It's Been 50 Years, Time to Drop The Conspiracy Theories

Today, newspapers including the NYT and WaPo are commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death both on their front pages and opinion pages I was thinking if it’s finally time to confront one of the most persistent, and widespread conspiracy theories out there – that of a larger conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination.

However, I’m not interested in addressing specific allegations of the conspiracy theorists, as Fred Kaplan does or Vincent Bugliosi in his thorough debunking of JFK conspiracies and Oliver Stone’s absurd JFK.(If you can find it it’s great: Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy) While Bugliosi’s book is excellent, I can save your 50 bucks and hours of reading by summing up the central point – Conspiracy theorists have consistently fabricated, misrepresented, or misunderstood the relevant evidence to serve their interests, time and time again. And why should we be surprised? In our years of interacting with conspiracies from 9/11 truth to birtherism, the pattern is always the same. First comes the conclusion, then the evidence is bent, cherry-picked, falsified, or invented from whole cloth to fit that conclusion. Whether it’s changing the position of the occupants of the car to create a bizarre ballistic trajectory, showing the undamaged side of a bullet in a photograph to suggest it was undamaged after its recovery, wrongly suggest Oswald or similarly competent shooter could not make the shot despite replication of the act and even improvement on his time and accuracy by other shooters, or any of the various tenuous links that show ties between Oswald and the CIA or the Soviets or the mafia or whatever, it’s the same problem we’ve always seen with conspiratorial thinking. The only data that are incorporated are those that are convenient to the theory, and, in 50 years, there does not exist a solid, well-proven alternative explanation of the assassination or Oswald’s involvement that explain the data.

We’ve seen 9 presidents since then, the fall of the soviet union, the advent of more modern forensic and technological analysis, and the evidence still overwhelmingly shows that Oswald, a Marxist, failed defector, crackpot and loser, bought a cheap rifle, made a failed attempt to assassinate Edwin Walker, successfully shot the president and wounded Governor John Connally, was seen leaving the scene, while fleeing got in an altercation with a police officer, who he shot in front of multiple witnesses, and was ultimately apprehended within hours by police. While his motivations will never be certain, his links to various governments, spy agencies, or criminal organizations remain unproven.

Despite 50 years, multiple changes of administrations, governments, investigations and re-investigations, there is still no better explanation than that a solitary loser shot a powerful, important man, because he wanted to make a statement, or because he could.

You understand the motivation of the conspiracy theorists in this case. It’s such an unsatisfactory and disturbing revelation. Even small men, men like Oswald, can have a dramatic impact on history. And as we’ve seen in intervening decades various examples of actual government conspiracies, from anti-Castro assassination attempts to Iran-Contra, it seems like such a behavior is within the capacity of our government. Critically, this argument fails for three reasons. One, the government, as demonstrated by the common knowledge of these supposedly secret activities is completely incapable of keeping anything secret for anything but short periods of time, and certainly a secret as big as an internecine assassination by agents of our government would be virtually impossible to conceive, plan, or subsequently cover-up. Second, the physical evidence tying Oswald to the shooting is incontravertible, it was his rifle, his ammunition (also tied to the Walker attempt), his workplace, he was seen entering and fleeing the scene, and even shot a police officer in his attempt to flee. Third, the idea that anyone would rely on Oswald as an assassin is ludicrous. He wasn’t some professional receiving guidance or pay from some well-equipped or funded organization. He bought a cheap rifle from a mail-order catalog, not because it would hide his tracks, but because he couldn’t afford better (and it was tracked right back to him despite his attempt at using an alias). He wasn’t even clever enough to arrange a straw purchase. He was a rabid Marxist and anti-fascist, not the type the CIA would employ to lick stamps, let alone carry out the highest-profile assassination in history.

After 50 years where is the solid data the conspiracy theorists have? Is Oliver Stone’s JFK their best effort? If so then all they have is the story of a loony, homophobic southern prosecutor/media whore, whose failed attempts to link a presidential assassination to an unfortunate, and innocent businessman in New Orleans was glorified by the film-maker rather than condemned for being the worst kind of bigotry and incompetence. Jim Garrison is a dubious character to hang your hat on, with a prosecutorial career only exceptional for accusing dozens of people of various crimes, using dubious witnesses, and with no successful prosecutions (unless you count the one against him for defamation). His conspiracy theory was similarly ludicrous and tied together so many groups and agencies (from Earl Warren to NASA) the idea it could remain secret for 2 hours defies belief.

What else is there? In 50 years, what solid evidence of anyone but Oswald being involved is left? What incontrovertible data has arisen in 5 decades that is more plausible than Oswald as the shooter? Is it time to stop tolerating our nation’s most socially-acceptable, loony conspiracy theory?