Sound Familiar? — Charlie Pierce on history repeating itself at the hands on Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott.
The good people who manage the vast archives at the John F. Kennedy Library down by the bay in Boston are not people known to miss a trick. There is so much history stored there because, as we oldsters will tell you, the 1960s were a pretty target-rich environment, history-wise. Of course, JFK’s time in office was cut off before what we call the ’60s really got rolling. Consider: If he had not been murdered, Kennedy would have been president of the United States when the Beatles arrived and throughout the Summer of Love in 1967—but a lot of the seeds that sprouted later can be found in the stacks of his library, which sits like the prow of a ship, pointed out over a domesticated slice of the Atlantic Ocean.
For example, during his entire time in office (but especially after the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961), Kennedy and the CIA were at sword’s point. Kennedy didn’t trust the CIA as far as he could throw Allen Dulles—and, in the aftermath of the Cuban fiasco, JFK threw him pretty far—and the spooks out at Langley thought the president was callow and not up to the job of being butch with the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro. (So many of the ‘Who Shot John?’ theories surrounding Kennedy’s murder have their roots in this undeniable conflict.) Anyway, on March 16, 1963, looking to manufacture a casus belli with which to justify another Cuban invasion, the Joint Chiefs of Staff came up with a plan called Operation Northwoods, a blatantly illegal and utterly batshit plan to create false-flag domestic terrorist attacks that could be blamed on Castro’s regime. One of these proposed actions involved blowing up John Glenn on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The memo read, in part:
The desired result from the execution of this plan would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.
This sounds like so much Hollywood ballyhoo until you go to the JFK Library and hold the actual Operation Northwoods memo in your hands, and you look down at the signatures of receipt and discover that this cockamamie scheme went all the way up the chain of command to the president’s desk. Kennedy reacted by removing Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
But the plan existed, right there on paper. It was declassified in 1992, and its existence was revealed a decade later by author James Bamford. When Northwoods was abandoned, Alex Jones would not be born for another 12 years, but that yahoo has anchored his “false flag” theories for everything from the 9/11 attacks to the massacre at Sandy Hook in the fact that Northwoods was seriously contemplated in 1962.
Then there was Civil Rights Movment, the other great gathering storm of the Kennedy presidency. It can be argued forever whether JFK was too dilatory in engaging the great moral struggle of the age, that he might have acted too much as the party man in a Democratic Party still beholden to the segregationist Old Bulls of the Congress. But he sent in federal troops when open insurrection broke out at the University of Mississippi in 1962 over the admission of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll there. A year later, he signed an executive order federalizing the Alabama National Guard, which moved Gov. George Wallace out of the doorway so two black students could enroll in that state’s university. That same night, June 11, 1963, Kennedy spoke on television to the nation:
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
It was an important speech. Kennedy seemed to be climbing down off the fence. In Jackson, Mississippi, Myrlie Evers watched the speech with her young children. Shortly after it ended, they heard their father, NAACP leader Medgar Evers, turn into their driveway. They ran to meet him. Across the street, a racist monster named Byron de la Beckwith shot Evers in the back in front of his family. (It took 31 years and three trials before he was convicted in the shooting.)
In the archives of the JFK Library, there are thousands of pieces of paper dealing with the civil rights struggle. And on Thursday of this week, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for the ‘own the libs’ human-trafficking stunt of flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, the archivists at the library thought the tactic sounded familiar and they leaped onto the electric Twitter machine with an old newspaper clipping showing why that was.
In February of 1963, the president of the White Citizens Council of Mississippi announced that he had paid a black family’s passage by bus from Mississippi to New Jersey, where they would be deposited in front of the home owned by the parents of Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, with whom the Mississippi racists were still angry due to his role in putting down the insurrection at the state university the previous fall. The clever dicks of the time called this a “Reverse Freedom Ride.”
These stunts sent impoverished black families, gulled by empty promises of housing and employment, off to other northern destinations connected to various government lawyers involved in the dismantling of the Jim Crow system in the South. One bus from Arkansas was dispatched to the Hyannis compound owned by the Kennedys. An Arkansas organizer explained that:
“For many years, certain politicians, educators and certain religious leaders have used the white people of the South as a whipping boy, to put it mildly, to further their own ends and their political campaigns…We’re going to find out if people like Ted Kennedy … and the Kennedys, all of them, really do have an interest in the Negro people, really do have a love for the Negro.”
Another White Citizen goober named Ned Touchstone explained the strategy thusly, “Katzenbach has shown himself to be a friend of the Negro and a great civil rights leader.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
For more than six decades, the Republican Party—and the modern conservative movement that is central to all of its success—has energized itself over and over again by subsuming the foul flotsam of American apartheid. The late Republican ratfcker Lee Atwater explained the plan and the process in a now-infamous 1981 interview:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*****, n*****, n*****.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*****”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*****, n*****.”
The strategy has succeeded so well, and the Republican Party has so deeply imbibed its message, that the party has grown careless in its implementation and reckless about the state of its camouflage. In 2016, it elected a president* that gave it permission to dispense with the camouflage entirely.
So we have the governor of Florida, apparently in league with the governor of Texas and god only knows who else, adopting an attitude toward asylum seekers that he transparently has cribbed from one the Klan employed in a time we thought we were long done with. And there is an audience for this kind of thing throughout the Republican Party because that audience has been carefully constructed for longer than many current Republicans even can remember. It is their natural constituency. They are our White Citizens Council now, even though most of us didn’t ask for one.
Doonesbury — What’s in a name?