MIAMI — Everything you know is wrong. At least when it comes to two of the most notorious chapters of 20th century American history — the Kennedy assassination and Watergate.
President John Kennedy was murdered not by Lee Harvey Oswald but a serial killer — his own vice president, Lyndon Johnson. And the Watergate scandal was not about President Nixon’s dirty political tricks, but, umm, hookers.
This, at least, is the world according Roger Stone, the legendarily bare-knuckle Republican consultant who saved the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush (or, depending on your perspective, stole it from Al Gore) and now styles himself an “alternative historian.”
“I know a lot people don’t like to hear this; they think it’s crazy or partisan,” says Stone, who lives in Fort Lauderdale when his consulting firm is not out toppling governments or wrecking rival candidacies. “But they’re wrong. The evidence is there.”
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Some people clearly don’t mind hearing Stone’s theories. Last year, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, his book “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ,” hit The New York Times’ best-seller list. “Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth About the President, Watergate and the Pardon,” published in August, is hovering on Amazon.com’s top 25 political books and nearing a second printing.
Despite the books’ success, they have not won Stone much admiration from mainstream journalists or historians. “His Kennedy book is totally full of all kinds of crap,” declares veteran investigative reporter Hugh Aynesworth, who covered the assassination for The Dallas Morning News and has spent much of his life debunking conspiracy theories about it. Adds Max Holland, a historian who has written extensively about both the assassination and Watergate: “He’s out of his ever-lovin’ mind.”
Stone, who wallows lasciviously in insults from his enemies the way other people do in bubble baths (his stonezone.com website lists three dozen or so, ranging from “the dapper don of dirty deeds” to “the undisputed master of the black arts of electioneering,” as if they were glowing endorsements), is unconcerned.
“It’s always better to be talked about than not talked about,” he says dismissively. “And the biggest sin in politics is to be boring.”
Not being talked about has never been a problem for Stone. From the fringes of Watergate to the infamous Brooks Brothers Riot that halted the Miami-Dade County recount of ballots after the 2000 election, from the ad campaign that sank Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign to ratting out a New York attorney general’s yen for hookers, Stone has become America’s most notorious political hatchet man.
Schooled by rough-and-tumble politicians including his idol Nixon (whose face is tattooed on Stone’s back) and Joe McCarthy’s snarling attorney, Roy Cohn, Stone’s aptitude for political necromancy is the stuff of political legend.
Since moving to South Florida from Washington, D.C., in the weeks after 9/11, he bides his time between elections by working with corporate clients (particularly if they’re interested in building casinos) and conducting small-scale insurgencies against local pols and journalists who’ve annoyed him.
But his most visible work has been on his books. “The Man Who Killed Kennedy” essentially argues that Lyndon Johnson shot his way into the White House, ordering the deaths of nearly a score of men over the course of his political career — the last of them Kennedy, gunned down by a convicted Texas murderer named Malcolm Wallace who was “Lyndon Johnson’s personal hit man.”
Mob link, affairs
“Nixon’s Secrets,” though, has attracted more scholarly support. Two-thirds of the book is a conventional biography that is by no means a whitewash of Nixon. Stone writes that the president took campaign money from the mob, had a long-running affair with a Hong Kong woman who may have been a Chinese spy, and even once unwittingly smuggled 3 pounds of marijuana into the United States when carrying the suitcase of jazz great Louis Armstrong.
The book’s take on Watergate, though, is far more unconventional. It portrays Nixon as mostly, though not entirely, the scandal’s confused victim rather than its bad guy. The real mastermind: John Dean, the White House attorney who eventually became a folk hero of sorts by testifying against Nixon and his henchmen.
Dean, Stone writes, was actually the one who ordered the abortive burglary of the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington’s Watergate complex that touched off the scandal. Stone believes Dean was seeking not secret campaign plans but to remove evidence that might link his fiancée, Maureen Binder, to a ring of prostitutes that was servicing visiting DNC politicians.
That sounds preposterous. But the existence of the prostitution ring, which was run from an apartment building next to the Watergate, is well-documented, as is the fact that its customers included some Democratic Party officials. (And Republicans, too.) The FBI had raided the offices of its lawyer the week before the Watergate burglary.
Stone writes that it was run by an ex-stripper named Heidi Rikan, Binder’s friend and former roommate. The burglars had a key to a desk where pictures of the hookers were kept, he says, and one of the phones they were trying to bug, located in an office that was usually unoccupied, was used mostly to arrange dates with the prostitutes.
John Dean, reached by The Miami Herald at his Los Angeles home, refused to comment on the allegations. But he and Maureen Binder, who’ve been married four decades now, sued the authors of a 1992 book that made similar claims about the prostitution ring, a suit that was settled out of court after nine years of legal infighting.
Some historians who’ve investigated the theory that the Watergate burglary had less to do with politics than party girls have dismissed it. Anthony Summers, author of “The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon,” says he spent a great deal of time on the hooker theory and could find no evidence that Maureen Binder or any of her friends were connected to the prostitution ring, or that it triggered the burglary.
“It is an unresolved lead and certainly not one that can be dismissed,” he told The Miami Herald. But he added: “It has also been reported in ways that can be considered more conspiracy theory than reliable reporting.”
There is, however, a small but growing group of journalists and historians known as the Watergate Revisionists, a label first applied to them derisively but which they now wear proudly. And they all applaud Stone’s book.
“I’m glad Roger’s book is getting attention,” says journalist Phil Stanford, author of “White House Call Girl: The Real Watergate Story,” a 2013 revisionist work. “Stone is one of those rare political insiders who knows the score but doesn’t shy away from saying what incredibly dirty business it all is.”
Stone’s affection for Nixon redoubled when Nixon recast himself as a senior statesman after resigning the presidency in 1974.
“I love his perseverance, his indestructibility,” Stone says. “I love his feeling that when you get knocked down, defeated, discouraged, you have an obligation to pick yourself up and get back in the game. It’s his personality that attracted me, not anything ideological.”