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What is the Halloween Massacre?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Halloween Massacre, as it relates to American politics, refers to the reorganization of former President Gerald Ford’s cabinet on and leading up to 4 November 1975. President Ford replaced several key members of his cabinet including his National Security Adviser, Director of Central Intelligence, and the Secretary of Defense. The Halloween Massacre can also refer to a brief but violent part of the Angolan Civil War in which tens of thousands of people are estimated to have been killed. As a general term, it can also refer to a popular urban legend in which a person is said to have predicted a series of violent deaths on Halloween night.

When "Halloween Massacre" is used in reference to American politics, it typically refers to the events leading up to and including the firing of several key members of former President Gerald Ford’s cabinet in 1975. The major changes included the firing of Henry Kissinger as National Security Adviser, though Kissinger remained Secretary of State, the firing of William Colby as Director of Central Intelligence, and the firing of James Schlesinger as the Secretary of Defense. Colby was offered a position as representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but he turned the offer down.

General Brent Scowcroft took over the position as the National Security Adviser, and future President George H. W. Bush became the Director of Central Intelligence. Then Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld took over as the Secretary of Defense, and future Vice President Richard Cheney moved up to replace him as Chief of Staff. Many historians view Rumsfeld and Cheney as the architects of this change of power, and often indicate that the two of them manipulated President Ford into making the changes. The term “Halloween Massacre” is often seen as a reference to the “Saturday Night Massacre,” which refers to major firings of key staff members by former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

Halloween Massacre can also refer to a major outbreak of violence during the Angolan civil war in the African country of Angola, sometimes called the Three Days War, between 30 October 1992 and 1 November 1992. Following a heavily disputed election and prior to a follow-up election that would have determined political control, the two major parties turned to violence. Many prominent leaders within one party were murdered during the Halloween Massacre, and some estimates place the death toll as high as 40,000 people on both sides.

The term Halloween massacre can also refer to a prominent urban legend that has managed to spread and return for decades. In most versions of the story, a famous psychic makes a prediction on television or radio that a violent series of mass murders will occur on the campus of a major college or university on Halloween night. There is, of course, no such prediction and yet every year the legend manages to return and once more induce fear in students at many colleges. It is believed that the legend may have begun or been influenced by the violent murders committed by Richard Speck at a university campus in 1968, and it has been in popular circulation ever since.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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