As we cautiously creep towards the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I thought it was an appropriate time to weigh in on the topic of a conspiracy to kill JFK.
In my youth, I believed there had to be a conspiracy to kill the President. I let the media guide me in that thinking. There were TV shows, books, and news interviews all of the time that said that there was a cabal to kill the President. They all decried the Warren Commission as a cover-up. The conspiracy advocates couldn’t even agree among themselves as to who was being the plot. It was the mob, Castro, the Soviets, and more recently, it was President Johnson who masterminded the killing. There was no one standing there supporting the lone crazed gunman approach. Heck, even showman/former governor Jessie Ventura has weighed in recently on the assassination. There was, as I started to see it, a cottage industry formed around claiming conspiracy in the President’s death.
I saw Oliver Stone’s JFK later in my life and, unlike many, I came away questioning the conspiracy folks more. That movie planted countless theories in the minds of the public. It was like a piece of propaganda for the evils of the government. I started looking at it as a dangerous product from Hollywood, one aimed at twisting our perception of our leaders even more.
So, as a historian, I started to read. That’s what we historians do – it’s called research. I stopped listening to the chatter from the media and went to form my own opinion.
I purchased the single volume summary of the Warren Report, and found a library with the 22 other volumes and started checking facts and dates against what some of the conspiracy theorists were posing. Things didn’t add up for me. Twenty-five years after the fact, alleged witnesses claimed to have seen or heard something that the day of the crime they didn’t. In fact, if Dealey Plaza had been filled with all of the people that claimed in later years to have been there, the motorcade could not have even drive the route.
As a historian I found two books that tackled the assassination fairly on the evidence – Gerald Posner’s Case Closed (which is now finally out as an ebook) and Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History. These led me to original document artifacts and primary sources at the National Archives…all of which demonstrated the validity of their research. I didn’t research everything, this was a passing fancy for me yet it helped me arrive at a conclusion.
President Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald – a sick twisted man that acted alone.
Oh, I know this flies in the face of the “facts and evidence” regarding the assassination. Okay, well these “facts” are many time inferences on the part of researchers. They almost all start with a kernel of truth that is blown out of proportion in light of the entire body of evidence pointing to Oswald acting alone.
Self-proclaimed conspiracy buffs really don’t have evidence to support them. Consider this – not a single piece of physical evidence has ever been presented that refutes the entire body of findings of the Warren Commission. Oh, there’s plenty of speculation – but not a single artifact that refutes the findings of the commission.
Wait – what about the House Select Committee on Assassination which proclaimed there was a conspiracy? Research for the last two decades has proven that their lone piece of evidence, the Dictabelt recording of a motorcycle officer, has been refuted numerous times. New technology, new techniques, and a massive wave of investigators have proven this one tid-bit of potential evidence to be flawed or outright negated.
This usually brings out the people that point to Jack Ruby’s associating with the mob, or that LBJ had a motive to have Kennedy killed. But not a single credible person has ever come forward with tangible proof of a grand conspiracy. Self-proclaimed researchers draw thin threads between shady characters and those tied to the assassination and attempt to make this spider-web of innuendo as concrete connections. They are not.
What about the people that saw someone on the grassy knoll, or heard more than three gunshots, or saw other suspicious characters in the vicinity of the murder? Again – when you turn to the actual Warren Commission Report, many of these people gave completely different accounts of the day only a few months after the assassination. It wasn’t until decades later that they changed their stories. People’s stories changed, dramatically. Conspiracy advocates claim that their original stories had been altered – further proof of conspiracy. I write true crime books and can tell you, having worked on a 50 year old cold case, (Murder in Battle Creek) that most people can’t remember well those details back to that day. To be blunt some of these individuals are seeking out their 15 minutes of fame. Supporting the lone gunman theory doesn’t get you on TV – but being the only person who witnessed a second gunman – well that gets you on TV and in books. The arguments that the government changed witness testimony in the Warren Commission often didn’t say anything until decades later. Wouldn’t you have said something the moment the Warren Commission report came out? Why wait so long? Out for fear? Fear from who?
Conspiracy advocates point out that an abnormal number of people have died that were witnesses to the crime. How abnormal? Is it statistically any different than any other death rate? Bugliosi’s book tackled this directly. Guess what, there is no statistically significant death rate among the people who could allegedly prove this was an assassination attempt.
If nothing else in the last few years, we should have learned that our government sucks at keeping secrets. Snowden snuck off with four laptops and a handful of flash-drives loaded with secret material. Look at Wikileaks. For the assassination to have been executed, it would have required a number of people to pull this off, both at the local and federal level. It would have taken planning much more in-depth that the Secret Service plans to have the motorcade move through Dallas that day. There would have been maps, models, itineraries, lists of supplies, etc. There would have had to been payments – and Watergate taught us to follow-the-money. Dozens of people would have been aware of this, even if it was a small plan. We’re not just talking about killing the President, but taking out the assassin as well. None of this exists. Do you really believe that after all of this time, the real assassin would have kept quiet? Seriously? Someone would have talked, someone would have kept a copy of orders, if only to protect themselves.
Conspiracy supports point to the lack of evidence as proof that there was a cover-up. I write history books and true crime. The wholesale purging of materials on this scale would have had a paper trail of its own in 1963. It would have been nearly impossible. In researching other books, I have seen copies of military materials that were ordered to be purged, yet still remained in files. Even the orders to purge the files is documented. In the alleged conspiracies to kill the President there is a lack of evidence in documentation for one simple reason, it never existed.
Mistakes were made in the investigation – hands down. If not, Oswald would have lived to see trial. The handling of evidence was done sloppily but not entirely uncommon by 1963 investigation standards. I know this because I write about true crimes from that period. We all live in a highly connected CSI world, and looking back, it’s seductive to cast these blatant mistakes as part of a conspiracy. They aren’t. These were extreme circumstances which were over the heads of many of the men that were there at the time. We should not condemn them though, nor should we rush to make them part of a criminal conspiracy without proof of it.
The sad reality is that there are authors out there that write these conspiracy books to make money. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t about the truth no matter how they paint it. These are not well-researched true crime accounts which present facts, they are contortions of history. Never confuse these folks with serious researchers, historians, or true crime authors. Facts are blurred with innuendo. Truths are dictated by the authors, and anyone that challenges them is simply part of the grand cover-up. The reality is that these authors are cherry-pick from the massive volume of evidence to only pull up facts that support whatever their whacked-out theory is. They wrap themselves in a cloak of being champions of the truth. In reality, they are vultures feeding on this crime in a way that is appalling. Even Marina Oswald sells her interview time for $5000.00 a pop.
I’m an author who writes history and true crime accounts. I hold myself to a standard to present a little thing called “facts.” Facts are victims in the Kennedy assassination, collateral damage caused by the carpet bombing of reality with twisted conspiracy propaganda. The success of this campaign by profit-minded opportunists have the majority of our country firmly convinced that there was a conspiracy to kill the President.
Perhaps we all want to believe that our government was, at one time, competent enough to have staged an assassination and coup d’état. That’s a tough pill to swallow when our current government can’t even deploy a web site successfully. Yet even Watergate, a massively secret affair, was impossible to keep from the American people. Governments rarely work well enough to be able to maintain secrets. And the bigger the secret, the more people who are aware of it.
Historian William Manchester, in a letter to the New York Times said, “Those who desperately want to believe that President Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy have my sympathy. I share their yearning. To employ what may seem an odd metaphor, there is an esthetic principle here. If you put six million dead Jews on one side of a scale and on the other side put the Nazi regime – the greatest gang of criminals ever to seize control of a modern state – you have a rough balance: greatest crime, greatest criminals. But if you put the murdered President of the United States on one side of a scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn’t balance. You want to add something weightier to Oswald. It would invest the President’s death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something. A conspiracy would, of course, do the job nicely. Unfortunately, there is no evidence whatsoever that there was one.”
I know a lot of you disagree with me. You’ve watched JFK or some show pointing to conspiracy, or read one of the many books out there that has sought to contort the truth to fit their needs. For those of you that feel this way, go pick up Posner’s or Bugliosi’s books. Be willing to read the other side of the story. Then you can arrive at an informed decision.