In 1933, a group of American Legion and financial figures approached former Marine general and Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Butler to lead a coup d’etat against the United States government and establish a military regime. Butler reported the contact, and a congressional probe found that what became known as the business plot was intended to set up fascist rule. Boulder City native Sally Denton has written a book, The Plots Against the President, that deals with the plot.
Given Smedley Butler’s record of criticism of the financial community and U.S. foreign policy, what possessed the plotters to choose him?
Well, I think that they knew that he was probably the only general or military figure of his stature who the veterans would follow. I know that they probably would have preferred to have MacArthur or somebody more like-minded, but there’s no way that the half-million veterans that they wanted would go along with that. I think they were hoping that if they could convince Butler that America was on a downward spiral that they could convince him to take on the position.
When I interviewed you previously, you said that you found information on the coup that was not available at the time of the investigation.
That interview would have been long before I actually even did much of the later research. … During that time I was able to get into the FBI files that had never really been perused before and also there were some of the contemporaneous files about the business plot that were never really published either at the time or later that are now available in various locations.
There were some techniques used against FDR similar to those used by the birthers.
Well, I found a lot of this was stunning and, as you’ve read the book, I don’t draw the parallels to today. I decided a choice not to do that, a narrative choice to let the reader draw the parallels. But while researching it I could not help but see the similarities between this cottage industry that sprouted up during Roosevelt’s first term, trying to prove that he was Jewish. And there was this feeling that there was a Jewish conspiracy and that he was part of it—a Jewish conspiracy to take over the money of the world. And so they went to great lengths to try and prove that he was descended from Dutch Jews. … And that even though he [Roosevelt] was a patrician, he was an aristocrat, his bloodlines and aristocratic background was undeniable, there was still this element and the populists, this kind of unhinged element, determined to prove that he was Jewish.
Having gone through this experience of researching all this, how likely is it that a coup would succeed in the United States?
Well, I think it was likely that it could have happened back then. First of all, America was in such a tenuous situation that there were actually a lot of intellectual thinkers … who were really thinking that capitalism was finished, that democracy as we knew it was finished, that a fascist government would be preferable. What is clear is that some of the nation’s wealthiest men—and this was bipartisan, these were Republicans and Democrats alike—who were so threatened by Roosevelt’s monetary policies that they actually flirted with the possible anti-government, paramilitary coup. … I mean, you had a half-million veterans that were dispossessed … who were absolutely destitute and could easily have been manipulated into a paramilitary force, and there was evidence of that all over the world. … But it seems to me that now the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, that all of it is such a huge bureaucracy, I just can’t imagine something like that being possible.
The full interview can be read on our Newsview blog.