- Reporters Desk
By Lionel Rolfe
The other night on MSNBC, Rachael Maddow talked about Col. William P. Gale, the man who created the Posse Comitatus, Christian Identity and Aryan Nation movements.
She pointed out that the Nevada rancher, who thinks he should not have to pay federal grazing fees, was espousing a particular ideology, which had been Gale’s creation.
It turns out Maddow was talking about a rather arcane theory Gale proposed rejecting the legitimacy of the federal government because the 14th Amendment was passed in the Reconstruction period, following the Civil War. The former Confederacy hated the 14th Amendment because it essentially was designed to protect the rights of the freed slaves. Gale’s answer was to insist the only legitimate authority in each county was the sheriff.
Maddow’s piece on Gale quickly reminded me of an encounter of another kind I had had with Gale. In 1969, New Orleans District Attorney James Garrison tried Clay Shaw for what he believed was his involvement in the conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy. I had never believed the shots that killed Kennedy came from the Book Depository Building, not after hearing a reporter on the crime scene, an ABC radio broadcaster, proclaim the “shots are coming from the grassy knoll!”
I was working with the Garrison people on the Shaw trial for the Newhall Signal because Col. William Gale, named by Garrison as part of the conspiracy, was a local Republican primary congressional candidate in the Newhall area.
So, it came to pass that one June evening in 1968, the night Robert Kennedy was killed, I was on a couch in the front room of a home in the outer reaches of town, close to the beginning of the Mojave Desert. In six hours it would be midnight. Fifteen minutes after midnight presidential aspirant Robert Kennedy would be gunned down in the Ambassador Hotel, near downtown Los Angeles.
Gale was telling me about how Kennedy was part of the “Jewish-Communist conspiracy.” As he talked he was fondling a gun with a mammoth-sized silencer. When he got angry he would brandish the gun, so much that I got quite nervous.
This was Col. William Gale, a former top aide of Gen. Douglas McArthur. Gale later became better known as the Rev. William Gale of the Christian Identity faith, which later moved to Hayden Lake, Idaho, and was run by a Gale protégé, The Reverend Butler.
At that time, I didn’t know much about Gale. I was just a young reporter interviewing a congressional candidate. He was running against the incumbent Edwin Reinecke. When extensively questioned about the matter, Reinecke had admitted to me that he had many nagging doubts about the official version of the Kennedy murder, and so the Signal played that up big. Soon enough, the Signal was running articles and pictures meant to discredit the Warren Report because my boss got fascinated by Dealey Plaza.
In 1968 Gale, was not yet known as the mastermind of the Posse Comitatus. There were rumors of links to paramilitary groups, but mostly he portrayed himself as just another stockbroker working in Glendale who was also an investor in high desert real estate. Nothing was too far out in his initial campaign. He emphasized his military record. He had joined the Army at 16 and at 26 was the youngest lieutenant colonel in the army. He later became one of three officers selected by McArthur during World War II to direct guerrilla operations in the Philippines. He called himself a “constitutionalist.”
When asked about a group he had formed called the California Rangers, Gale denied that it was a paramilitary group. He said it was “volunteer civil defense group” comprised of former Army officer friends of his.
Garrison tied Gale to a mysterious former KKKer named G. Clinton Wheat, who had served prison time on a murder rap, and was on the run from a Garrison subpoena. When they caught up with Wheat, he had been hiding out in a cabin in the Sierra in Shasta County. (Gale would later move to the same area and start his Posse Comitatus there.) Wheat was supposed to have owned the house at 233 S. Lafayette Park Place near McArthur Park in Los Angeles, where Gale and a few others had discussed the conspiracy to kill John Kennedy, Garrison said. Gale told me that he was an acquaintance of Wheat, but denied everything else, although he did provide me “off the record” a thumbnail sketch of his acquaintance. Later, Garrison executive assistant James Alcock told me that Gale was definitely a very good friend of Wheat.
Not surprisingly, Gale suggested that Garrison was probably an agent of Castro. And with what was obviously meant to be an ironic touch, he allowed to me as to how he personally had liked John Kennedy, even if he didn’t agree with his politics, and speculated that the assassination “looked like an inside job.”
Gale attacked Reinecke for having confessed his doubts about the Kennedy assassination to me. “It isn’t a congressman’s job to investigate things like this. That’s why there are organizations like the FBI. If the agencies have investigated it, that’s it. Unless there’s good reason to believe there’s hanky-panky.”
Gale had showed me his shiny new Land Rover, which in a few hours he was going to drive to “the Midwest” to visit relatives he hadn’t seen in years if he lost the election to Reinecke — which, of course, he did. He talked a lot about his hero Gen. Edwin Walker, and former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who he had come to dismiss “as a coward, a politician, who would sell out to the niggers.”
He complained because his name had been dragged into news stories about Garrison’s trial of Clay Shaw for conspiracy “by reporters with Jewish names.” Since I am Jewish, I left before the sun sank behind the dry California hills. I did not want to stay at the man’s house after dark.
And the morning after, I read about how Robert Kennedy had been shot — and remembered vividly Gale and his Land Rover and his gun with a silencer, and thought thoughts too horrible to articulate. A couple of days before, I had taken a photo of Robert Kennedy, who joyously, without much caution, was pressing the flesh. My camera lens came within three feet of his face and I captured a powerful picture that we used in our Robert Kennedy assassination issue at the Newhall Signal June 7.
Several years passed. My boss at the Signal, Jon Newhall and I went off into different directions. But we did collaborate on an article that appeared in the December 27, 1974, issue of New Times, a news weekly then coming out of New York that viewed itself as kind of a left-wing Time magazine. Jon and I wrote an article that centered on the attempts by Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi and County Supervisor Baxter Ward to reopen the Robert Kennedy assassination of 1968.
I used to argue with a friend of mine, Bart Everett, an editor at the Los Angeles Times, about whether Robert Kennedy had been the victim of a lone assassin. Bart and his paper believed that. I felt that Noguchi and Ward were onto something when they suggested that Kennedy was not killed by the bullets coming from Sirhan Sirhan’s gun in front of him, but rather by the bullets of someone else who shot Kennedy from the rear. Bart remained convinced by the party line, which maintained that Robert Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin.
About the time that I was writing my New Times piece, an assassination movie, Parallax View, was making the rounds. Friends kept telling me to go see it. It was frightening. In the movie Warren Beatty plays a hard-bitten reporter who gets killed for his efforts to uncover the true story of the assassination of an RFK-type figure. Neither Jon nor I were dodging bullets at that point.
It wasn’t until sometime later that I came to realize that Gale knew what was going to happen that night to Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador. I knew that he knew that I didn’t believe him, that I thought that Garrison was onto something with him. In truth, I remember he did not even try very hard to personally convince me of the truth of his alibis. He just mouthed the words that I had to write. He expressed all this in his tone of voice and with his body language. In the ensuing years I’ve come to believe I was lucky to have gotten away from Gale’s home with my life.
Lionel Rolfe is the author of a number of books, including Fat Man on the Left, The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey and The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather, all available at Amazon’s Kindle Store.