Was Paul Wellstone Murdered?
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Editor, The Konformist
Was Paul Wellstone Murdered?
Michael I. Niman, AlterNet
October 28, 2002
Paul Wellstone was the only progressive in the U.S. Senate. Mother
Jones magazine once described him as, "The first 1960s radical
elected to the U.S. senate." He was also the last. Since defeating
incumbent Republican Rudy Boschowitz 12 years ago in a grassroots
upset, Wellstone emerged as the strongest, most persistent, most
articulate and most vocal Senate opponent of the Bush administration.
In a senate that is one heartbeat away from Republican control,
Wellstone was more than just another Democrat. He was often the lone
voice standing firm against the status-quo policies of both the
Democrats and the Republicans. As such, he earned the special ire of
the Bush administration and the Republican Party, who made
Wellstone's defeat that party's number one priority this year.
Various White House figures made numerous recent campaign stops in
Minnesota to stump for the ailing campaign of Wellstone's Republican
opponent, Norm Coleman. Despite being outspent and outgunned,
however, polls show that Wellstone's popularity surged after he voted
to oppose the Senate resolution authorizing George Bush to wage war
in Iraq. He was pulling ahead of Coleman and moving toward a victory
that would both be an embarrassment to the Bush administration and to
Democratic Quislings such as Hillary Clinton who voted to
support "the president."
Then he died.
Wellstone now joins the ranks of other American politicians who died
in small plane crashes. Another recent victim was Missouri's former
Democratic governor, Mel Carnahan, who lost his life in 2000, three
weeks before Election Day, during his Senatorial race against John
Ashcroft. Carnahan went on to become the first dead man to win a
Senatorial race, humiliating and defeating the unpopular Ashcroft
posthumously. Ashcroft, despite his unpopularity, went on to be
appointed Attorney General by George W. Bush. Investigators
determined that Carnahan's plane went down due to "poor visibility."
Carnahan was the second Missouri politician to die in a small plane
crash. The first was Democratic Representative Jerry Litton, whose
plane crashed the night he won the Democratic nomination for senate
in 1976. His Republican opponent ultimately captured the seat from
his successor in November.
While an article in the New York Times on Saturday pointed out the
danger politicians face due to their heavy air travel schedules, the
death of a senator or member of Congress is still relatively rare,
with only one other sitting U.S. Senator, liberal Republican John
Heinz, dying in a plane crash since World War II. Heinz, who entered
office as an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, later emerged as
a strong proponent of health care, social services, public
transportation and the environment. He also urged reconciliation with
Cuba. He died when the landing gear on his small plane failed to
function, and a helicopter dispatched to survey the problem crashed
into his plane.
One former senator, John Tower, also died in a small plane crash.
Tower was best known as the chair of the Tower Commission, which
investigated the Reagan/Bush era Iran/Contra scandal.
Another member of a prominent government commission who died in a
small plane crash was former Democratic representative and House
Majority Leader Hale Boggs. Boggs was best known as one of the seven
members of the Warren Commission, which investigated the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The commission found that
Lee Harvey Oswald was acting alone when he killed the president.
Boggs, it turns out, had "strong doubts" that Oswald acted alone, but
went along with the commission findings. Later, in 1971 and 1972, he
went public with his doubts. He was presumed dead after the small
plane carrying him and Democratic Representative Nicholas Begich
disappeared in 1972.
Texas Democratic Representative Mickey Leland also died in a plane
crash. In his case, the six-term member of Congress and outspoken
advocate of sanctions against the apartheid government of South
Africa, died while traveling in Ethiopia. Another American politician
to die overseas in a plane crash was the Clinton administration's
Commerce Secretary, Ronald Brown, whose plane went down in the
Anyone familiar with my work knows that I'm certainly not a
conspiracy theorist. But to be honest, I know I wasn't alone in my
initial reaction at this week's horrible and tragic news: that being
my surprise that Wellstone had lived this long. Perhaps it's just my
anger and frustration at losing one of the few reputable politicians
in Washington, but I also felt shame. Shame for not writing in my
column, months ago, that I felt that Paul Wellstone's life, more so
than any other politician in Washington, was in danger. I felt that
such speculation was unprofessional and would ultimately undermine my
credibility. In the end, my own self-interest triumphed, and I never
put my concerns into print. Neither did any other mainstream
journalist, though I know of many who shared my concern.
When I heard Wellstone's plane went down, I immediately thought of
Panamanian General Omar Torrijos, who in 1981 thumbed his nose at the
Reagan/Bush administration and threatened to destroy the Panama Canal
in the event of a U.S. invasion. Torrijos died shortly thereafter
when the instruments in his plane failed to function upon takeoff.
Panamanians speculated that the U.S. was involved in the death of the
popular dictator, who was replaced by a U.S. intelligence operative,
Manuel Noreiga, who previously worked with George Bush Senior.
There is no indication today that Wellstone's death was the result of
foul play. What we do know, however, is that Wellstone emerged as the
most visible obstacle standing in the way of a draconian political
agenda by an unelected government. And now he is conveniently gone.
For our government to maintain its credibility at this time, we need
an open and accountable independent investigation involving
international participation into the death of Paul Wellstone.
Hopefully we will find out, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this
was indeed an untimely accident. For the sake of our country, we need
to know this.
Dr. Michael I. Niman teaches journalism and media studies at Buffalo
World Socialist Web Site
The death of US Senator Paul Wellstone: accident or murder?
By the Editorial Board
29 October 2002
There is a serious question about the sudden death of Democratic
Senator Paul Wellstone that has no doubt occurred to many people: was
Wellstone the victim of a political assassination?
It is possible that there will emerge a credible explanation of the
October 25 plane crash that killed Wellstone, his wife Sheila,
daughter Marcia, and five others near Eveleth, Minnesota. Initial
reports, however, are disturbing. None of the typical causes of a
small plane accident - engine failure, icing, pilot error - appear to
The plane, a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air A100, was apparently in
good condition when it hit the ground and exploded into flames about
two miles from the Eveleth-Virginia airport in the Minnesota iron
range. The Beechcraft model has an excellent safety record, with only
two fatal crashes - both in December 1997 - in the past six years.
Debris recovered from the crash site includes both the plane's
engines, which suffered blade damage, suggesting that the engines
were running when the plane crashed.
While weather conditions were less than ideal, with some ice and
freezing rain, two smaller Beech Queen Air planes had landed at
Eveleth without incident two hours before the crash, when
temperatures were colder. Wellstone's plane was reportedly equipped
with two separate de-icing mechanisms.
Visibility was limited but well above the minimum required - between
two and two and a half miles. Although the approach to the airport
was being made using instruments, the airport would have been in
clear view of the pilot once he descended below the lowest cloud
layer at about 700 feet.
The plane's two pilots were both experienced, with the senior man,
Capt. Richard Conry, 55, having airline transport pilot
certification, the top industry qualification. Co-pilot Michael
Guess, 30, was a certified commercial pilot. Wellstone was by all
accounts a cautious flier, and there is no suggestion that the
decision to fly that day was a reckless one.
The acting chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board,
Carol Carmody, said there was a slight irregularity in the Eveleth
airport's radio beacon, but it was not yet possible to say whether
this contributed to the accident.
The plane's altimeter and "possibly one other gauge" have been
recovered and sent to the NTSB lab in Washington for analysis,
Carmody said. The plane was not required to have a cockpit voice
recorder and was not equipped with one.
According to air traffic control records, the flight had proceeded
without incident until its last moments. Wellstone's plane took off
at 9:37 a.m. from Minneapolis-St. Paul, received permission to climb
to 13,000 feet at 9:48 a.m., and received clearance to descend
towards Eveleth at 10:01 a.m., at which time the pilot was told there
was icing at the 9,000-11,000 foot level. The plane began its descent
at 10:10 a.m., passed through the icing altitude without apparent
difficulty, and at 10:18 a.m. was cleared for approach to the
airport. A minute later, at 3,500 feet, the plane began to drift away
from the runway. It was last sighted at 10:21 a.m., flying at 1,800
Carmody said that the impact area was 300 feet by 190 feet, with
evidence of "extreme post-crash fire." The plane apparently was
headed south, away from the Eveleth runway, when it hit the
ground. "The angle was steeper than would be expected in a normal
stabilized standardized approach," she said. Some press reports cited
eyewitness accounts of a near-vertical plunge.
Under different political circumstances it might be possible to
dismiss the Eveleth crash as a tragic accident whose causes, even if
they cannot be precisely determined, lie in the sphere of aircraft
engineering and weather phenomena. But the death of Paul Wellstone
takes place under conditions in which far too many strange things are
happening in America.
Wellstone's death comes almost two years to the day after a similar
plane crash killed another Democratic Senate hopeful locked in a
tight election contest, Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, on October
16, 2000. The American media duly noted the "eerie coincidence," as
though it was a statistical oddity, rather than suggesting a pattern.
One might say, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, that to lose one senator is
a misfortune, but to lose two senators, the same way, is positively
Last year two leading Senate Democrats, Majority Leader Tom Daschle
and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, were targeted for
assassination with letters laced with anthrax. The federal Justice
Department - headed by John Ashcroft, who lost to the deceased Mel
Carnahan in the Missouri contest - has failed to apprehend the
Wellstone was in a hotly contested reelection campaign, but polls
showed he was beginning to pull ahead of Republican nominee Norm
Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, in the wake of the vote in the
Senate to authorize President Bush to wage war against Iraq. The
liberal Democrat was a well-publicized opponent of the war
resolution, the only Senator in a tight race to vote against it.
More broadly, with the Senate controlled by the Democrats by a margin
of 50-49, the loss of even a single seat could shift control to the
Republicans. The immediate effect of Wellstone's death is to deprive
the Democrats of a majority in the lame-duck session scheduled for
Without exaggerating Wellstone's personal significance - he was a
conventional bourgeois politician and no threat to the profit system -
there are enormous financial stakes involved in control of the
Senate. Republican control of the Senate would make it possible to
push through new tax cuts for the wealthy and other perks for
corporate America worth billions of dollars - more than enough of an
incentive to commit murder.
The neo-fascist elements within and around the Republican Party have
already demonstrated their contempt for democracy, first in the
protracted campaign of political destabilization against the Clinton
administration, then with the theft of the 2000 presidential
election. They are now preparing to slaughter tens of thousands of
Iraqis in order to grab control of the second largest oil reserves in
the world. To imagine that they would suffer moral qualms over a
conveniently timed plane crash would be naïve in the extreme.
There is another curious and suggestive factor. Virtually every day
the Bush administration issues warnings of terrorist attacks on
trains, nuclear reactors, airports or government buildings, to keep
the American people off balance and stampede the public into
supporting the impending war against Iraq. Government officials are
prepared to attribute virtually any act of violence - such as the
Washington sniper shootings - to Al Qaeda. Yet there has been no
suggestion that the destruction of Wellstone's plane was the result
of terrorism. Perhaps in this case they prefer not to inquire too
closely into the causes.
In the current climate of war, repression and right-wing provocation,
it is perfectly reasonable to ask whether Wellstone was the victim of
a political killing. No investigation deserving of the name can
exclude sabotage as a possible cause of the plane crash. And yet,
given the cowardice of the Democratic Party and the advanced
putrefaction of American democracy, the official investigation will
in all probability conclude that Wellstone's death was the result of
an unfortunate but unexplainable mechanical malfunction.
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