John F Kennedy's assassination—Camelot's dark sideby Simon Basketter
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Mafia conspired to carry out an assassination 50 years ago this week. They plotted to take out a president—Fidel Castro of Cuba, and they did it under the orders of US president John F Kennedy.
In the whirling conspiracies that surround the shooting of Kennedy on 22 November 1963 it is often forgotten that Kennedy oversaw a real campaign of covert operations.
Kennedy was able to present a different front to the world.
As the US entered a period of prolonged crisis, he became a receptacle for the hopes of those Americans who desired change through the established political system. The US myth-making machine is powerful and after his assassination that aspect of Kennedy became the dominant one. The real story was far grubbier. The family money came from legitimate gambling on the stock market and illegal gambling with the mob.
Marketing made him a national celebrity.
Part of that marketing was presenting Kennedy as having the perfect family. His now well-documented sex life—desperately covered up at the time—was mostly about power and its abuses. For instance, a month after Kennedy began an affair with Judith Campbell he asked her to carry $250,000 to Mafia boss Sam Giancana. When she became pregnant, he told her to get the Mafia boss to sort out an abortion and dumped her.
The White House was not the centre of modern knights—Camelot, as the press later dubbed it. Rather it saw Kennedy, out of it on a combination of cortisone and amphetamines, hold court at pool parties.
The civil rights movement, the Cuban revolution and the war in Vietnam all came to dominate US politics.
Kennedy’s Democratic Party was a racist party. White Southern Democrats, known as “Dixiecrats”, were the party of segregation. Blacks were almost entirely disenfranchised in the south. And the Democrats needed the southern states to win national elections. So, in office Kennedy appointed five supporters of segregation to the federal judiciary.
But a mass movement for civil rights was emerging—and the Kennedy administration did everything it could to contain it.
The Kennedys hoped to pressure civil rights activists in a direction that wouldn’t jeopardise their southern support. Kennedy told Louisiana governor James H Davis that his administration was trying “to put this stuff in the courts and get it off the street”.
Far from providing liberal opposition to racism Kennedy was defending both the US system and his own place within it.
Kennedy was as committed to defending and extending the US empire.
Cuba had been, for all intents and purposes, a colony of the US, where American corporations reaped huge profits.
Castro’s nationalist revolution in 1959 was a blow and the US ruling class set out to destroy him.
Kennedy authorised the CIA’s disastrous “Bay of Pigs invasion” of Cuba in early 1961, the most spectacular of the US government’s failed attempts to crush the Cuban revolution.
Failure in Cuba made Kennedy more determined to succeed elsewhere. He became fascinated with assassination and covert action.
Sometimes it worked. Assassins using CIA-supplied weapons and ammunition murdered Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.
Most importantly Vietnam became a laboratory for all these deadly programmes. Kennedy sent 15,000 military advisors to fight in Vietnam—and if he had survived would have sent more.
On 2 November 1963 the US engineered the assassination of the corrupt South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.
And on 22 November that month, as Malcolm X said of the assassination—the chickens came home to roost.