Was Lee Harvey Oswald a Man of the Right?
Warren Commission critic Harold Weisberg played an important role in shaping Jim Garrison's thinking. Here is an excerpt from Dean Andrews' interview with NBC for their special from June 1967:
Question: No, just tell the story (over Dean's laughter) what you ... what you ...
Andrews: ... best as I can recall, sometime in October , maybe the first part of November, I got a phone call to meet him [Garrison] in Brouss ...
Question: meet him where?
Andrews: Broussard's ... it's a tourist restaurant ... sometimes a less ... scratch that ... everybody eats there (laughing). So I met him there and he had a book called Whitewash and he told me that the office thought very highly of me and apparently I had some information they did not have. We generally discussed the Warren Report and the book and we met off and on since then.
Here are two paragraphs from Dean Andrews' lawsuit from April 1967 against Jim Garrison:
Garrison bought into a number of concepts from Whitewash, notably the belief of a second Oswald, or as Weisberg called him, the false Oswald. The Dean Andrews story about Clay Bertrand was played up by Weisberg. And Oswald's belief in communism was just a cover.
Weisberg, like most conspiracy critics, was a leftist, and he not only wanted to prove the existence of a conspiracy, but he wanted it to be a right-wing plot. That mean that he had to hide Lee Harvey Oswald's interest in Marxism, which began when he was a teenager.
Here is what Harold Weisberg wrote in Whitewash: (page 265 in the Dell edition)
"From boyhood on, with a record in the Commission's possession going back to when he was but sixteen, Oswald was anti-Communist. When he left Russia, as even Marina makes clear, he was anti-Soviet."
Let's examine the record:
In early 1956, Oswald worked for the Pfisterer Dental Laboratories making deliveries. He worked with Palmer McBride who shared an interest in classical music. During Oswald's first visit to McBride's home, the discussion turned to politics:
"At this time I made a statement to the effect that President DWIGHT EISENHOWER was doing a pretty good job for a man of his age and background, but that I did feel more emphasis should be placed on the space program in view of Russian successes. OSWALD was very anti-Eisenhower, and stated that president EISENHOWER was exploiting the working people. He then made a statement to the effect that he would like to kill president EISENHOWER because he was exploiting the working class. This statement was not made in jest, and OSWALD was in a serious frame of mind when this statement was made.
LEE OSWALD was very serious about the virtues of communism, and discussed these at every opportunity. He would say that the capitalists were exploiting the working class and his central theme seemed to be that the workers in [of?] the world would one day rise up and throw off their chains. He praised KRUSHCHEV'S sincerity in improving the lot of the worker."
In the summer of 1956, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was 16 years old, contacted William Wulf, though Palmer McBride. Wulf was the President of the New Orleans Amateur Astronomy Association. Here is an excerpt from Wulf's testimony before the Warren Commission:
In March 1968, one of Garrison's investigators spoke to Wulf. Here is a brief excerpt:
In October 1956, Oswald enlisted in the Marine Corps. In 1959 Oswald left the Corps and then defected to the Soviet Union. Here is an article on his defection:
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, November 15, 1959
According to the article, Oswald "told the U.S. embassy he was a devoted believer in communism and had read books on the subject since he was 15." Karl Marx's book Das Kapital "set him on the road to communism and he began to read all he could find out about it."
Aline Mosby's notes can be found in Volume XXII, page 701 (CE 1385). Here are some comments:
He told Mosby that he was a bookworm. What did he read? "Marx," he said, "I'm a Marxist,"
He became interested in Marxism when he was 15 when an "old lady handed me a pamphlet about the Rosenbergs."
Then he found Das Kapital in the New Orleans library. "It was like a very religious man opening the Bible for the first time ... I continued to indoctrinate myself for five years. My mother knew I was reading books but she didn't know what they were about."
He told Mosby that he continued to read Marxist books in the Marines and then made plans to go to the Soviet Union.
Oswald called Mosby to complain about her coverage saying, "We weren't poverty-stricken. I am here because I believe in Marxist ideals. It's a matter only of ideology. You don't understand."
Priscilla Johnson also interviewed Oswald. Here is her article from 1959:
Here is her report from the Columbia Dispatch of November 25, 1963:
Columbus Dispatch, November 25, 1963
Many of the same points are made by Johnson:
"Lee was struck, in particular, by Marx's "Das Kapital." He concluded that, as an American, "I would become either a worker exploited for capitalist profit, or an exploiter or, since there are many in this category, I'd be one of the unemployed." Lee became a Marxist. Later, as a Marine Corps private in Japan and the Philippines, he "had a chance to watch American imperialism in action."
Oswald's sojourn in the Soviet Union left him disillusioned, and he returned to the United States in 1962. He wrote:
"The Soviets have committed crimes unsurpassed even by their early day capitalist counterparts; the imprisonment of their own people, with the mass extermination so typical of Stalin."
But Oswald was still a man of the left. He noted that:
"We have no interest in violently opposeing [sic] the U.S. government, why should we manifest opposition when there are far greater forces at work, to bring about the fall of the United States Government, than we could ever possibly muster."
"The emplacement of a separate, democratic, pure communist sociaty [sic] is our goal, but one with union-communes, democratic socializing of production and without regard to twisting apart of marxist communism by other powers"
Oswald's interest now turned to Cuba and Fidel Castro. He started a New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. When interviewed on the radio by Bill Stuckey, he said:
"You cannot say Castro is a communist at this time because he has not developed his country, his system, thus far. He has not had the chance to become a Communist. He is an experimenter, a person who is trying to find out the best way for his country."
Oswald saw Cuba as a chance for that "pure communist society," and he wanted to play a part and influence Castro in the revolution. Oswald even had a picture of Castro on the mantelpiece of his apartment.
"That evening, Dutz Murret stopped over at Oswald's apartment to make sure his nephew would show up for the trial which was scheduled for Monday. Seeing a picture of Fidel Castro on the mantelpiece, he asked Oswald whether he was mixed up with Communists. Oswald answered no."
Senator Cooper: But my question is what makes you think might have talked to Mr. Paine about Cuba.
Mrs. Oswald: I think, sir: because after returning from New Orleans this was his favorite subject. Cuba, and he was quite -- a little bit cracked about it, crazy about Cuba.
So, he had to get to Cuba. To help him achieve his goal, he tried to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in New Orleans, where he proceeded to hand out pro-Cuba leaflets on the streets. When anti-Castro Cubans got wind of this, an altercation ensued. Oswald was arrested, and his arrest made the newspapers, and he was on the radio.
New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 13, 1963
When Oswald went to the Cuban embassy in Mexico City in late September 1963 to get a visa, he showed them his "dossier" to help prove his commitment to the revolution. It didn't work. The Cubans consulted the Russians, and he was turned away. He ended up having a meltdown at the Russian embassy, and he moved to Dallas a deeply bitter and angry man.
Harold Weisberg ignored a lot of the evidence about Oswald's leftism and wrote that "from boyhood on ... Oswald was anti-Communist" (see above for the entire quote) and wondered if he had simply pretended to be pro-Castro. His opinion was that it was all a ruse. Oswald's activities did not make sense "except in terms of what is known in the intelligence trade as 'establishment of a cover.'" (page 268 in Oswald in New Orleans)
Jim Garrison quickly picked this up as a core theme of his investigation. Here is an excerpt of an interview with the BBC:
Question: Can you confirm that they were directed against Cuba, for example ...
Garrison: I ... I can't ... I can't make any ... statement at this time as to what the ... as to what the objective of this apparatus was, but I will say, there was in existence in New Orleans, in 1963, an apparatus which was lethal in nature, of which Lee Harvey Oswald was a part, was assigned a role essentially as a decoy. I think I can tell you now, that, I know I feel like saying for the first time, that the Fair Play for Cuba, which he pretended to be so interested in was a cover, for the operation. Oswald was not a communist, Oswald was not pro-Castro, and, as a result of the operation, which was working here in the summer of 1963, a spin-off occurred. An unexpected change of direction occurred which, in the fall of 1963, which resulted in that lethal apparatus being turned against Kennedy and that's what happened, and that's the first time I've ever said that in public."
Garrison went further in his October 1967 interview with Playboy magazine:
"I don't believe there are any serious students of the assassination who don't recognize that Oswald's actual political orientation was extreme right-wing. His associates in Dallas and New Orleans -- apart from his CIA contacts -- were exclusively right-wing, some covert, others overt, in fact, our office has positively identified a number of his associates as neo-Nazis. Oswald would have been more at home with Mein Kampf than Das Kapital."
All of this is quite amusing except that Garrison's beliefs had real-world consequences. He became interested in Kerry Thornley who served briefly with Oswald in the Marines in California. Garrison was convinced that Thornley had met Oswald while in New Orleans in September of 1963. In January of 1967, Garrison subpoenaed Thornley to appear before the grand jury:
Some comments on this press release:
The reason that the Mr. Jenner didn't go into detail about Thornley and Oswald in September 1963, is that they only overlapped in the city for about three weeks. Thornley returned to New Orleans in the beginning of September, and Oswald left in the last week of September. Had Thornley bumped into Oswald, he most certainly would have wanted to interview him about his defection, particularly since Thornley was already writing about him. Here is what Thornley wrote right after the assassination.
Garrison takes exception to Thornley's description of Oswald's politics. "all of which conveniently supported the official fiction being manufactured for the American people that Oswald was a lonely, demented Marxist assassin who naturally was destined to shot at one president or another." Actually, Thornley just reported what he heard.
Thornley appeared before Garrison's grand jury in February, 1968, and was immediately indicted for perjury:
This press release is quite the document. Garrison says that "Inasmuch as Oswald really was never at any time a "Communist" -- nor even inclined in that direction -- and inasmuch as he was sent to Russia as an employee of the United States Government, it was necessary to have a major witness testify in great detail to create an early image as a Marxist so that there would not be too much public curiosity about the real reasons for Oswald's abrupt departure from the Marine Corps to sail to Russia."
There were many people who could so testify. Even if Thornley had never met Oswald, there is still a substantive amount of evidence regarding his political orientation.
Garrison goes off the deep end in talking about Thornley's post office box:
"Like a number of young men who have been identified as CIA employees, Thornley had a post office box in the federal building across from Banister's office. Such post office boxes are customarily used by federal employees with clandestine assignments as "message drops" as well as an acceptable excuse for regular visits into a federal building. Another of the young men having such a post office box was Lee Harvey Oswald. What this means is simply that Kerry Thornley and Lee Oswald were both part of the covert federal operation operating in New Orleans. The only difference between Oswald and the other young CIA employees was that, having performed a flamboyant Russian assignment for his country, he had a beautiful potential as a decoy in the assassination -- a potential which, as it happened, his employers did not waste."
But why wouldn't Thornley have a post office box in that building? After all, it was only a block or two from Thornley's apartment. His friend Greg Hill wrote, "nearly every writer in the French Quarter had a box in that post office, since publisher's checks sent to home mailboxes were notoriously subject to being ripped off by desperate junkies."
Garrison then claims the CIA created a "Communist image for Oswald":
"The Central Intelligence Agency elements which accomplished the execution of President Kennedy included, in addition to the ambush squad of presidential assassins used in Dallas, individuals working on custodial assignments and on image-creating assignments. The techniques used in creating a Communist image for Oswald were: persuading him by means of a pretext to engage in certain activities (such as handing out "Fair Play for Cuba" pamphlets), having other employees play his part in more inculpatory tableaux (such as appearing at the Mexican consul here and inquiring as to whether he could "bring a rifle into Mexico" or ostensibly receiving money being paid to him in the courtyard of the Cuban Consul [sic - consulate?] in Mexico City) and testifying, after the assassination, that Oswald was indeed a deranged Communist."
However, the CIA goofed in regard to Thornley. He moved from New Orleans and he "remained on ice in Arlington, Virginia until it came time for him to testify that Oswald had been a Communist way back in their Marine days."
But Thornley's move to Arlington was not suspicious. He had a standing offer from a friend to stay there and he felt it was time to get away from New Orleans. Kerry Thornley testified before the grand jury in February 1968, and so Garrison knew this.
Garrison would go on and make this sound very suspicious in his book On the Trail of the Assassins: (page 76)
"I later sent Andrew Sciambra to the Washington area, where he traced Thornley's path. Thornley had wound up at Arlington, a Washington suburb, and had moved into Shirlington House, a first-class apartment building where he worked as a doorman. Thornley stayed at Shirlington House for six months, until he testified before the Warren Commission. Oddly enough, his salary was less than the rent of his Shirlington House apartment."
Of course, the great investigator Jim Garrison could not figure out that Thornley's room and board were part of his doorman gig. All he had to do was to ask Thornley.
"... Thornley testified not only that he had been a "Marxist" but that he "had a persecution complex", "was emotionally unstable" and "wanted a place in history". Inasmuch as the defendant had already safely been executed -- the standard fate of the decoy in presidential assassination -- these works now became part of the official picture of Lee Oswald and his years as a CIA employee were buried with him."
Garrison included an addendum to his press release which listed other Marines who knew little about Oswald's Marxist beliefs. This is not surprising since Oswald largely kept to himself while in the Marines. Garrison goes to write:
"It is thought provoking that the only one of Oswald's former Marine comrades who testified that he was a "Marxist" -- one of the star witnesses for the Warren Commission -- is also the only one who was in personal association with Oswald in New Orleans in 1963 just before he returned to Dallas before the assassination."
None of this was true. Thornley did not meet Oswald in New Orleans in the fall of 1963. But, more importantly, other Marines got a glimpse of Oswald's political beliefs. For some reason, Garrison missed them in the 26 volumes of the Warren Report. Here is a sampling:
Nelson Delgado: (Volume VIII)
Mr. Liebeler: Did you mention to the FBI the fact that Oswald had a copy of Das Kapital?
Mr. Delgado: Yes.
Mr. Liebeler: You mentioned that in your testimony previously too?
Mr. Delgado: Yes.
Oswald talked to Delgado about going to Cuba, even after it was starting to become clear that Castro was heading in the wrong direction:
Oswald did talk to Delgado about socialism: (Volume VIII)
John Donovan: (Volume VIII)
James Botelho: (Volume VIII)
Paul Murphy: (Volume VIII)
Richard Dennis Call: (Volume VIII)
Erwin Donald Lewis: (Volume VIII)
And, of course, there is the testimony of Kerry Thornley, who probably talked to Oswald more than most other Marines. You can read his testimony here.
There is no question that Lee Harvey Oswald was a man of the left. It is true that he became disillusioned with Soviet communism after his defection. Harold Weisberg drew the wrong conclusion to say that Oswald was an anti-communist. He was anti-Leninist. But he was still a Marxist.
James DiEugenio continues in the same vein as Jim Garrison. But he has added a twist. Here is a paragraph from his book, The JFK Assassination: (page 178)
"For if Oswald was really a communist, why would he be associated with both Ferrie and Banister?"
Of course, Oswald never associated with either Ferrie or Banister.
Here are some posts about David Ferrie's and Guy Banister's supposed links to Lee Harvey Oswald:
Jean Davison, author of Oswald's Game (which I heartily recommend), considered Garrison's hypothesis that Oswald's beliefs were part of a ruse: (page 285)
"How can we be certain, even so, that Oswald wasn't working for American intelligence or a similar group all along? I return to the principle that, in order to be plausible, a theory must fit the available evidence into a reasonable chronology of events. As we have seen, Oswald was capable of playing a double role for his own purposes and of risking his life for his beliefs. This inner-directedness gives us no reason to think that he would have staked his life for the beliefs of anyone else. To argue, as some critics have, that Oswald was merely posing as a leftist from the time he was 16 until, literally, the day he died, one must unravel the story of his life presented in this book and attempt to rewrite it into an entirely new pattern. I can't say that it is impossible to do so, but thus far it hasn't been done."
For anyone to claim that Oswald was a man of the right, well, they have their work cut out for them.