Despite my long-term commitment to the study of history, I have to say that I am often at a loss to draw any set sociological principles or truths from what I find. Each situation is so particular, and the characters so peculiar. It’s hard to make generalities. I would like to be able to answer that age old question: why is it that those who protest the most are the guiltiest, but I can’t.
Perhaps it was the 70’s. Perhaps it was the exhaustion of unending years of civil strife in America. Perhaps it’s the nature of the beast. By the end of that decade though, ultra-conservative leaders General Edwin Walker and Billy James Hargis — two of the most famous and popular anti-Communist activists of the day — found themselves awash in shame and irrelevancy. Their pro-Christian, conservative, anti-Red barnstorming days were in the past. Walker finally managed to wrangle his pension — which he had forfeited in earlier resigning his military command — from the Army after all and could live out his days, bitter in Texas. Hargis had returned to Tulsa to run a Bible college, training the next generation of patriotic Christians to continue the war against liberalism, Marxism, and rock music (not necessarily in that order). Hargis’ plans, however, were disrupted in 1974, when a couple from his school accused him of sexual misconduct. The young newlyweds discovered on their honeymoon, apparently, that both had been sexually involved with the minister. That must have been one awkward confessional. In any case, they took their story to the school trustees and it was downhill from there for Hargis. Later, a number of other students from the school (male and female) came forward with other allegations of sexual misdeeds on the part of the minister and of threats to keep them from coming forward with the truth. Hargis was forced out and he never regained his previous place in the public eye. Meanwhile, Walker got caught up in his own sex scandal. He was arrested for fondling an undercover policeman and committing a lewd act in a public bathroom in Dallas in 1976. The following year, he was again arrested for public lewdness. The smoking man died in 1993 of lung cancer. Hargis lived on, incapacitated by strokes and dementia, until 2004.
Both men were outspoken leaders of the conservative movement during the civil rights years, and they denounced the anti-Christian influences in American society. Behind the scenes, though, they were in on some seriously sinful shenanigans. So, why is it that those who crow the loudest are those that are awash in their own sin? I am reminded of the New Testament warning about railing against the speck in your neighbor’s eye while blinded by the mote in your own. I don’t know what it is about Communism in particular that drives the promiscuous and yet sexually repressed to public crusades, but it seems to rub homosexuals (and bisexuals) particularly the wrong way.
Incidentally, Hargis allegedly wrote a speech for Joseph McCarthy, the old Communist hunter, once. Of course, McCarthy’s comrade in arms was Roy Cohn, a closet homosexual who threatened to out others for political gain. It’s ironic, if not just, that Cohn died of AIDS-related complications in 1986. He, Walker, and Hargis make for an interesting political triumvirate, but you know what they say about strange bedfellows…or in this case, perverts in the pod.
General Edwin Walker — decorated war veteran and West Point graduate — sat at his desk in his private home in Dallas, Texas when a shot burst through the window behind him. The bullet grazed his arm but he was otherwise unharmed. Although it was the spring, it wouldn’t be until December of that year that the police would have a lead on his assailant. At that time, documentary evidence and testimony collected by the Warren Commission would indicate that Lee Harvey Oswald, who had recently assassinated the President of the United States, had taken the shot at Walker as well.
Walker and Kennedy could not have been more politically different. Kennedy represented the modern liberal mainstream of politics, and he and Walker would be drawn into conflicts over the years. Ironically, Walker had run for Governor of Texas (surprisingly as a Democrat) but lost to John Connally, who later sat next to Kennedy in the open car where he died. Walker was an ultra-conservative and opponent of desegregation who had been forced under Eisenhower to provide support and protection to nine black students enrolling at Little Rock (Arkansas) Central High School in 1957. During his subsequent posting in Europe, the general was relieved of his command by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (who served under Kennedy) for attempting to indoctrinate the soldiers under him with right-wing literature. Walker later resigned from the military in protest of his treatment, alleging that the government was too soft on communism. Walker became a leader in the ultra/conservative movement then. He helped organize protests in Mississippi opposing James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss. After riots broke out and more than sixty federal troops and U.S. Marshals were wounded, Walker was arrested for conspiracy and inciting rebellion. The Attorney General who charged him was, of course, Robert Kennedy. One of the volunteers on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and participant in the Mississippi protests was a man named Robert Surrey. Surrey was later responsible for the printing and distribution of a flyer accusing John Kennedy of treason and declaring him “wanted” for his crimes. These flyers were circulated in Dallas two days prior to Kennedy’s assassination. Clearly, for as different as they were politically, Walker’s and Kennedy’s lives seemed intertwined in significant ways.
After the President’s death, Walker continued in his work as a conservative activist. He traveled the country speaking to various groups. In 1963, he joined forces with famed evangelist Billy James Hargis (whose ministry’s headquarters were in Tulsa, Oklahoma) on an anti-communist campaign. Their tours were dubbed “midnight rides” — meant to awaken citizens to the threat of communism and anti-Christian forces at work in America. Both were noted conservative activists in the 60’s and 70’s who later fell into relative obscurity. Today in Tulsa, you hear a good deal about Oral Roberts but they don’t talk about Hargis anymore. And, Walker is certainly not the more famous of Oswald’s victims in the public consciousness. Walker’s rival, Kennedy, was brought down by the assassin’s bullet, but Walker survived, yielding finally to lung cancer in 1993.