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Index
Time Magazine
New York Times

Plot Without Plotters


Time Magazine Dec. 3, 1934



From Straight Dope


One frosty dawn in November 1935, 500,000 War veterans rolled out of their blankets in the pine barrens around the CCC camp at Elkridge, Md. The brassy bugle notes of "Assembly" hurried them to the camp's parade ground, where, mounted on a white horse and surrounded by his staff, they found their leader, Major General Smedley Darlington ("Old Gimlet Eye") Butler, U. S. M. C., retired.

"Men," cried General Butler, "Washington is but 30 miles away! Will you follow me?"

The answer was a mighty shout: "We will!"

Squad by squad, half a million men tramped briskly out onto U. S. Highway No. 1 and turned south. A lumbering ammunition train, supplied by Remington Arms Co. and E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., brought up the rear. At the head of the long column as it swung along through the misty morning rode General Butler with his high command. Straddling a charger was that grim, oldtime cavalryman, General Hugh Samuel Johnson. General Douglas MacArthur, who only a year before had been the Army's Chief of Staff, trotted jauntily beside him. Behind them clop-clopped three past commanders of the American Legion — Hanford MacNider, Louis Johnson and Henry Stevens. Between them and the first squad of marching men glided a shiny limousine. On its back seat, with a plush robe across their knees, were to be seen John P. Morgan and his partner, Thomas William Lament, deep in solemn talk.

It was nearly sundown before Washington was reached and Pennsylvania Avenue was filled from end to end with this citizen army. His spurs clinked loudly as General Butler strode into President Roosevelt's study. "Mr. President," barked the general, "I have 500,000 men outside who want peace but want something more. I wish you to remove Cordell Hull as Secretary of State."

The President promptly telephoned across the street for Mr. Hull's resignation.

"And now, Mr. President," continued General Butler, "I ask you to fill the vacancy which has just occurred in your Cabinet by appointing me Secretary of State." It took Mr. Roosevelt less than a minute to sign the commission. "Let it be understood," the new Secretary of State told the President, "that henceforth I will act as the nation's executive. You may continue to live here at the White House and draw your salary but you will do and say only what I tell you. If not, you and Vice President Garner will be dealt with as I think best. In that event, as Secretary of State, I shall succeed to the Presidency, as provided by law." The President nodded assent and the U. S. became a Fascist State. Such was the nightmarish page of future U. S. history pictured last week in Manhattan by General Butler himself to the special House Committee investigating Un-American Activities.

No military officer of the U. S. since the late, tempestuous George Custer has succeeded in publicly floundering in so much hot water as Smedley Darlington Butler. After a gallant career in all quarters of the globe with the Marines, General Butler was ''borrowed" by Philadelphia in 1924 to clean up that city's bootlegging. The hot-headed general resigned the following year, declaring that he had been made the respectable "front" for a gang of political racketeers. In 1927 he made front pages again by preferring charges of drunkenness against a Marine colonel in San Diego, Calif, following a party at the colonel's home. Four years later General Butler himself was almost court-martialed for telling a Philadelphia audience that Benito Mussolini was a murderous hit-&-run driver. He was soon embroiled in a row with the Haitian Minister who was quoted as saying that a fort General Butler said he had captured in Haiti had never existed. After these highly embarrassing incidents, General Butler found it best to resign from the Marines in 1931 to devote himself to politics and public speaking as a private citizen. In 1932 he went to Washington to harangue the Bonus Army, was an unsuccessful candidate for Senator from Pennsylvania on a Dry ticket. Last December he exhorted veterans: 'If the Democrats take care of you, keep them in —if not, put 'em out." In May the current Butlerism was: "War Is A Racket." Last month he told a Manhattan Jewish congregation that he would never again fight outside the U. S. General Butler's sensational tongue had not been heard in the nation's Press for more than a week when he cornered a reporter for the Philadelphia Record and the New York Post, poured into his ears the lurid tale that he had been offered leadership of a Fascist Putsch, scheduled for next year.

Congressmen Samuel Dickstein, from Manhattan's lower East Side, and John W. McCormack, from South Boston, picked up the fantastic story and summoned the doughty warrior from his home at Newtown Square, Pa., to a closed hearing of the Un-American Activities Committee.

The general began by saying that last summer Gerald McGuire, a bond salesman for G. M.P. Murphy & Co. of Manhattan, had approached him in behalf of a big private investor named Robert Sterling Clark, offered him $18,000 to address the American Legion convention in behalf of hard money. This the general refused to do. Then, said the general, McGuire. a onetime Connecticut Legion commander, had broached the big plan for the Fascist coup. Du Pont and Remington were putting up the arms. Morgan & Co. and G. M.P. Murphy & Co. were putting up $3,000.000 to raise an army of 500.000 veterans which apparently would be concentrated at Elkridge. If General Butler refused to be "the man on the White Horse" who would lead it into Washington and wrest the Government from Franklin Roosevelt, command would be offered to others in on the scheme—General Johnson, General MacArthur, the three ex-commanders of the American Legion. General Butler said he had "bided his time" until he had heard the whole plot, then made his revelations.

Thanking their stars for having such sure-fire publicity dropped in their laps, Representatives McCormack & Dickstein began calling witnesses to expose the "plot." But there did not seem to be any plotters.

A bewildered army captain, commandant at the Elkridge CCC camp, could shed no light on the report that his post was to be turned into a revolutionary base.

Mr. Morgan, just off a boat from Europe, had nothing to say, but Partner Lamont did: "Perfect moonshine! Too unutterably ridiculous to comment upon!"

"He had better be pretty damn careful," growled General Johnson. "Nobody said a word to me about anything of this kind, and if they did I'd throw them out the window."

G.M.-P. Murphy & Co.'s President Grayson Mallet-Prevost Murphy, Wartime lieutenant colonel, snorted: "A fantasy! . . . and I don't believe there is a word of truth in it with respect to Mr. McGuire."

Investor Clark, in Paris, freely admitted trying to get General Butler to use his influence with the Legion against dollar devaluation, but stoutly declared: "I am neither a Fascist nor a Communist, but an American." He threatened a libel suit "unless the whole affair is relegated to the funny sheets by Sunday."

"It sounds like the best laugh story of the year," chimed in General MacArthur from Washington.

From San Francisco, Socialist Norman Thomas wryly doubted that "it would be worth $3,000,000 to any Wall Street group to attempt to overthrow the Government under the present Administration, because Wall Street and Big Business have flourished under it more than any other group."

Dr. William Albert Wirt, Gary, Ind. school superintendent, who thought the Reds were about to capture the Government last spring, took a practical view of General Butler's Fascist uprising. "Three million dollars would be a mere bagatelle for a revolution," said he. "Why, that would be only $6 a head for an army of 500,000. . . ."

Only public figure to support General Butler's story was Commander James Van Zandt of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He said he had known about the plot all along, that he had refused to participate in it.

Though most of the country was again laughing at the latest Butler story, the special House Committee declined to join in the merriment. Turning from the Fascist putsch yarn to investigate Communism among New York fur workers, Congressman Dickstein promised Commander Van Zandt a later hearing in Washington. "From present indications," said the publicity-loving New York Representative, "General Butler has the evidence. He's not making serious charges unless he has something to back them up. We will have some men here with bigger names than Butler's before this is over."


Credulity Unlimited


New York Times November, 22 1934

A Washington correspondent asked: `What can we believe?' Apparently, anything, to judge by the number of people who lend a credulous ear to the story of General Butler's 500,000 Fascists in buckram marching on Washington to seize the government. Details are lacking to lend verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. No information is given where the men were to come from. Perhaps they were the million men William Jennings Bryan said would spring to arms overnight. Their equipment, their training, are not specified. The whole story sounds like a gigantic hoax. General Butler himself does not appear to more than half credit it. He and some others, however, ask us to follow the famous saying of Tertullian: `I believe it because it is impossible.' It does not merit serious discussion, but if the army and the navy authorities, or the Congressional committee can develop any `facts' about, let them do so quickly, so as to prevent this nation from appearing as gullible as were the Germans in the case of the Hauptmann von Kopenick [the innocent person the Nazis blamed for the Reichstag fire] .
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