Ray Hunt has done many good things for the city of Dallas. He built Reunion Tower, without which the Dallas skyline would just be a bunch of boring rectangles. He was an early financial backer of D Magazine, without which we would be unable to identify which Dallas women are the most attractive. He's long been active in civic matters and philanthropy, one of a small but influential cadre of businessmen working tirelessly to keep city affairs tidy.
Through it all, he has managed to keep himself above the muck (bigamy and serial philandering, anti-Semitism, byzantine family squabbles) frequently associated with the family name since his father, H.L. Hunt, was bootstrapping his way to riches in the East Texas oilfields. A 1978 Time profile of him was headlined "The Nice Hunt."
Ray Hunt's newest civic venture — a crusade for Dallas to kick the porn expo Exxxotica out of its city-run convention center in a move that would be almost certain to put taxpayers on the losing-end of a First Amendment lawsuit — doesn't exactly run counter to that image. Qualms about sexual libertinism are common and defensible enough, and ill-conceived crackdowns on smut are something of a Dallas tradition. But Hunt's modus operandi here — leveraging his clout as a billionaire to steer the democratic process in directions in which wisdom suggests it shouldn't go — is straight from the playbook of his father, who spent his final quarter-century desperately trying to warp public policy into something more in line with his paranoid, right-wing worldview, which was not infrequently inflected with racism and anti-Semitism.
This isn't the first time Hunt has employed this technique, which is basically how millions and millions in public subsidy and an ill-conceived toll road have been steered toward the southwestern corner of downtown. And Hunt has never shown any sympathy for his father's radicalism and bigotry, but Exxxotica seems as good a reason as any to remember some of the elder Hunt's more noxious exploits:
Hunt's overriding political obsession was the creeping influence of communism, evidence of which he saw everywhere: in the social welfare programs of the New Deal, in the internationalism of the United Nations, in European immigration. "I believe," biographer Harry Hurt III quotes him as saying frequently, "we are taking over the communists."
Hunt truly began to publicly air his political views in 1951, not long after Life and Fortune magazines catapulted him to national prominence by identifying him as the richest man in America. Initially, his plan was to educate the public on a small scale by turning a large soil conservation project on land he owned in Kaufman County into a kind of capitalist commune, where unemployed young people would come to work the land and be indoctrinated into Hunt's peculiar brand of Americanism and anticommunism, or, as Hunt termed it, "constructivism."
Hunt soon abandoned the soil reclamation project in favor of one with much wider reach. The initiative, a nationally broadcast radio and television program called Facts Forum, was ostensibly educational, with an authoritative announcer, former FBI agent named Dan Smoot, presenting competing viewpoints about a current affairs topic. In reality, the program was little more than propaganda, reliably plugging Hunt's worldview.
Often the message was xenophobic anticommunism, as when Smoot described opponents of certain immigration restrictions as "want[ing] to flood America with people who have been drenched by the socialist propaganda of eastern Europe — people who would swell the tide of socialist voices in our great industrial centers." Other times the prejudice was directed at other groups. "Remember that the negroes when first brought to America by Yankee and English merchants were not free people reduced to slavery," the announcer said on one show. "They were merely transferred from a barbaric enslavement by their own people in Africa to a relatively benign enslavement in the Western Hemisphere." Iron Curtain Over America, a tract written by SMU professor John O. Beaty and promoted and distributed by Facts Forum, described "the problems created in the United States by a powerful minority [Russian Jews] possessed of an ideology alien to our traditions and fired by an ambition which threatens to involve us in the ruin of a third world-wide war."
Hunt found a kindred spirit in Senator Joseph McCarthy, who built a political career on a communist witch hunt, chasing imaginary subversives from the halls of power. They hit it off when McCarthy came to Dallas in 1952 to give a speech calling for the State Department to clear its ranks of communists; he accepted Hunt's offer of using Smoot to give his introduction. Later, a sizable contingent of top McCarthy staffers migrated to Facts Forum where they were able to more directly shape its content. Hunt reluctantly pulled Facts Forum off the air in 1956, following a year of hounding by journalists and government officials who wondered how such a blatantly political organization could be allowed to masquerade as an educational nonprofit.
Kennedy and the City of Hate
In 1960, as young, Catholic John F. Kennedy picked up steam in the Democratic primary, Reverend W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Church of Dallas delivered a stemwinder of a sermon declaring that "the election of a Catholic as president would mean the end of religious freedom in America." Hunt, a parishioner, proceeded to print 200,000 copies of the sermon and mail them to Protestant ministers across the country in an unsuccessful attempt to foment an anti-papist groundswell that would force Kennedy from the race.
The plan failed, Kennedy was elected president and Hunt was left to broadcast critiques of the Kennedy administration through LIFE LINE, the ostensibly religious media organization he established in 1958 as a successor to Facts Forum. As the summer of 1963 bled into fall, the attacks intensified. According to a Hunt biographer:
In the weeks preceding his arrival, "LIFE LINE" became increasingly strident in its anti-Kennedy rhetoric. Commentators on the program accused the president of every unpatriotic crime imaginable, from circumventing the authority of Congress to being a willing puppet of international communism.
On the morning of November 22, 1963, the day of Kennedy's scheduled arrival, "LIFE LINE" went on the air with a dire warning to the people of America. The commentator started off by talking about the "leftist plot," fomented in Washington under the current administration, to deprive the people of their right to bear arms.
Meanwhile, Hunt's son Bunker, who shared his father's political views, helped finance the publication of an infamous advertisement that ran in The Dallas Morning News on the morning of Kennedy's arrival. "WELCOME, MR. KENNEDY," the ad blared, leading into a list of questions copied from a right-wing pamphlet, most suggesting that Kennedy was treasonously friendly to communists. "Why have you approved the sale of wheat and corn to our enemies when you know the Communist soldiers 'travel on their stomachs' just as ours do? Communist soldiers are daily wounding and/or killing American soldiers in South Viet Nam," read one. Another asked "Why have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow travelers, and ultra-leftists in America, while permitting him to persecute loyal Americans who criticize you, your administration, and your leadership?"
Kennedy was assassinated a few hours later, and the Hunt name has been tied up in JFK conspiracy theories ever since. Despite some curious circumstances (the elder Hunt was rumored to be gambling buddies with Jack Ruby, who was found with LIFE LINE transcripts in his pocket), there's no credible suggestion of a direct Hunt connection to the assassination.
H.L. Hunt was the author of many books, among them H.L. Hunt Early Days; Constructively H.L. Hunt; Hunt Heritage; and Hunt for Truth. But although he was much more prolific as a producer of nonfiction, he cemented his reputation as a writer with a work of fiction: Alpaca.
Alpaca, like much of Ayn Rand's oeuvre, is less a novel than a crude vehicle for advancing the author's vision of a perfect world order. In Hunt's case, the perfect order is oligarchy with modest trappings of democracy.
The story follows a young man, Juan Achala, who leaves the fictional dictatorship of the book's title and travels the world, learning from the great statesmen and philosophers of Europe how to save his native land. He eventually discovers the recipe for a perfect society. This includes minimal taxation. According to the book, "Big taxes encourage overbearing and despoiling government, and government has been and always will be destructive to human liberty." To avoid the rise of demagogues, political discussion would be barred from TV, radio and meetings of more than 200; educational programs like Facts Forum and LIFE LINE would presumably be permitted.
The cornerstone of the constitution, however, was the distribution of voting power. Every person over the age of 18 would be qualified to vote. But, rather than stick to the one person-one vote principal that serves as the foundation of modern democracy, Hunt's system would allocate bonus votes based largely on income. The top 10 percent of taxpayers would get an additional seven votes, the next 10 percent would get six extra votes, and so on until the bonus peters out. The less wealthy could score extra votes through other means. The elderly could get two more by waiving retirement payments; government officials could get two by waiving half their salary; and everyone could get two by paying a "poll tax" of 200 kilograms of wheat or rice.
This form of suffrage, Hunt writes, is only sensible. "The grant of additional voting power to those who pay a larger part of the taxes is prompted by the logic that the citizen's sense of responsibility rises in direct ratio with his contribution to the nation."
At a book signing in downtown Dallas, Hunt prodded his daughters into a choreographed bit in which they sang, to the tune of "Look at That Doggie in the Window":
How much is that book in the window?
The one that says all the smart things...
How much is that book in the window?
The one which Popsy wrote...
The book remains a touchstone for liberals, for whom it is a glimpse into the mind of a modern-day robber baron, but commercially it was a dud.