It’s been 50 years since the Kennedy assassination. Much of it will be reprints or rehashes of the usual Kennedy fare, hagiography and conspiracy theories.

One work coming out on October 8th will be very different and very interesting.  It’s the story of Dallas in 1963 and is the subject of  a new book by Stephen L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio.  In one of the interviews promoting DALLAS 1963, Minutaglio sums up the book’s premise:

 “We felt there was a welling toxic environment in Dallas….That there was something that started as unease and dread in the community at large and it really began building to a fevered pitch. It was waiting there for Kennedy, and he didn’t know it.”

DALLAS 1963 follows the city through a three-year arc, starting with events surrounding the 1960 Election,  culminating with the Kennedy visit,  three years later.  The parallels to today are striking. The sixties were a time of great social change, and the nation was boiling over with anger on matters of racial equality, perceived external threats, and cultural changes ushered in by the election of a Catholic President.

Dallas became the center of the political opposition to Kennedy’s New Frontier “People were literally coming to Dallas to join this anti-Kennedy resistance,” Minutaglio says. “Lee Harvey Oswald was there, and was kind of caught up in the swirl, and might have been motivated as a disturbed individual to action, to be a part of this maelstrom. Nothing like this could have happened, but in Dallas.”  (Links to information on the book and interview follows).

“WE’RE REALLY IN NUT COUNTRY NOW”  -  JFK: November 22, 1963

The DALLAS MORNING NEWS of that day featured an ad entitled "Welcome to Dallas, Mr. President", replete with taunting questions like "WHY have you scrapped the Monroe Doctrine in favor of the "Spirit of Moscow"?.  He commented to the First Lady, "We're really in nut country now."

Another piece of art was the "treason" flyer (see link) , it was printed and distributed by members of The John Birch Society, which was the “Tea Party” of the day. The Birchers were connected to retired Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, a prominent new Dallas resident, (and future member of the Larry Craig Public Restroom Club). The Flyer speaks for itself, with the usual “red-menace” boilerplate and accusations of “treason”. 

In tones reminiscent of today’s religious extremists, not only was Kennedy guilty of cutting a deal with Moscow, he "consistently appointed Anti-Christians to Federal office, upholds the Supreme Court in its Anti-Christian rulings" and  the blanket "…. caught in fantastic Lies to the American people.”  And  of course, ““WHY have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists in America?”

The far-right was bankrolled by billionaires like H.L. Hunt and their events were mandatory attendance for those seeking to rise in the local corporate culture. Dallas was also the home of the religious right of its day.  That included fundamentalist legend W.A. Criswell, and the bisexual,  Billy James Hargis.  And the Dallas News was considered the most biased paper in America, led by EM “Ted” Dealey, who enlightened a Kennedy White House lunch, by telling the President America needed a “man on horseback” rather than some wimp on “Caroline’s tricycle.”

And it was not as if the White House was unaware that things in Dallas could turn ugly. A highlight of Campaign 1960’s final days in Dallas, was a spit-shower launched by some of the lovely Republican ladies of Highland Park, with the local Republican Congressman (Bruce Alger), blazing the trail for Ted Cruz. Then there was the matter of UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, getting struck in the head by a sign wielded by an insurance executive’s wife the month before.  A “Negro pushed me” , said Cora Lacy Fredrickson.  The saner heads in Dallas, like the head of Neiman Marcus, Stanley Marcus, warned, then begged JFK not to come. Even Billy Graham had a premonition.

The rest of the story speaks for itself. As editor Bob Moser says in the Texas Observer, “But JFK, for all his (actual and factual) faults, possessed an oversized set of cojones–too large, perhaps. After Air Force One landed in Dallas, he took his sweet time shaking hands along the crowded airport fence at Love Field, “showing he is not afraid,” as one reporter said. Twenty minutes later, the presidential limo he’d insisted on leaving open-topped was gliding toward the Dallas Trade Mart, where Kennedy planned to say a few choice things about right-wing fanaticism.” The last thing Jack Kennedy heard were the words of Nellie Connolly, “You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you……”

Moser goes on, “The denizens of Texas nut country did not kill Kennedy that day. But many celebrated openly and joyously after Lee Harvey Oswald did. Birchers and Klansmen gloated. Elementary-school students in the Dallas ‘burbs broke into spontaneous applause. In Amarillo, a reporter witnessed jubilation in the streets, with men whooping and tossing their hats in the air and one woman crying out, “Hey, great, JFK’s croaked!”


As the PR for DALLAS 1963 states, the book will be a “sobering reminder of how “ordinary” America can turn into something else entirely.” Minutaglio  speaks of “a welling toxic environment in Dallas….That there was something that started as unease and dread in the community at large and it really began building to a fevered pitch. It was waiting there for Kennedy, and he didn’t know it.”

In the year 2013, we need look no further than AM Radio as outlets for the reinforcement of this era’s overheated rhetoric, every hour and every day. Much larger than a city in Texas,  “nut country” has grown to encompass much of the land between the coasts.  To paraphrase the Observer,  it is a throwback to another time “when a vocal minority”  is expressing open, slanderous and rhetorically violent hostility toward a president whose greatest crime is not being a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”  The only thing new, is sadly the history we do not remember.  


“For the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, there are dozens of books coming. But the only one, for my money, that really distinguishes itself is this terrifying account of the potent blend of right-wing hysteria, subversive reactionaries, and violence that bubbled over in Dallas in the years before Oswald pulled the trigger. The scariest part: the paranoid right was as freaked out then as they are now."
—Lucas Wittman, The Daily Beast





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