A Man on Horseback
excerpted from the book
The George Seldes Reader
by Randolph T. Holhut
Barricade Books, 1994, paper
"They [the major American newspapers]
loved Mussolini because they thought he restored order to Italy
and businesses there were doing well. It got more and more difficult
to report on what was really happening there."
Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War
"I am a firm believer in the people.
If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national
crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."
A MAN ON HORSEBACK
[from the 1937 book You Can't Do That
- about the 1934 plot by a group of American businessmen and industrialists
to overthrow the U.S. government of Franklin Roosevelt and install
a fascist regime.]
The Ultimate and complete destruction of civil liberties is in
the program of every reactionary and fascistic group and movement.
Liberty and Fascism cannot coexist. Wherever Fascist movements
have started, therefore, in order to gain necessary mass support,
they have had to supply substitutes for civil liberty_ ultra-nationalism,
superpatriotism, a popular cause, or the overthrow of a great
national injustice, such as the Versailles treaty was for Germany.
The present story concerns the testimony of General Smedley Butler
and a Wall Street plan to place him, or a high officer of the
Legion, on a white horse, march into Washington, and rule the
nation, using President Roosevelt in much the same way that Mussolini
uses the King of Italy.
It is significant that the newspapers
of America did not publish the entire testimony, that many suppressed
it, that the majority laughed at it, and that a congressional
investigating committee, examining the witnesses months later,
came to the conclusion that every allegation in the sensational
charge against Legionnaires and bankers was amply proven.
Evidence was obtained, concludes the report
of the Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities (74th
Congress, first session, House of Representatives, Investigation
of Nazi and other propaganda, pages 9 and 10) "showing that
certain persons had made an attempt to establish a Fascist organization
in this country .... There is no question but that these attempts
were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution
when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient."
The evidence before the committee, corroborated
and accepted, charged Legionnaires, bankers and brokers - the
counterpart of the Hitler-Thyssen-Flick-Schutz-Staffel-outfit
- with planning to hire General Butler to overthrow the government.
The go-between, it was testified, was Gerald G. MacGuire of the
brokerage firm of Grayson M.-P. Murphy & Co. Mr. Murphy was
a lieutenant colonel in the Rainbow Division, American Expeditionary
Force in France, and one of the little group of rich officers
who initiated and financed the American Legion in 1919. In the
1936 election campaign he was treasurer of the Du Pont-financed
Liberty League. He was also a director of the Guaranty Trust Company,
Anaconda Copper, Chile Copper, Goodyear Tire, Bethlehem Steel
and the New York Transportation Company. With other numerous war
medals he wore the ribbon of the Crown of Italy awarded him by
the Fascist regime.
The other important broker mentioned in
the testimony was Robert Sterling Clark, also one of the original
financiers of the American Liberty League.
According to General Butler the number
of war veterans necessary to establish a Fascist regime was placed
at 500,000; the amount necessary for the march, $3 million, was
"on the line," according to MacGuire.
In the conference on 22 August 1934, in
the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, Philadelphia, MacGuire proposed
the attack within a year, General Butler testified, and after
the capture of the capital the soldier organization was to take
over the functions of government.
"To be perfectly fair to Mr. MacGuire,"
continued the general, "he didn't seem bloodthirsty. He felt
that such a show of force in Washington would probably result
in a peaceful overturn of the government. He suggested that 'we
might even go along with Roosevelt and do with him what Mussolini
did with the King of Italy.'
"Mr. MacGuire insisted that all of
his program was 'constitutional'," continued the General.
"He proposed that the Secretary of State and VicePresident
would be made to resign, by force, if necessary, and that President
Roosevelt would probably allow MacGuire's group to appoint a Secretary
of State. Then, if President Roosevelt was willing 'to go along,'
he could remain as President. But if he were not in sympathy with
the Fascist movement, he would be forced to resign, whereupon,
under the Constitution, the Presidential succession would place
the Secretary of State in the White House.
"Then he discussed the need for a
'man on the white horse,' and insisted that a show of armed force
was the only way to save the capitalistic system. He told me he
believed that at least half of the American Legion and Veterans
of Foreign Wars would follow me.
"I was amazed at the audacity and
bluntness with which the proposition was put to me. I have always
believed in democracy, and I felt it my duty to learn all I could
of this conspiracy and to see that the information was placed
in the hands of the proper governmental authorities."
MacGuire, according to the testimony,
then described a trip made to Europe for the purpose of studying
the Nazi movement in Germany, Fascism in Italy, and De la Rocque's
Fiery Cross in Paris, the part World War veterans played in all,
and how these examples could be followed in the United States.
He talked of "a man on a white horse," and as alternates
for Butler mentioned General Douglas MacArthur, chief of staff
of the United States Army, whose term of office was to expire
that November, and Hanford MacNider, former commander-in-chief
of the American Legion.
At a previous conference, coincident with
the reunion of the 29th Division in Newark, MacGuire, according
to testimony of General Butler, "came into my hotel room,
pulled out a worn wallet, and started to toss thousand-dollar
bills on the bed. I asked him what the hell that was for, and
he told me it was to pay my expenses to Chicago to make a speech
in favor of the gold standard.
"You know damn well it doesn't cost
$18,000 to go to Chicago,' I told him.
"Don't be a fool, General,' he told
me, 'Why don't you do like Harbord and Sims did and make some
money out of it? The Government doesn't take care of you, so why
don't you act like a business man?'
"I told him to pick up the money
before I threw him out. I then suggested that one of the men who
were providing all these thousand-dollar bills come and see me,
so I would know who was back of it all.
"Murphy [Grayson M.-P. Murphy] is
in Europe,' he told me, 'but I'll have Colonel Clark come to Newton
Square on Sunday.'
"Clark called me on Saturday from
New York and reminded me that we had served together in China
in the Boxer trouble in 1900. He told me that he would like to
come and see me and discuss old times.
"Clark came to my home the following
day and offered me money to go to Chicago to make the speech on
the gold standard which MacGuire had previously given me. MacGuire
told me he wrote the speech, but Clark said that John W. Davis,
Democratic Presidential candidate in 1924, had written it. After
we discussed the proposition for a few minutes, I told Clark he
ought to be ashamed to come into a man's home and try to bribe
Robert Sterling Clark, Butler testified,
said, "I have got $30 million and I don't want to lose it.
I am willing to spend half of the $30 million to save the other
half." But the General was not tempted. He testified that
in his presence Clark telephoned MacGuire to go ahead with a $45,000
fund. The Legion in due time passed a gold standard resolution.
Altogether there were five conferences.
At one of them a man named Doyle, a wounded Legionnaire of Boston,
was present and a bankbook showing deposits for $64,000 was said
by MacGuire to be his expense money for the trip to the American
Legion convention where he was to speak for the gold standard:
"At the same time," continued
General Butler, "he showed me several checks, drawn for large
amounts, signed by Robert Sterling Clark, John Mills and Grayson
M.-P. Murphy, which he said were to be placed in his account to
cover 'necessary' expenses at the Chicago convention ....
"Several months later, when I asked
MacGuire who was backing his movement to set up a dictatorship,
he said, 'The same people that financed the Chicago propaganda.'
"At all times," said the General,
"I refused to accept any money from any of these men ....
"The whole affair smacked of treason
He had thought it treason from the beginning.
He had called in Paul Comley French of the Philadelphia Record
on 1 September 1934 and French, who later also testified before
the Congressional Committee,
helped him obtain the evidence. General
Butler arranged for an interview between French and MacGuire.
Mr. French tells what happened:
"On 13 September, I met MacGuire
in his office, which is part of the suite occupied by Grayson
M.-P. Murphy & Co., on the 12th floor of 52 Broadway.
"At first MacGuire seemed unwilling
to talk freely and discussed generalities for a time. Later, however,
he warmed up to the subject and told me substantially the same
story as that related by the General.
"We need a Fascist Government in
this country,' he insisted, 'to save the nation from the Communists
who would tear down all that has been built up in America. The
only men who have the patriotism to do it are the soldiers, and
Smedley Butler is the ideal leader. He could organize a million
"During the conversation he told
me he had been in Italy and Germany during the spring and summer
of 1934 making a detailed and comprehensive study of Nazi and
Fascist organizations, and the part war veterans had played in
"The whole movement is patriotic,'
he continued, 'because the Communists will wreck the nation unless
the soldiers save it through Fascism.
"All General Butler would have to
do to get a million men,' he said, 'would be to announce the formation
of the organization and tell them it would cost a dollar a year
"He suggested that necessary arms
and equipment could be obtained from the Remington Arms company
on credit through the Du Pont family, which has a controlling
interest in that company.
"I am close to the President,' he
continued, 'because I served as a naval aide when he was Assistant
Secretary of the Navy.'
"I think the President could be persuaded
to name General Butler as head of the CCC camps,' MacGuire continued,
'and that would give him the basis of an organization. However,
if that doesn't work, I have no doubt the General could enlist
500,000 men in a very short time.
"What we really need is a man on
the white horse to save the capitalistic system.'
"He shoved a letter across his desk,
saying it was from Louis Johnson of West Virginia, former National
Commander of the American Legion. MacGuire said Johnson wrote
he would be in 'to discuss what we have talked about.'
"That's just what we're discussing
now,' he told me.
"During our conversation he mentioned
that Henry Stephens of North Carolina, another former National
Commander of the American Legion, was interested in the plan.
"Roosevelt hasn't got the real solution
to the unemployment situation,' MacGuire said, 'but we'll put
across a plan that will be really effective. All unemployed men
would be put in military barracks, under forced labor, as Hitler
does, and that would soon solve that problem. Another thing we
would do immediately would be to register all persons in the United
States, as they do in Europe. That would stop a lot of Communist
agitators wandering around loose."
That Fascism means war is soon to be recognized as an axiom. Fascism
is a method of preparing a nation for imperialistic adventures
which have in the past and will in the future include wholesale
slaughter as one of its means.
Fascism, as Italy and Germany have illustrated,
can arise only in time of national distress when the masses demand
leadership and better times. In these circumstances usually two
opposite ideologies arise. In Germany and Italy, the exponents
of the Marxian principles were divided into many groups, their
preachments were largely philosophical, and the masses were tired
of Marxian dialectics. On the other hand, the "philosophy"
of the authoritarian state, whatever it may be, was not handed
down to the masses in the words of Pareto, but became the purest
demagoguery of superpatriotism.
The three important requirements for Fascist
success have been, and will be in America: (a) financial subsidization
of the movement by the moneyed classes; (b) affiliation with,
or creation of, an armed force to impose the dictatorship upon
the indifferent masses and the intelligent opponents; and (c)
the right demagogue.
Fascism is the imposed dictatorship of
the ruling class utilizing armed force to preserve the social-economic
system wherever it is collapsing. The destruction of democracy-"that
bourgeois illusion"-the suppression of all civil liberties,
the destruction of the trade unions and the intellectuals, the
glorification of the State-these are the natural results of the
coming into power of a regime whose one purpose is the salvation
of the profit system and whose hired leaders are superpatriots,
demagogues, militarists, political racketeers, and fanatics. Fascism
has no place for the intelligent.. It claims a planned economy;
what it succeeds in enforcing is planned thinking-and that on
the lowest plane. Gleichschalung in Germany and Totalitarianism
in Italy and their equivalents in other Fascist states demand
the mental as well as the social destruction of the individual.
For Americans there arises the question:
are our superpatriots, our duces and fuehrers of the financial-industrial
empire which has grown within the walls of the Jeffersonian democracy,
ready to break all safeguards of our old liberties in order to
preserve their private interests? Are they ready for the militarism,
the bloodshed, and the warfare which are inherent in Fascism?
They themselves say No. Super-industrialists
like Hearst, the DuPonts, Sloan, Gifford, Swope, Schwab, Raskob,
Grace, will probably tell you that they are as opposed to Fascism
as to Communism. Moreover, a vote of popular opinion taken by
the reliable Gallup service brings out the astonishing fact that
the majority of the American people, i.e., the Republican and
Democratic Party voters, wholeheartedly believe that they are
liberals, not conservatives.
There are, however, men and organizations
which frankly endorse Fascism, as well as perhaps even more fascistic
men and organizations who openly denounce the movement, who perhaps
sincerely believe they are fighting it, but who are really the
forerunners and potential leaders of Fascism in America.
In a interview in January 1923, Commander-in-Chief
Alvin Owsley of the American Legion not only endorsed Mussolini
and Fascism, but announced his readiness to do what the Duce did,
that is, upset the democratic form of government, establish a
reign of terror, maintain a dictatorship where the masses of people
are deprived of all civil rights.
"If ever needed," he said, "the
American Legion stands ready to protect our country's institutions
and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who
Asked whether that meant taking over the
government, he replied:
"Exactly that. The American Legion
is fighting every element that threatens our democratic government-soviets,
anarchists, I.W.W., revolutionary socialists and every other 'Red
... Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American
Legion is to the United States."
This last statement has been borne out
hundreds of times when American labor has sought to exercise its
("I've never known one leader of
the American Legion who has never sold them out-and I mean it,"
said General Butler to the New York Times in 1933.)
Succeeding commanders of the Legion have
never so openly declared for Fascism, but several have been as
reactionary, and the majority have invited Mussolini to attend
their annual conventions.
William Randolf Hearst, in his official
editorials, has at times linked Fascism with Communism and other
Isms which he opposes, but beyond such a statement he has never
attacked Fascism. In fact he has spent thousands of dollars buying
the views and opinions of Mussolini. He is considered the leading
Fascist in America, and the most powerful. He has actually endorsed
both Mussolini and Hitler. On arriving from Germany, 28 September
1934, after he made the $400,000 news agency sale to Hitler, he
"The fascist party of Italy was organized
to quell the disturbances and disorders of communism. The fascist
party of Germany was organized for the same purpose. It was intended
to and very likely did prevent Germany from going communist and
cooperating with Soviet Russia. This is the great policy, the
great achievement which makes the Hitler regime popular with the
German people, and which enables it to survive very obvious and
very serious mistakes."
Among the great American industrialists (and employers of secret
spies, illegal police, and gangsters or pre-Fascist militia in
American labor disputes) the first to announce for Mussolini was
none other than the then head of the United States Steel Corporation.
Overcome with the beauties of peaceful Italy where strikes are
outlawed, where labor knows its place (which is as near serfdom
as anything we know of in this century), and where the standard
of living of the people reached the lowest point in modern history,
judge Elbert Henry Gary declared: "I feel like turning to
my American friends and asking them whether they don't think we
too need a man like Mussolini."
One of his American friends, a senator
from Pennsylvania, a state whose senators for decades had been
known as the errand boys of the steel corporation, echoed the
words. "What this country needs is a Mussolini," said
Senator David A Reed to his colleagues on one occasion; and on
another, "Signor Mussolini has given Italy a particularly
strong and stable government; he has restored order where once
chaos ruled; he has increased the productive capacity of Italy
and conferred happiness upon all classes, high and low, the rich
and the poor."
... Charles E. Sorensen, general manager of the Ford Motor company
who, returning on a German ship, told the reporters that Germany
was "in marvelous shape and looks prosperous everywhere"
(at a time when the objective journalists were writing about increased
misery). And there is Charles M. Schwab, who was described as
"full of praise for conditions in Germany under the Hitler
And, of course, there is Al Capone, who
is for Fascism.
"Fascism in America will arrive on an anti-Fascist platform."
... The real enemies of the nation's democratic institutions today
are the Fascist-minded men with the "ability and willingness
to turn the concentrated wealth of America against the welfare
of America." Secretary of the Interior Harold L Ickes made
this statement at the annual dinner of the American Civil Liberties
Union on 8 December 1937; it was without a doubt the frankest
statement on Fascism ever made by a member of the American government.
"Our ancestors," continued Mr.
Ickes, "fought to prevent a state censorship of news and
ideas. Our ancestors did not fight for the right of a few lords
of the press to have almost exclusive control of and censorship
over the dissemination of news and ideas. Yet under the stress
of economic forces our press and news agencies are coming more
and more under the domination of a handful of corporate publishers
who may print S such news as they wish to print and omit such
news as they do not wish to I print. They may even color the news.
"A sad part of the long record that
has been written on the infringement of our civil liberties has
to do with the Supreme Court of the United States. It is commonly
believed that this court has been far more liberal than legislative
bodies in protecting civil liberties. Unfortunately the facts
do not bear out this general belief. On the contrary the Court
has gone far to convert the Bill of Rights, which was intended
as a charter of human freedom, into a charter of corporate privilege
"Let no one sleepily believe that
our democratic form of government is necessarily secure for all
time to come. We have seen dictatorships in other lands reach
out and destroy constitutional democracies, states combine not
for protection but for aggression. We have discovered that Fascism
has not been quarantined, but that it is capable of leaping wide
Mr. Ickes concluded that wealthy and influential
men with Fascist leanings were using the Red scare as "a
wooden horse within the bowels of which Fascism may enter the
shrine of liberty."
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