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Removing a U.S. President Without an Election

Five times in the last ninety years, elements of the U.S. power structure have tried to oust a sitting president without an election. The efforts were aimed at Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. Two attempts succeeded and three failed.

Franklin Roosevelt

President Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 as the Great Depression was battering much of the world. Workers were striking, organizing unions, and escalating their demands. Fascists had taken power in Italy and Germany and were threatening to do so elsewhere.

Prominent Wall Street bankers and industrialists said the only way to keep communism at bay was to adopt fascism and align with Italy and Germany. Roosevelt rejected that view, and the plotting began.

The plan was to have 500,000 World War I veterans march on Washington, D.C. They would overwhelm the city, reduce Roosevelt to a figurehead, and transfer power to the Wall Street plotters.

They decided Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, then the most decorated Marine in U.S. history, should lead the coup. This was a mistake. When their emissary told Butler what they had in mind, and said they could raise $300 million for it, he said, “If you get 500,000 soldiers advocating anything smelling of Fascism, I am going to get 500,000 more and lick the hell out of you and we will have a real war right at home.”

After Butler chewed them out, he reported everything to the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, including the plotters’ names he knew, officials with J.P. Morgan & Company, Guaranty Trust Company, Dupont Chemical, Singer Sewing Machine Company, and the Remington Arms Company. They all denied it, but Butler had convinced the Committee it was true.

Roosevelt did not want a public confrontation, so the House Committee quietly wrapped up its work. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover dispatched agents to tell each plotter they would be under surveillance for treasonous activities. The plot was shelved.

The lesson of this fiasco was money isn’t everything. The Wall Street titans had no experience with overthrowing a U.S. president. They had no operational arm. They did not know where to start.

John Kennedy

By the time President Kennedy took office in 1961, the military budget had grown twenty times larger in real dollars than in 1933. The money was paying for a military-industrial complex, including the Pentagon, weapons manufacturers, State Department, CIA, FBI, NSA, Atomic Energy Commission, NASA, Members of Congress, think tanks, universities, and a battalion of friendly reporters. The sprawling power system had become strong enough to perpetuate itself and to remove a president if necessary.

What the Pentagon and CIA wanted first from President Kennedy was the overthrow of the new socialist Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. They organized an assault by Cuban exiles, assuring Kennedy it would spark a successful anti-Castro uprising in Cuba. When it did not, they demanded Kennedy send in U.S. combat forces. He refused, and the Cuban army captured 1,110 Cuban exiles and killed another 114. The Bay of Pigs invasion became known as the “Bay of Pigs fiasco.” Kennedy realized the Pentagon and CIA had known all along the exiles could not succeed on their own. They had tried to trick him into a direct U.S. invasion.

Kennedy fired both CIA Director Allen Dulles and his chief Bay of Pigs [ … ]

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