FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

"The Outfit" Rips the Lid Off America’s Pious Myths

by CHRIS FLOYD

Anyone who wants to understand the reality of modern America should pick up Gus Russo’s latest book, “The Outfit.” With diligent research and relentless candor, Russo strips away the façade of America’s pious national myths, showing in great detail how the criminal underworld ­ and the even more criminal “upperworld” of big business and politics ­ have fused in a deadly symbiosis that underlies the nation’s power structure.

You could begin unravelling this dirty skein at almost any point in the last century, but let’s join the story at a critical juncture: 1960, when Democrats Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson battled for the right to face Republican Richard Nixon in the presidential election. Of course, bribery, corruption, violence and vote-rigging have long been an integral part of America’s glorious electoral heritage ­ a shining example to all the world ­ but the 1960 election was the first time that the country’s mobsters had intervened so directly, and so decisively, in the national ballot.

They’d seen one of their creations in the White House before, of course: Harry Truman, the Missouri haberdasher who was plucked from obscurity by Tom Pendergast, boss of the Kansas City mob. Pendergast, whose iron grip on local politics was augmented by the judicious use of murder, eventually propelled Truman to the U.S. Senate. From there, having won a well-deserved reputation as a zealous scourge of corporate war profiteering (the mob steered clear of that particular racket, which was dominated by bluebloods like the Bushes), Truman was chosen as vice president in 1944. A few months later, Franklin Roosevelt died ­ and Pendergast’s boy was suddenly president of the United States.

Although Truman kept his own hands clean of bribes (except the usual ones known as “campaign contributions”), he retained a fierce tribal loyalty to the Kansas City gang and their overlords: “The Outfit,” the Chicago-based heirs of Al Capone, and the nation’s most powerful underworld organization. In one of the major scandals of Truman’s administration, his Attorney General, Tom Clark, approved early paroles for three of the Outfit’s most notorious figures. A second scandal followed when Truman rewarded Clark for these gangland services rendered with a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But that’s the way it works. “In the corrupted currents of this world,” as Claudius notes in Hamlet, “the wicked prize itself buys out the law.” It’s how you climb the greasy pole of power. Especially if you weren’t born to the purple, a scion of America’s nobility, those august clans who made their now well-laundered fortunes through slavery (Washington, Jefferson et al), gun-running and war profiteering (the Bushes), bootlegging and stock fraud (the Kennedys), military conquest (Texas, California, the vast Indian lands), ethnic cleansing (the Indian population slashed from 8 million to 120,000 during the 19th century), graft and terrorism (the du Ponts consolidating their hold on the gunpowder industry by firebombing their rivals; the Rockefellers burning down the oil derricks of their competitors).

In 1960, all three major candidates were mobbed up. JFK’s father, the ex-bootlegger Joe Kennedy, dealt directly with his former associates in the Outfit, tapping them for untraceable vote-buying cash and their unrivaled vote-rigging muscle. Nixon, then vice president, had long worked his mob contacts ­ chiefly the Los Angeles gang of Mickey Cohen and New York’s Meyer Lansky ­ for secret campaign funds. Meanwhile, the Chicago Outfit ­ playing both sides as always ­ sought Nixon’s favor by agreeing to a CIA request for help in assassinating Fidel Castro.

Johnson was backed by the Carlos Marcello gang out of New Orleans, who paid the all-powerful Texas senator $100,000 a year to keep the legislative heat off their gambling and racing interests. Of course, this mob dime was small beer to Lyndon, whose career had been bankrolled by massive cash infusions (some of them legal) from the construction and military servicing firm Brown & Root ­ now more famous as the chief cash cow in the Halliburton empire. (Like the Outfit, Halliburton always plays both sides.)

The rest, as they say, is history. Kennedy’s Outfit connections trumped Johnson’s Marcello play for the nomination, then Joe’s vote-riggers outmuscled Nixon’s vote-riggers in the election ­ the closest in American history. Nixon felt, rightly, that he’d been robbed of a presidency he’d bought fair and square. Thus he went on to even greater illegality ­ including outright treason in his secret negotiations with Vietnamese officials to scuttle peace talks before the 1968 election ­ to ensure his perch atop the greasy pole. Millions of people would die from his expansion of a war that U.S. officials had already privately conceded was a disastrous mistake. As Russo points out, gangland’s rap sheet looks like a hymnbook next to the genocidal record of the upperworld.

Now, in the 21st century, the fusion of the two worlds is complete. Legitimized criminality is the order of the day. The bluebloods are back on top, openly using the Outfit’s tactics on a global scale: racketeering as statecraft. Instead of carving out criminal niches on the fringes of society, the Oval Outfit takes down whole countries. Instead of whacking a few wiseguys in internecine vendettas, the Bush gang kills tens of thousands of innocent people to loot national treasuries (Iraq’s, America’s). The “war on terror” is just a mob feud writ large: the bin Laden crew ­ schooled and financed by the Washington boys during the first Afghan caper ­ are duking it out with their mentors for the biggest pile of swag in history: control of the world’s oil.

Those who prefer the nourishing disillusionment of truth over poison national myth should seek out Russo’s book. Read it ­ and weep.

The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, by Gus Russo. Bloomsbury Press.

CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for The Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. He can be reached at cfloyd72@hotmail.com.

 

Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail