Saturday, 24 January 2015 20:29

Honor to Paris Flammonde

We all owe thanks to Paris Flammonde for sailing against the current. He didn't care about being "respectable." He understood that, with the MSM, there really was no such thing as being respectable on the JFK case. For the simple reason that they had prostituted themselves on the subject in every way, and from the very start, writes Jim DiEugenio.

By James DiEugenio

Because Paris Flammonde lived in a small town and had retired long ago from his former rather high profile radio and writing career, his November passing went relatively unnoticed. CTKA belatedly found out about it through a posting by Albert Doyle at Deep Politics Forum. And even that was a rather non-descript notice. Flammonde deserves more. Much more.

I got to know Flammonde back in the early nineties when I was writing my book, the first edition of Destiny Betrayed. At that time, there really was not a lot of information to be had in secondary sources about the New Orleans aspects of the JFK assassination, or about the inquiry into that case by Jim Garrison. The ARRB had not been set up yet and that hindered access to much of the primary data. And one must recall that, at that time, there was not very much of value in the published book length sources. Unless one wanted to read hatchet jobs like American Grotesque. (Which, we later discovered, had been commissioned by Clay Shaw.) The obvious exception was Garrison's own book, On the Trail of the Assassins.

I knew this since I had traveled all over southern California looking for a good and balanced book outside the DA's own work. I couldn't find anything. I did not know at that time that two books about Garrison, which were balanced and informational, had been aborted by the outcome of the Clay Shaw trial. One was by Bill Turner and one was by a Garrison assistant named Bill Brown. (These were not discovered until years later by the ARRB.) A previous and earlier effort by Garrison himself had also been killed, even after the DA had signed a contract. Garrison had to return the advance. Why? Because the editor gave the book to, of all people, Sylvia Meagher to critique.

Why do I say "of all people?" Because although Sylvia Meagher wrote an absolutely first class book demolishing the Warren Commission, she was frankly, unhinged on the subject of Jim Garrison. Even those who knew her closely and liked her would admit that. This includes Jerry Policoff, Ray Marcus, and the late Roger Feinman and Margie Field. According to Policoff, Meagher actually gave money to Clay Shaw's defense fund. How on earth could a publisher hire someone like that to critique a book by Garrison? Policoff said to me that Sylvia should not have taken on the assignment.

But this indicates a very good reason why I could not find any book of real value with real information when I started working on my book. When Garrison's investigation was first exposed, and then forcibly announced, most of the critics were joyous. But as the vitriolic and systematic attack on Garrison out of both New York (the media) and Washington (the CIA and FBI) took hold, many of the critics began to desert the DA. But not just desert him; they actually joined in the onslaught. In addition to Sylvia Meagher, there was also, for example, David Lifton. Lifton wrote two articles in the alternative press caricaturing Garrison. He did this largely because Garrison had seen a lot more in Kerry Thornley than Lifton did. For instance that Thornley had lied about not meeting with Oswald in the summer of 1963 in New Orleans. (For a good treatment of this subject, see Joe Biles' valuable book, In History's Shadow. For a shorter precis see Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition pgs. 187-93.) Lifton even helped Edward Epstein compose his hatchet job on Garrison in The New Yorker in 1968. This turned into the first entry on the anti-Garrison bookshelf, Counterplot.

It was incredible, but true, that none of these critics understood what was happening. They actually took the likes of Hugh Aynesworth, James Phelan, and Walter Sheridan seriously. Garrison was a charlatan or worse, and Clay Shaw was a persecuted saint. There really was nothing to find in New Orleans. And the information Garrison had was not worth looking at.

With the release of the ARRB records, we now know this was not at all the case. Not by a long shot. People like Paul Hoch, Josiah Thompson, Peter Scott and Tony Summers were buying into a CIA cover story. But because Garrison was "discredited," they wanted to avoid any contact with him; so they could escape the tarring and feathering the DA had gotten in the press. The insinuation being that if they could avoid that association, then they would be taken seriously by the MSM.

We now know of course that, with very few exceptions, such was not the case. The latest reissue of Summers' book, for example, ended up on the cover of the National Enquirer. Today Summers says, well, the JFK case may be a conspiracy, but if it is, the Mafia did it. Paul Hoch, it turned out, had not disclosed the evidence that Luis Alvarez' infamous experiment about the jet effect was something he assisted on and was, to put it mildly, flawed. (This was discussed by Thompson at the Passing the Torch conference in Pittsburgh in 2013.) Scott's subsequent career; in which he extended praise to the likes of Lamar Waldron-- suggests he never met a conspiracy theory on the JFK case he did not like. Except Garrison's. Thompson, as late as December of 1967 was questioning Garrison's statement that Kennedy's murder was a coup d'etat. And defending the MSM's silence on the issue! (ibid, p. 381) In other words, the idea was this: the further you separated yourself from New Orleans and Garrison, the more respectability one had in the research community. And in the MSM.

My questions about this strategy back in the early nineties were these:

  1. Had the MSM given the critics a fair airing, even though they had scurried like rats from a sinking ship out of New Orleans? I could see very little evidence of that in all the years from 1969 to 1991.
  2. Was there valuable information to be had in New Orleans in the summer of 1963 about Oswald? As far as I could see, there was.
  3. Had these critics actually given Garrison a fair shake? That is, did they go through his materials and talk to his investigators and witnesses? Or were they doing the opposite, that is echoing the orchestrated choir that the media had assembled? They seemed to be doing the latter.
  4. Finally, in the interim, had these critics come up with anything better than what Garrison had, either in the gestalt--that is a macro view--or on the ground level, in the way of suspects and discoveries? In writing my first book, it seemed to me that they had not. Unless one agreed with Summers and Scott, that the Mafia was a major player in the JFK murder.

I did not believe that was the case. Not then, and not now. Therefore, I didn't buy this self-serving and reflexive phobia/mania about Garrison. So I kept an open mind.

Then, one Saturday, I drove to the library at California State Dominguez Hills, near Long Beach. It was a long ride from where I lived at the time. But I figured I had to keep on looking for a major source book. On that day I found Paris Flammonde's The Kennedy Conspiracy. I had not heard of this book before. In fact, many of the critics just ignored both the book and the man. Since it focused on the Garrison investigation, I checked it out and brought it home.

As anyone who has read the first edition of Destiny Betrayed knows, Flammonde's book was an invaluable source for me. My first book would not exist in the form it does without Paris Flammonde. There was extremely relevant information to be found there on Clay Shaw, David Ferrie, Gordon Novel, and Dean Andrews, among many others. Information one could not find anywhere else. Information that other writers in the interim; for bewildering reasons; had failed to use. When my book came out, many people who read it thanked me for exposing them for the first time to Flammonde's book. One researcher went and got it from a library and said, "That's a good book now." This was in 1992, 23 years after The Kennedy Conspiracy was first published.

I decided to contact Flammonde while doing research for that book. I wrote him a letter and told him to call me on the weekend. He did so and I was glad he did. When I asked him how he got all that wonderful information in his book, he told me something very interesting. He said, toward the end, on the eve of the Shaw trial, the DA was calling him up every weekend. He said, "I was the only source he could trust at that stage. He knew that what he was saying was being distorted, censored, and perverted. He felt I was the only person at that time who would treat him fairly." Flammonde also told me that he subscribed to both New Orleans papers. And finally, he said that he had developed some good sources on his trips to New Orleans.

When I asked him why he had written the book--and stuck it out to completion--he said it was simple: He had always been drawn to the offbeat things in the news. (He had spent awhile in radio in New York City.) Secondly, when he went to New Orleans, he was convinced by talking to Garrison that something had happened there in the summer of 1963. Therefore, he went the extra mile. For instance, he paid a ducal sum to have the articles in the Italian press about Permindex translated into English so he could use them in his book. I personally thanked him for that since it did much to peel back the cover story around Clay Shaw. I asked him how the book did in sales. He said it was simple. Before the Shaw verdict the book did well. After the verdict came in, it tanked. That hurt us all I think. Because the book was such a unique effort.

When I was doing my early research, and making my first appearances at conferences, this negative attitude about Jim Garrison was still prevalent. I will never forget an occurrence at Doug Carlson's conference in Chicago in 1993. I was on stage and I made a comment about the terrible preemptive strike made on Oliver Stone's film JFK in the media, and also by some in the research community. Paul Hoch had a tantrum. He got up and asked Tink Thompson his opinion about Jim Garrison. That was a nice tag team act from two men who knew zilch about the subject. From the lectern, Hoch actually said that anyone who discovers anything about Clay Shaw in the new files should ignore it! I was stunned at this. It seemed to me to be the opposite of what doing academic research was all about. New information was new information. No matter who it was about. And William Davy's fine book, Let Justice be Done, proved there was a lot of new information in the declassified files about Clay Shaw.

Peter Scott said something just as bizarre. But more prolix. At that conference, I read the compelling Fred Leemans' confession. This demonstrated how Leemans had been suborned to lie by Walter Sheridan on his NBC special. (See Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, pgs. 240-41). Just recently declassified at the National Archives, and sent to me by Peter Vea, this was the first time the document had been read in public. It had a powerful effect on the audience. When I read the document, I had been on a panel with Peter Scott and John Newman. During the following Q and A, Scott felt he had to interject something about the Leemans confession. So he said it was a result of the war Bobby Kennedy had carried out against Jimmy Hoffa, through Sheridan, and somehow Garrison; and Leemans -- got caught in the conflagration. I didn't understand what that meant then. And I don't understand it now. In fact, I don't even want to think about it. But it helps illustrate just how reflexive and irrational the reaction, even at that time, was against Jim Garrison.

Thank God, this has been largely reversed today. Further work by myself, Bill Davy, Biles and Joan Mellen have shown that, contrary to what Hoch and Scott and Summers were selling, Jim Garrison did have a lot of interesting evidence. So much so that his successor as DA, the disgraceful Harry Connick, incinerated much of it. He then lied about it. (ibid, pgs. 319-22) So, as much as we have from Garrison's files today, no one will ever know what was actually there originally.

It was Paris Flammonde who first alerted us to the fact that there was something in those files. Something valuable, revealing, sinister and dramatic. As Joan Didion once said, Garrison was turning over large stones and revealing a whole new dimension about the crime. Therefore, unlike what Summers said at the AARC Conference in Washington last year, Garrison did not conduct a circus. The circus was what went on around Garrison. For the FBI and CIA were determined not to let him proceed unimpeded. Because at the first meeting of the CIA's Garrison Group, ordered up by Director Richard Helms, Ray Rocca said, if that happened, Clay Shaw would be convicted. (ibid, p. 270) So the CIA and FBI pulled out all the stops. To the point of secretly aiding Shaw's lawyers. A fact that Shaw's lawyers lied about forever. And a fact that Hoch, Scott and Summers ignore to this day.

We all owe thanks to Paris Flammonde for sailing against the current. He didn't care about being "respectable." He understood that, with the MSM, there really was no such thing as being respectable on the JFK case. For the simple reason that they had prostituted themselves on the subject in every way, and from the very start.

Paris Flammonde, in that respect, was a pioneer. And a courageous one. On his death, I salute him for his valiant, much ignored, but invaluable effort.

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