A Man on Horseback

excerpted from the book

The George Seldes Reader

by Randolph T. Holhut

Barricade Books, 1994, paper

George Seldes

"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."



[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 him."

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 to me."

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 men overnight.'

"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 their success.

"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 to join.'

"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 menaced Italy."

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 constitutional rights.

("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 said:

"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 regime."

And, of course, there is Al Capone, who is for Fascism.

Huey Long
"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 oceans .....

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."

The George Seldes Reader

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