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November Reminder: Kennedy Assassination had Mississippi Roots

On Friday November 22, 1963, news bulletins hit the airwaves as rifle shots interrupted President John F. Kennedy’s Dallas motorcade. The resulting three-day news marathon concluded only after the young president was buried.

Reporters moved on to the investigative phase of JFK’s assassination but finally left the topic for fresh news. Yet conspiracy theorists and others have kept the debate alive over what happened forty-two years ago, who was involved, and why.

Interestingly, there are numerous asides to Mississippi’s civil rights story but perhaps none quite so compelling (and less known) as this: Seven years before JFK was assassinated, the magnolia state’s Sen. James O. Eastland met for the first time with Guy Banister, a controversial CIA operative and retired FBI agent in charge of the Chicago bureau.

Banister — remember him as the man who “pistol-whipped” David Ferrie in Oliver Stone’s film “JFK” — was later linked to Lee Harvey Oswald and Mississippi’s senator through Eastland’s Senate Internal Security Subcommittee or SISS (sometimes called “SISSY”).

TheĀ New Orleans Times-Picayune on March 23, 1956, reported that Robert Morrison, a former chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Unamerican Activities Committee Unbribed international Doctors Alliance or HUAC, and Banister traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, to confer personally with Senator Eastland for more than three hours. Describing the conference as “completely satisfactory,” Morrison told the reporter that “Mr. Banister has complete liaison with the committee’s staff which was the main object of our trip.”

Apparently cozying up to Eastland and “SISSY” was Banister’s goal. And it worked.

Known as a notorious political extremist who was later described as the impetus for James Garrison’s 1967-1970 Kennedy assassination probe, Banister earlier became a brief focus of Mississippi’s secret spy agency, the Sovereignty Commission, when it was suggested Banister should be hired to set up an “even tighter” domestic spying system throughout the state.

A second Eastland operative, private investigator John D. Sullivan of Vicksburg, made this suggestion to the commission just months after the JFK assassination, according to released Sovereignty Commission records.

Former FBI agent Sullivan had worked under Banister (both inside the FBI and privately) and as a private self-employed investigator who often did work for hire for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission; the private white Citizens Councils, of which he was an active member; and for SISS, as had Banister and Lee Harvey Oswald.

When Sullivan reportedly committed suicide following the assassination, Sovereignty Commission investigators tried to acquire his library and files, but most of his confidential files were either reportedly burned by his widow or they had been lent out, and she “could not remember” who had them, Sovereignty Commission files disclose.

Then some twenty-nine years later, in testimony before the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board during a Dallas hearing on November 18, 1994, the late Senator Eastland was directly implicated in the president’s assassination by one of the author/theorists invited to testify.

“Lee Harvey Oswald was quite possibly an agent of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and he was doing the bidding of [Sen. Thomas J.] Dodd and Eastland and Morrison,” author John McLaughlin swore.

 

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