The Ultra-Reactionaries: Global Analysis of the Dallas Coup
As soon as the rifle smoke in Dealey Plaza cleared on November 22nd, 1963, the near unanimous reaction was shock and grief. An enormous audience across the country tuned in to view President Kennedy’s funeral televised on November 25th, 1963, viewing JFK Jr. saluting his father’s casket in an immediately iconic image. Pictures from that weekend were reprinted endlessly as glossy spreads in LIFE Magazine, and in William Manchester’s bestselling The Death of a President. Yet newly inaugurated President Lyndon Johnson’s command to move forward seemed to highlight a glaring contradiction surrounding the assassination. Large numbers of the general public were immediately suspicious of the claim that only one man had acted alone in killing President Kennedy. In time, those figures would rise to a vast majority of the American public that felt a conspiracy was involved in the assassination. But what resulted from this?
As we turn to another anniversary of November 22nd, the media narrative of the public skepticism is that these “wild conspiracy theories” fueled a lack of trust in government, and somewhere along the way morphed into current right-wing conspiracy theories such as QAnon. As Thomas Mallon, author of Ruth Paine’s Garage put it, “I have lately found myself wondering if the dangerous fact-free business of election denial doesn’t have some of its origin in the more fantastical theories that grew up around the assassination decades ago.”¹ This cheap theory of American history only looks at the public reaction to the Kennedy assassination in a vacuum, refusing to understand why so much of the public felt the government was lying to them. It cleanses the hands of J. Edgar Hoover, Allen Dulles, and Richard Helms, while casting anyone who dare doubt those luminaries as deranged fanatical right-wingers.
While American pundits still chortle over the idea of a wider conspiracy to assassinate the president, in any other country this is not an absurd idea at all, particularly in nations targeted by American intelligence agencies. Understanding the international reaction, and the thoughts of other world leaders in 1963, helps put the unresolved assassination into context. Their immediate response is worth examining to better analyze the nature of the crime, as is their characterization of Kennedy, in light of recent portrayals.
For instance, French president Charles De Gaulle had been the target of numerous assassination attempts by the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) due to his withdrawal from the brutal French war in Algeria. The CIA was behind some of these plots, and President Kennedy had warned the French government that while he personally would do what he could to break up these plots, “the CIA is such a vast and poorly controlled machine that the most unlikely maneuvers might be true.”² A startling quote, and one that reveals how even Kennedy was aware that the CIA’s massive machinery could carry out crimes even beyond the knowledge of the president. Within hours of the shooting in Dealey Plaza, De Gaulle stated “President Kennedy died as a soldier under fire, doing his duty in the service of his country. In the name of the French people, a friend always to the American people, I salute this great example and this great memory.”³
De Gaulle attended President Kennedy’s funeral in Washington, and upon his return to Paris, had a conversation with information minister Alain Peyrefitte about the circumstances of the assassination. De Gaulle noted the similarities between the attempts on his own life, and the murder of President Kennedy, perceptively commenting “the security forces were in cahoots with the extremists.”⁴ Peyrefitte then began asking De Gaulle about the circumstances of accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and whether he had been set up as a patsy. De Gaulle told Peyrefitte “they got their hands on this communist who wasn’t one, while still being one. He had a sub par intellect and was an exalted fanatic — just the man they needed, the perfect one to be accused.” Going on, the French president explained the necessity of Oswald’s death at the hands of the conspirators, and how Ruby had been tasked to silence Oswald forever.
De Gaulle finished his examination with this remarkable insight on how the United States would bury the coup:
“America is in danger of upheavals. But you’ll see. All of them together will observe the law of silence. They will close ranks. They’ll do everything to stifle any scandal. They will throw Noah’s cloak over these shameful deeds. In order to not lose face in front of the whole world. In order to not risk unleashing riots in the United States. In order to preserve the union and to avoid a new civil war. In order to not ask themselves questions. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to find out. They won’t allow themselves to find out.”⁵
British Labour Party leader Harold Wilson, another target of intelligence agencies in later years, stated that President Kennedy’s “struggle for racial equality is something that will in memory long outlive his life,”⁶ praising the slain leader as a “great world statesman and a great fighter for peace.”⁷ Future Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro stated that Kennedy’s “stature as a politician, in his great country and on the international scene, was growing in these years of a courageous policy of renewal.” Speculating on his legacy, Moro said “the reason which he was struck in a mad way raises President Kennedy even more on the moral plane as a great defender of men’s dignity and equality.”⁸
Khrushchev tried to put his feelings into a letter to newly inaugurated President Lyndon Johnson, writing that the assassination came at a time when “there appeared signs of relaxation of international tension and a prospect has been opened for improving relations between the USSR and the United States.” Khruschev told Johnson that the Soviet people were indignant “against the culprits of this base crime.”⁹ In fact, the Soviet people were shocked by the carnage in Dallas. Thousands of Moscow citizens stood in line at newsstands to buy the latest reports of the assassination.¹⁰
All Soviet state media conveyed the utmost respect for President Kennedy, as well as a mixture of shock and horror at what was to come. Soviet television stations broadcast Kennedy’s Peace Speech at American University from June of that year, where he spoke of the enormous sacrifice the Soviet people made to defeat fascism in World War II, and his hopes for a genuine peace between the superpowers.¹¹ Other outlets were already suspicious of the developing cover story. The news agency TASS stating “the more details and announcements are made, the more suspicious and dark this case appears,” when reporting on the Dallas police’s latest claims that Oswald was a member of the Communist party. TASS was highly skeptical of why Oswald was being charged for murdering the president, noting “there was no evidence which could prove this accusation.”¹²
Pravda declared the assassination a “monstrous crime” and a “terroristic act,” but paid special attention to the far-right powers that wanted Kennedy dead. The paper warned its readers that this tragedy is unfortunately nothing new for America, and that “it is reminiscent of other much small acts of gangsters whose connections often lead to very high-placed extreme right-wing quarters.” As for the site of the operation, Pravda keenly noted that the John Birch Society, radical right-wingers, as well as “the notorious rebel general and Fascist Edwin Walker have built their nests precisely in Texas.”¹³ TASS made similar observations, noting that Dallas is a “mecca of oil millionaires and the ultra-right wing groups they finance.”¹⁴
Some of the earliest reports from Moscow stressed the fierce struggles Kennedy faced from staunch right-wingers within the U.S. government in the wake of this “terrorist act”, noting “Kennedy’s steps in the direction of clearing the international situation met with sharp opposition from the American madmen.”¹⁵
Yakov Victorov, foreign observer for Pravda, issued a strong defense of President Kennedy’s international record, and drew parallels to President Franklin Roosevelt when it came to his cooperation with the Soviets, calling the wartime leader “one of the great men to occupy the White House,” but intoning that the men who followed Roosevelt strayed from his path. While noting that Kennedy’s record was inconsistent, he was ultimately a rational thinker when it came to the matter of war and peace. Victorov went further, stating “Both Roosevelt and Kennedy shared an understanding of the new factors in the history of mankind” and predicted that future historians would “undoubtedly trace the line from Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy.”
Victorov went deeper, cutting to the heart of the matter with the simple question: “Who profited from the assassination of Kennedy?” Speaking of wild men and the champions of the cold war, Victorov stated that the dark forces behind the murder felt there was no other way to crush Kennedy’s progress towards international relaxation but through bloodshed. Ending on a note of optimism, Victorov hoped that while the reactionaries were mobilizing to cover up the terroristic act, “we are certain justice will triumph and the assassins will be found.”¹⁶
But the most clear-eyed analysis from Soviet media came with regard to the political ideology behind the violent change in American government, drawing direct parallels to the Third Reich. Two days after the shots rang out, Moscow television commenter Valentin Zorin observed that a large organization had carried out the monstrous act, and that fascists are trying to “revive the ghost” of the Reichstag fire. Like the Nazis did, this commentator pointed out that American fascists were blaming communists for the murder of President Kennedy, which is absurd, since “no one but the enemies of peace and an easing of international tension” would profit from his violent end.¹⁷
Pravda’s Washington correspondent Boris Strelnikov expressed disgust at the “wail of the reactionary press” which rushed to pin the crime on the work of communists. Strelnikov hypothesized that the operation was similar to the Reichstag fire, which was used by the Nazis to expand their powers and crush left-wing forces in Weimar Germany. Strelnikov noted an incident shortly after the assassination where a young man in Madison, Wisconsin ran out into the street “in the uniform of a Hitlerite Storm Trooper” and celebrated President Kennedy’s death. Strelnikov concluded that it’s likely that the Dallas bloodshed was organized by fascists who plotted “against every step directed at an international detente,” trying to whip up anticommunist hysteria in the country.¹⁸
According to FBI sources, numerous Soviet officials assessed that an American coup organized by the far right had just taken place, and that the assassination of President Kennedy would be used to cease negotiations between superpowers, heighten aggression with Cuba, and spread war to all corners of the globe. Boris Ivanov, KGB chief, held a meeting on November 25th, where he stated that Kennedy had been assassinated by an organized group, not one lone nut.¹⁹ That in itself is a stunning revelation, yet was not made public for decades.
The non-aligned world reacted to the assassination in much the same way. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed parliament praising Kennedy as “a man of ideals, vision, and courage, who sought to serve his own people as well as the larger causes of the world.” The Times of India reported: “seldom have the Indian people been so shocked and dazed by the assassination of a leader of another country.”²⁰ In later years, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi observed that President Kennedy “died because he lost the support of his peers.”²¹ Lee Harvey Oswald was many things, but he could hardly be considered a peer to Kennedy.
Algerian President Ben Bella was similarly stunned. Upon hearing the news of Kennedy’s death, Bella was staggered, and quickly telephoned a radio station to dictate his statement in which he “immediately denounced the racialist and police-organized machinations of which Kennedy had been the victim.” Bella was noticeably shaken, and U.S. Ambassador William Porter relayed that the Algerian president “ascribed to Kennedy everything he thought good in the United States: the fight against the big trusts, against the segregationists.”²²
In Ghana, expressing his deep sorrow in regard to the assassination, Kwame Nkrumah speculated that President Kennedy’s “uncompromising stand against racial and religious bigotry, intolerance, and injustice” may have been the cause of his death. Nkrumah stated that people around the world have “witnessed the evil maneuvers of imperialism, capitalism, and racialism” in Kennedy’s murder.²³
A later report by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from Accra Ghana Domestic Service expressed astonishment at Oswald’s murder while in police custody, writing about the ease of access to firearms in American society, particularly Texas. The report from Ghana asked the obvious question of how a man who was under police escort was able to be shot at nearly point blank range, noting that American law enforcement “have had enough experience with mass violence” to understand that there would be attempts on Oswald’s life.²⁴
A radio report in Lagos, Nigeria praised Kennedy in no uncertain terms, stating that the only American president who has earned the sincere respect of African and Asian nations has been lost. The broadcast cited actions such as Kennedy’s arms embargo on South Africa and his lack of support for the colonial ambitions of Portugal and Spain.²⁵ That did not go unnoticed by Portugal, who fumed at Kennedy, and were one of only two nations not to send condolences to Washington.²⁶ In 1969, newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon assured Portuguese foreign minister Franco Nogueira at an event marking the twentieth anniversary of NATO by telling him “Just remember, I’ll never do to you what Kennedy did.”²⁷
The hatred of Kennedy was similar in South Africa’s government, where Foreign Minster Eric Louw blasted the president as “an unremitting enemy of South Africa and an opponent of her race policies.”²⁸
In South East Asia, the reaction was quite different. Nhan Dan, the official organ of the Vietnam Workers Party in North Vietnam was highly critical of President Kennedy’s reactionary imperialist foreign policy, and was dismissive of revisionists like the Soviet leadership who had been characterizing him as a man of peace. Nevertheless, Nhan Dan argued that nothing good would come of the assassination, and that an aggressive path towards war has not in any way been stopped by his death. Going further, the paper began to elaborate on the forces at work behind the murder, ascribing President Kennedy’s death to “contradictions among the different forces in the United States which scramble for power and position.”²⁹
Yet, by far, the sharpest and clearest analysis of the assassination at such an early date came from Fidel Castro, in a speech he delivered on November 24th, 1963. Broadcast over Cuban radio and television, it was a deep political analysis on the various factions within American power, the nature of fascism, and the reasons for Kennedy’s death. Beginning by expressing the disapproval on principle that any Marxist must take with singular acts of violence and assassination, Castro began to elaborate on American political dynamics. Speaking to the Cuban people, Castro stated that “within the United States there are elements that support a policy that is even more reactionary, of an even much more aggressive policy, of a much more warlike policy.”³⁰
Speaking in stark terms, Castro continued, explaining how the assassination of President Kennedy will “convert the policy of the United States into a worse policy and to aggravate the evils of the United States policy.” Elaborating, Castro explained that there are ultra-reactionary elements of the American public, such as the Ku Klux Klan, or reactionary economic currents, as well as military interests which support further American imperialism abroad.³¹ Then, there are more liberal elements, who have a more moderate policy and value diplomacy more than militarism. These elements are still pro-imperialist, but can often clash with the more reactionary militarist elements. Castro stated that the assassination “could only benefit those ultra-rightist and ultra-reactionary sectors, among which President Kennedy could not be counted.”³²
Castro began to explain the clashes between Kennedy’s moderate faction and the ultra-rightists, noting that the most bellicose imperialist elements of American power had consistently attacked Kennedy throughout his term, and that “the commitment not to invade Cuba, which resulted from the October crisis, was one of the points of Kennedy’s policy that was most constantly attacked by the ultra-reactionary sectors.” Castro also pointed out that the nuclear test ban treaty was another area where Kennedy was a target of ire by the extreme right. Some of the most extreme ultra-reactionaries even wished for a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, who Castro characterized as “neo-fascists without any consideration of the most basic rights of nations or the interests of humanity.”³³
What makes Castro’s selection of that first-strike nuclear policy so remarkable is that in a meeting in July, 1961, President Kennedy was presented with a plan to launch a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union by members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA . The proposal noted the war would begin in late 1963. Kennedy began quizzing the men feeding him this idea on how many millions would perish in such a conflict. Disgusted, the president abruptly walked out of the meeting, and turned to Secretary of State Dean Rusk saying “and we call ourselves the human race.”³⁴
Turning to the motives behind Kennedy’s murder, Castro explained that what passed through everyone’s mind was that it “was the work of some of the elements that disagreed with his international policy, that is, his nuclear pact policy, his policy toward Cuba which they did not consider aggressive enough but weak.”³⁵
Yet what infused him with the most passion was the propaganda campaign against the Cuban people in the wake of the assassination:
“We foresaw that as a result of these events the cycle might begin again, the ambush, the Machiavellian plan against our country; that on the very blood of their assassinated president there might be people unscrupulous enough to begin immediately to draw up an aggressive policy against Cuba — if that aggressive policy were not previously linked to the assassination, if it were not linked because it might have or might not have. But there is no doubt that that policy is being built on the still warm blood and the still unburied body of their own president who was tragically assassinated.
They are people who have not one iota of morality. They are people who have not one iota of scruple. They are people who have not one iota of shame, who perhaps think that in the shadow of tragedy they can unsheath their daggers against our country, believing that they can take us unprepared, demoralized, weak, one of those beliefs into which the imperialists erroneously always fall.”³⁶
Castro then went on to read from various news wire stories on Oswald’s background, pointing out how quickly the American media leapt to implicate the Soviet and Cuban governments in such a crime. He also observed how strange this Oswald character was, with his supposed defection and service in the Marines. Finally, presenting his analysis of the assassination to the Cuban audience, Castro concluded: “Perhaps [Oswald] is an instrument very well chosen and well prepared by the extreme right-wing, by the ultra-conservative reactionaries of the United States, for the definite purpose of getting rid of a president who, in their opinion, was not pursuing a policy they felt was necessary, but rather a more belligerent, more aggressive, more adventurist policy.”³⁷
While the strength of their analysis varied, the specific political persuasions of the world leaders examined here did not change their opinion on the basic facts of the Kennedy assassination. Figures as divergent as Charles De Gaulle, Indira Gandhi, and Fidel Castro all agreed that there had been a conspiracy orchestrated by high levels of American power to kill President Kennedy, and that Oswald did not act alone. It is significant then, on yet another anniversary where Americans will hear about how the assassination was a tragic event clouded in mystery that fuels wild conspiracy theories, that there is such a unified reaction from heads of state around the world. In that sense, America is significant, in that major acts of political violence are left unresolved and ascribed to entirely apolitical actors. When American politicians are gunned down in broad daylight in blatant acts of reactionary violence stemming from the power on the right, they get characterized as tragic symptoms of unspecified vague social ills, rather than specific acts of self-preservation and maintaining power by imperialist forces.
As renowned Kennedy assassination researcher and lawyer Vincent Salandria has said:
We cannot consider ourselves a free and democratic people until we understand and address the evil nature of the warfare-state power which murdered President John F. Kennedy. Until then we cannot begin the vital work of ridding the world of the terror produced by our mighty war machine that crushes hopes for true substantive democracy here and elsewhere.
We can no longer afford to shield ourselves by asserting that the murder of President Kennedy is a mystery. There is no mystery regarding how, by whom, and why President Kennedy was killed. Only when we strip away our privileged cloak of denial about the truth of the killing will we be able to free ourselves for the hard global work of changing our unfair and brutal society to one that is more equitable and less violent.³⁸
The public may know that President Kennedy was killed as a result of conspiracy, but its failure to reckon with the truths which everyone else around the world realized 59 years ago has contributed to the deepening spiral of mass violence, psychosis, and bloodshed that define the history of the United States.
¹ Granberry, Michael. “Ruth Paine, Who Lent a Helping Hand to Lee and Marina Oswald, Looks Back at Nov. 22, 1963.” Dallas News, November 19, 2022. https://www.dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/2022/11/17/ruth-paine-who-lent-a-helping-hand-to-lee-and-marina-oswald-looks-back-at-nov-22-1963/.
² Talbot, David. The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. (New York: Harper Perennial, 2015), 418.
³ “Tragedy Stuns World Leaders; Radio Informs Armed Forces” Chicago Tribune. November 23, 1963.
⁴ Talbot, 567.
⁵ Ibid. 568.
⁶ “Britain Mourns the New Frontiersman” The Guardian Journal. November 23, 1963.
⁷ “News Of Murder Strikes With Shattering Impact” The Palm Beach Post. November 23, 1963.
⁸ “Tragedy Stuns World Leaders; Radio Informs Armed Forces” Chicago Tribune. November 23, 1963.
⁹ “Message of Condolence” The Guardian. November 25, 1963.
¹⁰ “Zavadskiy Statement” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Moscow in English to Eastern North America 2320 GMT 23 November 1963
¹¹ “23 November Television” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Moscow TASS International Service in English 1950 GMT 23 November 1963
¹² “Moscow Claims Rightist Plot” Santa Cruz Sentinel. November 24, 1963.
¹³ “Reds Try to Dodge All Blame” Cincinnati Inquirer. November 24, 1963
¹⁴ “Attempt to Involve Communist Party” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Moscow in English to Eastern North America 0100 GMT 24 November 1963
¹⁵ “Kennedy’s Peace Efforts” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Moscow Domestic Service in Russian 0100 GMT 23 November 1963
¹⁶ “Tribute by Viktorov” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Moscow in English to the United Kingdom 1800 GMT 25 November 1963
¹⁷ “Zorin Commentary” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Moscow Domestic Service in Russian 1900 GMT 23 November 1963
¹⁸ “Strelnikov in PRAVDA Dispatch” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Moscow TASS International Service in Russian 0827 GMT 25 November 1963
¹⁹ FBI airtel to Director Hoover from New York SAC. February 22, 1964.
²⁰ Rakove, Robert B. Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, , xvii-xxviii.
²¹ Oglesby, Carl. The Yankee and the Cowboy War: Conspiracies from Dallas to Watergate. Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, 1976, 71–72.
²² Schayegh, Cyrus. Globalizing the US Presidency: Postcolonial Views of John F. Kennedy. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021, 88.
²³ “Nkrumah Recalls Meeting With Kennedy” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Accra Ghana Domestic Service. November 25, 1963.
²⁴ “Death of Oswald Raises Questions” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Accra Ghana Domestic Service. November 25, 1963
²⁵ “Lagos Radio Compares Lincoln and Kennedy” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Lagos Nigeria in English to Africa. November 23, 1963.
²⁶ Schayegh, 86.
²⁷ Mahoney, Richard. JFK: Ordeal in Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, 243.
²⁸ Schayegh, 85.
²⁹ “Nhan Dan Comment” Foreign Broadcast Information Service Hanoi VNA International Service in English. November 24, 1963.
³⁰ “Castro on Death of President Kennedy”, Havana Domestic Radio and Television in Spanish, November 24, 1963, 4. The speech is incredible and should be read in full.
³¹ Ibid., 5.
³² Ibid., 6.
³³ Ibid., 8.
³⁴ Dallek, Robert. “JFK vs. the Military.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, September 10, 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/08/jfk-vs-the-military/309496/.
³⁵ “Castro on Death of President Kennedy”, 9.
³⁶ Ibid., 10.
³⁷ Ibid., 28.
³⁸ “The JFK Assassination: A False Mystery Concealing State Crimes”. Vincent Salandria, Coalition on Political Assassinations Conference. November 20, 1998.