Explore Freedom

Explore Freedom » A Military Coup in America?

FFF Articles

A Military Coup in America?


Ever since I started writing about the assassination of John F. Kennedy several years ago, people have been asking me why I do it. Since the event happened 53 years ago this month, what possible relevance could the assassination have to Americans living today? Even if Kennedy had been the victim of a conspiracy, wouldn’t the malefactors probably be dead by now? Isn’t it time to finally put the Kennedy assassination behind us and move on?

Actually, the Kennedy assassination is as relevant today as it was back in 1963, especially given that the national-security establishment, which the great weight of the circumstantial evidence indicates orchestrated the assassination, not only continues to be the principal component of the U.S. federal governmental structure but also is the leading cause of the destruction of the liberty, privacy, and prosperity of the American people.

In his 1961 Farewell Address, President Dwight Eisenhower pointed out that America’s adoption of a “military-industrial complex” after World War II fundamentally changed the nation’s governmental structure and also posed a grave threat to the liberties and democratic processes of the American people.

Last summer, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed that indirectly confirmed Eisenhower’s concerns. Entitled “If Trump Wins, a Coup Isn’t Impossible Here in the U.S.,” by James Kirchick, the op-ed raised the very real possibility of a military coup in America if Donald Trump should be elected president.

Kirchick posited a scenario in which a president (the author posited Donald Trump) orders the military to perform some illegal act, which the military refuses to obey. If the president insists that his orders be followed, the national-security establishment would use its overwhelming military power to oust him from office.

That is a fascinating conspiracy hypothesis, especially since it has implications for the Kennedy assassination, which, of course, was not mentioned in Kirchick’s op-ed.

In my ebook The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State, I pointed out that the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state not only changed the nature of the federal government, it also constituted a de facto amendment to the U.S. Constitution by adding another way to remove a president from power — an extra-constitutional way.

The Constitution provides three ways to legally remove a president from office: on Election Day through the ballot box, through impeachment (and conviction) by Congress, and through the 25th Amendment, which deals with a president who becomes incapacitated.

But as a practical matter, as Kirchick and the L.A. Times observe (and, it seems to me, implicitly endorse), there is now a fourth way to remove a president from office: through a coup by the national-security establishment. It’s not legal, but everyone knows that it’s now conceivable and, in the eyes of some, would be necessary and beneficial under certain circumstances. That possibility has been hanging over the American people, including presidential candidates, ever since the creation of the national-security state after World War II. And everyone knows that if it were to happen, there would be virtually nothing anyone could do about it, owing to the overwhelming power of the national-security establishment — i.e., the military, the CIA, the NSA, and others — within the federal governmental structure.


The Chilean people experienced something similar first-hand on September 11, 1973, when Chile’s national-security establishment did precisely what Kirchick and the L.A. Times suggested should happen here under certain circumstances. Faced with a democratically elected communist president who was implementing socialist economic policies, Salvador Allende, the Chilean national-security establishment went on the attack against Allende and the executive branch of the government. Troops and tanks surrounded the presidential palace and began firing at Allende and his associates, and air force planes bombed his position.

Before long, the national-security branch of the government prevailed in the battle, with Allende’s associates surrendering and Allende himself dying of a supposed self-inflicted gunshot wound. At that point the Chilean Supreme Court fell silent, not daring to antagonize the national-security establishment, which was now in charge. The Court remained silent during the next several years of military rule, which produced one of the most brutal and tyrannical dictatorships in history, one that carried out the rounding up, torture, rape, indefinite detention, or execution of tens of thousands of people who were guilty of nothing more than having supported Allende or having believed in socialism or communism.

Today, many Chilean and American conservatives continue to justify the Chilean coup, even though Chile’s constitution provided for only two ways to legally remove a democratically elected president from office — through the ballot box and through impeachment.

There is another important point about the Chilean coup: It was brought about by the U.S. national-security establishment. U.S. officials wanted Allende ousted from power. Rather than invade Chile to effect regime change, as they had attempted to do a decade before in Cuba, they decided instead to foment a military coup from within.

Why did they go after Allende? For the same reason they went after Castro and, for that matter, the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954. This was the Cold War, when the national-security establishment was convinced  that America was in grave danger of falling to what it believed was an international communist conspiracy.

When Chilean military officials were training at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, U.S. officials were teaching them that when a president of a country is implementing policies that constitute a threat to the nation or to “national security,” it is the solemn moral duty of the national-security establishment to save the country by ousting their president from office, notwithstanding the illegality of the action under the country’s constitution.

When the head of the Chilean Armed Forces, Gen. Rene Schneider, expressed opposition to the coup, arguing that it was the sworn duty of the military to support and defend the constitution, the CIA simply orchestrated a kidnapping, which ultimately left Schneider not kidnapped but killed. Moreover, to encourage public acceptance of the coup, the CIA did everything it could to “make the economy scream” under Allende, including bribing truck drivers who delivered the nation’s food supplies to go on strike.

For some reason, Kirchick and the L.A. Times failed to point to the Chilean coup as a model for what they might foresee happening here in the United States in a coup against a President Trump.

Obeying orders

A ridiculous point about the Kirchick op-ed is the hypothesis he poses that would motivate the military and the CIA to oust a President Trump from office. He puts a black hat on Trump by suggesting that he would issue illegal orders to the military, and he puts a white hat on the military by suggesting that they would oppose illegal orders. He even quotes retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who also served as director of the CIA, as saying that if Trump were to issue an illegal order to the troops, “the American armed forces would refuse to act.”

That’s got to be one of the most ludicrous assertions I’ve ever read. The fact is that the military and the CIA are going to obey every order that any president issues to them, whether that president is Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else. The fact that soldiers and CIA agents take an oath to support and defend the Constitution is quite irrelevant to them. As history has shown, the military and the CIA are effectively the private army of the president. As a practical matter, that’s whom they swear allegiance to. When the president orders his troops to do things, they don’t sit there and scratch their noodles to determine whether his orders are constitutional or not. They hop to, salute, and do as they are ordered.

Want proof? Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Constitution expressly requires the president to secure a congressional declaration of war before he can wage war against a foreign nation-state. When U.S. troops were ordered to wage war against those four countries, they should have “refused to act,” to use Hayden’s phraseology. They didn’t. They dutifully obeyed the orders of their commander in chief.

Want more proof? Torture. When the troops and the CIA were ordered to subject prisoners to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they should have “refused to act.” They didn’t, despite the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. statutes, the U.S. Constitution, and international law.

More proof? Assassination. The Constitution specifically prohibits the federal government from depriving any person of life without due process of law. When the troops and the CIA were ordered to assassinate people, including Americans, they should have “refused to act.” They didn’t. And today they operate one of the most extensive assassination programs in history, one that even rivals Operation Condor, the massive top-secret international assassination program orchestrated by Gen. Augusto Pinochet after the Chilean coup in which the CIA was a principal partner.

Assassination, 1963

While the scenario posited by Kirchick is ridiculous, however, there is another scenario that would be much more likely to bring about a military coup in America. That scenario would involve a president’s initiating policies that the military and the CIA consider are a threat to “national security,” which is what brought about the Chilean coup.

The circumstantial evidence also indicates that that is what got John Kennedy removed from office.

As I explained in my ebook Regime Change: The JFK Assassination, Kennedy came into office with pretty much the standard Cold War mentality. The dominoes were going to fall in Southeast Asia, and the communists were coming to get us. The Soviet Union was going to initiate a nuclear war against the United States. Cuba was a communist dagger 90 miles away that pointed at the United States. The Cold War was necessary to save America from a communist takeover. It was necessary to convert America’s federal governmental system to a national-security state in order to protect Americans from the communist threat.

By the time he was assassinated, however, Kennedy had evidently achieved a “breakthrough” motivating him to move America in an entirely different direction — one that involved bringing an end to the Cold War and peacefully coexisting with the communist world. It was a high-risk endeavor, one that was directly opposite to the Cold War vision of the Pentagon and the CIA. Indeed, both Kennedy and his brother Robert alluded to the possibility of a military coup prior to the assassination, owing to the national-security establishment’s fierce opposition to Kennedy’s foreign policy.

Kennedy’s transition began with the CIA’s Bay of Pigs operation, which ended in defeat at the hands of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s forces. Kennedy was livid over what had happened, leading him to fire the CIA’s much-revered director, Allen Dulles, who, in an enormous ethical conflict of interest, would later be appointed to serve on the Warren Commission, the body that was charged with determining who had assassinated Kennedy.

But Kennedy wasn’t the only one who was angry over what happened at the Bay of Pigs. So was the CIA, whose officials believed that Kennedy had betrayed the brave men who were invading Cuba by refusing to provide them with air support. It was the beginning of a vicious political-bureaucratic war between Kennedy and the CIA, a war in which Kennedy vowed to tear the CIA into a thousand pieces.

Kennedy’s transition continued when the military establishment began exhorting him to initiate an unprovoked nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, similar to the one the Japanese had carried out at Pearl Harbor. Their rationale? Since it was inevitable that the United States and the Soviet Union were going to go to war against each other at some time in the future, it would be beneficial to do so earlier rather than later, given the vast superiority in nuclear weaponry that the United States possessed. After one particular meeting in which the first-strike plan was presented to Kennedy, he walked out and indignantly remarked to an aide, “And we call ourselves the human race.”

Increasingly obsessed with regime change in Cuba, notwithstanding the fact that Cuba never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so, the military also presented Kennedy with Operation Northwoods, which called for a false-flag operation consisting of airplane hijackings and terrorist attacks that would be blamed on the Cubans and provide the pretext for war.

The culmination of Kennedy’s transition came during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the national-security establishment was exhorting him to bomb and invade Cuba and bring about the regime change the military and the CIA longed for. Instead, he struck a deal with the Soviets in which he secretly promised to remove nuclear missiles in Turkey that were pointed at the Soviet Union and openly agreed that the United States would no longer invade Cuba, which struck at the heart of the national-security establishment’s conviction that America could never survive with a communist outpost only 90 miles away from American shores.

The American people and the world were relieved that Kennedy had settled the dispute. Not so, however, with the national-security establishment. They considered it one of the greatest defeats in U.S. history. One member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff even compared Kennedy’s actions to Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to the Nazis at Munich.

At that point, Kennedy’s breakthrough was complete. He was determined to move America in a different direction, one that was contrary to the direction that the national-security establishment believed was necessary to national security. As Douglas Horne, who served on the staff of the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s, points out in his FFF ebook, JFKs’ War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated, the war between Kennedy and his national-security establishment was on. Kennedy was determined to move America in a different direction. The national-security establishment was equally determined to stay the Cold War course and even make it a hot war against the communists in Vietnam.

When Kennedy delivered his famous “Peace Speech” at American University in June 1963, in which he called for an end to the Cold War and for peaceful coexistence with the communist world, the national-security establishment could only seethe in anger. The president had not consulted with the military and CIA and he hadn’t even forewarned them of what he intended to say.

Then came the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets, which brought an end to the national-security establishment’s atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs.

It was followed by Kennedy’s order to begin withdrawing troops from Vietnam.

And finally, there were the secret personal negotiations that Kennedy initiated with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban President Fidel Castro, negotiations about which he failed to tell the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but of which they were undoubtedly aware. In fact, at the very moment Kennedy was assassinated, his personal emissary was meeting with Castro in an attempt to end the Cold War.

The frame

As I pointed out in Regime Change, as the official evidence relating to the Kennedy assassination has slowly been released, the circumstantial evidence points in the direction of a very sophisticated assassination plot involving the frame-up of an innocent man.

We all know that cops periodically frame people for reasons they consider important. There have been cases where people who have been framed had to spend decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

For a frame-up to be successful, it is necessary to make most of the pieces of the puzzle fit together so that people will disbelieve the victim’s denials of his guilt. But it’s extremely difficult to make all the pieces fit together. That’s where secrecy comes into play. Keeping everything secret makes it more difficult for people to see that pieces of the puzzle just don’t fit.

That’s what happened with the Kennedy assassination. Generally, the pieces fit well and were sufficiently persuasive to convince many people that Lee Harvey Oswald had assassinated Kennedy. The problem was that some of the pieces to the puzzle were missing and, even worse, some of the pieces just didn’t fit. For example, it has never made any sense that a person who was supposedly a devout and committed communist would want to assassinate a president who was committed to ending the Cold War with the communist world, especially since his successor, Lyndon Johnson, had aligned himself with the national-security establishment.

But as I point out in my book The Kennedy Autopsy, nowhere do the pieces of the Kennedy assassination puzzle fail more completely to fit than in the events surrounding the autopsy that the military conducted on Kennedy’s body.

Robert Knudsen is one example of such a piece. Knudsen’s piece in the assassination puzzle didn’t come to light until the ARRB discovered it in the 1990s, more than 30 years after the assassination. That’s because the national-security establishment had kept his role secret during those three decades.

Knudsen was a U.S. Navy petty officer who served as an official White House photographer for five presidents, including Kennedy. He was a highly respected photographer. The photograph on the cover of the Warren Report was taken by him. It would be difficult to find a more credible person than Robert Knudsen.

On the day of the assassination, Knudsen was summoned to Andrews Air Force Base to meet Air Force One, on which the president’s body was being transported from Dallas. When he returned to his family three days later, he told them that he had photographed the president’s autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital but that he couldn’t tell them the details because he had been sworn to secrecy. Fourteen years later, in 1977, he stated in an interview in a national photography magazine, Popular Photography, that he had been the photographer for the president’s autopsy.

There is one big problem, however. He wasn’t the photographer for the autopsy. In fact, he wasn’t even at the autopsy. Everyone agrees that the official photographer for Kennedy’s autopsy was a man named John Stringer, a highly respected photography expert who also worked for the Navy. Everyone also agrees that Knudsen was never inside the room where the autopsy was being performed.

When an important piece of a puzzle doesn’t fit, isn’t explained, and can’t be explained, that’s the mark of a frame-up.

It is a virtual certainty though that Knudsen wasn’t lying and that instead he honestly thought he was telling the truth. He obviously photographed some procedure that he was told was the autopsy. After all, why would he lie about something like that, especially when it would have been so easy to show that he wasn’t telling the truth? After having faithfully served as a photographer for five presidents, why would he risk his good reputation by making up a story about the assassination and telling it to a national magazine?

That obviously raises some questions: What medical procedure on Kennedy’s body did Knudsen actually photograph that he believed was the official autopsy? What was the purpose of that procedure?

Many years after the assassination, Knudsen was asked to review the autopsy photographs that are in the official record by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which was charged with re-investigating the Kennedy assassination. He told his family that the photographs he had seen were fraudulent and did not depict a large wound that he had seen in the back of the president’s head, which would suggest an exit wound from a shot from the front. (Oswald was supposed to have fired from the president’s rear.)

Knudsen’s statement conforms to the testimony of another Navy official who worked in the White House during the Kennedy administration, a woman named Saundra Spencer. She testified to the ARRB in the 1990s that the autopsy photographs in the official record were not the photographs that she developed on the weekend of the assassination. The photographs she developed, she said, showed a large wound in the back of the president’s head, the same thing that Knudsen said and, for that matter, the same thing that the treating physicians in Dallas had described. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Stringer himself denied the authenticity of many of the photographs in the official autopsy record.

In 1992, Congress enacted the JFK Records Act, which mandated that federal agencies, including the Pentagon and the CIA, release all records relating to the Kennedy assassination to the public. Many of the records were released, which is what enabled the ARRB to learn about Robert Knudsen, and depose Saundra Spencer and John Stringer. Unfortunately, however, Knudsen had died in 1989, which precluded the ARRB from deposing him.

Someone slipped a provision into the JFK Records Act, however, that entitled federal agencies to continue keeping Kennedy-related records secret for another 25 years. As Jefferson Morley points out in his FFF ebook, CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, the National Archives has announced that it intends to release those records in October 2017. Will those records clarify the role that Robert Knudsen played during the weekend of the assassination? Will they provide more details about the war between Kennedy and his national-security establishment? Will they reveal more details about the assassination and the president’s autopsy? Time will tell, except for one caveat: Under the law, federal agencies, including the CIA, can petition the president for another extension of time for secrecy, on grounds of “national security,” of course.

Is the Kennedy assassination still relevant? With a national-security state apparatus that is still operating one of the most extensive assassination programs in history, with U.S. presidential candidates from the two major political parties reluctant to move America in a direction opposed to that of the national-security establishment or to offend national-security officials, with tens of thousands of national-security state records relating to the assassination still secret, and with the mainstream press’s positing the possibility of a military coup under our form of constitutional government if a war breaks out between the president and the national-security establishment, the Kennedy assassination is more relevant than ever.

This article was originally published in the November 2016 edition of Future of Freedom.

  • Categories
  • This post was written by:

    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.