This essay was inspired by a conversation with Robert Mezzone, who provided invaluable feedback in its construction.
During the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA) conference in Dallas in 2007, an after-hours conversation concerning Lee Harvey Oswald became a heated discussion. I decided to play peacemaker. "Look," I said, "At least there's one thing we can all agree on. Lee Harvey Oswald didn't fire any of the shots at the President."
The fellow next to me pipes up, "Actually, I disagree with that, I think he was one of the shooters. Now, you see, this is what happened ... "
Of course. There's always one.
I had another conversation recently that led me to start thinking the following: What are the basic things that 99% of Kennedy researchers can agree upon? Suppose we, as Kennedy researchers, were going to present a 10-point program the way the Black Panthers did. What sort of things would be on that?
This is not a trivial point. It goes toward our survival in the system. It behooves us to be more organized in our presentations to the public, and to learn to master the ability to deliver succinct points which are universally recognized to be true. We have to deal with the world as it is in terms of realpolitik, and that means being able to effectively communicate our principles to the outside world.
The downside to not coming up with some sort of organizational structure is that opposing forces are strengthened and even galvanized. It is perhaps constructive to look at another debate to see the possible outcomes.
By way of demonstrating that virtually any position can draw followers, let's for a moment take a look at the Flat-Earth Society. They claim to practice zetetics, which in normal terms simply means "looking at things in a different way." The concept of the flat Earth is frequently invoked in discussions about ideological dementia, but it may serve us well to remember that there really is a Flat-Earth Society, that there are people who subscribe to its tenets, and that they generate long, complex chains of reasoning that purport to debunk the theory of a Round Earth. Indeed, Alfred Russell Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, seriously studied and promoted the idea of a flat Earth. And even to this day, you can find people who seriously put forth the idea that the Earth is a flat disc, unmoving, in the center of the universe, while the other objects in the sky revolve around it in an ether rather than the vacuum of space.
Take a look at the forums, if you dare. There are some truly astonishing exchanges lurking there, as posters argue back and forth in continuous strings of escalating lunacy.
Now superficially there are concepts in the JFK community that may look, from the outside, like this sort of craziness. For example, if one puts forth the theory that the President's brain was substituted by conspirators, without going into the evidence, it probably sounds crazy to the average person. The difference between the 'second brain' thesis and the Flat Earth Society is that in the former example, researchers are driven toward the conclusion by the facts. Flat-Earthers, on the other hand, have to concoct elaborate theories because their fundamental premise is totally at odds with the known facts. No honest researcher into the JFK assassination begins from a standpoint of creating some bizarre theory; it isn't the fault of researchers that so many facts turn out to have bizarre implications.
The JFK Assassination
Because any science allows for honest disagreement, dissension can be found in the ranks of the JFK community. And whereas Round-Earth scientists are in privileged position – they have the facts, the media, world opinion, and establishment behind them, we do not. We have the facts and arguably world opinion, but we are beset on all sides by a self-congratulating media and professional disinformationalists. And the establishment is most definitely not with us.
There is thus a central paradox with respect to the JFK situation. The establishment thoroughly promotes the Flat-Earth idea and is forced to come up with elaborate theories (such as the Magic Bullet thesis) to overrule the known facts. Meanwhile, for those who have studied the matter, the conspiracy at the heart of the JFK assassination is as obvious and well-supported as the Round Earth.
Bitter disagreements crop up. This was true almost from the very beginning, as John Kelin wonderfully documents in Praise from a Future Generation, which shows how the Garrison investigation drove a wedge between the earliest researchers that ended friendships and associations. From a scientific perspective, this comes as no surprise and is consistent with JFK research being a relatively "young" science. However, this chaotic state of affairs has some detrimental effects. From the standpoint of an outsider's perspective, it can look as though nothing is agreed upon and that the JFK case is simply a haven for kooks hatching their private fantasies on one another.
In other words, it's a problem of public relations.
So much valuable and astonishing research has been done, and it has been done by non-professionals as often as not over the years. What sometimes gets lost, I think, is the plot. You and I might disagree about the relative involvement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Kennedy assassination, or whether James Jesus Angleton was the prime mover or Lyndon Johnson, but in any such analysis there will be large areas of agreement between us. What I have tried to do is take those large areas of agreement and put them down as ten principles. These principles should underlie any discussion of the case. These represent areas of strength for the JFK community and should be promoted to the general public.
I would suggest that it should be these elements which should be used in public pronouncements and to inform our organizational capacity. The "hard science" of the assassination can then be done within our own structures such as COPA or CTKA or the like. For the general public, however, these are easy-to-understand and simple areas in the investigation where the facts are overwhelmingly with us.
So I present my 10-point program:
1. It is both legitimate and important to question the government's investigation of the Kennedy assassination.
I think this is the most important statement in many ways. The media continually represents that our questions are at best unimportant and at worst ridiculous. As public citizens, we have the right to ask questions of our government and doing so makes us defenders of the Constitution, not "conspiracy buffs." For the Posners and Bugliosis of the world who would say otherwise, we need only present the following statements for their perusal:
"I never believed that Oswald acted alone, although I can accept that he pulled the trigger." – Lyndon Johnson 1
(Johnson also told Senator Richard Russell that he did not believe in the single-bullet theory either.)
"It was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated." – Richard Nixon, speaking of the Warren Commission 2
"Hoover lied his eyes out to the [Warren] Commission – on Oswald, on Ruby, on their friends, the bullets, the gun, you name it." – Congressman Hale Boggs, one of the seven Warren Commission members 3
"If I told you what I really know, it would be very dangerous to this country. Our whole political system could be disrupted." – J. Edgar Hoover, in response to the question "Do you think Oswald did it?" 4
"Goddamn it, Georgi ... doesn't Premier Krushchev realize the President's position? Every step he takes to meet Premier Krushchev halfway costs my brother a lot of effort ... In a gust of blind hate, his enemies may go to any length, including killing him." – Bobby Kennedy to Soviet envoy Georgi Bolshakov 5
(Bobby later enlisted Walter Sheridan to conduct a private investigation into the assassination, and planned to reopen the case if elected President.)
"[I] never believed that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy without at least some encouragement from others ... I think someone else worked with him in the planning." – Senator Richard Russell, one of the seven Warren Commission members 6
"One of my greatest shames as a journalist is that I still don't know who killed Jack Kennedy." – Hunter S. Thompson 7
"We really blew it on the Kennedy assassination." – Dan Rather 8
Now the point is not that all these people make it a fact that Kennedy was assassinated in a conspiracy. But how can it be impertinent to ask questions, if all these people – who presumably have far more access than we will ever have – don't believe fundamental conclusions of the Warren Report? The matter is not settled, and we must keep asking.
2. The medical and photographic record of the assassination does not support the government's position.
What is most readily understandable about the medical evidence is that eighteen witnesses at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, most of them doctors, all describe a blowout head wound at the back of the head. The autopsy photos entered into evidence do not show this wound.
The medical evidence is the Pandora's Box of conspiracy research, as Cyril Wecht, Gary Aguilar, and David Mantik, among others, have shown: The X-rays don't match the eyewitness statements. The government somehow lost Kennedy's brain. Dr. Humes testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations that he burned not just his autopsy notes, but the first draft of his autopsy report. In 1968, a medical panel appointed by Ramsey Clark noted a 6.5mm fragment at the upper part of the rear skull in the x-rays that no one saw the night of the autopsy. Even though x-rays were taken that night. However, regardless of what one thinks of the various theories that have come about to explain the problems proposed by the medical evidence, we can all agree on the testimony of the Parkland doctors and what the "official" autopsy photos show and their manifest disagreement.
3. The Zapruder film fails to support the government's designation of a lone shooter.
A tremendous controversy rests at the heart of the analysis of the Zapruder film. On one side are those who believe that the Z-film is the final record of the assassination; while on the other, there are those who believe that it has been altered beyond recognition. We might characterize this as the Robert Groden school v. the Jim Fetzer (or Jack White) school on this issue.
More important than this discrepancy, however, is that however one looks at the film, neither interpretation supports Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin.
The Z-film, as everyone knows, shows the President moving violently backward upon the last shot striking his head. This movement supports the idea that the fatal headshot came from the front – specifically, the area around the grassy knoll. Now Groden himself has some amazing further revelations in his study of the Z-film, which he is going to publish soon, but I will say nothing of that here.
Fetzer and Jack White believe they can prove that the film, rather than showing the actual assassination, has been altered into a kind of cartoon. I don't wish to go into the reasons for that here, as they can do a much better job of explicating themselves than I can. However, if the Z-film has been altered, then obviously Oswald – at minimum – had at least one accomplice, presumably a capable film technician.
Whether the Z-film has been altered or not, it contradicts the Warren Report's conclusions. (Like the other topics, there are further avenues; for example, Life Magazine published Z-film stills out of order in an apparent effort to fool the public, and the film itself was largely suppressed until Groden got his new rotoscoped version on Geraldo Rivera's television program. However, the simple premise stands.)
4. The initial tests performed by the Dallas Police and the FBI exculpate Lee Harvey Oswald.
This one is also very simple. The FBI performed a nitrate test on Oswald to determine whether he fired a weapon. It was positive for his hands, and negative for his face, meaning that he had not fired a rifle that day but may have fired a pistol. However, since he worked with newsprint at his job, and nitrates can be contracted from newsprint, this is not definitive. In addition, no fingerprints were found on the alleged murder weapon, the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. The Dallas Police found a palm print on it after Oswald was already dead, and after one of the finest fingerprint analysts in America, the FBI's Sebastian LaTona, dusted the entire rifle and found nothing of value.
5. The 'magic' bullet is precisely that.
This is the bullet which must have created seven separate wounds in both Kennedy and John Connally in order for Arlen Specter's 'magic bullet' theory to be correct. If this bullet did not create all those wounds, then there are more than three shots and more than one shooter.
When this bullet was found on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital, it had no blood on it. In fact, the bullet that struck Connally left some lead permanently in his wrist, while this bullet appears to be undamaged. Dr. Cyril Wecht, former President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and consultant to the House Select Committee on the Assassinations (HSCA), declared that this state of affairs is simply impossible, and he should know.
6. The photograph of the man in Mexico whom the government says is Lee Harvey Oswald cannot possibly be Lee Harvey Oswald.
|Left: Lee Harvey Oswald. |
Right: The guy the Warren Commission claims is Oswald in Mexico City.
7. Lee Harvey Oswald was an FBI informant known to J. Edgar Hoover, and therefore cannot be declared to be an "unknown loser."
One of the anti-conspiracy advocates' favorite tricks is to paint Oswald as a loser. The poor slob was just a lonely guy who wanted to be famous, and he could have been shooting at anyone. This was Norman Mailer's premise in writing Oswald's Tale. It underlies the idea that Oswald shot at General Edwin Walker, who was a right-winger.
For a poor lonely slob, however, Oswald sure got around. He went to Russia claiming to be a defector, married the niece of a Russian Colonel, and then came back. Despite being a Marine and former radar operator who threatened to give away secrets to the Soviets, he was never charged with anything, and the CIA has always unconvincingly denied debriefing him upon his return. He was paid both by the Russians, the American military, and given money by the State Department. Then he was allowed to bring his Soviet wife Marina back to the U.S. with him. All this took place during the height of the Cold War. Unusual, to say the least.
During the Warren Commission hearings, reports were discussed that Oswald was an agent of both the FBI and CIA. For instance, Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr and District Attorney Henry Wade told the Warren Commission that Oswald was an FBI informant, made $200 a month, and provided his informant number of 179. 9
Dallas DA Wade told Carr that his source told him Oswald had a CIA employment number. In addition to that, a June 3, 1960 FBI memo features J. Edgar Hoover complaining that someone was using Oswald's identity and he was requesting information on Oswald from the State Department to clarify the situation. Hoover began: "There is a possibility that an imposter is using Oswald's birth certificate..." This is three years before the assassination. FBI employee William Walter later confirmed that, in 1963, he saw an informant file with Oswald's name on it. Hoover would later point out to Lyndon Johnson that the person in Mexico City neither looked nor sounded liked Oswald. 10
8. Gerald Ford has admitted to moving Kennedy's back wound, an act that cannot be objectively reconciled with an attitude of pursuing the truth.
On July 2, 1997, the Associated Press ran a story in which Gerald Ford admitted that he raised the back wound several inches in the Warren Commission to better convict Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin. Ford stated that he was only attempting to be "more precise" and that his change had "nothing to do with conspiracy theories." Ford thus admits to falsifying the Warren Report. 11
9. Whatever Jim Garrison's motivations or the eventual failure of his trial, he was right about Clay Shaw, who did turn out to be a contract agent of the CIA, and did correctly identify the link between Lee Harvey Oswald and Guy Banister.
Whatever one thinks of Jim Garrison, and he remains a polarizing figure to this day, there are two things on which he was indisputably right:
The first is that Clay Shaw was definitely a contract agent with the CIA. Richard Helms testified in court (very reluctantly) that Shaw had this "domestic" relationship with the agency, as Mark Lane documents in regard to the civil trial of E. Howard Hunt v. Liberty Lobby. 12
The second is that he discovered that 531 Lafayette Street and 544 Camp Street led to the same building, which meant that the supposedly Marxist Oswald was sharing an office with rabid right-wing reactionary Guy Banister. Banister's connections (to the Bay of Pigs invasion, among other things) blow up any notion that Oswald was either a leftist or a lone nut. 13
10. The Mob didn't do it. (At least, not by themselves.)
"I don't doubt their involvement, Bill, but at a lower level. Could the Mob change the parade route, Bill? Or eliminate the protection for the President? Could the Mob send Oswald to Russia and get him back? Could the Mob get the FBI, the CIA, and the Dallas Police to make a mess of the investigation? Could the Mob get the Warren Commission appointed to cover it up? Could the Mob wreck the autopsy? Could the Mob influence the national media to go to sleep...This was a military-style ambush from start to finish ... a coup d'Ètat with Lyndon Johnson waiting in the wings ..." 14
– Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison in the film JFK
Lamar Waldron's fantasies aside, these questions remain just as good now as they were in 1991.
The Mob-did-it theories have been such a fertile area for the government (cf. Robert Blakey for just one example) that I think that we, as researchers, have to put some limits on the idea. Anyone who proposes that the Mob did it on their own or that the Cuban invasion somehow backfired on JFK, barring some new and stunning evidence, is simply not one of us. The Mob position is too damaging and the evidence too scant.
That may sound dogmatic, but let's go back to my Flat-Earth example for a moment, with a little twist. As researchers, we've compiled a large assortment of facts. And when we look at the total facts involved, in order to say the Mob is the prime mover in the assassination, we are forced to ignore the larger context of the Cuban invasion, Operation Northwoods, the Vietnam War, the reduction of the oil depletion allowance, and the sheer vastness of the operation required to kill the President and cover up the piles of evidence contradicting the official story. In other words, we have to do a series of logical backflips in order to leap over all the contrary evidence, rather than accepting what is staring at us right in the face. Mob-did-it is, now and forever barring some astounding, paradigm-changing evidence, in the Flat-Earth category. Did the Mob have some level of involvement? Sure. Probably, even. Were they running the show? Absolutely not.
The investigative process is a scientific one at its best, and that means weeding out the ideas that don't work as well as promoting the ones that do. As Karl Popper noted, knowledge proceeds by falsification. By falsifying certain notions and promoting those where the evidence is irrefutable, we present a more unified front to the world and help to streamline and organize our public relations. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it has to be done, if we are to ultimately win over the generations to come.
1. This quote comes from the telephone recordings of the Johnson White House and was publicized in The Atlantic Monthly in 2004 by, of all people, Max Holland! http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200406/holland
2. This quote comes from the Nixon tapes and was first reported by the BBC. John McAdams, who operates the "Kennedy Assassination Home Page," disputes Nixon's meaning in this comment. The interesting thing about his discussion of the context is that I believe the additional commentary further implicates Nixon rather than absolves him, but that is a discussion for another day. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1848157.stm
3. This quote can be found in many places, but one interesting discussion – because it occurs in a mainstream magazine – is from the November 1998 issue of Texas Monthly. http://www.texasmonthly.com/preview/1998-11-01/feature23
4. Once again, this quote can be found many places, but one book that contains many such quotes is Larry Hancock's Someone Would Have Talked (JFK Lancer Productions & Publications: 2006).
5. David Talbot, Brothers (Free Press: New York 2007), 32.
6. Gerald McKnight, Breach of Trust (University Press of Kansas: 2005), 297.
7. Maureen Farrell, "JFK, 9/11 and Conspiracy Theories," http://www.buzzflash.com/farrell/03/11/far03002.html
8. David Talbot, "The Mother of All Coverups," http://archive.salon.com/news/feature/2004/09/15/warren/
9. Jim Garrison discussed this information in an October 1967 interview with Playboy Magazine. It was ironically first reported in Gerald Ford's book Portrait of the Assassin.
10. For a great discussion of the "Mexico City stuff," see John Newman, Oswald and the CIA (Sky Horse Publishing: New York 2008), 352-391.
11. "Gerald Ford forced to admit the Warren Report fictionalized," Associated Press, 2 July 1997.
12. Mark Lane, Plausible Denial (Thunder's Mouth Press: New York 1991), 218-225.
13. For an excellent discussion of Garrison's New Orleans discoveries, see James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed (Sheridan Square Press: New York 1992), 130-146.
14. The screenplay for JFK was written by Zachary Sklar and Oliver Stone, based on the books On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison and Crossfire by Jim Marrs.