One of the few men who ever interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald ended up renting my old room for about four years. Another man, one of the few innocents who lost their jobs due to the Kennedy assassination, wrote feature stories for me when I was managing editor of the New Orleans weekly Gambit. The reverberations from that assassination a half century ago altered not only the course of a nation but also the course of numerous private lives, in ways poignant and deep.
For the two men I knew, Ed Butler and Jesse Core, August 16, 1963, was a fateful day. It was then that Lee Harvey Oswald was passing out leaflets for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, outside the International Trade Mart in New Orleans. Core was the Trade Mart’s publicist; as Oswald started causing a commotion, Core tried to shoo him away to avoid bad publicity for the Trade Mart. Core promptly reported the incident to the FBI. Five days later, Butler, as the head of an anti-Communist outfit called the Information Council of the Americas (INCA), joined a Cuban exile and two local reporters on WDSU radio to interview, or debate, Oswald.
Hauntingly, it is one of only two readily available recordings of Oswald before the assassination. It was Butler who helped goad Oswald into proclaiming that he was a Marxist — an admission that the late U.S. representative Hale Boggs, who served on the Warren Commission and who greatly admired INCA, thought was highly important in establishing Oswald’s motives.
For Butler, it was a career-definer. Already a well-connected crusader against Communists and “revolutionaries” anywhere and everywhere they lurked, Butler’s brush with Kennedy’s assassin provided him fame (for about a decade) and, more important, confirmation that the intersection of radio and anti-Communism should be his life’s work.
Butler was the prototypical “hedgehog,” viewing the world through the single lens of anti-revolution/anti-Communism. He was sincere, often incisive, and dead on-target in terms of understanding the big picture of Communist propaganda and organizational strategies. He also had a great voice for radio and knew how to conduct an interview to elicit interesting responses from his guests.
But a man obsessed with fighting Communists — and sometimes in mistaking ordinary liberals as Communists in fact or in training — is not a man with whom most national media folks want to associate or converse. No matter how personally kind or thoughtful he was, his obsession could wear on the nerves even of those who shared much of his conservative philosophy. Yet no matter how much the mainstream media shunted him aside, Butler remained convinced that his onetime fame was prelude to an even more important “big reveal” through which he would help save Western civilization.
The collapse of Soviet Communism did not assuage Butler’s worries; even as others celebrated the triumph of the West, Butler remained convinced that the revolutionary Left was still plotting. In the early 1990s, Butler scraped together enough money to take over New Orleans radio station WTIX and run it on a shoestring budget — while barely bringing home enough to live on.
So it was that, with me living and working in Washington, D.C., as a congressional staffer, my father — who counted Butler’s brother as a good friend — rented out my former room to Butler at some tiny fee like $50 a month. In Lord knows how many conversations during those years, Butler told me again and again that he was glad I was up there fighting the revolutionaries — and he would always wave off my protestations that sometimes we were just dealing with garden-variety liberals, misguided but not bent on destruction.
“You just have to know how to expose them,” he’d say. “Like I exposed Oswald.”