If you are up on your JFK assassination lore, you may be familiar with the tale of one Joseph Milteer, a racist from Georgia who, in the early 1960s, became a leader within an extremist group called the National States Rights Party. The FBI recruited a turncoat within that organization, a fellow named William Somerset. He got to know Milteer fairly well. He even made a recording of an astoundingly predictive conversation with Joseph Milteer, held on November 9, 1963.
A number of my readers will know these words well. As for the rest of you -- well, if you don't find this exchange at least somewhat
interesting, something is seriously wrong with you:
SOMERSETT: Yeah. Well, he will have a thousand bodyguards, don't worry about that.
MILTEER: The more bodyguards he has the easier it is to get him.
SOMERSETT: Well, how in the hell do you figure would be the best way to get him?
MILTEER: From an office building with a high-powered rifle.
SOMERSETT: Do you think he knows he’s a marked man?
MILTEER: I’m sure he does. I’m sure he does. Yes.
SOMERSETT: They are really going to try to kill him?
MILTEER: Oh yeah, it’s in the working.
SOMERSETT: Hitting this Kennedy, I’ll tell you is going to be a hard proposition, I believe. Now you may have it figured out to get him from an office building and all that, but I don’t know how, the Secret Service, they’d cover all them office buildings and anywhere he’s going. Do you know whether they’d do that or not?
MILTEER: If they have any suspicions, they will of course. But without suspicions the chances are they wouldn’t. You wouldn’t have to take a gun up there. They’d take it up in pieces, assemble it and take it out in pieces. All those guns come knocked down and you can take them apart.
SOMERSETT: Boy, if that Kennedy gets shot, we have to know where we are at. Because you know that will be a real shake if they do that.
MILTEER: They wouldn’t leave any stone unturned there, no way. They will pick somebody up within hours afterwards, if anything like that would happen. Just to throw the public off.
A young FBI man, Don Adams, investigated the Milteer angle after the assassination. Unfortunately, Adams' superiors severely limited the scope of the inquiry. Now, many years later, Adams has written a book called From an Office Building With a High-Powered Rifle
. This work examines Milteer's seeming ability to "call the shot," as well as the possibility that the man himself was in Dealey Plaza on that day. (To my eyes, the photographic evidence is inconclusive.)
Although I've not read the book, there is a review in the latest issue of Lobster. (Actually, Lobster 64 is still "in progress;" the review is already here
.) The reviewer, Anthony Frewin (who used to be a key associate of Stanley Kubrick) believes that Milteer is extremely unlikely to have been in on an actual plot:
The more one reads about Milteer the more unlikely it seems that he would be privy to any clandestine job. He drove around in a clapped out VW bus with far right slogans stuck all over it, published a weekly racist newsletter, campaigned for office in his hometown on a whole raft of wacky issues, and so on.
I'm not sure that these factors rule Milteer out. I doubt that he was a planner or even a participant, but I can easily accept that he managed to catch the gist of a gestative scheme. There were
subterranean links between that era's low-prole far-right milieu and what we may call "the secret state." (Those links grew stronger over time; today, paranoid extremists have taken over much of the GOP.) To prove the point, one need only rifle through the 1963 issues of American Opinion
, the journal of the John Birch Society. Take particular note of the pieces about Cuba. Those JBS guys were plenty crazy, and their necks had the same scarlet tinge as Milteer's -- but at least a few of them were surprisingly plugged in to covert affairs. They knew things most people didn't.
A good writer named Seamus Coogan takes a deeper look at Don Adams' book here
. Coogan thinks that Milteer may have been privy to some scuttlebutt but should not be considered an important investigative lead. Even so, "the Milteer thing" remains significant:
1. The book shows how lax the reportage of threats to the President's life was via the FBI. There was no due diligence done on the Milteer threat.
2. Additionally, it shows how inexperienced agents were given tough assignments, and then had their work hijacked by senior staffers and twisted for their own purposes.
3. Many Special Agents down South were often sympathetic towards Southern right-wing targets like Milteer.
4. The Bureau's forbidding Adams to ask any questions and cross check about where Milteer was that day went against basic FBI procedure. To my mind, this is the most valuable part of Adams book. It shows two things: (a) The FBI did not want to know anything about the possible involvement of Milteer with the JFK case, and (b) The Bureau had negated an crucial step in standard agent procedure, the step called by Bill Turner, “lead follow through”. This was not accidental and it had to be approved from on high.
For more on this story, see here
. Neither Frewin nor Coogan mention that Milteer met with Somersett after the assassination and offered more ominous words. As Somersett recalled:
"He was very happy over it and shook hands with me. He said: ‘Well, I told you so. It happened like I told you, didn't it? It happened from a window with a high-powered rifle.' I said, "That's right. I don't know whether you were guessing or not, but you hit it on the head pretty good.' He said, ‘Well, that is the way it was supposed to be done, and that is the way it was done.'
If you have any interest in the puzzles offered by recent history, check out these arguments and come to your own conclusions.