In one of those ironies history throws at us, Lee Harvey Oswald’s failed attempt on the life of the ultra-Rightist General Edwin Walker eight months before the Kennedy assassination ended Walker’s importance.
Don Delillo caught Walker’s descent into mediocrity best in his JFK assassination novel, Libra. In the novel, one of the most bizarre suspects in the Kennedy assassination, the body-hairless, ultra-Rightist David Ferrie tells Oswald to forget about continuing his assassination attempts on Walker:
“No one listens to Walker anymore. Your missed bullet finished him more surely than a clean hit. It left him hanging in the twilight. He is an embarrassment. He carries the stigma of having been shot at and missed.”
But for a while, Walker was listened to intently by enraged deep Southerners who swooned and howled at his message that the internal Communist Conspiracy was operating out of the White House, and by the Kennedys themselves.
Ironically, based on his later protests against integration, which he believed overlapped with the internal Communist conspiracy, he followed Eisenhower’s orders to guard black students who wanted to attend the newly-desegregated Central High School in Arkansas from angry white crowds. Osro Cobb, the United States Attorney General in Arkansas remembered Walker was firmly supportive of the right for black students to attend the high school:
“[Walker told Cobb] that he would do any and everything necessary to see that the black students attended Central High School as ordered by the federal court… he would arrange protection for them and their families, if necessary, and also supervise their transportation to and from the school for their safety.”
But Walker privately was against using federal troops as a means to enforce integration. Following orders, he nevertheless was radicalized into believing the Civil Rights Movement was a wing of the internal Communist conspiracy by listening to the segregationist radio preacher Billy James Hargis and the Grassy Knoll’s crowd favorite funder of the JFK Assassination, oil millionaire H.L. Hunt. All of them claimed that Communists were embedded in the White House.
Meeting Robert Welch, the John Birch Society leader completed Walker’s “education.” When Welch informed Walker that Eisenhower was a Soviet agent everything clicked into place for Walker; by following Eisenhower’s orders Walker now believed he had served the Communists.
Now in charge of 10,000 troops in Germany, Walker began attempting to indoctrinate his troops with his pro-Bircher speeches and gave them reading material from the organization (Walker later denied this).
Included in these lectures were assertions that Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt were communists.
Troops began to complain that he was trying to tell them how to vote in elections by blasting liberal Democrats.
Upon learning this, the new Secretary of Defense under JFK relieved Walker of his German command and reassigned him to Hawaii to oversee training and operations in the Pacific.
Walker, however, wanted out of the Army and, relieved of his German post, submitted his resignation, which was accepted by Kennedy.
Now out of the army, Walker went full-bore political. 1961 saw him on a nation-wide lecture tour with Hargis, where his anti-communist speeches accusing the government of harboring Communists highly resonated with the large crowds. Operating out of conservative Dallas, Walker was bankrolled by Hunt for the Texas gubernatorial race in 1962 but finished last.
His most notorious role would be directed at the issue he was most passionate about: racial integration, especially when backed by federal force. When the administration demanded that the segregated University of Misisipi admit a black military veteran named James Meredith, Walker took to the radio, encouraging segregation supporters nation-wide to converge on Mississipi:
“Mississippi: It is time to move. We have talked, listened and been pushed around far too much by the anti-Christ Supreme Court! Rise…to a stand beside Governor Ross Barnett at Jackson, Mississippi! Now is the time to be heard! Thousands strong from every State in the Union! Rally to the cause of freedom! The Battle Cry of the Republic! Barnett yes! Castro no! Bring your flag, your tent and your skillet. It’s now or never! The time is when the President of the United States commits or uses any troops, Federal or State, in Mississippi! The last time in such a situation I was on the wrong side. That was in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957-1958. This time — out of uniform — I am on the right side! I will be there!”
Because the anti-integration protesters engaged in violent protests, lasting 15-hours and resulting in two deaths, hundreds wounded along with six federal marshals, Walker was arrested on the federal charge of treason against the United States.
But the Kennedys overplayed their hand. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, considerably overrated in the intelligence department, made a civil liberties’ martyr out of Walker by putting him in an insane asylum.
Conservatives and liberals rallied to Walker’s cause, with the ACLU accusing the administration of using psychiatry as a partisan political tactic. Walker was released from the asylum in five days.
A federal grand jury dropped the sedition charges against him.
Walker returned to Dallas in 1963, and his anti-communist speech tour, “Operation Midnight Ride,” with it calls on the military to “liquidate” Castro brought Walker into a high school dropout/former Marine turned Soviet defector/Castro partisan’s radar. In response to Walker’s “liquidate” speech, Lee Harvey Oswald mail-ordered the infamous Carcano rifle.
Oswald, according to his wife Marina’s testimony before the Warren Commission, followed Walker, photographed his house, and began practicing with the Carcano. On the night he shot at Walker, he left a note telling his wife Marina what to do if he was apprehended (this note was later found ten days after the Kennedy assassination).
Always a failure, Oswald fired at Walker on April 10, 1963, hitting the window frame and only hitting Walker in the forearm with fragments. This attempt was confirmed by his wife Marina to the Warren Commission, with Oswald telling her about it afterward. She added that Oswald considered Walker a budding Hitler.
(For some bizarre reason some of the Grassy Knoll crowd, in their zeal to affirm Oswald as a fall guy for the Kennedy assassination, have argued that he didn’t shoot at Walker. But Oswald missing an easy shot at Walker from a flat low trajectory and the target sitting in front of a window would bolster claims that he wasn’t marksman enough to hit Kennedy.)
Unscathed, Walker continued his activism, organizing a hostile reception in the auditorium where UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson gave a speech. The planted crowd was so vocally hostile that Stevenson left in the middle of the speech. En route to his limousine, Stevenson was spat on and hit in the head by a placard-wielding female. Since he was not present, Walker was not charged.
Oswald’s arrest for the Kennedy administration and the uncovering of proof that he shot at Walker forever tied Walker to the JFK conspiracy theories, but he never was considered in the top tier of the plotters; merely a pawn to create the impression of Oswald as an angry lone assassin.
After that, Walker retreated into quiet, focusing on getting his army pension reinstated (he was successful in 1982).
His last moment in the sun was embarrassing for his followers. In 1976, the lifelong bachelor was charged with fondling a male undercover police officer in a public restroom. So ended Edwin Walker, who did not achieve victim status from Oswald.