Inside JFK Docs — Plots to Kill Castro and Infiltrate a Texas Militia
The 1960s were a paranoid time
It will take days for researchers to sort through the trove of FBI and CIA documents regarding the Kennedy assassination released in October 2017. But we’ve found memos and reports with interesting details about the activities of anti-Castro paramilitary groups and their attempts to overthrow Cuba’s socialist government — including one harebrained scheme by a group of freelance adventurers which the U.S. government discovered, monitored and intervened to stop.
The FBI was interested in these activities in part because Oswald met with anti-Castro Cuban exiles while living in New Orleans in 1963 — detailed in a now-released 1979 report numbering more than 300 pages from the House Select Committee on Assassinations. On top of that, the FBI took detailed notes regarding a right-wing Texas militia preparing for an insurrection against an imagined communist plot against the government.
The CIA’s wild plots to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro as part of Operation Mongoose are nothing new to historians. But the plots detailed in these latest documents are remarkable in their audacity to both target Castro, destabilize Cuban society and create conditions for a U.S. invasion. The agency proposed giving a diving suit to Castro — as Castro liked to dive — contaminated with a “fungus producing madera foot, a disabling and chronic skin disease, and also contaminating the suit with tuberculosis bacilli in the breathing apparatus.”
Another impractical idea was to create an explosive seashell, place it in the water and blow it up when Castro came near.
One 37-page document described the proposed “Operation Bounty” to establish “a system of financial rewards, commensurate with position and stature, for killing or delivering alive known Communists.” Awards ranged from two cents — for Castro — to $100,000 for government officials. It’s odd that Castro would be worth only two cents.
Another proposal dated to Feb. 20, 1962 and “distributed to the President” included suggestions that “gangster elements might provide the best recruitment potential for actions against police” and that “[communist] bloc technicians should be added to the list of targets. CW [chemical warfare] agents should be fully considered.”
The planning extended to considering Cuban sugar workers as targets, but the Pentagon would later rule out “incapacitating large sections of the sugar workers” with chemical or biological weapons as “infeasible.” The document also cites the Operation Northwoods proposal to sink Cuban refugee boats and detonate bombs in American cities while pinning the blame on communists.
The FBI had a mole inside a secretive, far-right paramilitary organization in Fort Worth, Texas. This local chapter of the Minutemen, a militant anti-communist and white supremacist network of militias in the 1960s, plotted to “in the event of a Negro uprising … take action against various Negro leaders” including one “Dr. Ransom,” possibly a reference to the late Dr. Riley Ransom, Jr., a local physician and son of the founder of Fort Worth’s first black hospital.
The group had other plots, according to a 1964 document. One involved testing “the effect of a 3.0 caliber rifle on power transformers in the area.” In the event of a civil war, the group also intended to raid a U.S. military armory in northeast Texas to obtain mortars. Another scheme was to attempt the takeover of a motorcycle club which owned land, and then selling the land to raise money.
The FBI informant noted “that several members of the group are personally acquainted with General Edwin Walker and he apparently has a capacity of being an adviser.”
Oswald attempted to shoot Walker by firing a bullet into his home.
The informant also, apparently, panicked after the Kennedy assassination. Six weeks prior, one of the Minutemen members came to his house with another man who the informant and his wife later “noticed a close resemblance to Lee Harvey Oswald,” the document stated.
The Minuteman asked for ammunition, which they handed over. “Both said they felt the MINUTE MEN were involved in the assassination although they claimed that very little was said by members they knew following the assassination except to express satisfaction that it happened.”
Was the other man actually Oswald? Probably not. The informant later recognized the man he thought was Oswald as a Dallas gun shop owner, then broke ties with the federal government over a dispute involving money and because of “pressure from his wife to get out of the investigation due to danger she seems to feel involves the entire family.”
The paranoia and fear after the Kennedy assassination seems to have afflicted the Minutemen as well, with the informant describing the event as inflicting a “severe setback” for the group.
Fidel Castro in 1978. Photo via Wikimedia
A 1970 FBI document alleged “an American adventurer and mercenary” named Roy Emory Hargraves “was involved in a plan to effect warfare between the United States and Cuba” in July 1970. The plot — a false-flag operation — involved working with rebellious Cuban soldiers to “fire missiles against the United States Navy Base, Guantanamo, Cuba, thus projecting the United States into a military takeover of Cuba.”
This information was also detailed in a small 1993 release of CIA data. The group — known as the Intercontinental Penetration Force — further had a backup plan to “cause a conventional attack to Cuban military forces to be made against the United States Base, hoping to accomplish the same objective. The minimum result of either is expected to be a stronger and more aggressive United States policy against the Castro Government.”
A Florida state police investigator kept tabs on Hargraves and a mercenary associate, Gerald Patrick Hemming through connections to the U.S. Coast Guard, which had also monitored the men. Apparently, a third person close to the two mercenaries known as “MM-T-1” acted as an informant on the plot, telling the investigators about an “illogical and irresponsible military plan of action against Cuba which was highly unlikely of any success whatever.”
The bizarre nature of the conspiracy and lack of resources possessed by the men was seemingly enough for investigators to doubt its seriousness.
This wasn’t Hargraves’ and Hemmings’ first run-in with federal investigators. In 1962, U.S. agents both men along with 11 others for planning a “pocket-size expedition” of filibusters to Cuba aboard a boat named Sally, according to a December 1962 report in The Miami Herald. “Hemming, who goes by the name of Jerry Patrick, is a bearded ex-Marine and adventurer,” the report added. “He dislikes being called soldier of fortune, but he looks and acts like one.”
Hemming would later become a well-known name among JFK assassination researchers owing to his interviews about his time in anti-Castro mercenary groups, and for claiming that a “helluva lot of weird things [were] going on” before Kennedy’s murder including financial offers — he said he and his comrades didn’t accept — to do so from various conspirators and ex-military mavericks.
One difficulty in deducing a conspiracy surrounding the JFK assassination is that, at the time, there were so many shady, paranoid characters engaged in varying degrees of skulduggery ranging from bar-room tall tales to lethal, clandestine military operations in Central America and the Caribbean — the exact kind of people likely to believe in conspiracies even when there isn’t one.
“You couldn’t walk down the street without running into some kind of conspiracy,” Hemming would later tell the researcher Dick Russell.
The FBI suspected Bacardi chief Jose “Pepin” Bosch of financially backing a proposed bombing raid — by the Cuban exile militant group MIRR — in a rental plane to be piloted during part of the journey by a federal informant.
A 1966 report described the target as a “sugar exporting town” in Cuba with the informant flying the plane from Miami to Marathon, Florida, when “four bombs and a Cuban bombardier will be placed aboard.”
Bosch’s involvement in terrorist attacks directed at Cuba after the revolution is well known, including a 1976 bombing of a civilian airliner which killed 73 people. In this case, the FBI proposed seizing the bombs by establishing a roadblock in Marathon “in order to protect informant.” The FBI’s plan was successful.