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Arkansas' Murderous Ways

Christopher Ruddy

October 22, 1998


Bill Clinton doesnít come out of a vacuum.

He is the product of an Arkansas political machine that has long been corrupt and tied to organized crime.

Writer L.J. Davis once explained our president to me this way: "All you need to know about Bill Clinton is that he was governor of Arkansas."

That one sentence, spoken to me four years ago, has resonated.

Davisí explanation became more meaningful after a conversation I had with a member of the Rockefeller family. Iíll identify him only as "Rock."

Rock was very impressed by my work, and even asked me to speak on the subject of Vincent Fosterís death to an organization he headed.

One canít get more establishment than the Rockefeller family. So I was surprised by the enthusiasm. Then Rock explained to me that members of the Rockefeller family could believe the worst about Bill Clinton.

I asked Rock why.

He responded that the family understood the political milieu from which Clinton came. Rock reminded me that Winthrop Rockefeller -- Rock called him "Uncle Win" -- was governor of Arkansas.

Win, who has passed away, was the first Republican to win the governorship since Reconstruction, and he did so by spending his wealth and running against the one-party machine that later elected Bill Clinton.

It was a dangerous machine, Rock said with some passion -- one that almost killed Uncle Win. Rock said that, while governor, Winthrop had survived no less than three assassination attempts.

All were attempts made by sabotage on his private jet, he said.

Winthrop was an outsider and a reformer, which earned him the enmity of the cozy club of the Little Rock elite. What really ruffled feathers with the club was Winís decision to eliminate illegal gambling in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Illegal gambling there was controlled by a loosely knit organized crime group Rock called the "redneck mafia." Law enforcement agencies call the group the Dixie Mafia.

Gambling in Bill Clintonís hometown had flourished openly for decades because of the corruption of the local political establishment and the complicity of the state police. Winthrop thought his job would be easy. It wasnít.

Rock said his uncle hired, then fired, several state police commanders to crack down on the vice. His police chiefs were all either bribed, threatened, or blackmailed into ignoring Governor Rockefellerís orders.

Finally Rock found a young, clean-cut FBI agent named Lynn Davis and named him state police commander. Davis was Arkansasí version of Eliot Ness. He did wipe out the illicit Hot Spring gambling nests -- at times literally using bulldozers.

His accomplishment was achieved at some risk.

Rock detailed the sacrifice he, his uncle, and Davis almost had to make.

As Rock told the story, Winthrop owned a private jet. Rock had joined his uncle on a jet trip he was taking to Memphis along with Davis and two troopers.

The short, peaceful trip from Little Rock was interrupted by the pilot, who came into the passenger cabin with an ominous report. "Governor, it looks like the landing gear wonít stay down," he said. "We are going to have to make a controlled crash."

Rockefeller and the other passengers were shaken. They knew what the pilotís action meant: probable combustion of the plane and death for them.

One of the troopers came up with the bright idea of using the planeís fire ax to break through the floor to examine the landing gear.

Circling above Memphis, the troopers cut a wide hole in the jetís floor. They discovered the plane had been sabotaged. Metal rods had been placed in the landing mechanism, so when the gear had retracted upon takeoff, the metal braces needed to keep the tires down had also broken. Without the tires locked into place, the plane would immediately skid on its belly. Disaster would surely follow.

Rock said his uncle was livid. After two previous attempts to sabotage the plane, he had lavished money on round-the-clock security at the Little Rock hangar where the plane was kept.

Plane crashes were a favorite method of assassination with the Dixie Mafia, Rock said. He added that it was the "perfect cover for murder" because most of the evidence is destroyed or mutilated in a crash. Also, many people have an inability to accept the notion murderers would kill so many innocent passengers to get one target. So the death of the target appears purely accidental.

The plane crash was a good strategy for still another reason. Had a gunman simply shot Uncle Win to death, Rock continued, this would have drawn all sorts or attention and sparked an FBI investigation. The mob doesnít want the feds on their backs.

Fortunately, the plane did not crash. One of the troopers came up with an ingenious idea. Break up some of the passenger seats and jam the metal pieces into the landing gear to keep the tires stable as they landed. It worked.

Rockís harrowing tale is not without corroboration. Lynn Davis, now a lawyer in Little Rock, confirmed the incident.

Still, the threat of assassination always loomed for Winthrop. Rockefeller ordered the staff at the governorís mansion to keep the curtains always closed, day and night, lest a shooter decide to kill him. He frequently had a bodyguard with him as he walked from room to room in the mansion.

Rockefellerís experience was not an isolated one. Gene Wirges, a veteran Arkansas journalist and a Rockefeller ally, wrote in his book "Conflicts of Interest" about the diabolical nature of the Dixie Mafia. Wirges himself suffered several assassination attempts, including a phony car crash. Wirgesí life-threatening work has been cited by many journals, including the Wall Street Journal and the Saturday Evening Post.

To be sure, Bill Clinton was a relatively young man at the time Rockefeller was taking on the mob in Hot Springs.

But the time period is not so far removed from him either. Winthrop left the governorship in 1971, Clinton was elected attorney general, the stateís chief law enforcement officer just five years later, in 1976.

There is no evidence Clinton, as the Democratic machine candidate, was the subject of an assassination attempt or ordered the assassination of anyone.

Interesting, though, were the many ties Clinton himself made with various organized crime figures. One was a gentleman who was the reputed head of the Dixie Mafia. Trooper Larry Patterson told me this man would send a case of fine whisky to the governorís mansion for Clinton every Christmas.

Another sordid character Clinton associated with was Dan Lasater, who was convicted on cocaine distribution charges. Though drug trafficking has made the Dixie mafia very powerful in the past two decades, there is no evidence Lasater is a member of the Dixie mafia or any organized crime group. Still, this highly dubious man was such a close friend of Clintonís, Trooper Patterson told me, that Lasater had free access to the governorís mansion at any time. He usually entered through the back door, the portal for close friends and family.

Arkansas State Police files also show that one of Clintonís longtime financial backers was the subject of a police inquiry involving allegations of drug dealing and murder for hire. No indictments were ever brought against the man. And the police investigator who handled the case was forced into early retirement after pressing for indictments.

Understanding Bill Clinton and the regime he and his wife brought to Washington is as easy as connecting the dots.