Conspiracy History is for the Birds
Ah, nothing more relaxing than feeding birds in the park on a sunny day. Pretty hard to imagine these creatures involved in corruption, murder or political conspiracy, right? Well I’ve got a story, three stories in fact, that details how hunting for birds has been used as a subterfuge throughout American history in an attempt to obscure the darkest political conspiracies of our time.
November 1910: Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, Republican of Rhode Island, one of the most powerful men in Washington D.C., invited a small group of men out to the appropriately-named Jekyll Island for what was billed as a ‘duck hunt’. Located off the coast of Georgia, Jekyll Island was a winter retreat for the wealthy consisting of 5,700 acres of land, including over 1,000 acres of tidal marshlands filled with an abundance of fowl. More importantly, the owners of the island could assure the privacy of this group. This was paramount to Aldrich who was extremely wary of attracting the attention of the press because, in addition to his senatorial responsibilities, he served as chair of the National Monetary Commission, a US banking policy review board formed in the wake of the Panic of 1907 to find ways to prevent similar financial panics from happening. Aldrich had instructed his companions to arrive at the New Jersey railway station separately, avoid reporters, and pretend not to know each other if they met inside the station prior to boarding. Once inside the train, these men addressed each other by first names only to further obscure their identities. In addition to the Senator and his personal secretary Arthur Shelton, the Jekyll Island ‘duck hunt’ crew was comprised of an elite gathering of DC power players: Dr. A. Piatt Andrew, a former Harvard University assistant Professor of Economics and as of 1910, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Henry P. Davison, partner at J.P. Morgan and Co. (who along with J.P. Morgan was a co-owner of Jekyll Island), Frank A. Vanderlip, President of the Rockefeller-owned National City Bank and last, but for the designs of the real bagging at hand, probably most important, Paul M. Warburg, representing U.S. interests as a partner of Kuhn, Loeb and Co. and extensive international interests as a member of the Warburg banking family.
How many ducks they actually bagged on that trip is inconsequential; it was subterfuge for the real purpose: the most powerful moneyed interests in the world secretly redesigning the way money works in America. The plan hatched on this trip was the basis for what would eventually become the Federal Reserve. Though Aldrich’s initial legislation upon return from this trip would be rejected by Congress, it did approve a similar proposal on December 22, 1913, which President Wilson signed into law the next day called the Federal Reserve Act. This law, which forever altered the structure of the U.S. economy, would never have been conceived if these most powerful moneyed interests (Morgan, Rockefeller and Warburg conservatively represented one quarter of the world’s wealth at that time) had not secretly conspired to make it so.
November 1963: New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison called in David Ferrie to question him about his reported association with Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. In the aftermath of JFK’s assassination, Garrison had made preliminary inquiries regarding possible associates Oswald may have had during the summer of 1963 while he was in New Orleans. Ferrie’s name cropped up as having been seen with Oswald, including a tip that he had taken a trip to Texas on the day of the assassination. During questioning from Garrison, Ferrie said that he and some friends had driven to Houston that day to go ice skating. Garrison said his rationale for going during one of the most violent recent thunderstorms was not adequate. They then drove to Galveston on Saturday (where Jack Ruby placed a phone call Saturday night) and on Sunday, according to Ferrie, went on a ‘goose hunt’. After relating details of this hunt for a “wise bunch of birds”, Garrison’s assistant DA confronted him that they understood there were no guns in the car. Ferrie then twisted his story to fit this fact as confirmed by his road trip companions. Garrison then had Ferrie arrested and held for further questioning by the FBI. The FBI swiftly released him, finding no connection between him and the assassination.
By 1967, Ferrie had changed his story again regarding the ‘goose hunt’, now claiming that they did have guns in the car. But regardless of whether there really was a ‘goose hunt’ or not, this story was the thread that helped unravel the official history as decreed in the Warren Commission Report of 1964, claiming that Oswald alone assassinated President Kennedy and Ruby alone assassinated Oswald, no larger conspiracy existing beyond that. Garrison took that thread and, though Ferrie mysteriously died in April 1967 and was unable to testify, built a case that brought an indictment for the murder of JFK against one of Ferrie’s associates, Clay Shaw. Though ultimately found not guilty, the public outcry against the absurd conclusions of the Warren Report led to a second investigation, the House Select Committee on Assassinations that in 1979, acknowledged that one of the possible indications of a conspiracy was Lee Harvey Oswald’s apparent association in New Orleans with David Ferrie.
January 2004: Vice President Dick Cheney, having been notified the previous month that the Supreme Court would render a decision in the case of Cheney v. United States District Court in July 2004, felt the urge to go out on a ‘duck hunt’ of his own. He arranged a little getaway at oil baron Wallace Carline’s private reserve in Morgan City, Louisiana. Accompanying the Vice President on Air Force Two was none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was scheduled to hear arguments in the case in March and April. Though Scalia later complained to the media that "the duck hunting was lousy”, he never complained about the vice president paying for all his expenses for the trip. Cheney even provided Justice Scalia with Secret Service protection and transportation.
But there were plenty of complaints from the conservative Judicial Watch and the progressive Sierra Club, who were the plaintiffs in this case against the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG). Not coincidentally, the NEPDG was headed by Vice President Dick Cheney between late January and April 4, 2001. There were many calls for Justice Scalia to recuse himself from this case, citing the friendly ‘duck hunt’ as an obvious sign of impartiality. Scalia refused to withdraw and on July 2, 2004, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court voted in favor of the Vice President allowing Cheney to keep his records secret. Though Scalia tried to assure that this was a case where Cheney was involved in his “official capacity, as opposed to…personal capacity”, the seven pages of NEPDG documents that Judicial Watch was able to obtain in July 2003 from a Freedom of Information Act request show a focus of the NEPDG records was on oil and gas in the Middle East. Full disclosure could reveal a contradiction of the stated claims of the Bush administration that plans to invade Iraq did not occur prior to September 11, 2001. The records may even contain, as investigative journalist Michael Ruppert believes, “the deepest, darkest secrets of 9/11”. To this day, the records of those meetings, which included such non-government officials as Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, later to be convicted in a separate and more public scandal of conspiracy and corporate fraud, remain a secret to the public. But as far as the appearance of any impropriety in the matter is concerned, Scalia had the sharpest retort: “Quack, quack”.
At first glance, the only thing that seems to connect these three conspiratorial anecdotes is a hunt for birds. It’s a coy and obviously flimsy cover story each and every time. But a cover story for what? What does the creation of the Federal Reserve, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the Supreme Court-approved suppression of the records of Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force have in common?
The answer is that each incident revolves around a group of men identifying an impediment to the business they wish to conduct and initiating a plan to remove the impediment and maximize the profits of their business. That’s how I define the word conspiracy: how business gets done. Whether it is accomplished within the letter of the law or outside is of little practical significance to these Machiavellian men; what matters is that it gets done, whatever it takes. These anecdotes are not the exception to the rule in American history, it is the rule.