Gerald L.K. Smith – “God Made Me a Rabble-Rouser”

Rev Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith (1898-1976) - Find A Grave Memorial

As I have previously written, the Great Depression had a way of raising the public profile of some real characters. This included power-hungry and corrupt politicians and ministers. The most notorious religious figure of the time was Father Charles Coughlin, an anti-Semitic demagogue whose radio program reached millions of Americans. However, his public career ended abruptly in 1942 due to pressures in the Catholic Church as well as from the Roosevelt Administration. This was not the case for another religious demagogue, Reverend Gerald L.K. Smith (1898-1976).

Smith started out his time in politics in Louisiana where he befriended Governor Huey Long and ran his national Share Our Wealth campaign, which called for setting a national minimum and maximum of income. As a radio preacher, he used his platform to denounce utility companies, the rich, and to promote trade unions. In 1935, Smith lost his leader when Long was assassinated, and he officiated his funeral. Although he had initially supported FDR’s election in 1932, in 1936 he backed the Union Party and its nominee, populist Republican Congressman William Lemke, as FDR had refused to back the Townsend Plan. Smith increasingly throughout the 1930s took the Share Our Wealth organization in the direction of white supremacy and joined William Dudley Pelley’s Silver Shirts, a fascist paramilitary organization patterned after Mussolini’s blackshirts. The world of Smith was a world of shadowy conspiracies and troublesome minorities. His views on blacks were at best extremely patronizing, as he expressed a desire to protect the “good blacks”, which he defined as being humble and deferential to whites.

1939-1941: The Peak of Smith’s Prominence

Americans feared getting involved in another World War, and Smith was one of the most outspoken opponents of FDR’s foreign policy and spoke at length against communism. Given his strong public speaking abilities, his efforts and petitions attracted support from major politicians such as Senators Arthur Vandenberg and Gerald Nye. The former submitted his petition to the Senate floor to outlaw the Communist Party and to stay out of the war and praised his movement. In 1941, Smith testified before Congress for an hour against Lend-Lease, but his testimony didn’t change the debate. However, even at this juncture, there were people cautious about him: the America First Committee denied him membership.

World War II and Postwar Bigotry

In 1942, Smith founded the Christian Nationalist Crusade, an organization that spread The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was anti-Communist, and opposed desegregation and miscegenation. He also published his own magazine, The Cross and the Flag, which pushed his positions. During World War II, he used this magazine to publish propaganda critical of the war effort. In 1942, Smith badly lost the Republican primary for the Senate in Michigan. That year, he founded the America First Party, which was openly anti-Semitic and had no backing from the leadership of the original America First Committee. Smith was sympathetic to Hitler and thought of him as a good Christian. He described himself thusly, “I’m an isolationist. I’m the organizer and leader of the America First party. Oh, I’m a rabble‐rouser. Put that down—a rabble‐rouser. God made me a rabble‐rouser . . . of and for the right” (New York Times). His closest friends in Congress were Sen. Robert Reynolds (D-N.C.) (who chose in 1944 to retire rather than face the electorate) and Rep. Clare Hoffman (R-Mich.), the latter whom was troubled by Smith’s anti-black racism and Smith falsely attributed his introducing an anti-discrimination bill in 1949 to “senility”, resulting in their break. In 1944, Smith ran for president on its ticket and made no real impact, winning less than 2,000 votes. He did even worse in the 1948 election on his successor party, the Christian Nationalist Party, which won a total of 48 votes. Smith doubled down on his antisemitism after World War II, calling for the release of all Nazi war criminals and in 1959 he wrote in The Cross and the Flag that the Holocaust didn’t happen and that the missing Jews had immigrated to the United States.  He also supported deporting all blacks, criminalizing what he referred to as “Jewish Gestapo organizations”, and ending the United Nations (The New York Times). During the Truman Era he campaigned against the nomination of Anna M. Rosenberg as Assistant Secretary of Defense because he feared she would wield an inordinate amount of power…and she was Jewish. In 1952, Smith attempted to prove that Dwight Eisenhower was a “Swedish Jew”, which of course he thought disqualified him for public office.

Postwar Ideological Leper

Although Smith did all he could to make himself relevant and would brag about his ties with politicians and other public figures, such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, the truth is that no one interested in maintaining a public career wanted to associate themselves with him anymore, and many of these people he hadn’t been that close to from the start. All the major politicians who had supported him as a non-interventionist were out of office or had cut ties.  Although Smith wrote passionately for Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist investigations and tried to reach out to him, McCarthy avoided him and called him an anti-Semite. Although Smith spoke forcefully against civil rights legislation, Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats shunned him. Although Smith frequently denounced communism, wanted the US to leave the UN, and called for the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren, John Birch Society founder and head Robert W. Welch explicitly barred him from joining. In 1956, he lobbied against the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act, claiming it communist scheme to set up an arctic gulag when it just aimed to construct a mental institution in the Alaska territory. However, this measure received the support of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and was passed easily.

The Twilight Years and Christ of the Ozarks

In 1964, Smith moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and raised $1 million for what was planned to be a religious theme park. He managed to have constructed the Christ of the Ozarks statue in 1966 and started the tradition of holding Passion plays at this place. Smith died in 1976, the park unrealized and his hatreds unsatisfied. The only marker that really remains of Smith and his influence is the statue.


Gerald L.K. Smith. Spartacus Educational.

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Gerald L.K. Smith Dead; Anti-Communist Crusader. (1976, April 16). The New York Times.

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Holocaust Denial Timeline. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Jeannsone, G. (1988). Gerald L.K. Smith: minister of hate. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.




“Fire Alarm Joe” Foraker – Presidential Mentor and Fighter for Racial Justice

Joseph B. Foraker - Wikipedia

Joseph Foraker’s passion for Republican politics began early: in 1862 he enlisted in the Union Army and from his experience, including participating in General Sherman’s March to the Sea, he became a vehement defender of the legacy of the Republican Party during the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1883, Foraker ran for governor, but wouldn’t be elected until his second go, in 1885. During this time President Grover Cleveland issued an executive order for states to return captured battle flags to their home states as an appeal to the South. This provoked fury from Union veterans, and especially notable was Foraker’s reaction. He stated, “No rebel flags will be surrendered while I am Governor” and furiously denounced President Cleveland over the order (Walnut Hills Historical Society). This gained him the nickname “Fire Alarm Joe”, and Cleveland rescinded the order after resistance from him and other governors proved too strong. He would on numerous occasions be strong, even over-the-top, in his opinions and in his denunciations. Foraker won a second term in 1887 and managed to enact anti-corruption measures, desegregated schools, and establish a state board of health. He also kicked off William Howard Taft’s career in the judiciary by appointing him to the Superior Court of Cincinnati. However, his administration alienated ethnic German voters by its vigorous enforcement of prohibitions on sale of alcohol on Sundays. This combined with the feuding of Republican Party factions cost him a third term.

Foraker’s reaction to Cleveland’s order, caricatured.

Foraker managed to make a comeback in 1897, defeating Democrat Calvin Brice for reelection to the Senate. As a senator, he backed the policies of President William McKinley and was an enthusiastic war hawk. He sponsored the Foraker Act, which provided for a civil government for Puerto Rico, and he supported the annexation of Hawaii. Foraker also conflicted with Ohio’s other senator, Mark Hanna, over patronage. Hanna had a distinct advantage as McKinley’s campaign manager and friend and was given veto power over Foraker’s candidates. During this time, he befriended and mentored a budding Ohio politician: Warren G. Harding, who with his support was elected Lieutenant Governor of Ohio. After McKinley’s assassination by an anarchist, Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him and pledged to continue his policies. Although in his first term, he largely did so, Roosevelt’s push “Square Deal” policies in his second term disturbed Foraker. He tacked increasingly to the right in response, being solidly in the “standpatter” camp and was one of only three senators to vote against the Hepburn Act regulating railroad rates. However, the clash that would bring matters to a head involved not economic policy, but race.

Foraker had generally been supportive of civil rights and he had publicly defended Theodore Roosevelt’s White House dinner with Booker T. Washington, but the Brownsville Raid would have the two men on opposite sides. On July 28, 1906, the black Buffalo Soldiers began their time stationed at Fort Brown in Brownsville, Texas. The white residents of the area were unhappy with their presence and tensions rose throughout the next two weeks as black soldiers faced discrimination by local businesses and even multiple instances of physical abuse by federal customs officers. Matters came to a head on August 12th, when a white woman was attacked and the townsfolk became enraged. The following night, a bartender was shot dead and a policeman was shot and wounded. The locals immediately cast blame on the troops, even though their white commanders testified that they were in their barracks all night. Some locals planted spent cartridge shells to implicate the soldiers and the townspeople and the Mayor believed this evidence.

After a military investigation ultimately turned up no culprits as no one reported knowing who had been responsible, on November 5th, Roosevelt dishonorably discharged all 167 soldiers of the unit for what he alleged to be a “conspiracy of silence” to protect the guilty party. His act was not publicized until after Election Day. Senator Foraker condemned Roosevelt’s action and initiated a Senate investigation. On January 26, 1907, he confronted Roosevelt at the Gridiron Club and both men traded insults and barbs while making their cases for their positions on the Brownsville Affair. This encounter made headlines and brought further attention to the case. In 1908, the committee formed at Foraker’s behest backed the Roosevelt Administration, but there was a minority report of four Republicans who found the evidence was inconclusive while another one, written by Foraker and Morgan Bulkeley (R-Conn.), argued for their innocence. Of the men discharged, only fourteen would be offered reenlistment. History would vindicate the soldiers as a renewed investigation in 1972 ruled them innocent and President Nixon pardoned all the soldiers, awarding honorable discharges with no back pay. Only two of the soldiers were still alive and one of them had managed to reenlist and get a pension, so the other one was granted a $25,000 tax free pension.

Theodore Roosevelt was now determined to end Foraker’s career, pushing for his defeat for renomination. His push was aided critically by William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers revealed that Foraker had been paid by Standard Oil for providing legal advice while senator. Although this was not illegal, it was viewed as a conflict of interest and it sunk his bid for a third term. Foraker’s lifetime MC-Index score is an 85%.

After five years out, Foraker attempted a comeback, but a complication arose: his old protege, Warren G. Harding, was also seeking the post. Ultimately, the Republican voters of Ohio were seeking someone fresh and Harding won the nomination by 12,000 votes and went on to win the election. Foraker’s career was over and although he published his memoirs, Notes of a Busy Life, in 1916 he didn’t live to see his protege elected president.


Christian, G.L. The Brownsville Raid. Texas State Historical Association.

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Gould, L.L.(2005). The most exclusive club: a history of the modern United States Senate. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.

Joseph B. Foraker. Ohio History Central.

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Joseph B. Foraker, Reconstruction and Civil Rights. Walnut Hills Historical Society.

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When Mussolini Was Popular in America

Benito Mussolini

Since World War II, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini has been regarded as one of history’s villains. However, for quite a time many admired him and thought that he, as the saying goes, “made the trains run on time”. Mussolini managed to get fans on both the right and left of the spectrum before his alliance with Hitler. Indeed, he cultivated such views by regarding his policies as both “state capitalism” and “state socialism”. Mussolini himself was the son of a socialist blacksmith and was, up until his founding of fascism in 1919, a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. His departure from socialism was when he backed World War I, and their opposition to the conflict Mussolini found to be an abandonment of nationalism. His reputation in America was helped by the masculine image Mussolini put forth, his projection of confidence, and the perception he cultivated that he had saved Italy from communism. Here are some quotes from prominent Americans praising him, all are from wiki quotes:

“One hears murmurs against Mussolini on the ground that he is a desperado: the real objection to him is that he is a politician. Indeed, he is probably the most perfect specimen of the genus politician on view in the world today. His career has been impeccably classical. Beginning life as a ranting Socialist of the worst type, he abjured Socialism the moment he saw better opportunities for himself on the other side, and ever since then he has devoted himself gaudily to clapping Socialists in jail, filling them with castor oil, sending blacklegs to burn down their houses, and otherwise roughing them. Modern politics has produced no more adept practitioner.” – H.L. Mencken, 1931

“You protest, and with justice, each time Hitler jails an opponent; but you forget that Stalin and company have jailed and murdered a thousand times as many. It seems to me, and indeed the evidence is plain, that compared to the Moscow brigands and assassins, Hitler is hardly more than a common Ku Kluxer and Mussolini almost a philanthropist.” – H.L. Mencken to Upton Sinclair, 1936

“I don’t mind telling you in confidence that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that admirable Italian gentleman.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“There seems to be no question that [Mussolini] is really interested in what we are doing and I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, to Breckinridge Long.

“The greatest genius of the modern age.” – Thomas Edison

“I feel like turning to my American friends and asking them whether they don’t think we too need a man like Mussolini.” – Elbert Henry Gary, U.S. Steel

“Mussolini is a great executive, a true leader of men, and the great works he has accomplished are his genuine fortifications to a high place in history and in the hearts of his people.” – Millicent Hearst

Praise From Figures of Other Nations:

“What a man! I have lost my heart!… Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world… If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely from the beginning of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passion of Leninism.” – Winston Churchill, 1927.

“What a waste that we lost Mussolini. He is a first-rate man who would have led our party to power in Italy.” – Vladimir Lenin, 1922.

“A modern man may disapprove of some of his sweeping reforms, and approve others; but finds it difficult not to admire even where he does not approve.” – G.K. Chesterton

“Some of the things Mussolini has done, and some that he is threatening to do go further in the direction of Socialism than the English Labour Party could yet venture if they were in power.” – George Bernard Shaw

American newspapers either regarded Mussolini with praise, amusement, or neutrality. From the right, The New York Tribune and the Chicago Tribune credited him with saving Italy from communism and reinvigorating its economy. The New York Times often praised him, especially Herbert Matthews, who would favorably report on his invasion of Ethiopia and would do the same for the Cuban revolution later in life. In 1926, the Coolidge Administration gave Italy a lenient debt settlement, but this was for the purposes of expanding commerce with the nation and based on ability to pay. It was not regarded by most of its proponents as anything more than a business proposition. There were exceptions, however. Sen. David Reed (R-Penn.) defended him as did Rep. Sol Bloom (D-N.Y.), the latter who counted Mussolini as a personal friend. Bloom would later chair the House Foreign Relations Committee as a 100% advocate of FDR’s foreign policies. There were, however, Americans critical of Mussolini even in this time, and most of the debt settlement’s opponents considered the measure an endorsement of Italian fascism. American politicians who represented large Italian constituencies, even those privately against Mussolini, refrained from criticizing him as he and fascism were deeply popular among these populations. Official policy only grew more favorable to Mussolini: by 1930 Italy was only second to Britain in favor among European nations. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover reassured Italy’s foreign minister that the small group of anti-fascists in America “…do not exist for us Americans, and neither should they exist for you” (Tooze, 4). Among the politicians who were Mussolini’s critics in this time were not necessarily concentrated in their political views or affiliations: the leading ones were Senators Tom Heflin (D-Ala.) and William Borah (R-Idaho) and Representative Hamilton Fish III (R-N.Y.). Heflin was a Southern progressive and a racist and anti-Catholic demagogue, Borah was fiercely independent and moderately progressive, and Fish was a conservative non-interventionist who led the first House investigation of Communism in 1930.

American Opinion Begins to Shift: Mussolini’s Invasion of Ethiopia and Allegiance with Hitler

On October 3, 1935, Italian forces began invading Ethiopia without a declaration of war from Eritrea and Somalia, both Italian imperial possessions. Mussolini authorized the use of mustard gas on Ethiopian troops, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, of which Italy was a signatory. The League of Nations proved powerless to stop his invasion and when they voted to place sanctions on Italy, he took Italy out of the League. Although both sides committed war crimes in the conflict, Mussolini was the aggressor, and this began his alienation with western democracies. Britain and France had previously thought of Mussolini as a good buffer against Germany, but Mussolini saw eye to eye with Hitler considerably more than he did Britain or France. He eventually signed the Pact of Steel in 1939, bringing Italy in alliance with Germany, and then in 1940 the Tripartite Pact formed the Axis. Mussolini still had some fans, particularly among critics of the League of Nations, but his part in the Axis sealed his public reputation in the United States and the west.


Broich, J. (2016, December 13). How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler. Smithsonian Magazine.

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Diggins, J.P. (1972). Mussolini and fascism: The view from America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Quotes about Mussolini. Wikiquote.

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Tooze, A. (2016, August 18). When We Loved Mussolini [Review of the book The United States and Fascist Italy: The rise of American finance in Europe]. The New York Review of Books.

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Click to access NYRB_081816_When_We_Loved_Mussolini_by_Adam_Tooze.pdf

John Hall Buchanan Jr.: A Deep South Republican Who Went Moderate

The 1964 election was overall a loss for the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater only won six states in the presidential election and the GOP sustained significant losses in the House and minor losses in the Senate. However, it didn’t go badly everywhere for them. For the first time since Reconstruction the Republican candidate won in Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina and did so for the first time ever in Georgia. This was due almost exclusively to Goldwater’s vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and President Johnson’s signing of it. Believe it or not, Goldwater had coattails in the region, with the GOP picking up a seat in Mississippi and Georgia as well has having a Senate party flip in South Carolina, which would be followed by a House flip in 1965. However, in no state was the impact greater than in Alabama, which went from a House delegation that was 8-0 Democrat to 5-3 Republican. This election didn’t win the GOP the Deep South, but it made them a realistic option. One of the new Congressmen was John Hall Buchanan Jr. (1928-2018), a pastor from Birmingham, one of the most segregated cities in the nation and a hotbed of civil rights activism. Although he would start as a conservative opposed to civil rights legislation, he would not stay this way.

Buchanan proved one of the staunchest opponents of the Johnson Administration and opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Medicare but even in his first term he proved committed to ending KKK violence in the South: as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities he successfully pushed with Democrat Charles Weltner of Atlanta, Georgia, an investigation of the Klan. The FBI credited this investigation for the plummeting of Klan membership. In 1966, he was one of three Alabama Republicans reelected. His MC-Index score for the Johnson years was a 98%. Buchanan’s attitude on federal civil rights legislation began to change during the Nixon Administration, with him voting to retain the Philadelphia Plan and for anti-discrimination legislation. He also became more open to voting for liberal domestic legislation and became known as the most favorable Alabama representative to foreign aid, holding that the choice was between feeding people and not feeding them. Buchanan supported Soviet dissidents as well as opposed Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia.

As the 1970s progressed, Buchanan’s record moderated more and more and this coincided with the growth in the power of the black vote in Birmingham. He supported Title IX and in 1975, he voted to extend the Voting Rights Act. By the Carter Administration, he had become a centrist with socially liberal positions, including supporting the use of busing to achieve desegregation, support for government funding of abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment. During the Nixon Administration, he had opposed busing. His social liberalism rubbed party conservatives the wrong way, and they tried to oust him without success in 1978. In the Carter era, his MC-Index score was a 48%, a whopping fifty-point drop from the last time he served with a Democratic president.

In 1980, conservatives recruited Albert Lee Smith Jr., a former member of the John Birch Society, to run against Buchanan in the Republican primary. Buchanan lost the contest in good part due to his support for giving away the Panama Canal. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 77%. Although Smith was elected in 1980, it was by a much narrower margin than Buchanan had received in the past and the district proved too Democratic for him as he lost reelection in 1982. The district’s support for Democrats would harden throughout the 1980s and the 6th district wouldn’t be won back by Republicans until the 1992 election, when many of the black neighborhoods were carved out for a new majority-black 7th district and more white suburbs around Birmingham and Tuscaloosa were brought in. Buchanan did end up serving in the Reagan Administration as a delegate to the UN Human Rights Committee but also served on the board of directors for People for the American Way, a liberal organization meant to counter the political efforts of Christian conservatives. This was another shift in a liberal direction from his record in Congress, as in 1971 he had voted for a school prayer amendment. In 2006, Buchanan lobbied Congress to once again extend the Voting Rights Act.


Derbes, B.J. John Buchanan Jr. Encyclopedia of Alabama.

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Former Alabama congressman, Baptist minister dies. (2018, March 9). Birmingham Real-Time News.

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The Fall of Bunker Hunt

Famed Texas Oil Tycoon Nelson Bunker Hunt Dies at 88

The show Dallas, which aired from 1978 to 1991, portrayed a wealthy oil family with its womanizing and scheming patriarch, J.R. Ewing, at the helm. This series was based on the Hunt family of Texas, which was prosperous and a political force of its own. The family patriarch, Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt (1889-1974), was a mathematical prodigy, a cotton plantation owner, and a good gambler. He used his poker winnings to purchase his first oil well and his enterprise grew into the greatest ownership of oil properties in the world and by 1925 he was one of the wealthiest men in the nation. His interest in politics was lifelong: the first presidential candidate he supported was Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and as an oilman he absolutely loved Calvin Coolidge. Hunt had also assisted the career of Lyndon B. Johnson, a man he eventually came to bitterly oppose. Controversies surrounded the large family, and like the Kennedys, one their children, H.L. “Hassie” Hunt III, his first son, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1942 and was later lobotomized to try to cure it. As a man of great power and influence, H.L. Hunt was able to get around: he fathered fifteen children with three different women, the first two he was married to at the same time without the other knowing. Thus, he was a bigamist.

Hunt’s politics in his later life were extremely conservative. He was a prominent member of the John Birch Society and financially backed George Wallace for president in 1968. He used his wealth to fund Facts Forum and Life Line, two conservative radio programs. By the end of his life, H.L. Hunt was one of the three wealthiest men in the world, the other two being J. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes. Due to Hassie Hunt’s mental illness, the next in power and influence was his second son, Nelson Bunker Hunt (1926-2014), who shared his father’s politics and was also a key financial backer of the Wallace campaign.

Bunker Hunt was a successful oilman in his own right, as he managed to discover and secure the largest oil fields in Africa with Hunt Oil’s expansion into Libya in 1961. The profits from these fields made Hunt one of the wealthiest men in the world. He was also interested in racehorses and owned 1,000 of them at his peak of wealth. Hunt also was an evangelical Christian closely connected with Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and contributed to such causes, including the worldwide distribution of the film Jesus (1979). Although the 1960s were a decade of profit for him, the 1970s would prove more troublesome. In 1969, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi and his forces overthrew the Libyan monarchy in a coup and in 1973 he nationalized the Libyan oil fields. Although this was a bad blow, it wasn’t the worst of it. Throughout the decade, Bunker and his brothers William Herbert and Lamar were buying tremendous amounts of silver to corner the market to diversify their holdings, to counter inflation, and out of a fear of economic apocalypse.

By 1980, the brothers owned approximately a third of the world’s silver supply and used their leverage to jack up the price of silver from $6 to $48.70 per ounce, or a 713% increase from 1979’s price. A public backlash grew against the brothers, and in response federal regulators placed heavy restrictions on commodity purchases on the margin. Silver dealers in response released massive amounts of silver into the market and on March 27, 1980, the price of silver fell to $10.80 an ounce. The Hunt brothers lost over $1 billion as a consequence. Worse yet, they had borrowed to fund their purchases of silver, which resulted in creditors coming after them throughout the 1980s. By 1988, their wealth had declined from $5 billion to under $1 billion as the price of oil declined during the decade and they were forced to file for bankruptcy that year and liquidate their assets, including household items. However, they were still wealthy as H.L. Hunt had provided trust funds for each of his children. Bunker Hunt never quite regained his level of wealth and lived modestly in his last years. However, his brother, William Herbert, who is still around, has since regained his wealth.


Nelson Bunker Hunt – obituary. (2014, October 22). The Telegraph.

Porterfield, B. (1975, March). H.L. Hunt’s Long Goodbye. Texas Monthly.



Karl Prussion and Inside a Communist Cell: Are They Credible?

I was wondering over the weekend what to write for my next post, and although there are at least a few topics in the back of my mind, I found the answer when I came across an oddity on YouTube: Inside a Communist Cell (1961), a record released through the John Birch Society record label Key Records. This is the account of Karl Prussion, a man who was born into a communist family and named after Karl Marx. He was recruited into the CPUSA in his senior year of college in 1933. He apparently started having doubts as early as two years after and in 1938 the Dies Committee identified him as a communist (Kienholz). Prussion stated that from 1947 to 1959 he served as an informant for the FBI when he resigned to go public, as he believed that the United States was losing the battle. When people would write to the FBI about whether his story was true, all Hoover and the FBI would do was verify that he was a paid informant from November 1949 to July 1958, but would not comment on his opinions or ventures. He testified as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in San Francisco on May 13, 1960 in the midst of the City Hall student “riots” in which students attempted to storm the hearings but were sprayed with fire hoses. Prussion was often invited to speak before conservative groups and his speeches were used as evidence for communist conspiracy in numerous facets of American life by conservatives. In my curiosity I listened to the whole record, and I found that at least some of what he said is at least plausible, but his recounting of a Communist cell meeting is suspect in accuracy especially considering some of his other statements outside the record.

In Inside a Communist Cell, Prussion claimed that he was arranged to be married to a communist he didn’t know beforehand. That he was married to a communist is at least verified, as according to Susan Gosman, whose parents were communist, “My mother was married to a man named Karl Prussion” and that he was a “vicious anti-Communist” (Gosman). Prussion also claimed that the communists initially planned for him to be a Methodist minister before he convinced them that he should instead be part of the labor movement given his history of violence. He singles out the influential Reverend Harry F. Ward, a co-founder of the ACLU, as a communist, and this actually checks out. That he was in the leadership of not one but two communist front groups is no accident: from 1934 to 1940 he chaired the League Against War and Fascism and was the honorary chair of the Civil Rights Congress. In 1953, the House Committee on Un-American Activites identified him as one of three communist ministers, which he disputed. Prussion’s charge that Ward was the contact man for him getting into the seminary is at least plausible if not probable. People involved with CPUSA and its fronts got to know fairly quickly where the true allegiance was: speaking out against the USSR or its leader was grounds for expulsion while the same couldn’t be said for the USA or its president. The notion that communists infiltrated the churches is interesting (albeit highly disputed) and I now know of at least two cases: Ward and Jim Jones, the latter whom strayed from his original intent to form an infamous death cult known as The People’s Temple.

As an added bonus, Prussion sings American Communist anthems in response to a question as to what communists sang. But the questions about him begin with his recounting of a Communist cell meeting.

Prussion’s recounting of a Communist cell meeting reveals communist infiltration of the missile industry through a ball bearing salesman who claims to know as a result of his work when and where missiles are fired, academia, trade unions, and the Santa Clara PTA, in the latter a speaker states that they are pushing for a resolution to ban atomic testing at the national PTA Association and expect it to be passed almost unanimously. According to Prussion, it was passed almost unanimously. Also, the notion of “peaceful coexistence” with communism and pushes to end atomic testing are revealed as communist plots, the former to get Americans off their guard. One of the speakers of the cell meeting regards as a successful propaganda campaign getting the press to refer to the House Committee on Un-American Activites as the House Un-American Activities Committee. This part of it actually makes sense, as the former sounds a lot more favorable than the latter. There is also a joke cracked about Sunnyvale’s City Hall banquet room that they call the Smolny Institute, and Prussion testified to this joke in the 1960 HCUA hearing. I find at least some of this story suspicious in how closely it resembles the conspiratorial right’s views, such as a speaking Communist stating that among their goals they must keep the US in the UN and that they must push for the fluoridation of water. Crusades against US membership in the UN and fluoridation of water were chief indicators of conspiratorial right philosophy. According to one of the speakers in Prussion’s recollection, the communists in California were trying and making strides in taking over the state’s Democratic Party, which again, was an idea the conspiratorial right was pushing. The questions begin with his recounting of a Communist cell meeting and they continue based on what I read about him outside this record.

From what I have been able to read up on Prussion, there are some things that bring his credibility into question. First, he swore under oath in a September 28, 1963 affidavit that Martin Luther King Jr. was a member of a whopping sixty communist front groups. On March 30, 1965, Rep. William Dickinson (R-Ala.) produced the sworn affadavit before Congress to allege that King was a communist. Prussion also at one point in a speech, “Insurrection at Watts”, before Young Americans for Freedom, claimed that President Lyndon B. Johnson was a communist (Prussion, 314). As I have written in a previous post about Dr. King, he was not discerning in where he sought aid for his cause. Another figure he sought aid for his cause was Vice President Richard Nixon. Second, Prussion joined the Board of Policy of Liberty Lobby, a cryptic organization that posed as conservative but had white supremacy and fascism as its under-the-surface aim, as that was the wish of its founder, leader, and Treasurer, Willis Carto. The organization’s Board of Policy ranged from very staunch anti-Communists to outright racists and anti-Semites. The common factor between all of them was the belief in conspiracy.

I have tried to discover what ultimately became of Prussion, but all I have found is that he attempted suicide in Oroville, California, with sleeping pills on December 11, 1965, apparently out of the belief that he was a target for assassination from communists (Prussion, 326). He was subsequently diagnosed with mental illness and paranoia. In January 1966, Prussion claimed there was a secret communist in Congress but didn’t name the person. Additionally, Prussion apparently didn’t resign from the FBI, he was terminated after revealing his status to a reporter and in January 1964 a California appeals court found in a case “that ‘the witness Karl Prussion is an unreliable witness and that his testimony be eliminated from consideration by the court in deciding this case.’ ” (Prussion) The FBI information on him ends there.

Prussion may have been telling the truth in at least some aspects of his background story and the information he acquired about communists. It is also confirmed that he was an informant for the FBI, but his recounting of the meeting is suspect, his wilder claims seem to have been efforts to command more attention and money for himself, and his diagnosis of mental illness and paranoia doesn’t help the case for his credibility. Prussion is certainly dead now and hasn’t had any influence for over fifty years but it was interesting to see if anything he said checked out.


Gosman, S. (2019, August 14). Memories of a Jewish American red diaper baby. People’s World.

Retrieved from

Kienholz, M.L. (2012). The canwell files: Murder, arson, and intrigue in the evergreen state. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Prussion, Karl K.

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Link to Inside a Communist Cell:

About Bill Murray…No, the Other One!

Want to Be a Fed Governor? Better Pretend to Be From Somewhere ...

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt admitted Oklahoma as a state, and one of the foremost proponents of its admission was William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray (1869-1956). He was nicknamed this as he tended to talk while on the campaign trail about his patch of alfalfa he farmed and advocated for it as a crop. After admission, the people of the state elected Charles Haskell governor and Murray became Speaker of the Assembly. Both were progressive Democrats and worked together to institute this agenda for the state. Haskell and Murray instituted regulations on corporations, banks, mines, and factories. They also enacted health and sanitary laws, child labor laws, and the construction of the state’s first prison. Important on their minds was the institution of Jim Crow: interracial marriages and interracial relations were made felonies and schools were segregated. As Murray himself put it, “We should adopt a provision prohibiting the mixed marriages of negroes with other races in this State, and provide for separate schools and give the Legislature power to separate them in waiting rooms and on passenger coaches, and all other institutions in the State” and went on to state that as a rule they “are failures as lawyers, doctors and in other professions. He must be taught in the line of his own sphere, as porters, bootblacks and barbers and many lines of agriculture, horticulture and mechanics” (Naylor, 196). He dismissed entirely any notion that they could be equals to whites, as did many white Oklahomans at the time. Although Murray declined to run for reelection in 1908, the Oklahoma State Legislature would eventually segregate everything in his absence, and in 1915 it became the first state to segregate telephone booths.

Murray’s political career would be mixed in success. In 1910, his bid to succeed Governor Haskell fell short, but he managed to get elected to Congress in 1912 and would serve two terms, accumulating a progressive record. However, in 1916 he lost renomination. In 1918, Murray tried again for governor but failed. In 1924, he led a group of Oklahomans, seeking a better life, in forming an American colony in Bolivia. Murray and his followers tried farming there for five years before returning to Oklahoma, finding the life there too difficult. By this time, however, political opportunity arose for Murray. By 1930 the country was in dire economic straits with the start of the Great Depression and Oklahoma was particularly hard-hit by the Dust Bowl and a severe drought, so he ran for governor and condemned what he called “The Three C’s – Corporations, Carpetbaggers, and Coons” (Hill). Voters liked Murray’s outspokenness as well as his rough-hewn style…when he dressed in any way resembling formality it was a rumpled suit that had ash from his ever-present cigar and food and tobacco juice stains. One author describes him as “disheveled, crude, vulgar, eccentric. No one accused him of bathing too often” (Levy, 163). These were not considered negatives for Oklahoma voters of the time, as this was thought of as authentic. He easily prevailed and went straight to work in trying to relieve the Great Depression by feeding the poor and cracking down on tax evasion. Like Huey Long in Louisiana and Eugene Talmadge in Georgia, Murray proved freewheeling and abusive with his power. He used the National Guard as his personal army and employed it a total of forty-seven times and frequently invoked martial law, despite threats from the Oklahoma Senate to impeach him. His attitude of his way or the highway would contribute to one of the most notable interstate conflicts.

The Red River Bridge Controversy

In 1931, Governor Murray and Governor Ross Sterling of Texas fought out over a bridge that connected the two states. Texas was in the midst of a court case in which the Red River Bridge Company, which owned and operated a toll bridge next to the state-constructed free bridge crossing into Oklahoma, asked for an injunction to close the free bridge as there was an agreement that the state would buy the old bridge, and Texas hadn’t provided the full sum yet due to a budget shortfall. Governor Sterling closed the bridge, but Murray demanded it open and asserted that both sides of the bridge were in the state of Oklahoma per the Louisiana Purchase Treaty and proceeded to have the barriers to the new bridge torn down while the Oklahoma road leading to the toll bridge was torn down. He then sent the National Guard to open the toll bridge and let anyone through. Murray even showed up in person with an antique revolver. The controversy ultimately resolved in Murray’s favor.

Run for President and Feud with Roosevelt

In 1932, Governor Murray decided to run for the Democratic nomination for president, running on the campaign slogan “Bread, Butter, Bacon, and Beans” but he was no match for FDR. Although he initially endorsed Roosevelt and his New Deal, he began fighting with FDR over control of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. He wanted to treat the agency as exclusively under his personal authority in Oklahoma, and FDR thus removed all control of it from him. Murray thus became a staunch critic of the New Deal.

In 1935, Murray, unable to run for reelection, left office. Although he made other attempts at office, including governor again as an Independent and for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in 1942, his political career was over.

Deterioration in Old Age

Murray’s involvement in politics didn’t necessarily end, though: he wrote his extensive memoirs that included “…historical inaccuracies, religious digressions, fancied occurrences, prescriptions for home remedies, phrenological nonsense, and bizarre ideas about diet. But many of his stories and recollections are clear and concise and can be supported by other sources” (Bryant, 271).  He also included his ideas about race and Jews, which were venomous. Although he was viciously racist against blacks, he considered them to possess some virtues, but had no such consideration for Jews. Murray regarded them as Communists and believed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In his memoirs, he expressed his belief that FDR was Jewish and that Bernard Baruch, who was Jewish, had created the New Deal. Some of Murray’s writings can be attributed to his declining mental faculties, which had begun after the death of his wife in 1938. Murray had previously stood as a staunch opponent of religious persecution and proposed a measure exempting religious minorities fleeing from persecution from a literacy test for immigration while serving in Congress. In addition to his memoirs, he wrote anti-Semitic and racist tracts and used Gerald L.K. Smith’s the Cross and the Flag as well as Gerald Winrod’s Defender Magazine as sources for his views. Both men were Nazi sympathizers with whom Murray maintained correspondence despite his sons pleading with him not to associate with them.

In 1948, he showed up at the Dixiecrat Convention, and bragged that he “introduced Jim Crow in Oklahoma” (Rothman). Although financially reliant upon others in his old age as he hadn’t saved for retirement, he lived to see one last victory. In 1951, Murray administered the oath of office to his son, Governor Johnston Murray, and got to live in the Governor’s mansion for four years. In his last years, Murray was in poor health, being mostly blind and deaf and needing assistance for just about everything. In 1956, he suffered a major stroke and in October he contracted double pneumonia, which put him in a coma. He died on October 15, 1956. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray was a foundational and unique figure in the state of Oklahoma and in that time reflected the views of many white citizens of the state, who were by political inclination Southern progressives.


Bryant, K.L. (1968). Alfalfa Bill Murray. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Hill, R. (2016, September 18). ‘Alfalfa Bill’ Governor William H. Murray of Oklahoma. The Knoxville Focus.

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Levy, D.W. (2015). The University of Oklahoma: A history, volume II: 1917-1950. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Naylor, C.E. (2008). African Cherokees in Indian territory: From chattel to citizens. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Rothman, L. (2014, September 5). Here’s Bill Murray on the Cover of TIME. TIME.

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Taylor, L.W. Red River Bridge Controversy. Texas State Historical Association.

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An Examination of Popular Historical Defenses for Rioting

In the wake of the protests to the morally and legally unjustifiable police killing of George Floyd, there have been a number of sentiments expressed that are troubling for being pro-rioting and looting. Before I start here, I must state that I think it is a false dilemma to say that you either must be pro-riot or pro-police brutality and racism and that I don’t object to the non-violent protesting that has occurred…it is legitimate. The vast majority of protestors have been peaceful, but there has been a riotous contingent, at least some of which is the work of Antifa, whose actions must not be endorsed and must be dealt with by law enforcement. Some, nonetheless, have taken it upon themselves to justify or condone rioting. I will present some of the things I have seen in the past few days and my problems with them. I start with ones regarding Martin Luther King, Jr., starting with these two images:

Image may contain: 4 people, text that says 'Never burned one building Never robbed one store Never destroyed one town they still killed him. hamodtheworid BH'

So James Earl Ray totally wasn’t an individual…he was a representative of intentions and will of white people past and present…that is if you believe the racial demagogues and the sufferers of white guilt. What makes James Earl Ray more representative of whites than other whites? What about MLK’s lieutenants, who believed and acted his principles and were not assassinated? What’s more, what about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Were these not achievements spurred on by MLK’s nonviolent protests and activism? Weren’t these examples of how nonviolent protest can result in the achievement of goals? This is a fundamental difference of perspective…a difference between seeing actions and guilt as individual or group based. The people who post this clearly see it as the latter, not the former. I am against the concept of collective guilt because that assumes people have a great deal of control over the actions of others.

Some have also argued for a selective reading of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in a 1966 Mike Wallace interview to make it look like he thought rioting legitimate with the following quote, “I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard” (CBS News). Here is the quote in a much fuller context, the quote itself is underlined by me:

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (speech): Now what I’m saying is this: I would like for all of us to believe in non-violence, but I’m here to say tonight that if every Negro in the United States turns against non-violence, I’m going to stand up as a lone voice and say, “This is the wrong way!”

KING (interview): I will never change in my basic idea that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.

MIKE WALLACE: There’s an increasingly vocal minority who disagree totally with your tactics, Dr. King.

KING: There’s no doubt about that. I will agree that there is a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The vast majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through non-violent resistance, and I don’t think this vocal group will be able to make a real dent in the Negro community in terms of swaying 22 million Negroes to this particular point of view. And I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.

WALLACE: How many summers like this do you imagine that we can expect?

KING: Well, I would say this: we don’t have long. The mood of the Negro community now is one of urgency, one of saying that we aren’t going to wait. That we’ve got to have our freedom. We’ve waited too long. So that I would say that every summer we’re going to have this kind of vigorous protest. My hope is that it will be non-violent. I would hope that we can avoid riots because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive. I would hope that we can avoid riots, but that we would be as militant and as determined next summer and through the winter as we have been this summer. And I think the answer about how long it will take will depend on the federal government, on the city halls of our various cities, and on White America to a large extent. This is where we are at this point, and I think White America will determine how long it will be and which way we go in the future. (CBS News)

To sum up, King did not endorse rioting, morally or as a tactic, but was communicating why a minority of blacks would be motivated to do so. There is a world of difference between understanding why someone does something and supporting. He did not change his mind on this issue either as he expressed the same sentiment in his speech at Grosse Pointe High School a mere three weeks before his assassination: “And I would still be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, nonviolence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible of me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve to fifteen years” (Smith, 2020).

The “Double Standard” Argument

Image may contain: text that says '@cindyktrilogy The boston tea party was a historical moment that we're taught in school when people rioted and protested against tax on tea Now people are doing the same over the murder of an unarmed black man and suddenly it's unethical and unamerican. spot the difference for me.'

In a similar vein, Kellie Carter Jackson, a professor of Africana Studies, wrote an article titled “The Double Standard of the American Riot”, asserting that riots are only fine for Americans if white people commit them. I will link the article at the end of the post.

First, the Boston Tea Party was not a riot. If  people who think this want examples of violence in the lead up to the American Revolution, they would be better off citing the Stamp Act riots, attacks on tax collectors, and tarring and feathering. All are actions which patriot leaders firmly opposed and we in truth shouldn’t justify today. Second, the colonists who participated in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, didn’t indiscriminately loot and burn local businesses nor did they attack anyone. They had one target and one target alone: the tea of the East India Company, which had been granted a monopoly over the tea trade in the colonies as a way to rescue the business from bankruptcy. The dumping of the tea was an act of civil disobedience and destruction of property, but very targeted…the participating colonists even cleaned up after dumping the tea and replaced a broken padlock! Many of the people who would become known as the Founding Fathers opposed: George Washington of Virginia and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania condemned the incident, believing it hurt the cause of the colonists. Franklin even proposed to John Hancock and Samuel Adams that they reimburse the company for the tea, writing “I am truly concern’d, as I believe all considerate Men are with you, that there should seem to any a Necessity for carrying Matters to such Extremity, as, in a Dispute about Publick Rights, to destroy private Property” (Latson).  John Adams of Massachusetts, however, usually averse to such actions, was more enthusiastic in a letter to his friend James Warren: “The Dye is cast: The People have passed the River and cutt away the Bridge: last Night Three Cargoes of Tea, were emptied into the Harbour. This is the grandest, Event, which has ever yet happened Since, the Controversy, with Britain, opened! The Sublimity of it, charms me!” (Norton) In his diary, he affirmed that he believed the dumping of the tea was justified. The Boston Tea Party is far closer to the sit-ins of the 1960s: both were the non-violent breaking of unjust laws. In the case of the sit-ins, it was Jim Crow laws, and in the colonies, it was taxation without representation, the Townshend Acts, and the Tea Act. The Boston harbor was closed as a punishment as no individual perpetrators could be identified. Are the laws against looting, burning, assault, battery, manslaughter, and murder (at least eleven have been killed in the riots so far) similarly unjust?

Violent incidents as well as civil disobedience heated relations between the colonies and Britain, and the people who would become the Founding Fathers hoped to reach a resolution so that they would be accorded the same political rights as other Englishmen before resorting to revolution. When this failed and the British began imposing punitive acts on Massachusetts, the colonies formed the Continental Congress and began arming  for defense. When the British troops came to disarm the colonists, the first battle of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, occurred on April 19, 1775. The colonists acted in their own defense against a military force. After the establishment of the United States as an independent nation, the first three presidents were certainly not supportive of rioting: President George Washington deployed the military to quash the Whiskey Rebellion. President John Adams signed the Sedition Act into law out of fear that the mob violence that characterized the French Revolution could make its way to the United States. President Thomas Jefferson signed into law the Insurrection Act of 1807, which permits the president to use the military to suppress violent civil disorders. The American founders at heart were not radicals…they simply wanted the British government to remain true to its principles. Likewise, those who want more police accountability in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and protest through non-violent means wish the police to be true to the law.


Latson, J. (2014, December 16). Then as Now, the Tea Party Proved Divisive. Time.

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MLK: A Riot is the Language of the Unheard. (2013, August 25). CBS News.

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Norton, A. (2019, May 8). “The Sublimity of it, charms me!”: John Adams and the Boston Tea Party. Massachusetts Historical Society.

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Smith, K. (2020, June 1). No, Martin Luther King Was Not Pro-Riot. National Review.

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The Boston Tea Party – Introduction. Massachusetts Historical Society.

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Jackson’s article: