Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Assassination and Mrs. Paine-Ruth Spied in Nicaragua?

Perhaps one of the most dubious assertions in Max Good's film concerns Ruth Paine's turn as a volunteer in Nicaragua. In addition to being wrong-headed, there is little doubt that this accusation caused Ruth much personal anguish.

Max Good's main propagandist, James DiEugenio, "peace activist" Sue Wheaton and an anonymous source outline their suspicions:

DiEugenio: "Later on in her life Ruth Paine goes down to Nicaragua, and there were reports of her going to Sandinista sympathizer meetings and taking notations of what went down. For many, many people, the veneer has come off Ruth and Michael Paine, and they are just not credible any more."

Anonymous man (image scrambled and voice altered): "I know a woman who in the early 1990s who worked with Ruth Paine as a Christian peace activist in Nicaragua. This was during the time of the civil war in Nicaragua during the Reagan and Bush I years."

Sue Wheaton: "It was a contentious time down there. It was very clear that the CIA was supporting the so-called Contra freedom fighters all the way. The Contras were the ones opposing the Sandinista revolution."

Anonymous man: "The Christian group that this woman and Ruth were involved with was called ProNica. And they were helping the poor people of Nicaragua who naturally sided with the Sandinistas. And because of this, these Christian peace groups were often heavily monitored by our U.S. intelligence agencies."

Ruth Paine: "My work in Nicaragua was with a Quaker organization. We had a project to help the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. And at one of these meetings a woman showed up and proceeded to accuse me of a lot of things."

Wheaton: "She introduced herself as Ruth Paine, representing the Quakers. And I said, well, you're not the Quaker Ruth Paine who knew Marina Oswald are you?"

Anonymous man: "This woman told me that after Sue Wheaton had told people about Ruth's association with the assassination, which they did not know about, then they became even more suspicious of her. She and others in their organization believed that Ruth was a CIA agent or asset who was down there for the purpose of gathering information about the group."

Wheaton: "So Ruth had a photographer that came and was with her. He was there snapping everybody. And that’s when they said, well, we’re doing this article for the Nicaragua Network. But Nicaragua Network had never heard of such a story. They were taking everybody's picture at a meeting, and we tried to take their picture and they left."

Thus, if Good, DiEugenio and Wheaton are to be believed, Ruth Paine first assisted the CIA with their murder of Kennedy. After proving herself in this assassination mission, Paine was apparently not content with simply fading into obscurity and agreed to travel to Nicaragua to do the agency's bidding supporting the Contras. Researcher Greg Doudna looked into the claims made in the film and this article is based on his work.

First, it is necessary to have an understanding of who Wheaton is. She is no doubt a peace activist and a fine woman, but she is also a JFK conspiracy believer and possesses all the inherent biases as a result. Wheaton wrote a paper that she called "Occurrence in Nicaragua" in 1991 to document her interaction with Ruth Paine. The article also outlines her beliefs regarding the JFK killing.

Wheaton wrote that the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) "closed its doors after several of its witnesses were killed and/or died under mysterious circumstances." Wheaton also claims that "many" researchers concluded that the JFK murder was "a conspiracy involving the CIA, organized crime, anti-Castro Cubans, and right-wing activists and businessmen, with prior knowledge and cover-up by the FBI and members of the Dallas police force."

These researchers (whom Wheaton obviously agrees with) also believed that "Oswald had intelligence connections" and while he "probably was involved in the conspiracy in some way," he "did not fire the shots which killed Kennedy (which these researchers conclude came from the front) and possibly did not even fire a gun during the assassination." Needless to say, these beliefs go against the findings of both the Warren Commission and the HSCA whose investigations concluded that Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK and had no connection to US Intelligence.

Most damaging to her credibility is the fact that Wheaton was a follower of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Books have been written about Garrison's unwarranted and destructive prosecution of Clay Shaw, most recently by Fred Litwin who demolished Garrison and acolytes such as DiEugenio and Wheaton by association. Perhaps tellingly, Wheaton concludes her litany of conspiracy beliefs with several that found their way to Max Good's film (p. 2 of the PDF).

It is through the lens of her conspiracy beliefs that Wheaton's claims regarding Ruth Paine must be viewed. On February 5th, 1991, according to Wheaton's account and details provided by Doudna, Ruth attended a council meeting of the Benjamin Linder House in Managua with Jon Roise who was the newly appointed director of the (Quaker affiliated) Friends Center and a member of the council. Ruth was then the director of the St. Petersburg, Florida-based ProNica organization which Roise oversaw along with all Friends activity in Nicaragua. Wheaton was at the meeting representing "another" Benjamin Linder House member group which, according to one report, was "anti-Contra."

Things started innocently enough. After Ruth introduced herself to the group, Wheaton asked if "she were the same Quaker Ruth Paine who had known the Oswalds." Ruth said that she was and after Wheaton said she was interested in the assassination, Ruth sensibly suggested that she read Marina and Lee (which Wheaton obviously never did since she referred to the book in her document as "Lee and Marina").

Wheaton admits that Ruth was "well informed" and took "many notes on everything we discussed." Wheaton writes that Ruth "made comments which indicated she shared the presuppositions and objectives of others in the group, and she was fully involved in the discussion." Wheaton found Ruth's level of involvement "unusual" since visitors normally do not attend council meetings. But as director of ProNica, Ruth was no mere visitor. Among other statements made by Ruth that Wheaton found to be not "in sync" with Wheaton's own opinion was her dubious reaction to one estimate that "hundreds of thousands" of civilians had been killed by US bombing in Iraq.

The next time that Ruth and Wheaton came together was at a "pot luck" at the Benjamin Linder House on February 15th. By Wheaton's own account, Ruth was unaware that the group was planning to discuss "the implications of the Kennedy assassination related to the course of U.S. politics and foreign relations." According to Wheaton, this had been "tentatively" planned two months prior. One has to wonder if the "tentative" plan was quickly finalized after the appearance of Ruth at the previous meeting. In any case, despite being surprised by the topic of conversation, Ruth graciously shared her observations on the Oswalds and the assassination when asked to do so. Although her remarks consisted of the well-known story she has told repeatedly over the years, what was likely most significant to the conspiracy-oriented Wheaton was Ruth's admission that she believed the Warren Commission conclusions.

"During the next two or three weeks," Wheaton reports, Ruth, Roise and a young man named Sean Miller attended meetings at the Linder House and other locations. Miller, according to Wheaton, "took many pictures, using a special lens, and taped presentations." Ruth allegedly said that Miller was staying at the Friends Center and taking pictures for the Nicaragua Network.

According to Wheaton, "Ruth came to the March meeting" of the Benjamin Linder Council and "took copious notes of every name, organization and subject mentioned." She also "peered over the organizational membership list in the office prior to the meeting and took notes." Wheaton says that at the close of the meeting, the chairperson asked if Ruth would provide "a copy of her report." Ruth responded that "her notes were simply for her report to the group back in St. Petersburg and the purpose was to determine whether or not the Quaker project would continue as a member group of the Ben Linder Council." Ruth added that she planned to recommend that they continue as a member since she believed that their work was "of value." She added that Miller was "not affiliated with her program."

It would seem that the original problems with Ruth in Nicaragua, as documented by Wheaton in April of 1991 shortly after the events took place, were that she took copious notes and a young friend of hers was taking photographs. At some point, it is clear that rumors began to spread that Ruth and Miller's activity was undertaken at the behest of the CIA. Two additional allegations came to light in January of the following year when Wheaton claimed that "The Nicaragua Network in Washington, D.C. told a friend of ours that they had not commissioned anyone to take pictures in Nicaragua." Wheaton concluded that Ruth's explanation for the photographs was "not valid."

The second allegation was that the "Quakers" were assisting Contra-affiliated individuals with "support." Evidently, this report came from Wheaton's husband. The implication is that the Contras were known to be backed by the US government covertly during the Reagan administration so Ruth and the Quaker-affiliated groups must be working for the government as well.

But as it turns out, in an April 1991 meeting with Wheaton and her husband Jon Roise provided some answers to their concerns. The meeting also made it clear who was driving the insinuations against Ruth. After Roise expressed his concern that a "whisper campaign" against Ruth was underway, Wheaton assured him that was not the case because rather than whispering she had "been telling people loud and clear" about Ruth's "history" with the assassination. Wheaton went on to say that she "had no intention of not talking about [Ruth's role in the assassination story]."

Roise explained to Wheaton that it was Ruth's habit to "write things down." Indeed, Greg Doudna, who met Ruth at the St. Petersburg Friends Meeting in the early 2000s, has noted that the Friends are known to document virtually everything and historians consider their records to be among the best in existence.

To sum up the situation as it existed circa 1991-92, we have the following allegations/concerns against Ruth and Miller which were admittedly strenuously promoted by Wheaton herself among what she calls the "U.S. solidarity community":

  • Ruth took "copious" notes.
  • Miller took photographs and recorded presentations.
  • Ruth's explanation that Miller was taking photos for the Nicaragua Network was not accurate.
  • Ruth's organization provided "support" for Contra-affiliated individuals.

Note that there could have been concerns about Ruth that predated Wheaton although these are undocumented and seem to come from second-hand reports. And while there is no indisputable evidence that Wheaton told anyone that Ruth was working for the CIA, the circumstancial evidence convinces some Ruth supporters. Thomas Mallon, author of Mrs. Paine's Garage, writes "Wheaton managed to convince three or four people Ruth worked with that Mrs. Paine was not to be trusted; they came to wonder whether Ruth’s presence in Nicaragua wasn’t really a matter of undercover intelligence activity." "I tend to take photographs and try to remember names," Ruth told Mallon, “and that made them extremely nervous.”

But there is a reasonable explanation for each of these concerns that does not require either Ruth or Miller to be CIA assets. First, as Roise and Doudna point out, it is normal for individuals working for the Friends to take notes. Additionally, as Wheaton knew, Ruth was in the process of determining whether ProNica would continue to be associated with the Linder House. Anyone in this position could be expected to be taking notes and doing ordinary fact-finding.

On the issue of the photography, Wheaton implies in the Good film that Miller was working with Ruth and Roise. But, as her article makes clear, Wheaton was told that Miller was a student who was "simply a guest at the Quaker hospitality house and his pictures were for the Nicaragua Network, not her organization."

Wheaton says that the Nicaragua Network told "a friend" that Miller had not been commissioned to take photos. What friend? Who was this second-hand source and how is anyone to judge the accuracy of this alleged report? But for the sake of argument, let's say the report is correct and Miller was not working for the Nicaragua Network but was taking photos for some undetermined reason. Miller could have told Ruth that he was taking pictures for the Nicaragua Network and Ruth, with no reason to doubt Miller's word, simply repeated this to Wheaton and the rest of the group.

As for Wheaton's concern that the Friends were helping Contra-affiliated people, it should be mentioned that one of the individuals in question was a former Contra fighter who was in a wheelchair and living in a squatter settlement. According to Doudna it is "in keeping with Friends practice" to provide what was certainly humanitarian assistance to such individuals.

Of course, the notion that the CIA would send people to meetings in Nicaragua to take photographs and collect information in a completely overt manner is extremely dubious at best. And if Ruth and Miller were really CIA assets, wouldn't they have had an indisputable cover story? If this were the end of the saga, it would be bad enough. But the allegations given life by Wheaton have endured and been expanded by her and others.

New accusations against Ruth emerged in a 1996 report by Steve Jones, Carol Hewett and Barbara LaMonica. The person fueling the accusations against Ruth was again Wheaton who now maintained that Ruth was not simply making notes but specifically, "taking down information about Americans in Nicaragua who opposed U.S. policy there." Additionally, Wheaton reported that "someone" had informed her that Ruth was "copying everything" on the bulletin board. Ruth also allegedly made reference to people in the US embassy whom Wheaton "abhorred."

Jones returned with "new evidence" circa 1997 resulting from his conversations with yet another unidentified individual. This person was ostensibly a "close personal friend" of Ruth's although one wonders what type of "friend" reveals such uncomplimentary information. This "friend" went on to reiterate the same accusations voiced by Wheaton with some new additions. New were "inappropriate personal questions" that Ruth had supposedly asked. Most remarkably, in the latest story it was not Miller but Ruth who was taking photographs.

In a speech to the Coalition on Political Assassinations in 1998, Vincent Salandria stated "According to recent research in the 1980s Ruth Paine assisted illegal anti-socialist activity in Nicaragua." According to Doudna, this statement was based entirely on the humanitarian aid provided to the ex-Contra fighter and others like him.

This brings us to 2022 and the statements of Wheaton in Good's film. Now rather than just taking photos, Miller was "snapping everybody." Wheaton also uses the word "they" which implies that Ruth and Miller were working together, a fact that she knows is not true. Additionally, she adds the new detail that Ruth and Miller "left" after her group tried to take their photo.

What was the true nature of Ruth's work in Nicaragua? The ProNica website reports:

"In 1996 Ruth Paine, a member of St. Petersburg Meeting wrote, “We began ten years ago, a volunteer crew of defenders of human rights. We wanted to do something tangible. We now have a very effective organization with a clear mission delivering aid to very well-run projects in Nicaragua.”

"On May 31, 2002, ProNica, Inc. became a Florida non-profit corporation, focusing on healing and peace building. Ruth stepped up to reorganize ProNica. Ruth Paine directed ProNica for many years, working steadily building the organization and its reputation for integrity and true solidarity. Ruth never collected a salary."

"ProNica sponsored AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) workshops in Nicaraguan prisons in the 1990s and eventually spread across the country by training ‘trainers’ using the AVP model to teach non-violence and self-empowerment. Money was raised to drill wells in communities to provide safe potable water sources. Cooperative groups of women were given funding to jointly raise poultry to earn money and feed their families. ProNica helped develop a cooperative’s transition to the production of organic sesame oil, which garnered a fair trade contract with The Body Shop. The ProNica newsletter told stories of Nicaraguan communities organizing collective responses to their post-war needs for trauma healing, feeding and housing displaced people, establishing free clinics for women for cancer screening, pre and post natal care, family planning, and counseling for the high rates of abuse and post-traumatic stress."

Summing up this sorry chapter in JFK assassination lore promoted by Max Good and his cohorts, there is absolutely no credible evidence that Ruth Paine was doing anything other than charity work when she ran into Sue Wheaton in the early nineties. The Wheaton story has been exaggerated over the years beyond the facts in her original report. The accusations are based on gossip and innuendo and the suspicions of those like Sue Wheaton who are predisposed to dislike Ruth because of their conspiracy-oriented beliefs and because Ruth's group was willing to provide humanitarian support to the Contras that Wheaton opposed.


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