted that an independent journalist named John Spivak, who wrote for a Communist magazine called New Masses went directly to the clerk in charge of the committee and got the uncensored copy of Butler's testimony. Spivak later published this in a book called "The Plot to Seize the White House".

Here is a relevant passage from the censored report of the Congressional committee:

In the last few weeks of the committee's life it received evidence showing that certain persons had attempted to establish a fascist organization in this country... There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned and might have been placed in execution if the financial backers deemed it expedient... MacGuire denied [Butler's] allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made to General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principle, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various form of veterans' organizations of Fascist character.

For a concise but detailed examination of the attempted coup, I highly recommend this report.

I will end this with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in 1960:

I cannot agree with those who think of the Bill of Rights as an 18th century straitjacket, unsuited for this age.... The evils it guards against are not only old, they are with us now, they exist today....

Experience all over the world has demonstrated, I fear, that the distance between stable, orderly government and one that has been taken over by force is not so great as we have assumed.

Sober words indeed....


Daily Kos: Attempted Coup Against the President of the USA


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