Saturday, 05 March 2022 19:53

The Overthrow Attempt of 1934

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Ron Canazzi, a new contributor to KennedysAndKing, reviews Jonathan M. Katz’ new book Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire with a particular view toward the overlap of Smedley Butler’s military deployments with the business exploits of Sullivan Cromwell and Brown Brothers Harriman and toward the parallels with the assassinations of the 1960s and the insurrection of January 6th, 2021.

Was there really a businessman’s plot to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt’s government in 1934? Jonathan M. Katz in his new book Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire isn’t sure.

He begins his book with a meeting, allegedly between retired US Marine General Smedley Butler and a prominent Wall Street Stock power broker. It actually starts in 1933. Gerald C. MacGuire, a representative of a prominent Wall Street brokerage house, starts trying to recruit Smedley Butler. He wants Butler to speak against Franklin D. Roosevelt and his policy of taking the dollar off the gold standard at an American Legion conference in Chicago, but it broadens from there. And by 1934, MacGuire is sending Butler postcards from the French Riviera, where he’s just arrived from fascist Italy, and also Berlin. Then he comes to Butler’s hometown of Philadelphia and asks him to lead a column of half a million World War I veterans up Pennsylvania Avenue for the purpose of intimidating FDR into either resigning outright or handing off all his executive powers to an all-powerful, unelected cabinet secretary who the plotters backing MacGuire were going to name.

Butler was a celebrated US Marine general having had experience on multiple battlefields from 1898 to the 1920s. In the summer of 1932, while the depression was deepening, he led a group of thousands of World War I veterans in a march on Washington to demand they be given access to their promised World War I pensions. It is for these reasons that the plotters chose Butler to lead the revolt.

The coup plotters included the head of General Motors Alfred P. Sloan, as well as J.P. Morgan Jr. and the former president of DuPont, Irénée du Pont, and probably Gerald MacGuire’s boss, Wall Street luminary Grayson Murphy. The group asked the celebrated Marine Corps officer Smedley Butler to lead a military coup. But Butler refused and revealed what he knew to members of Congress.

This is a portion of General Smedley Butler speaking before the committee in 1934:

I appeared before the congressional committee, the highest representation of the American people, under subpoena to tell what I knew of activities which I believed might lead to an attempt to set up a fascist dictatorship.

The plan, as outlined to me, was to form an organization of veterans to use as a bluff, or as a club at least, to intimidate the government and break down democratic institutions. The upshot of the whole thing was that I was supposed to lead an organization of 500,000 men which would be able to take over the functions of government.

I talked with an investigator for this committee who came to me with a subpoena on Sunday, November 18. He told me they had unearthed evidence linking my name with several such veteran organizations. As it then seemed to me to be getting serious, I felt it was my duty to tell all I knew of such activities to this committee.

My main interest in all this is to preserve our democratic institutions. I want to retain the right to vote, the right to speak freely, and the right to write. If we maintain these basic principles, our democracy is safe. No dictatorship can exist with suffrage, freedom of speech and press.

From that point on, Katz takes us on an extended tour of all the places where Smedly Butler helped to build the American Empire. From his first action as a raw volunteer in the Spanish American War through his two tours of duty in China, to his aid in the Panamanian revolution that resulted in the establishment of an independent nation of Panama which was submissive to the US desire to build a canal, to his aid in crushing rebellions in the Philippines, Haiti, The Dominican Republic and Mexico, Katz extensively catalogues the rise and exploitation of the American Empire.

Katz actually visited many of the places Butler served. And he combines interviews with historians of the various countries along with personal papers of Butler and many prominent businessmen to paint a rather ugly picture of the conquest, establishment, and development of the American Empire.

For Kennedys and King website visitors, two groups that keep popping up during the extensive cataloguing of the events described in the book are Sullivan Cromwell and Brown Brothers Harriman. These two business entities were involved in many of the enterprises in Latin America described in the book. As Kennedys and King visitors recognize, these two entities are often linked as possible high-level orchestrators of the JFK assassination.

Sullivan and Cromwell was associated with the Dulles Brothers: John Foster, Secretary of State Under President Dwight Eisenhower, and his brother Allen, the notorious CIADirector from 1953–1962, who was fired by JFK after the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion.

Brown Brothers Harriman was associated with the Bush family—namely Prescott Bush. Prescott was heavily involved with investments in Nazi Germany prior to World War II. He was so involved with the Nazis that there was a separate investigation by the same committee that investigated the Butler accusations in the late 1930’s, which was a precursor to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Some documentaries confuse the two investigations. (Apparently the documents associated with these two separate investigations both reside in the same area of the National Archives.) But Katz insists that Butler never mentions Prescott Bush as a conspirator in the 1934 plot.

As for the specifics of the plot, MacGuire told Butler at one of their early meetings in 1934 that very soon, a group identified as ‘The Liberty League’, involving some of the people earlier mentioned (Murphy, duPont, Sloan, etc.) were going to go public with an organization that would stand openly in opposition to FDR’s New Deal programs and agenda. A few weeks later, The New York Times published a front-page article declaring the emergence of The Liberty League which not only featured some of the businessmen, but also used two anti-New Deal Democrats and former Presidential candidates, John W. Davis and Al Smith, as front-men.

The reason why we don’t know more about this plot is because the congressional committee that Butler testified in front of, which was headed by John W. McCormack—who went on to become the longtime speaker of the House—and Samuel Dickstein, who was a Democrat of New York, cut their investigation short. The only people who testified were Butler, a newspaper reporter who Butler had enlisted in sort of an independent investigation, Gerry MacGuire, and the lawyer for one of the minor players in the industrialists’ plot, the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune. Absent that more detailed investigation, Katz isn’t willing to state definitely the extent to which the du Ponts, Sloan, Murphy, and the others were actually involved in the planning of the business plot. They may have been deeply involved and just stopped planning once Butler ratted them out. It’s possible that Grayson Murphy—MacGuire’s boss—hadn’t got them involved yet. Katz isn’t willing to say.

Interestingly enough, the media reaction was quite similar to the more recent response to the 1960s assassination conspiracy research. The business community Butler accused tried to laugh Butler off and used The New York Times, Time Magazine, Henry Ford II’s Dearborn Examiner and other prominent media outlets of the time to debunk Butler’s testimony.

Time Magazine owned by billionaire Henry Luce ran a satirical piece mocking Butler. The New York Times ran a mocking unsigned editorial strongly condemning Butler. While this limited investigation was able to verify all major statements made by Butler, and the few witnesses who testified, again, the mainstream media gave it little publicity—soft peddling it and spending little time on the summary and final analysis of the final congressional sub-committee report. (Sound familiar readers? How about that Assassination Records Review Board report? Who extensively reported on it in the 1990s?) But for all the discounting and snideness, the McCormack/Dickstein report included the following:

In the last few weeks of the committee’s official life, it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country…There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.

Katz sees definite parallels to the January 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington. He points out how MacGuire—the contact person for Butler—had been influenced by a fascist insurrection in Paris a few weeks before his association with Butler. A group called ‘The Fiery Cross’ lead an insurrection to prevent a center left, social democratic party from taking power in France. Using conspiracy theories about fixed elections and the suicide of a rightist leader who they claim was murdered combined with an unhealthy dose of antisemitism, this motley coalition of far right groups stormed the parliament and were almost successful before being suppressed by the authorities. It is that kind of Putsch that MacGuire and his associates hoped could be successful in the United States.

I found this book a very interesting and enlightening read and believe it may have been an earlier precursor to the assassinations of the 1960s as well as a parallel to the January 6th insurgency of 2021.

Last modified on Saturday, 05 March 2022 20:34

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