<Photo: There's nothing like a John Birch Society billboard on a country road in California, ca. 959>
Yes, OK, I'm two days late. It's a long story. Anyway, here's Part 4 of what Harry Dean personally told me in 2015 about The Minutemen of Southern California in 1963.
THE MINUTEMEN FIND HARRY DEAN – CHRISTMAS 1962
In November 1962, Millie Dean prepared her traditional Thanksgiving dinner as her family listened to classical music on the radio. Eric was now four, Kurt was three and York was a few months old. Harry played with the kids in the kitchen as he promised Millie that the world was finally as clear as daylight, and that everything was going to be fine from now on.
In the final weeks of 1962 Gabby, Loran, and Larry had introduced Harry to even more militants in Southern California – all former military, Anticommunist, anti-Castro, anti-Kennedy, and all were convinced that they were the only true patriots. Life was finally clear for Harry – his new friends knew the truth while the JFK White House knew only Communist propaganda.
So, perhaps Harry wasn’t too surprised to receive an encoded invitation in the mail around Christmas 1962. It was from the famous but secret political group named, The Minutemen.
Perhaps Harry received this invitation from friends of Gabby, Loran, or Larry. Perhaps some JBS official had heard Harry speak in one of the many discussions about dealing harshly with Fidel Castro.
The letter began: “You have been interviewed without your knowledge and you have met the requirements for Minutemen membership.” Harry was intrigued. [Note: The Minutemen of today probably have no relation to The Minutemen organization founded by Robert DePugh in 1962, which went bankrupt in 1969. The history of DePugh’s 1962 Minutemen is a matter of public record.]
HARRY DEAN JOINS THE MINUTEMEN – JANUARY 1963
The Minutemen preached that Communism was already inside the USA, all the way up to the White House. They intended to save the US from internal Communism and Harry recognized this organization to be putting JBS doctrines into paramilitary practice. These were men of action. Harry was a man of action, too, who now resisted Fidel Castro. An able-bodied patriot, handy with a rifle, Harry was accustomed to military training. He decided to join, hoping to meet the founder, Robert DePugh.
Harry enlisted and went through camp and “familiarity training.” His Minuteman number was #28515 of the Southern California division. He guessed that his number was a running sequence number counting nationwide members. Then, like all other members Harry waited at home for further instructions. He would receive secret instructions from Minutemen leaders entirely through the mail.
The Minutemen leader’s instructions were always about training camp schedules. The fellowship of The Minutemen revolved around these training camps. The paramilitary nature of The Minutemen is reflected in the group’s logos. The logo of the On Target monthly newsletter and any pamphlets from headquarters featured a 1776 standing Minuteman with a rifle. The OnTarget title featured rifle scope crosshairs over the letter “O”.
Secrecy was paramount, e.g. members must never openly admit that they were Minutemen. Beginning with that first invitation, Minutemen letters always used fictitious names to introduce leaders to members – and only as necessary. Members must never reveal their real names to other members. If some member knew the identity of another member, he must never reveal that member’s real name at any time. One would recognize a Minuteman only by face, and at a secret Minuteman paramilitary training site. Minutemen were forbidden to even guess about membership rolls.
Harry’s leader in the San Diego area was Troy Houghton, who lived in the suburbs of San Diego. His Southern California unit met mostly in the hills of Temecula and then spread out to secret locations outside small towns for training in building and blowing up makeshift bridges, small arms target practice, grenades and so forth. Other units met in the Mojave Desert.
All rules were written, and everyone was expected to – and generally did – follow them to the letter. No cameras were allowed and breaking this rule would typically result in expulsion. Every move and every question had to be ‘cleared’ with officers
The Minutemen organization itself was heavily armed, but for training exercises each member had to bring his or her own weapons. Harry brought his 30.06 rifle, a 38 caliber Webley revolver, and an MI 30 caliber semi-automatic rifle. Because of Harry’s military training in the Michigan wartime militia and in the US Air Force, he was a good shooter.
Harry recognized JBS members in the Minutemen ranks. There were also Minute-women. Boys as young as 15 were there, but most members were military veterans. Former members of the US military were never admitted at their rank. Actually, the Minutemen observed no military ranks as they had no squads, platoons, companies, or battalions. They had no Corporals, Sergeants, Lieutenants, Majors, Colonels, or Generals. People received higher positions in The Minutemen only by the private decision of Robert De Pugh and his closest associates.
Harry never knew where the local Minutemen leaders met, but he guessed that the top leaders in Southern California probably met at Troy Houghton’s home in San Diego. Troy was the only Minutemen leader that Harry could personally identify.
Minutemen held no formal fundraisers because it was a secret organization. Monthly dues, however, were carefully recorded. Members speculated that Robert De Pugh had rich backers, and nobody needed to know who those generous people were.
Harry’s experience with the paramilitary Minutemen was not strange to him, even though they spoke (informally, off the record and often) of killing JFK and his cabinet. All traitors had to die, they proclaimed. Harry recognized this as JBS rhetoric.
Anyway, that was Harry Dean’s brief description of The Minutemen as he knew them in 1963.
Harry was surprised, however, when the Los Angeles FBI approached him early in 1963 to say that they were interested in The Minutemen and their stockpiles of guns, rifles, hand grenades, and bombs. They somehow found out that Harry was a member, and they asked Harry (informally and on a volunteer basis) to supply them with inside information about The Minutemen.
Harry hesitated. These were his new friends. Even worse, Harry had believed that his move to the right-wing would please the US government, but now the FBI seemed displeased. But Harry agreed to informally spy. He trusted the FBI – but mainly, he was certain that his new friends had nothing to hide. They were on the right-wing, doing the right thing, and they weren’t harming anybody.
Yes, there was a lot of hate talk, but it was only talk, just letting off steam. It was healthy to get outdoors for target practice once in a while, and one never knew whether The Minutemen might come in handy during the Cold War. Still, Harry agreed with the FBI – if there was anybody dangerous inside The Minutemen, Harry would want the FBI to check them out.
Harry invited the FBI to his new rural residence just west of La Puente. The FBI humorously called Harry’s home a “hideout.” Their first question, Harry distinctly recalls, was about the Golden State Arms Company in South El Monte which allegedly converted Minutemen rifles from single shot to fully automatic. The ATF was also interested. When Harry volunteered information to verify this fact for them, that company was busted by the FBI.
So, that was Harry Dean’s brief description of The Minutemen as he knew them in 1963.
GENERAL WALKER FROM JANUARY TO APRIL 1963
Let’s now turn our attention to the history of America during this same period. At the end of January 1963, a Mississippi Grand Jury had acquitted ex-General Walker of all charges associated with the race riots at Ole Miss. His lawyers, Robert Morris, and Clyde Watts were also members of the JBS. Walker told the Grand Jury that he had been at Ole Miss that weekend only to keep things calm and orderly. It was JFK’s Federal troops, he said, that had caused the riots. The Grand Jury believed him, and Walker was set free.
The JBS and Minutemen in Southern California were pleased. Ex-General Walker could now join the JBS and Minutemen to focus intently on Cuba. Immediately, Walker planned his famous Midnight Ride coast-to-coast speaking tour with Reverend Billy James Hargis. They would begin in Florida in early February and finish in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium in early April.
The JBS marked these days well. They rallied in every State in the South to ensure that the Walker-Hargis Midnight Ride speeches were well attended. They regularly reported that Walker’s speeches were continuously picketed by the NAACP and the ACLU. When Walker and Hargis finally arrived in Los Angeles, even the National Council of Churches (NCC) had joined the picketers! This was because Hargis had consistently accused the NCC of being Communist and had advised his listeners to join his newly formed ACC (American Council of Churches) instead!
On Wednesday 3 April 1963, six-thousand Birchers from the Los Angeles area filled the Shrine Auditorium to hear the final speeches. Yet the afternoon news had just reported that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) had organized a political demonstration of Black American students at a whites-only public lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Birmingham, Alabama.
This new terror inspired Walker and Hargis at the Shrine Auditorium that evening. Walker railed about the international threat of Communism, while Reverend Hargis warned about the domestic threat of Communism inside NCC Churches.
Hargis introduced Walker who spoke first. Walker exclaimed that the JFK administration had already brought Communism not only to Cuba, but also secretly to America. Therefore, the 1964 election would not really be about electing a US President but to elect a United Nations (UN) leader. If JFK won in 1964, warned Walker, then all rifles and guns inside the US would be registered by the United Nations and the UN Secretary would then become the US Commander in Chief.
The UN would draft and pay American soldiers to serve in the World Peace Force under the UN. Foreign troops from Russia and Cuba would be stationed inside the US, waving their own flags alongside the UN Flag and singing their own national anthems alongside the UN World Anthem. Walker warned:
I resigned from the Army because I refuse to be a member to any organization that puts US Troops under the direction of the United Nations, which is a tool of Russia. The United Nations is definitely out to kill Democracy in our country.
In JFK’s second term, warned Walker, the UN would become a World Government and would issue currency to replace the US dollar. The seat of this World Government would rotate from New York City to Moscow to Geneva and perhaps Beijing and Havana. After that, no more elections would be allowed in the US. Walker received a long, standing ovation from an adoring crowd.
Next, it was Reverend Hargis’ turn – he accused the NCC of plotting with the UN to form a new world religion that would feature Red, atheistic clergymen. The NCC would confiscate all Church property in the US and force Americans to worship Marx. They would abolish Western marriage laws and permit polygamy and bride purchasing. Any resisters to the NCC will be arrested and sent to a UN concentration camp in Siberia.
Next, the UN would abolish all private property and all inheritance. The border with Mexico would remain wide open as migrant farm workers would explode in population. The UN leaders would appoint judges in US local courts. They would appoint State Governors. The US Congress itself would become just one more UN committee. The only way to avoid this, warned Hargis, was to root out the Communists inside our NCC Churches. Loyal Americans should quit all NCC Churches and join the new American Council of Churches (ACC), e.g. a Church like his own, Christian Crusade Church. Reverend Hargis received a long, standing ovation from a crowd to grateful for this warning.
Suddenly, California Congressman John Rousselot arose to present ex-General Walker with a plaque from the Southern California JBS, proclaiming Walker to be the “greatest living American.” Walker received his plaque to thunderous applause.
General Walker as a Target in April 1963
Tragically, in only one more week, national news reported that somebody had attempted to assassinate General Walker at his Dallas home. Here’s how it happened.
When Walker returned to his home in Dallas on the tenth of April, he learned some disturbing news from his neighbors. There had been prowlers just the night before. There were police reports about two white men in a new 1963 Ford parked in the alley behind Walker’s house. They walked onto Walker’s property, looked around, and then returned to their car and drove away. Walker’s publisher, Robert Allen Surrey, who had his office at Walker’s home, followed that Ford in his own car, seeking their license number. But there were no license plates. Then, the car doubled back, and Surrey thought they might be armed so he gave up the chase.
Walker trusted the police to handle it, and he went about his business. Then, at about 9 PM, he settled back in his living room to do his taxes when he was startled by a loud crack above his head. He instantly realized that it was gunfire, so he ran upstairs to get his pistol and ran back downstairs again, just as a car screeched away in the background.
As his right arm bled from tiny bullet fragments, Walker ran outside into his back yard with his pistol in his hand but saw nothing except his neighbors beginning to gather in the alley. Walker called the Dallas Police and then rejoined his neighbors. Two neighbor boys had run toward the shots the moment they heard them. One boy, Kirk Coleman, climbed his fence and saw two men man jump into a 1950 Ford across the alley behind Walker’s home and then speed away.
The police quickly arrived and surveyed the damage. They found a chipped edge on top of the backyard wooden fence. The bullet traveled 40 yards from that fence, struck an open window frame near its center, which deflected the bullet just enough to miss its target. Police found the bullet on the other side of that wall where Walker sat.
Reporters arrived and asked Walker to guess who the shooters might be. “Communists, of course,” he scoffed, “and the Kennedys say there’s no internal threat to our freedom!” The Dallas Police detectives analyzed clues. Walker had his own suspicions about the plot, as he repeated for the next 30 years, namely, that RFK had paid assassins to finish the job at Ole Miss in 1962 when he sent Walker to an insane asylum.
THE US CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN THE SUMMER OF 1963
It was pretty clear to Harry, Gabby, Loran, Larry, and perhaps most of the JBS and Minutemen believed that the Communists had tried to murder General Walker. Minutemen members, instead of merely gossiping idly about killing JFK, increasingly came up with actual scenarios about how to do it. Most of the plans were bone-headed and could not be taken seriously, but Harry noted that Minutemen anxiety had risen to a new level.
As background for all this, as reported by the daily news, MLK’s Civil Rights Movement was rising up from coast to coast. Birchers widely regarded MLK as a plain Communist.
In early May, the Birmingham Children’s Crusade made headlines again with scenes of a thousand Black American children marching in the streets of Alabama. In a few days, TV news filmed another thousand students marching from the 16th Street Baptist Church toward Ingram Park as the Birmingham police turned fire hoses and police dogs on them. Yet after they were jailed, Black entertainer Harry Belafonte and RFK put up the bail money to release them.
At this point I want to emphasize again that Harry Dean was never any sort of racist. (For example, his flight instructor was a Black American hero and Harry always held him in high esteem.) Harry also told me that no Bircher or Minuteman had ever expressed any racism in his presence at any time. There were Minutemen of all colors. Birchers were told that the Civil Rights Movement and MLK were Communist inspired; and it was never a racial issue for Harry or his comrades – but only about Anticommunism.
Then, when MLK published his famous, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written in June 1963, the JBS announced that it was nothing but a crafty Communist plot.
Yet more and more US colleges welcomed Civil Rights marches, and local police often had to come in with tear gas to force Black marchers to disperse. Week after week the violence increased. For many Birchers, the Communist revolution was happening right before their eyes. Minutemen numbers grew at every training camp.
Then, on the eleventh of June 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace staged his famous “Schoolhouse Door” protest. Much like Ross Barnett and ex-General Walker at Ole Miss in 1962, Governor Wallace personally blocked the passage of the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama against Federal Troops, in order to protest the racial integration of that college by its first two Black American students.
Ironically, that very evening, JFK went on TV to tell the world that he was now going to support MLK and civil rights for “Negroes” and to demand “the kind of equality of treatment that we would want for ourselves.” No surprise there – a Communist must support another Communist, said the JBS. The strange thing to Birchers and Minutemen was that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI would just sit by and let this happen.
Then, on midnight of that very same night, NAACP activist Medgar Evers was shot in the back in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi. Evers had supported James Meredith at Ole Miss only nine months prior. The following week JFK sent Congress his proposed Civil Rights Act, and fence-sitters moved over to JFK’s side. The battle lines were being drawn.
RIGHT vs. LEFT IN THE SUMMER OF 1963
In light of all this, Reverend Billy James Hargis organized his weekend long, Fifth Annual Convention of the Christian Crusade against Communism. His special guests would be JBS founder, Robert Welch, and ex-General Edwin Walker. They would meet at the Sherwin Hotel in Oklahoma City, which was Hargis’ hometown.
Fidel Castro was sure to be vilified along with JFK at this Convention. It was a strange sort of patriotism to vilify our own White House and State Department. Also, this was to be the most ferocious verbal assault ever heard in Oklahoma against the US Government; Presidents, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Press, civic, religious, and educational institutions. The speeches would underscore and emphasize the undeniable treason in our midst – they said.
The Convention began in August 1963 as Robert Welch enjoyed a standing ovation upon approaching the podium. He quickly accused Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, the State Department, and the CIA of treason. He said that Communism is winning in the world because they had already taken over the American press, churches, schools, trade unions, Congress, and White House. Christians should have few scruples about exterminating Communists, he suggested, because Communists weren’t really humans but monsters. Finally, the single most important task of the JBS, said Welch as he concluded, was to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren! The crowd went wild.
Then General Walker took the stage and immediately slammed “the contemptuous Kennedy brothers and their sadistic Harvard associates.” Harvard University was a factory for grinding out Communist intellectuals, he said. JFK’s Civil Rights Bill was pure Communism that encourages those “troublemaking Negroes,” when really, the “best thing for Negroes, for their own good, is to be separated.”
As for the US military, Walker said, JFK was dismantling it and prostituting it by using it to invade sovereign States to enforce imaginary rights of Negroes to attend all-white schools. Also, the Supreme Court is nothing but “a tool of a Communist and atheist conspiracy to destroy America!” The hall shook with cheers and fans waved signs: “Walker for President!”
Other speakers included eloquent supporters of Barry Goldwater for President, and they collected a lot of donations there for the Goldwater campaign. Hargis summarized the three day Convention by accusing the NCC of Communism, and by reviewing the four resolutions of the Convention: (i) to break all US diplomatic relations with the USSR; (ii) to expel the UN from the US; (iii) to expel Castro from Cuba; and (iv) to open the door to nuclear war against the USSR and Red China.
The month of August 1963 had not yet ended, however, when on Wednesday the 28th one of the most talked-about events in America took place in Washington DC. MLK had marched on Washington DC and gave his iconic, I Have a Dream speech. Today this is a familiar and beloved American speech. In 1963, however, it became one of the most divisive factors ever.
In our next post – the plot thickens.