Friday, October 9, 2020

Book Review: On The Trail of Delusion

Introduction

What connects Lee Harvey Oswald, George De Mohrenschildt, George Bouhe and Jack Ruby in the mind of Jim Garrison? The answer is the theory of “propinquity,” but after reading Fred Litwin’s new book, On the Trail of Delusion: Jim Garrison: The Great Accuser, it is obvious that is the wrong question. The real query is-why did anyone believe that the nutty Garrison had one scintilla of substantive evidence to connect Clay Shaw or anyone else to the JFK assassination? And a great follow-up to that would be-why does the discredited Garrison continue to retain devotes to this very day?

The question of why anyone listened to Garrison has at least a plausible answer, but the follow-up is harder to wrap your mind around. Litwin points out that Garrison, the sixties New Orleans District Attorney who was infamous for his prosecution of businessman Shaw, was a commanding 6 feet 6 inches tall and wielded an air of integrity by virtue of his charisma and booming voice. He dressed impeccably, was well read and fast on his feet, and used the maturing medium of television to his advantage. Garrison charged Shaw with conspiracy to kill Kennedy in 1967, and assured a myriad of journalists, Playboy magazine, Johnny Carson and anyone else who would listen that he had unraveled the New Orleans based plot. So, everyone assumed that Garrison “had something” to back up his audacious claims. But he did not, as Litwin shows.

Garrison’s abuse of power and shameful distortion of the judicial process would be almost comical if it were not for the lives ruined and money wasted. Litwin provides the most complete chronicle of the farce since Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 tome Reclaiming History and adds new information gleaned from his extensive research which included the use of nineteen separate document archives.

Why should anyone concern themselves with the discredited Garrison at this late date? Litwin points out that “a new wave” of individuals has appeared that thinks the “jolly green giant” was right all along. A few of these people have created a political magazine called garrison dedicated to exposing the “deep politics” of the current age. In its pages, you will find stories from 9/11 truthers and claims that FDR was murdered, that Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain, and that the CIA offed Robert Kennedy. Additionally, Garrison devotee Jim DiEugenio is currently partnering with Oliver Stone on a documentary film that will no doubt resurrect at least a few of big Jim’s canards. More on DiEugenio later.

The Mind of Jim Garrison

Litwin, a marketing professional from Canada, has now authored three books-two of those on the JFK killing. Litwin makes the case that Garrison was a “dangerous” and psychologically damaged individual who was able to run wild because of his personal magnetism and because he amused his constituents in a city where entertainment is taken for granted. When Garrison was discharged from the military in the early fifties, a report noted he was suffering from, “a severe and disabling psychoneurosis of long duration” that had “interfered with his social and professional adjustment to a marked degree.” The report concluded, “He is considered totally disabled from the standpoint of military duty and moderately severely incapacitated in civilian adaptability. His illness … is of the type that will require long term psychotherapeutic approach, which is not feasible in a military hospital.”

Learning that Garrison had mental problems makes his belief in “propinquity” easier to understand if not accept. What is “propinquity” anyway? That problematic investigative method was explained by Garrison staffer Tom Bethel:

“In Dallas, at the time of the assassination there lived a Russian-émigré oil geologist named George De Mohrenschildt who had befriended Lee Harvey Oswald after Lee returned from the Soviet Union in 1962 (whither he had defected in 1959). There was another member of the Dallas émigré community named George Bouhe, who knew De Mohrenschildt (who knew Oswald). And city directories showed Bouhe lived right opposite … Jack Ruby! (he shot Oswald, just in case you had forgotten.) And there you have the long-sought Oswald-Ruby link—based on propinquity.”

Joining the DA’s office in 1957, Garrison rose through the ranks and was himself elected District Attorney in 1962. Litwin provides ample evidence that he was a corrupt individual who abused the power of his office. For example, Garrison used the grand jury as his personal court by packing it with his friends from the New Orleans Athletic Club. During grand jury sessions, witnesses were not allowed to have legal representation and hearsay and opinions were allowed in the atmosphere of secrecy.

One of Garrison’s favorite techniques was to subpoena a witness and then charge them with perjury thus rendering them unable to leave the jurisdiction. These individuals had a difficult time getting a mortgage or finding a job and thus people feared going before a Garrison grand jury. Garrison instituted a crackdown on “police characters, homosexuals, B-drinkers, prostitutes and narcotics violators.” Gays were a favorite target of the homophobic Garrison who was himself accused of fondling a thirteen-year-old boy in 1969. One unlucky individual was arrested for the vague crime of “Being a homosexual in an establishment with a liquor license.” Being an equal opportunity accuser, Garrison also launched campaigns against judges, the police, the Louisiana Parole Board and the legislature.

Garrison Takes on the JFK Case

By the summer of 1966, Garrison was bored with “cleaning up” the big easy. After perusing a few conspiracy books, he decided to investigate the JFK assassination. Initially conducting his inquiry in secrecy, Garrison was forced out into the open by a news story that reported the questionable use of taxpayer funds for his “work.” He told Life magazine’s Richard Billings, “I’m gonna use every legal form of power I have at my disposal. I have the power available, and I’m gonna use it.” Litwin quips, “It was an exciting time to be alive. Jim Garrison was now the most powerful politician in Louisiana, and he was going to reveal the truth. What could possibly go wrong?”

Garrison based his assassination theories on a crazy cast of characters. Jack Martin, who FBI agent Regis Kennedy called a “self-styled New Orleans private eye” with a “poor reputation” and a “psychopathic personality,” put Garrison on to former Eastern Airlines pilot David Ferrie who big Jim thought was the “transportation manager” of the plot. Garrison resurrected jive talking attorney Dean Andrews who had spun a story immediately after the assassination of receiving a call from a man named “Bertrand” asking him to represent Oswald. After Oswald was shot, Andrews embellished the story to include visits by him to his office accompanied by up to five homosexuals. As Andrews continued to mold the story, “Bertrand” morphed into the gay “Clay Bertrand” who might have accompanied Oswald on office visits. Garrison ultimately “knew” Clay Shaw had to be Bertrand since they were “both homosexuals, both spoke Spanish, and both had the same first name.”

Perry Russo

On February 22, 1967, Garrison suspect David Ferrie was found dead in his apartment. Garrison claimed he committed suicide by overdosing on his thyroid medication, but the cause of death was determined to be a berry aneurism and toxicology tests proved negative. With the death of Ferrie, aides tried to get Garrison to “drop the faltering investigation and save face,” then write a book or run for governor. But Garrison’s probe was given new life when a friend of Ferrie’s, Perry Russo, came forward. Russo originally told the media only that Ferrie had threatened JFK. When interviewed by Garrison’s office, Russo said Ferrie knew Shaw and that a bearded Oswald could resemble Ferrie’s roommate. But Russo still said nothing about a conspiracy. However, under the effects of sodium pentothal and hypnosis, Russo recalled a plot to kill Kennedy involving Shaw, Oswald and Ferrie.

Litwin describes Russo’s testimony at the preliminary hearing thusly:

In the middle of September 1963, he walked into a party at David Ferrie’s apartment. By the end of the evening, only a few people were left, including Leon Oswald (whom Russo claimed was Lee Harvey Oswald), Clem Bertrand, David Ferrie, and Perry Russo. They discussed the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a triangulation of gunshots, and flying the assassin out of the country, and they said that all participants should do something noticeable on the day of the assassination so that they could have alibis. Russo described Oswald as dirty and as having whiskers [Oswald was always clean shaven and neat]. He also identified Clay Shaw as Clem Bertrand.

But the veracity of Russo’s assertions was in question. When Lieutenant Edward O’Donnell of the New Orleans Police Department attempted to administer a polygraph, Russo’s constant movement caused erratic readings. O’Donnell removed the apparatus and questioned Russo who stated that “he was under a great deal of pressure, and that he was sorry he ever got involved in this mess.” O’Donnell continued:

“So, I then asked him was Clay Shaw there at the David Ferrie apartment, and he asked me if I really wanted to know, and I said yes, of course, that’s why you are here, and he said, I don’t know. He said again, I don’t know. I said, “Well, Perry, Clay Shaw is a big man; he’s the type of person who, after you see him, you would probably remember him.” I said, was he there, or wasn’t he?” His answer was, “If you really want a yes or no answer, I would have to say no.”

O’Donnell reported the incident to Garrison who “became enraged and stated something to the effect that I had sold out to the press, or … sold out to the establishment.” O’Donnell prepared a written report, which was ignored.

Garrison’s Theories

Garrison’s portrayed his first theory of the assassination this way:

“They had the same motive as Loeb and Leopold when they murdered Bobby Franks in Chicago back in the twenties,” Garrison said. “It was a homosexual thrill-killing, plus the excitement of getting away with a perfect crime. John Kennedy was everything that Dave Ferrie was not-a successful, handsome, popular, wealthy, virile man. You can just picture the charge Ferrie got out of plotting his death.”

Kennedy was the “victim of a sick and vicious homosexual plot,” according to Garrison investigator Joel Palmer. Oswald was “steeped in the homosexual underworld” and had developed a “bitter hatred” for Fidel Castro. According to Palmer, the homosexual circle consisted of Oswald, Ruby, Ferrie, Shaw, Russo, and J. D. Tippit, a police officer whom Oswald killed on the afternoon of the assassination, and he was certain that they were involved in “one of the most unique and diabolical plots in the history of the world.”

But shortly after Shaw’s arrest, a series of articles in Rome’s communist newspaper Paese Sera provided Garrison with fresh material. The articles claimed that Shaw had participated in unsavory actions while serving on the board of Permindex-Centro Mondiale Commerciale, a corporation founded in the late 1950s to take advantage of the new European common market. Paese Sera alleged that this corporation was a “creature of the CIA … set up as a cover for the transfer to Italy of CIA-FBI funds for illegal political-espionage activities.” The newspaper repeated the Garrison allegation that Shaw’s International Trade Mart “had turned over varying sums of money as contributions to the so-called Cubans in exile.” Other left-leaning outlets picked up on the story. Years later, it was determined through evidence uncovered by researcher Paul Hoch in the Mitrokhin archive that the story may have been the product of the KGB propaganda machine.

Garrison gave up on the concept of a “homosexual thrill killing” since he now had “proof” of something much bigger through the Paese Sera articles. Those pieces and the influence of conspiracy buffs led him to postulate multiple conspiracy scenarios that included elements such as, “a fourteen-man band of Cuban guerrilla fighters,” “the Dallas police force,” “oil-rich psychotic millionaires,” “anti-Castro adventurers” and “ultra-militant para-military elements who were patriotic in a psychotic sense.” One such scenario that Garrison divulged to Playboy illustrates the absurdity of his logic:

“We’ve uncovered additional evidence establishing absolutely that there were at least four men on the grassy knoll, at least two behind the picket fence and two or more behind a small wall to the right of the fence. As I reconstruct it from the still-incomplete evidence in our possession, one man fired at the President from each location, while the role of his companion was to snatch up the cartridges as they were ejected.”

Even other conspiracy believers saw the humor in Garrison’s reasoning. Author Sylvia Meagher commented, “without intending levity on matters as grave as these, I have to admit that Garrison’s theory of men on the grassy knoll whose sole function was ‘to catch the cartridges as they were ejected from the assassins’ rifles’ strikes me as comical.”

Shaw is Acquitted and Recharged

Despite Garrison’s pre-trial rhetoric and the extremely low bar the prosecution had to clear, when the long-awaited trail arrived it quickly became clear that the evidence against Shaw was completely lacking. Dean Andrews declined to implicate Shaw and Russo disavowed a conspiracy. There were new witnesses from Clinton and Jackson, Louisiana who said they saw Oswald, Ferrie and Shaw together. But there were numerous problems with their claims. A surprise witness named Charles Spiesel also remembered an Oswald-Ferrie-Shaw connection. But Spiesel lost credibility when it was shown (among other things) that he fingerprinted his own children in the morning to make sure the government hadn’t replaced them with doubles during the night.

Shaw was quickly found not guilty but he had little time to celebrate. The next business day after the verdict, Garrison charged him with perjury for his statements that he had never met Lee Harvey Oswald or David Ferrie. Garrison conducted an investigation to support the new charges but came up empty handed. In May 1971 Judge Christenberry ruled in favor of Clay Shaw and granted a permanent injunction against further prosecution. He noted that “to characterize these facts [of Garrison’s investigation] as unique and bizarre is no exaggeration.” Garrison, Christenberry said, had “offered no evidence to show any basis or cause for his office’s interrogation of the plaintiff concerning such a shocking crime.”

The judge concluded that Garrison acted in bad faith, resorting to the use of both hypnosis and drugs in order to fabricate his story. Garrison appealed all the way to the Supreme Court without success. Soon after his legal victories, Shaw died of cancer. He was, as Litwin notes, “ruthlessly deprived of not only the best years of his retirement but most of his savings too.” Litwin also chronicles the plight of lesser-known Garrison victims such as Louis Bloomfield and Edgar Eugene Bradley. Speaking of the latter, even DiEugenio admits, “[Garrison] did some things I wish he had not done, like the Edgar Eugene Bradley indictment.”

Oliver Stone and the Rehabilitation of Garrison

In the eighties, Garrison busied himself with writing his memoirs. McGraw-Hill, who had published a novel by Garrison, passed on his latest manuscript. Prentice Hall gave Garrison a $10,000 advance for a book, but Sylvia Meagher did a 26-page writeup noting several problems with his work which prompted the publisher to reject the manuscript and recover the hefty advance. Finally, Garrison found a friendly publisher in the form of Sheridan Square Publications. The owners of the firm were Ellen Ray and William Schaap, who along with CIA turncoat Phillip Agee, had been involved with the CovertAction Information Bulletin, which sought to “out” the identities of CIA personnel around the globe.

Garrison’s editor, Zachary Skalar, turned the manuscript into a first-person narrative that repeated the “case” against Shaw. The book, called On the Trail of the Assassins, expunged some of the more dubious aspects of the Garrison investigation and replaced them with accusations of sabotage by the CIA and infiltration of the investigation by individuals close to the probe. New Orleans States-Item reporter Rosemary James called the book, “a great piece of fiction.” Although James wasn’t impressed, Oliver Stone was. The filmmaker paid $250,000 for the movie rights and hired Skalar as his screenwriter.

Litwin notes that Stone’s 1991 film JFK maintained the fiction that Shaw was the “evil gay mastermind along with his band of conspiring homosexuals.” Many critics were also less than impressed with the homophobic bent. David Ehrenstein called Stone’s work, “the most homophobic movie ever to come out of Hollywood.” “Even supposing these men were conspirators,” the Gay & Lesbian Alliance for Defamation noted, “the lurid depiction of their gayness, to augment Stone’s portrait of evil, is purely homophobic.” The New York Times said that, “Shaw’s homosexuality is meant to signify nothing except the fact that he’s sinister and capable of murder. The inclusion of the orgy scene is gratuitous. Mr. Stone might as well have shown Jack Ruby bargaining with other Jews in the back row at temple.”

As it turns out, such an anti-Semitic portrayal could have been in the back of Stone’s mind. Stone believes 9/11 was a “revolt,” and he told the Sunday Times that Jewish control of the media was preventing an open discussion of the Holocaust and that an upcoming film of his would place Hitler and Stalin in context. Stone went on to claim that, “Israel had [expletive deleted] up American foreign policy” for years. The anti-American Stone has gone on to make fawning film projects about Castro, Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin, whom he described as a “stabilizing force” in Syria. A few months after that comment, he told Putin’s propaganda arm Russia Today, “Empires fall, let’s pray that this empire [the United States], these evil things … because we are the evil empire. What Reagan said about Russia is true about us.”

In Stone’s film, Garrison meets the mysterious Mr. X who delivers a rambling monologue on the assassination. “The organizing principle of any society is for war,” X tells Garrison adding that JFK had to be killed because of his plan to pull out of Vietnam and end the cold war. Additionally, X claimed that the 112th Military Intelligence Group at Fort Sam Houston was ordered to “stand down”, resulting in a purposeful lack of security for Kennedy. All these claims are “pure fabrication” maintains Litwin.

“Kennedy did have plans to remove a thousand troops by the end of 1963,” Litwin says. “But it was contingent on progress training the South Vietnamese Army.” Litwin goes on to note that, “National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) #273, signed by Lyndon Johnson a few days after the assassination, said that “The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U. S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963.” Indeed, respected Vietnam War historian Stanley Karnow wrote that NSAM #273, “perpetuated the Kennedy policy.”

Indeed, shortly before his death, Kennedy told Walter Cronkite, “I don’t agree with those who say we should withdraw,” and similarly advised NBC’s Chet Huntley that “we are not there to see a war lost.” And a speech that he was to give during the fateful Dallas trip warned that Vietnam would be, “painful, risky and costly … but we dare not weary of the task,” adding that “reducing our efforts to train, equip and assist [the allied] armies can only encourage Communist penetration and require in the time the increased overseas deployment of American combat forces.”

“It’s a left-wing myth that Kennedy wanted to end the Cold War,” Litwin says. “His planned speech for Austin, Texas, bragged about increases in the military budget. Historian Michael Beschloss agrees saying that Kennedy had initiated, “the largest peacetime defense buildup since 1945,” and had overseen more “covert action than by any president since the CIA was founded.” Litwin concludes that “Kennedy was a Cold Warrior through and through.” Stone’s “Mr. X” nonsense was based on Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, who had “a history of crackpot relationships” as Litwin shows.

Prouty was associated at one time or another with the Lyndon LaRouche organization, the Church of Scientology and the far-right Liberty Lobby whose founder, Willis Carto, believed that the Jews were “public enemy number one.” Litwin says that Prouty was an advisory board member of Liberty Lobby’s Populist Action Committee, which had been formed, “to support a variety of bigoted candidates for public office.” Additionally, the Institute for Historical Review, a Carto organization that denied the Holocaust, republished Prouty’s 1973 book, The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World.

Indeed, according to JFK researcher Edward Jay Epstein, “When the Liberty Lobby held its annual Board of Policy convention in 1991, he [Prouty] presented a special seminar, ‘Who is the Enemy?’ which blamed the high price of oil on a systematic plot of a cabal to shut down oil pipelines deliberately in the Middle East. ‘Why?’ he asked and explained to the seminar: ‘Because of the Israelis. That is their business on behalf of the oil companies. That’s why they get $3 billion a year from the U.S. taxpayer.’” In a private letter, Prouty elaborated and said that “major pipelines from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and others are dry because of Israeli threats and unrest.” According to Robert Sam Anson, when Prouty was asked about Carto’s belief that the Holocaust never happened, he replied “I’m no authority in that area.”

Prouty’s idea that the 112th Military Intelligence Group (MIG) was ordered to “stand down” was based on a phone call he supposedly made to the 316th Field Detachment of the 112th MIG. But when questioned in 1996, Prouty said he was the one who had been called and had no recollection of the caller’s name. “You know, that phone call has troubled me for a long time,” Prouty admitted. “I’m not sure that guy was even authentic.” The commander of the group in question thought that Prouty had been “smoking something” and was so incensed by his comments that he wanted to take legal action. Undeniably, the excesses and fabrications in Stone’s film have been known for years. Researcher Dave Reitzes did one of the best takedowns of the film.

Jim DiEugenio and the Neo-Garrisonites

Litwin’s previous book, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak told the story of Clay Shaw. Litwin says that his book was well received except for, “a group of neo-Garrisonites who took great offense at his portrayal” of the conspiracy-minded DA. One of these individuals is the aforementioned DiEugenio who wrote his own book on the Garrison case called Destiny Betrayed. Litwin says that DiEugenio became “obsessed” with him for a short period of time. “He claimed that I owned a media empire and that I wrote for an alt-right website,” Litwin writes, “and he threatened to start a ‘Litwin Watch.’” DiEugenio accused Litwin of not having reviewed all the documentation on the Garrison matter, a claim which Litwin concedes is “partly right.”

“I decided to have a look,” Litwin says, adding, “I began going through the files and immediately started finding memos that were utterly crazy, and I started putting them aside. The more I read, the more it confirmed the fact that Jim Garrison had nothing. Most of his leads were little more than rumors, which naturally led nowhere.” DiEugenio is one of three authors whom Litwin devotes an entire chapter to, the other two being William Davy and Joan Mellen. Litwin accuses these writers of, “invincible ignorance” and says they “peddle ridiculous conspiracy theories.” Litwin says that all three authors, “believe that federal agencies interfered with Garrison’s investigation and that Garrison was betrayed from within by a coterie of spies and agents.” They echo the chestnut that “Kennedy had to be killed because he was going to end the Cold War, withdraw from Vietnam, and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity.”

Of the three writers, Mellen is the “most credulous” says Litwin. The “centerpiece” of her work is the conman Thomas Beckham who Litwin notes, “fooled Garrison, and so it’s no surprise that he fooled Mellen.” Litwin concedes that, “It takes chutzpah to argue that Clay Shaw was involved in the JFK assassination, but all three books take a shot. This means they thus have to prove that Shaw was Clay Bertrand.” In this regard, DiEugenio and Mellen rely mostly on witnesses including a private statement that the dubious Dean Andrews allegedly made to Harold Weisberg. But Litwin cautions that “Andrews was always adamant that Shaw was not Bertrand.” Also, Weisberg said that “Andrews told me that Shaw was Bertrand without putting it that way.” Litwin concludes, “It seems to me that Weisberg read just a little too much into his words.”

A witness that DiEugenio finds, “utterly fascinating” is Leander D’avy. In 1977, D’avy was called to testify by the HSCA and told a story of entering a small apartment where he found Oswald lying across the bed. D’avy also observed David Ferrie and the three tramps, which pretty much destroys his credibility for Litwin and other reasonable people. But if that isn’t enough, D’avy also saw Jack Ruby, Garrison favorite Fred Crisman and Beckham. No wonder the HSCA said there were, “serious questions about his credibility.”

DiEugenio maintains that Clay Shaw’s maid Virginia Johnson said that “a man who stayed with Shaw on several occasions told her that Shaw had used the name of Bertrand.” However, Litwin points out that Johnson’s statement says something altogether different. Johnson said that she had heard the name Bertrand, but she was not sure of the details. Litwin writes:

Lots of people were talking to her; she had conversations at a fabric class about the case, but “When asked if Mr. Formadol [sic] [she was clearly talking about Shaw’s friend William Formyduval] referred to Mr. Shaw as Bertrand, she stated no.” Garrison’s investigators went back several months later for another interview, and this time she said that “she had never heard the name, Bertrand.” Litwin provides many other examples of the poor scholarship of DiEugenio, Davy and Mellen.

Conclusion

Fred Litwin has written a book that will be warmly welcomed by anyone who enjoys cold war era history and even long-time students of the Garrison saga will find fresh material here. Novices to the case will no doubt be shocked by the homophobia in both Garrison’s original investigation and Stone’s film and by Prouty and Stone’s anti-Semitic remarks. Undeniably, all but the most credulous Garrison acolytes will be appalled by the demonstrable miscarriage of justice against Clay Shaw and others documented by Litwin in this fine book.

Read a Review of Litwin's Book by Gerald Posner

4 comments:

  1. Good review Tracy. To this day Garrison supporters can never explain what Clay Shaw's alleged role in the assassination of the President. It was a shameful miscarriage of justice that ruined an innocent man's life. No doubt, the Garrisonites will be outraged.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment and for taking the time to read the review Steve.

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    2. I would suggest that the Garrisonites - those that admit that Shaw was innocent - would fall back to what Oliver Stone said about the investigation: "Sometimes in a war you have to sacrifice people."
      Using this defense, they would reply that the greater good that Garrison accomplished in his "war", e.g., "exposing" the CIA's role, justified the "sacrifice" of a Shaw. Or a Ferrie. Or the others that Garrison smeared.

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  2. Clay Shaw eloquently makes the case for LHO as lone assassin in a letter to Sylvia Meagher:

    https://www.onthetrailofdelusion.com/post/sylvia-meagher-and-jim-garrison-part-one

    ReplyDelete

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