Repugnant: JFK on Secret Societies

JFK had only been in office for three months when he gave one of the most important speeches of his shortened presidency. The night was intended to be light and casual — just another forgettable political and social event — but Kennedy seized the opportunity to warn the country about a “grave danger” facing the country that had only been previously discussed in whispers. Speaking to the American Newspapers Publishers Association on April 27th 1961, John Kennedy shined a light on the inherent dangers with the concepts of secrecy, concealment and censorship, going so far as to call them “repugnant.”

The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.

Kennedy never revealed which secret societies he was referring to, but there are words and phrases contained in his speech that provide clues about which groups he was so concerned. There appear to be three tiers of societies that he describes, each with an increased level of secrecy and impact on government and society as a whole.


Although JFK was a Harvard grad, throughout his political career he was surrounded by Yale graduates, some of the most powerful of whom were members of a campus secret society known as “Skull and Bones.” Secret oaths and secret proceedings certainly describes how Skull and Bones operated. Notable Skull and Bones members included:

  • James Jesus Angleton, CIA
  • Henry Luce, founder of Life magazine
  • Henry Stimson, Secretary of War
  • Robert Lovett, Secretary of Defense
  • George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush

Historians have stated that Yale — specifically Skull and Bones — seems to be a breeding ground for future members of politics and the intelligence community. Sixteen of the most powerful members of Skull and Bones can be found here.

The timing of this speech was not coincidental. It occurred less than a month after the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. Publicly JFK took responsibility for the fiasco, however in private he blamed the Central Intelligence Agency along with its director, Allen Dulles. Dulles and Deputy Director Charles Cabell were forced to resign shortly following the doomed operation. Their firings were just the first step in JFK’s dream to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”

It is the CIA that Kennedy incriminates next:

For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence — on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day.

By this time this speech was delivered, in its short lifetime the CIA had already caused numerous coups, toppled multiple foreign governments and impacted numerous elections around the globe. These included:

  • Italy elections, 1948
  • Overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, 1953
  • Arbenz overthrown in Guatemala, 1954
  • Assisted “Papa Doc” Duvalier to become dictator of Haiti, 1959


The CIA was also actively involved in Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in 1961. Likely unbeknownst to Kennedy, the organization which had long since exceeded its mandate of simply intelligence gathering, had begun Operation Mockingbird and commenced its MK-ULTRA mind-control experiments.

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The last “secret” organization — knowingly or unknowingly — that Kennedy discussed was the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.

Since its inception in 1921, the CFR had systematically positioned its members in key positions of government, the military, intelligence agencies, the media, science communities and institutions of higher learning. In doing so they were able to influence world events, impact their outcome, and control the narrative after the fact. Notable members of the CFR included:

  • Henry Luce and CD Jackson of Time and Life
  • Averell Harriman
  • George Kennan
  • Paul Nitze
  • Walter Lippmann
  • William “Wild Bill” Donovan
  • Frank Wisner
  • Christian Herter
  • John McCloy
  • Dan Rather
  • Dwight Eisenhower

JFK was also surrounded by CFR members:

  • Allen Dulles
  • Adlai Stevenson
  • Dean Acheson
  • Dean Rusk
  • General Lyman Lemnizter
  • General Maxwell Taylor
  • Henry Cabot Lodge
  • John McCone
  • McGeorge Bundy
  • John Galbraith
  • George Ball
  • Douglas Dillon

It should be noted that a number of CFR members were also graduates of Yale and Skull and Bones.


Throughout his presidency, directly or indirectly the CFR would instigate countless problems for JFK, including the Bay of Pigs, Berlin, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the standoff with U.S. Steel. Two longtime members of the CFR — Allen Dulles and John J. McCloy — would go on to serve on the Warren Commission following John Kennedy’s assassination.

The full speech can be found here. And you can listen to the speech right here:

Perhaps JFK was not referring to Skull and Bones, the CIA and the Council on Foreign Relations. Who do you think he was talking about? How do secret societies impact our world today? Please share this article and leave me a comment with your thoughts.



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  • The propaganda of The John Birch Society was so powerful that it had won the persuasive concerns of political doers and thinkers, especially anti- Communists of both political parties and their patriotic lower-level religious