Mark Lane, the store-front lawyer, freedom-rider, and prolific author, who took the CIA to court and won, talks about a number of subjects, including his lifelong crusade to get the word out on who really killed John F. Kennedy.
“Some people would just like to know who killed their president and why he died and that’s not really an obsession is it?”
—Mark Lane to William Buckley on Firing Line in 1966, replying to insinuation that Lane, and other Warren critics, were animated by obsession with “sleuthery,” which they thought “fun.”
If we accept Orwell’s dictum that truth-telling during a time of universal deceit equals revolution, America lost a great dissident when Mark Lane succumbed to a heart attack recently. In his careful, tweedy way, Lane did as much during the 1960s as any band of New Left radicals to change the national consciousness from blind acceptance of whatever came out of the TV to the bracing distrust of government that has marked public attitudes since the 1970s.
Lane was arguably the first and most prominent of a band of citizens to question the increasingly untenable tale from government-approved media that President Kennedy was murdered by a lone lunatic with a mail order bolt-action rifle. (Especially after Lee Oswald was himself gunned down in the Dallas police station.)
Lane, using secondary sources, put together a cogent 15-point legal brief that was published in the leftist National Guardian less than a month after Kennedy’s murder. This timely forensic work, in which he contended that Lee Harvey Oswald was an innocent “patsy,” foreshadowed a Stakhanovite anti-establishment output over the course of Lane’s lifetime.
The style and content of his brief, which used government witnesses to poke holes in the government’s own case, also presaged Lane’s breakaway broadside against the Warren Commission, Rush to Judgment. Much to the chagrin of The New York Times (which panned it as grossly “irresponsible”) it spent 26 weeks on the Times’s own bestseller list.
The same year, Lane teamed with independent filmmaker Emile De Antonio, to make a film version. They tracked down witnesses who had been ignored by the commission because their testimony called into question its open-and-shut finding. Link to film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w4sQtwWfBo
In the mid-60s, when assassination witnesses were dying mysteriously, for Lane and his collaborator to probe the murky heart of the assassination story in Texas itself took guts. (See Richard Belzer’s Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination)
In the ensuing years, the hold of the so-called “Warren Consensus” on public attitudes began to slip as like-minded critics began to swap notes on President Kennedy’s assassination, with Lane still leading the charge. Then the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968 further undermined public confidence in the lone-nut thesis.
It is virtually impossible to sum up Lane’s incredible career in a few words. But the surprisingly respectful (given the way the paper treated him in life) obituary in The New York Times offered a good thumbnail sketch. What the Times and other establishment send-offs managed to obscure was perhaps the highlight of Lane’s career as an attorney.
In 1985, defending the right-wing Liberty Lobby’s newspaper Spotlight, Lane won a court verdict against CIA agent Howard Hunt. All the Times said about it was that Lane “successfully defended the far-right Liberty Lobby… in a defamation case brought by E. Howard Hunt, the C.I.A. agent and Watergate co-conspirator.”
What the Times did not report: the jury held that, contrary to Hunt’s sworn testimony, he was in Dallas the day of Kennedy’s murder. (And The Washington Post did not mention the case at all.) The suit later became the material for perhaps Lane’s finest literary indictment of the CIA, Plausible Denial.
While CIA-sponsored critics smeared Lane as an irresponsible ambulance chaser, to some on the more radical conspiratorial fringe he seemed a little too good to be true, a little too pat and media-friendly. Some even thought he was an intelligence plant.
Such accusations were not unusual in the hothouse environment of mutual distrust and recrimination among critics of the Warren Commission — which is not to say the movement wasn’t (and isn’t) infiltrated. Jim Garrison’s investigation (aided by Lane) and prosecution of CIA asset Clay Shaw was undermined at every turn by infiltrators and agent provocateurs. (Some things never change. An early Bolshevik leader is alleged to have said that in every meeting of three communists there was one Czarist agent.)
Meanwhile, Lane pushed and prodded in places where other critics would not have dreamed of going. He frequently asserted that the loose ends of the Warren Consensus were being tied up by violence, culminating in his charge that elderly CIA-asset and former Oswald-handler George de Mohrenschildt was murdered just before he could be deposed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. (In this video, Lane presents persuasive evidence that de Mohrenschildt was indeed murdered: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37dtEpvyUJU
I was lucky enough to spend an hour in the summer of 2010 talking to Lane on the telephone. I initiated the contact because I had been startled to learn that Lane had taken as a client Gerald Posner, whose books, “Case Closed” and “Killing a Dream,” were praised by establishment media for their spirited (if unprincipled) reassertion of the lone-nut theory.
I was curious about Lane’s motivations for taking such a case. I was also a bit suspicious, considering his strange role as lawyer for the Rev. Jim Jones of the notorious Peoples Temple, and Lane’s presence — until his last-minute escape — at the tragic site of the Jonestown massacre, when 909 Americans (a vast majority poor African Americans) died mysteriously in the jungles of Guyana.
This was a time when Lane was accused of embezzling millions of Temple funds, charges which he eventually proved without merit. These misadventures were the material for another searing indictment of the media, The Strongest Poison.
Happily, I found Lane to be a genial and compassionate interviewee, even as he upbraided me gently for criticizing (he thought unfairly) Posner, his new client, in a piece I had published in The Exiled. And he was rightly stung by a snarky Miami New Times blog post that referred to him as an “elderly Jonestown survivor.”
In our conversation, he sometimes sounded a valedictory note about battles fought. At times he, quite touchingly, referred to late friends, like Penn Jones, in the present tense.
As we talked about Posner, I became convinced that a sense of idealism and fair play had motivated him to take this odd client. Moved that Posner had never levied a personal attack against him, he recoiled at what he viewed as the cyberbullying mob mentality of Posner’s attackers. Once again, in Lane’s eyes, he was sounding a caution against a rush to judgment.
Of course, it was his long struggle against high odds to get to the bottom of the murder of President Kennedy that defined his life. Already 83 when we spoke, the tireless fighter still had two books in him: Last Word: My Indictment of the CIA in the Murder of JFK, and his memoirs, Citizen Lane: Defending Our Rights in the Courts, the Capitol, and the Streets.
Note from editors: Because parts of this taped interview were inaudible, some of the following passages are fragmented. Nevertheless, we feel they are worth sharing.
Lane: Why would I support somebody [guilty of] obvious plagiarism?
I have been at this for approximately 60 years now. And my sense is that it is very hard to get anything resolved, or even understand the facts. There’s a lot of name-calling. Calling him a vampire does not deal with the question of plagiarism…
I appeared on one television show with Posner. We debated each other. A national television show. It was the only time I ever saw him.
And in my view he was completely wrong, completely inaccurate about everything that he said about the Kennedy assassination.
But he was not a name-calling nut like Bugliosi or some of these other people. He gave his position, which as I said on the air, was in my view entirely wrong. But he wasn’t involved in… he took a high road for example… could you hold on one second?
Lane: Yeah. I have a 12-year-old German shepherd, all black, the love of my life. I’ve had it since she was nine weeks old. I’ve been away this morning, and I came back, and the door was closed, and she was crying because she wants to be in on this conversation, so I let her in.
OK, so, I just thought he [Posner] took the high road… he seems like a decent enough guy. The only time I ever talked to him was on the air. But he did call me on the phone and told me what was going on with this story. And it really upset me to see that you picked it up as a fact that he said he was a “thieving c*cksucker”. [Refers to what interviewer wrote in The Exiled.]
Well, I don’t know him very well. In fact, I don’t know him at all. But it’s such a bizarre thing for someone to say about himself publicly. Posner said it’s an absolute lie, and there are six people who were present, who say it’s an absolute lie. He never said anything like that…
I’ve had several conversations about all these matters with him, and I really don’t believe that he actually said that. He also tells me that Owen, who wrote the book [Clubland] which he plagiarized, was asked by the reporter [Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times] to send his girlfriend to the meeting where Posner was speaking. He wasn’t speaking about that subject. He was speaking about something else in Miami. He said go there and start some fireworks.
Well, if that’s true, that’s not the job of a reporter.
MH: It’s true. [Owen and his fiancee, Lera Gavin, had shown up at a speech given by Posner at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Afterwards, Gavin and Posner got into an argument about Miami Babylon in which Posner was quoted as saying, “Yeah, I’m a thieving c*cksucker.” Elfrink reported the strange encounter, fueling the plagiarism scandal around Posner.]
Lane: The job of a reporter is to report the facts, not to create incidents so you can make a statement. In fact, it was at that meeting where she says he made that statement. And I haven’t looked into it because I’m just trying to calm things down.
The response I got from the Miami New Times was this attack on me, this snide remark, and the letter was written to them, and they apologized, and withdrew the remark, and published a letter saying I was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
MH: Let me just make this clear. I am very familiar with your work. And whatever I write is not going to disparage you at all like they did. I thought it was inappropriate the way they referred to you.
Lane: Yeah, but they backed down at once, and when they did, I wrote to the editor Strouse. Because he said we stand corrected… so I wrote a letter to him.
I said listen, we all make mistakes but very few of us publicly acknowledge that we did, and I very much appreciate your correction. Thank you. So that ended it.
I accepted it and that’s that as far as I’m concerned. But my concern is.. .I know Norman Mailer, Norman Mailer was a friend of mind. Norman Mailer was a plagiarist. There is just no question about that. The Picasso book was almost all plagiarism.
I think he admitted there was plagiarism there. And I don’t know if they withdrew the book or not. Nobody went after him to destroy his career.
You know, when I first read this story [about Posner]… that he was at the Daily Beast, and he resigned because of plagiarism, I said “Good. This guy made up stories about the Kennedy assassination. It was all wrong.”
Then I read the details, and you know, it’s a very close call. I mean, I just completed my autobiography. It’s like me doing… I’ve been practicing law 60 years, as I said, and I’ve been involved in movements for 75 years almost.
I’m basically doing a biography of this guy called Mark Lane. I’m having to do a lot of research about things that had happened and what the CIA did. Frankly, sometimes I will say, it was well known, it was reported on the Internet da‑da‑da‑da‑da. Then I try to make it close to what the Internet says.
I’m just afraid someone will say, “Yeah, he said this was on the Internet, but it was really quite different or a little different.” So, I’m trying to make it pretty close to that. I guess you could go through it… someone could say, “Well, he’s using stuff from the Internet.”
MH: I’m wondering if you think that there is some kind of takedown on Posner in the works?
Lane: Yeah. Gerald certainly thinks that. As I say, they probably didn’t have the software available then when Mailer was plagiarizing stuff that’s available now.
But nevertheless, I never heard of anybody doing anything like this to a guy, and going through everyone of his works, going to every book he ever wrote, looking for similarities or things that could be called plagiarism.
What they’re doing is they are trying to destroy his career and they’ve come very close to it.
I don’t believe you use unfair tactics even if it’s someone who you disagree with politically. I was a Freedom Rider. I was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi with Percy Sutton.
I tried the Wounded Knee case and we won that case. It was a 10 month trial. I have been involved in major, major civil rights battles all these years. And I have never been held in contempt. I’ve never been sanctioned once, because I believe that ethics are really important.
And I believe that civility in the courtroom and out of the courtroom is really important. And I think it’s not just important because it’s good manners, but it’s important because you should be dealing with the facts. Not with name calling.
[In the next passage, Lane explains some of his accomplishments to Matt Harvey, even though it was unnecessary. Lane had the mistaken idea that Harvey had not mentioned him in an article he had written on the Kennedy Assassination.]
Lane: I am the only critic whoever appeared before the Warren Commission.
I did a documentary film interviewing key witnesses, where the Warren Commission said, didn’t even exist.
I wrote the resolution which set up the House Select Committee on Assassinations. [HSCA] I went to Philadelphia and met with Dick Sprague, and recruited him to come to Washington. [Sprague was the first chief counsel of the HSCA.]
I gave him the information about David Atlee Phillips lying about Oswald being in Mexico City, which is the Rosetta stone of the whole Kennedy assassination. They set down a trail for Oswald in September 1963 which would lead to him after the assassination.
Two months before Kennedy was killed, they were plotting a trap to get Oswald to be blamed for it. So what does the CIA know two months before? How did they know that Kennedy was going to be killed in two months? So this is a crucial thing.
I gave that to Sprague. He met with Phillips. And Phillips lied, and said the tape recording of Oswald had been destroyed before November 22nd. I gave them a letter from J. Edgar Hoover, which said, seven FBI agents who questioned Oswald on November 22nd and November 23rd, have listened to the tape, and the tape in their view is of a person not Lee Harvey Oswald.
That’s not his voice on the tape. Sprague then confronted Phillips with that and said you’re going to be charged with perjury. At that point Sprague was fired. That was the end of him. And when I later debated Philips, he said at the debate at USC, which was set up between a few people from the CIA and a few critics. I was debating Philips.
And Abby Mann who wrote Judgement at Nuremberg, is a friend of mine, was in the audience. And he said, “Mr. Phillips, let me ask you something. How do you explain the effort that you and the CIA made to destroy Mark Lane?”
And he said, “I regret the effort that we made to destroy Mr. Lane. I really regret that.” And then a kid got up in the audience and said, “Tell us about Mexico City?”
And he said “You will find…it’s all tape recorded, all the press at the time, I got the tape. You will find when all this spills out that Oswald was never in Mexico City.”
This was the guy who ran everything for the CIA in the Western Hemisphere from Mexico City where E. Howard Hunt was stationed. Before that, William F. Buckley was stationed.
They ran it all from Mexico City because there was no scrutiny from the United States there. And he set up the whole thing and now he’s telling me the whole thing is a complete lie. That’s how that all fell apart.
Lane: I feel strongly about the Kennedy assassination, at least as strong as I ever did. Because it’s really quite apparent…Kennedy was going to dissolve the CIA.
Obama, who I strongly supported and did everything for and love still. I mean, I know all the faults, I also know that we have universal medical coverage for the first time in the history of America, that he’s about maybe to win a victory, and have some financial reform first time since Roosevelt.
Those are pretty incredible accomplishments in the very short time he’s been there. I also know all the compromises.
But I think that it’s really important to realize that Obama has for the first time made the CIA a major weapon of the United States military.
They are calling the shots on the missiles, the bombing in Afghanistan which are, more often than not, hitting civilians, that they’re in charge of that.
Kennedy was about to dissolve the CIA and put the government in charge of a new intelligence organization. Instead we have Obama promoting them to the highest level they’ve ever been at. And they’re the guys who killed the president.
Lane: I know what the Times is doing, I mean you could write, in New York, 82 percent of the American people according to the last poll, Harris poll, Gallup poll, etc. believe there was a conspiracy. The last Harris, the last Gallup poll showed more people believed that the CIA killed Kennedy than believe that Oswald did it alone. Yet, what does the media say? What do the textbooks say?
It’s like the American people don’t count, and our position doesn’t count. They’re still saying, “Oswald was a lone assassin.” Of course the day Oswald was killed the New York Times headline was “Assassin Shot to Death, ” I mean they’d already decided that…and we didn’t have a Warren report. And actually we still don’t have a Warren Report.
We have a report written by J. Edgar Hoover who within days after the assassination said Oswald did it alone. Then we have a Commission appointed, which was run by Allen Dulles who was different from other Commission members; everybody else had a job. He had been fired by Kennedy in his work for the CIA because he lied to them about the Bay of Pigs Investigation, he ran the whole operation. Dulles ran it all.
So it was a written report then was adopted by the Dulles Commission, Dulles doing all of the work and that is the law, you know even if you ask what is the government’s position, the House run committee of assassinations said in all probability there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. They said the same thing about King.
It was like they never, they actually took a, not literally but figuratively, took a rubber stamp and said, “Void,” and stamped it on every copy of the Warren Commission Report. But the media says, “Oswald was a lone assassin.”
MH: So that’s why I was a little bit surprised that you had taken Posner’s case because…
Lane: It wasn’t for money. Believe me, he doesn’t have any money.
Lane: It wasn’t for money, no. I believe he doesn’t have any money. I think his books have not made money. He got the advance, that’s it, nothing beyond that for most of the stuff he’s written.
But I didn’t do the case for that reason, the money. I did it and I spent a lot of time on it, and at my hourly rate I would have been paid 10 or 20 times as much representing anybody else.
But what I did it for is, there’s a principle there, in my view and that is when someone you disagree with, if you treat him unfairly because you don’t like him politically, you’re still treating him unfairly and that’s wrong. I remember Dick…Dick Gregory even ran for President of the United States, do you remember in 1968?
MH: I read about that.
Lane: You know about that? Well I ran, I was his campaign manager for vice president. OK, he’s a really dear, close friend of mine. I heard him speak when Wallace was shot, Governor Wallace was shot and he [Gregory] said in essence,
“That anyone who was not as outraged at the shooting of Wallace as they have been about the shooting of Malcolm or Martin or John, is wrong.”
And I think he’s right. There’s a larger principle here and that is if you’re against the assassinations of public figures, you’re against the assassinations of public figures, that’s not the way democracy’s supposed to function. And it’s wrong, no matter who the person is, it’s not a question of whether you agreed with him or disagreed with the guy who got shot.
And it’s not a question if you agree or disagree with Posner, he should be treated fairly and if he never said “I’m a thieving c*cksucker” or anything like that, and if a reporter set up the fireworks, as he said, by sending someone in there, and if that story is a hoax, as I am told by Posner… haven’t investigated… I’m just trying to resolve the thing, not trying to make it worse.
If that’s all true, then it’s unfair, and they didn’t do it to Mailer. They didn’t do it to other authors, and they’re doing it to him because, I think, they don’t like his politics, his political positions on these questions.
MH: If you just want to ask why I don’t like him, it gets to the last lines of your letter, and you nailed it. I think you were completely correct to tell this to the New Times:
“Unlike the Posner affair in which no one was harmed, it is the use of the media and the publishing houses that is a threat to our democracy and impedes our right to a free press pursuant to the first amendment. Intelligence agencies have assets pretending to be journalists embedded in the major news media.”
Lane: He [the editor] said “Are you saying the New Times is being run by the CIA?” I said “Where did you get that? I’ll tell you what I think is a big problem in journalism today. I’m not blaming you.”
I said, “Why would the CIA embed anybody in the Miami New Times… So, no, I’m not saying anything like that. This is a statement about… If you’re gonna be muckrakers, find some muck that’s worth raking.”
MH: I agree, hold on let me finish this. My point is, we felt that if anyone is a plant, it would be Gerald Posner.
Lane: Well, again, anything is possible. I didn’t ask him that question. I think what happened is there were no more books to write on the Kennedy assassination. I wrote Rush to Judgment, and then I did Plausible Denial. How about the jury verdict there? The jury basically said the CIA killed President Kennedy in that case.
MH: With the Liberty Lobby.
Lane: Yeah. The New York Times never reported that story.
[Lane is referring to the trial in which Hunt lost the case; it strongly implied CIA was, in the jury’s view, involved in the JFK assassination. For more information, go here.]
I had written the first book on the Kennedy assassination, and no one would publish that here. I went to England. I found The Bodley Head [publisher]. They gave it to Hugh Trevor‑Roper who is a regent professor of modern history at Oxford. He read it and said, I’d love to do the introduction. It’s going to be a great classic the day it’s published. They agreed to do it.
Then a publishing company in the United States did. [Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966] So it became the number one best-selling book in America. It was on The New York Times best selling list for six months. As soon as a year was up, and it came out in paperback, it was the number one best-seller in paperback in America, according to The New York Times.
And then I wrote another book on the Kennedy Assassination — Plausible Denial — and not one publisher in America would publish that book.
Then I found Thunder’s Mouth Press. Never printed more than 5,000 copies of anything. They had no money for an advertising campaign. That became the number four bestselling book in America according to The New York Times.
But Posner had never written anything and he got a good contract to write the book Case Closed which just said basically Oswald did it because they were looking for someone that was going to say that.
And he wasn’t a well known writer. But he got paid a substantial sum to write that book because it was a position that they wanted to hear. So I understand the situation. Therefore, should we unfairly attack Posner on the other grounds in my view? No.
Lane: When he contacted me… I told him exactly what I felt. That there should be an ethical standard in journalism whether it’s someone you disagree with or agree with. And he said, ‘You’ll take the case?” I said, “Yes.”
And I said, “There’s a second reason.” And he said, “What?” I said, “People are going to be really upset about this.” That was the second reason. I took it. Because I want to underscore the position that principles… ] what you do in your life. It should really be enforced. And it’s unfair what they were doing to Posner.
Listen, I don’t think there was anybody happier when I first saw the headlines that Posner was a plagiarist. I said, oh, good. But then I said, that’s not fair…
MH: I would think that you would want the Warren Commission to be smashed to bits.
Lane: Yeah. For making false statements about the Kennedy assassination. Not for spitting on the sidewalk. I am not underscoring the responsibility of avoiding plagiarism. I mean, we’re authors, we’re writers. But who are the greatest plagiarists in the world? I mean, The New York Times…I point this out in various books and articles.
The New York Times has published articles given to them by intelligence agencies and putting somebody else’s name on it. And they knew… that’s plagiarism. That destroys the fabric of democracy.
MH: It’s my suspicion that Posner has been involved in similar types of operations.
Lane: Well, I’d like to see it. And if it’s so, I’m not going to support him in that. Obviously I’ll attack him for that. But that’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying he took a phrase here. He took three sentences here. Two sentences there…
MH: You feel like he’s being bullied a little bit.
Lane: It is what bothers me, and I hate bullies. Again, where that phrase came from… I was on the Barbara Walters show.. She was at one of the networks and they gave her a five-minute program once a week. I was the first guest she picked. And it ended by her saying, “Mark, in one sentence, what’s your philosophy?”
Because if you thought about it for a year, you couldn’t do it one sentence. So the lights are on. It’s live TV. And I said, I hate bullies. And that really is my philosophy. I was on a radio show about a year ago and someone said, how’s your autobiography coming?
I said I’m still working on it. I don’t even have a name for it. And they said you’ve got the greatest names ever. Rush to Judgment became a catch‑word after you used it. And I said I know. I can’t think of a name.
And I said if any listeners are listening, here’s my website. Send in a suggestion. A guy sent in a name. Because Jim Garrison had said the CIA took over my office and ran it, but at least the CIA has been danced with.
So this guy wrote and said, I got an idea, why don’t you call it, Dancing with Bullies. It’s your statement. It’s Garrison’s statement. Hence, the story of your life. And I wrote back and said, that’s it. So that’s the name of my autobiography.
Dancing… that’s the story of my life. So that’s what this is. They are bullying him and I don’t like it. When I tried to get Rush to Judgment published, the publishers would come to me with this statement:
“Can you guarantee there will be no unfair attacks on this book?” I said “Unfair attacks? No I can’t guarantee that there will be no unfair attacks.
I can guarantee that with 5000 citations and references that no one will ever find one that’s wrong.” And no one ever has. Wesley Liebeler, you know who that is? He’s one of the lawyers for the Warren Commission, he taught at a university in California and he had a whole class assigned the task of finding an error in Rush to Judgment.That’s all they did and they couldn’t find one. Of course, the first review of my book was by the CIA. They had the proof copy before I did. [To see a CIA memo on how to discredit critics, go here.]
MH: Yeah, I read that.
Lane: And they couldn’t find an error in it either. But see, the book is safe from fair attack, [but] there’s no such thing as being safe from unfair attack. And Posner is in my view vulnerable to fair attack [but] nobody should be unfairly attacked.
MH: So you’re going ahead with the lawsuit?
Lane: I’m hoping that this will be all over now. There isn’t going to be money for a lawsuit anyway, so I’m hoping this will be all over and they’re going to go after somebody else… maybe they’re going to leave Posner alone for a while… They sort of backed out on the attack on me, they said they were doing it responsibly, basically it was just an attack on the plagiarism, not name calling and if that’s what they’re going to do. And that would be the end of it.
MH: Again, what I think, the plagiarism is a dead issue, I think the issue is how much space Posner has gotten in the mainstream press for his books..
Lane: Oh, I do too. I think, look Michael Beschloss… remember him? He wrote an attack on John F. Kennedy years after he was dead, and it was a piece of shit — and he became the expert historian on American presidents on networks.
So you don’t have to do much — as long as you’re with the establishment — to become one of their experts, I mean they don’t even call me when they have discussions about the Kennedy assassination.
Lane: Did you read Plausible Denial? That’s the story of E. Howard Hunt with the Liberty Lobby case.
People said “Why are you representing the Liberty Lobby?” Victor Marchetti, a former CIA officer published a piece who basically said that the CIA was involved in the Kennedy assassination, and Hunt came out of prison and sued. And I was involved with the case, I never heard of Liberty Lobby actually, or the lawsuit, they won $650,000 and then it was reversed on appeal — then they called me, and said would you represent us.
I knew it was a very conservative group, actually, I looked into it, but that wasn’t the issue, as I said to the head of it, “Can I take depositions of everyone I wanted to question for all of my life so far?” Like E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, Helms, Stanfield Turner, all these direct, all these guys who run the CIA.
He said, “Yes you can do that.” So we did that and presented them. The Miami Herald, it was great. Every day they had an article about how Hunt was winning the case during the trial. And I said, “Are you living in a dream world? We’re going to win this case, and how are you going to explain that to your readers?” They explained it. They didn’t publish anything, but we won.
MH: Nothing about it was in the Times, you said? Right?
Lane: I don’t believe the Times published it. There was a small piece later in the Miami Herald. Then the woman came out….First of all, she was an attractive woman so they were focusing on her. And she came out and said, “When this trial began, Mr. Lane said I’m going to present evidence, and you’ll see that the Central Intelligence Agency, your own government agency, killed your President.”
She said “I was afraid people saw me roll my eyes in disbelief. But apparently, we are the only group of Americans who have heard all of this evidence.”
The judge decided what was relevant, objected to cross examination, and our conclusion was pretty clear. The CIA killed President Kennedy. .
She said that “When this trial began I believed in mom, apple pie, and the American way. Now I believe in mom and apple pie.”
Not a word on television. It was like Silence of Gold with the amazing pause. With all the media there on the steps of the courthouse, nobody used it. So that’s why I wrote Plausible Denial. I had the worst contract in the world.
MH: I know you were asked this about 40 years ago by William Buckley, but going after the CIA so much is dangerous, isn’t it?
Lane: Well, I had a file called death threats. I had 250 death threats in the early days. Every time I would get a death threat, I would put it in the file called death threats. But after that, it just became too large and I tossed the whole thing out. Maybe I have it somewhere. But I don’t save them anymore.
Yeah, I got a lot of threats. And a couple of them seemed quite serious. I discuss that point in my autobiography. I think they missed their timing. I mean, people died in this uncovering stuff. It’s in my book. It’s really clear stuff. I think that they missed the timing.
They did everything they could to prevent Rush to Judgment from being published. And then all of a sudden it came out. There wasn’t one word…did you notice for more than a year, no one ever questioned the Warren Report.
Not one critical word, ever, on a network television or radio program or national speaker. Not one word of dissent. Not one word questioning it.
I went to Cornell and I spoke to the college up there. It’s a large audience. And Andrew Hacker — a very well known historian and professor there, who also published fairly frequently in The New York Times Magazine section — was my host.
And I said, “Listen, I’ve got an idea. They’re not going to publish anything about the Warren Commission about questions. But could you do this. Could you just get the Times to let you interview the lawyers and the members of the Commission, not to attack them, just to show how it was done? Who read what? What the chain of command was? Just a nuts and bolts piece because we don’t have that. I know they won’t publish anything which is critical. But just a straight objective story about how they did it.” He said, “It’s a great idea.”
The New York Times said absolutely no. He said,”That’s the first time they ever turned me down. And it wasn’t a pejorative piece.”
Nothing could be said until Rush to Judgment came out. And the day it came out, they gave me almost half of the Today Show to discuss it. They had other people there, and it was a very fair discussion. Ed Newman, remember him?
He was like a major NBC News commentator. He held up the book on network news, and said, “This appears to be an unanswerable indictment of the Warren Commission and it should be read by every American. And I think the government has a responsibility to read this and see if it can answer these charges.”
The book took off and became number one, and then it would have been tantamount to kill me at that point. But I think if they thought all of these things were going to happen, who knows what they would have decided.
MH: One of the things that seemed to happen which has always confused me is that you were attacked by other conspiracy theorists. Like the further end of Mae Brussell and…. .
MH: Mae Brussell. Remember her?
Lane: She’s insane.
Lane: And I know her. She was completely nuts. She had a friend, she said, and the CIA planted a bug in his head, and it drove him crazy, and it’s really horrible. I said, “Why don’t you take him to a surgeon, and have it removed?” [She responded], “Oh, I never thought about that.”
And she was mad at me because I had organized two major conferences on the Kennedy assassination. Did not invite her. And then a major conference was organized in Boston, but not by me.
And I was invited as a keynote speaker. And I said, “Who’s going to be there?” Then they tell me who. And they said, “Mae Brussell’s going to be there.” I said, “I’m not going to go.” They said, “Why?” I said, “Because it will just bring discredit upon the whole movement.” They said, “Are you suggesting she’s working for the CIA?” I said, “No, absolutely not.”
I mean, if there was nobody like Mae Brussell, they probably would have put a couple of nuts in our movement. But we’ve got some nuts there already who are true believers. They don’t have to do that.
In any event, she was furious and she called me. She said, “You’re not letting me speak.” I said, “I’m not going to speak if you’re going to be there. They can have you.” She said, “Well you know…
I said, “Well you’re right. It is a kind of censorship if I say I won’t be there. But I don’t know what to do about it.”
Anyway, I spoke to this guy Skolnick from Chicago. Remember him?
MH: Yes, yes.
Lane: He was another kind of nutty guy. And he spoke to her. And it was completely insane. There was a guy from The New York Times that I knew who was covering it. I had dinner with him in the middle of the conference. And he said, I am going to run this as a farce.
I said it’s not fair. It’s not fair. There are some serious people here. And I know there are some nuts here. He said, you want me not to mention them? I said, no, no, of course, mention whatever you want. Mention the nuts too.
But there are very serious questions being raised by a number of serious critics. And I think you should not make a joke. And I said wait till you hear my concluding speech tomorrow. And he did, and that’s what I said.
I said there are some people here who have theories about what happened on November 22nd. If you had to choose between them or believing that Oswald is a lone assassin, you might go with Oswald was a lone assassin, those other things were so nutty.
I said it discredits what we’re doing. Everybody should keep their mind open. Well he wrote a very thorough piece in which he said, he quoted that, but he also said, some serious work was done. Now that’s the problem.
There are some real trouble…listen, some people who maybe work for the government can make us look like we’re all….
MH: Warren Hinckle. What about him? Well he was one of the ones that wrote something really nasty about you. [Hinckle’s 1974 memoir, If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade, excoriates Lane.]
Lane: Yeah. That’s right. He said someone like Penn Jones who was a real American. I’m a Jew. Penn Jones is a real American. And you can believe someone like him.
What did I do that was so bad? I formed with Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Layman, Thomas Finletter Reform Democratic Movement of New York. I was chosen by that movement, and John Kennedy’s brother Bobby, to be one of the two campaign managers for John Kennedy from New York City.
Kennedy endorsed me and got elected to the New York State Legislature. I served there, and I said when I ran for office in East Harlem and Yorkville, I would serve one term only and then I would go to the Puerto Rican community, which never had a member from the assembly… and ask them to pick someone.
I’d endorse them. They picked Carlos Rios, and I was his campaign manager. He got elected. So what did I do that the Democrats wouldn’t like? I’m not quite sure. Do you know anything about Lisa Howard?
Lane: She was one of the most beautiful women of the world. She was an activist in the Lexington Democratic Club which was the first reform club, and she was a good friend of mine.
And she said to me at lunch one day, “You know the men in the Lexington Democratic, I’m worried they don’t like you.” I said, “Why don’t they like me, Lisa?”
She said, “You keep on saying that the Reform Movement should go into the black community, the Puerto Rican community and not just the wealthy, white areas.” I said, “Well the leaders say that, of your same club say that.” She said, “Yeah, but they think you mean it.” I said, “OK, how do the women feel?” And she just laughed.
So anyway, she became a crucial person, she was the first person to interview Fidel Castro. The first one to interview Kennedy when he got the nomination, she had her own show at ABC for awhile and she became the activist at trying to get the United States to drop, to work out an accommodation with Fidel Castro. She’s an important historic person. She was appointed to go there and she talked to Castro, she talked to people who talked to Castro, came back, the Kennedy’s were very interested in this and then the State Department moved in and the CIA moved in, and said she has to be silenced.
And I said, “Aren’t you worried? Aren’t you afraid of this?” She said, “As long as John Kennedy’s here, I have a friend in the White House, he wants me to do this.” And he did. Then he was killed and then she died mysteriously. And she’s a quite remarkable person and that’s the kind of person in the Reform Democratic movement back then, it was alive with it. And, I think it’s got its own problems I don’t know.
MH: Could you just tell me what you did before you were an Assemblyman?
Lane: OK. I graduated law school in 1950‑51 I’ve forgotten now. About 60 years. I opened a storefront office in East Harlem and I stayed there for 10 years working in the community…The first five years I never made $2,000 per year, and then I finally got up to $2,500 working in a slum in a storefront office for those years. I was active in every movement thing. I got elected to the State Legislature by the people of East Harlem, and I became a Freedom Rider my first year. I went to Percy Sutton, I came back and then Kennedy was killed and…
I was uncovering police brutality in East Harlem, I was doing all that kind of stuff in the community. There was a thing called, “Newark State School for Mental Defectives.” That’s what they called them. There were Puerto Rican and black kids among them who were in prison, some of them were kept there for 40 years. I got The New York Post and The New York Times to campaign with me. And we won that campaign and got thousands of these kids released all throughout the whole state who didn’t belong there in the first place. They tore down the solitary confinement rooms and they built libraries and reading rooms. All of that stuff is part of history, but that’s what I was doing, all those years.
MH: So the Mae Brussell/Sherman Skolnick thing that you were in Army intelligence is a lie, it’s slander, basically.
Lane: [Laughs] It’s not a lie, but it is a misunderstanding at best. I entered the Army at the age of 18. World War II was still going on. I went to Tampa Florida and I took basic training during that summer. Then the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were on our way to the far east with the training we got. But when the war ended… all of us went to Europe as part of the Army occupation..
They had an Army general classification test. It is like an IQ test. The captain went through the list and mine was the highest IQ — It wasn’t IQ, but the same kind of test — of anybody in the unit.
He said: OK. You’re in… organization. So I investigated a dispute between Russians and Americans. We were right in Vienna. The Danube was the dividing line between the Germans, the Russians in the occupied zones. Russians and the Americans, there was a dispute. They asked me to look into it. I did. I said, actually we were wrong, and they furious at me for having said that…
So they said, go back and look at it again. I said, well, it is very hard to point out it was their fault that our guys got drunk, crossed the river into the Russian zone, and beat up a colonel there.
And they said, Oh, OK. So I said, I’d like to leave this unit. It had only two people in it. And I left the unit. That was my Army intelligence background… One investigation for a company of 250 people.
MH: I have one last question: How would you suggest one go about looking for plants in the media?
Lane: A lot of stuff was published, I mean…
MH: Max Holland is an obvious case, right? Max Holland is obvious… but when it’s not as obvious as that?
Lane: Well, I don’t know, I’m not a spy catcher but you know Jeremiah O’Leary published stuff in the Washington… I think it was called the Washington Star which the FBI gave him… I think he was kicked out of the press corp or something for that. He never even changed a word, and he said, “Well I’ve got all these defenses, I got all the information from them anyway so what’s wrong with them writing the articles?” So [with] some guys it’s pretty obvious… other guys you just see what they’re doing consistently.
Lane: Always taking the same position. The one I thought was always quite remarkable was Anthony Lewis who always took a position… you know The New York Times… and this is something you might be interested in…
When the 26 volumes came out, I got them the same day he did from the government’s printing office in Washington. That night he wrote an article for The New York Times saying, all of the evidence in the 26 volumes proves that the Warren Commission was correct. He went through the 26 volumes. Wow!
MH: In one night, yeah.
Lane: It took me a year. And I wrote to him and said, when I finished reading, “I just finished reading it took me a year, how did you get through it so quickly?” And he hasn’t answered, I presume he hasn’t finished my letter yet, I don’t know but…
MH: Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, whom I’ve spoken with… what about his highly negative review of Rush to Judgment?
Lane: I don’t know.
MH: He’s a nice guy.
Lane: I don’t think he attacked me actually. Do you, I don’t remember?
MH: No, he didn’t attack you. Well he did say it was irresponsible and…
Lane: He did? Well.
Lane: That’s an attack. I don’t remember. But I’m so used to that, it literally rolls off my back now.
Lane: But I think that it’s a serious question and it’s one that ought to be explored, I mean we know that the Church Committee, and since that time many of the exposés, have made it clear that these guys, before they were embedded in the media they were embedded in the Army, which is more serious.
Lane: OK, so listen. Let’s stay in touch, when my book comes out I want to let you guys know.
Lane: If you need a correspondent down here in Virginia, I’ll be your correspondent.
MH: Sounds great.
Lane: I love you guys. Talk with you later.
MH: Bye, bye.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Mark Lane on Firing Line (The Knowledge Archives / YouTube – Creative Commons Attribution license – reuse allowed) and MarkLane.com