Son of late CIA director cautions against far-right extremism in the US | US news

A man who was three years old when his father – an American intelligence operator – sent him a letter on a vanquished Adolf Hitler’s stationery has declared himself disgusted by US extremist groups who still admire the former Nazi ruler.

“Those people have no idea – the history and foulness of that,” Dennis Helms, the son of the late Richard Helms, the CIA director from 1966 to 1973, said of the presence of neo-Nazis and antisemitism in the US. “There can be nothing that’s worse … I can’t say enough bad about that.”

Helms’s remarks came in an interview with the Guardian as the US prepared to observe Tuesday’s 79th anniversary of D-day, when Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to help liberate north-west Europe from Nazi Germany’s control.

The military campaign started by that invasion culminated in Germany’s surrender on 8 May 1945, a little more than a week after the suicide of Hitler, who oversaw the murders of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, among other atrocities.

His family has never been quite sure how, but Richard Helms, then working for the US Office of Strategic Services’s intelligence branch while based in London, managed to get his hands on a sheet of paper under Hitler’s letterhead and write a missive to his son carrying the date of Germany’s surrender, known as Victory in Europe – or V-E – Day.

Richard Helms pictured in 1975.Pin
Richard Helms pictured in 1975. Photograph: UPI wire print/Guardian picture library

“The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe – three short years ago when you were born,” Richard Helms’s letter to Dennis read. “Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins.”

The letter went on to describe how thousands of people died as a result of their efforts to put a stop to Hitler, who “had a thirst for power, a low opinion of man … and a fear of intellectual honesty”.

“The price for ridding society of bad is always high,” Richard Helms’s letter added in closing. “Love, Daddy.”

Dennis later learned that his father had apparently actually interviewed Hitler while covering the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as a reporter during a previous career. According to his son, Richard was always proud to have personally seen Black American runner Jesse Owens win the 200-yard dash at those games, frustrating Hitler’s dreams of a competition dominated by white athletes.

Now 80, Dennis later provided his father’s V-E Day letter to the CIA, the successor of the OSS, which Richard led during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The CIA displays it in its private museum alongside other artifacts provided by Richard Helms’s family, including a dinner plate from Hitler’s chancellery that he acquired during a trip to Berlin in September 1945.

The letter to Dennis has been publicized before, and a picture of its contents went viral on social media on the most recent V-E Day anniversary.

However, just two days before that, a man clad in extremist insignia and having a history of praising Nazis online shot eight people to death at a mall in Texas. And late last year, President Joe Biden had the occasion to release a statement saying “the Holocaust happened” and “Hitler was a demonic figure” after the rapper once known as Kanye West earned a suspension from Twitter by speaking approvingly of the Nazi ruler and publishing an image of a swastika blended with a star of David.

Dennis said it was disturbing that Hitler’s regime still finds such high-profile support in a country that his father spent his life serving and which helped bring Hitler’s downfall.

“There is no excuse for that,” Dennis said. “Not that there ever was.”

Though Donald Trump has condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, Dennis noted how proponents of both have generally supported the former president, who is widely considered the frontrunner for the 2024 White House nomination.

Trump enjoys that status despite federal investigations of attempts to subvert his 2020 election defeat, incitement of the January 6 attack on Congress and the retention of classified records. He’s facing criminal charges in connection with the payment of hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels over a sexual encounter that she says the two had. And, among other legal perils, he was recently found liable in civil court for sexually abusing author and columnist E Jean Carroll.

Dennis said he imagines his father “just rotates in his grave” in Arlington National Cemetery most times that Trump speaks.

“He lies all the time – he cheats,” Dennis said of Trump. “I think that he is a guy who has none of the values that my father did.”

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