Op-Ed: 10 reasons to stop believing JFK conspiracy nonsense

Posted Nov 13, 2013 by Jeff Cottrill
There's an old joke about a conspiracy theorist who dies and comes face-to-face with the Almighty Himself. “All right,” the theorist thinks, “now I finally get to find out the truth!” So he asks God: “Who shot John F. Kennedy?”
Hothead Jack Ruby pulls a gun as Lee Harvey Oswald is being transferred to the county jail from the ...
Hothead Jack Ruby pulls a gun as Lee Harvey Oswald is being transferred to the county jail from the basement of Dallas Police Department. Although Ruby kills Oswald, this act gives birth to the conspiracy industry that thrives to this very day.
Jack Beers Jr. / Dallas Morning News
God puts His hand on the conspiracy theorist's shoulder and looks him straight in the eye. “Okay, listen,” He says, “because I'm only going to tell you this once. Are you ready?” Pause. “Lee Harvey Oswald did it. And he acted alone.”
The conspiracy theorist is stunned. His mouth hangs open.
“Jeez,” he says. “This cover-up is huge!”
Sound familiar? It's as if there's nothing you can do to convince the diehard believer. Apollo 11 fakery, 9/11 trutherism, Elvis being alive, Sasquatch Nazis from Mars – people will believe what they want to believe, and nothing will change it. Not logic, not reason, not common sense, not even the most obvious and credible evidence.
What's frightening about the JFK assassination, as we approach its fiftieth anniversary, is that it isn't just the crazy people who believe the myths. Unless you're willing to believe that fifty-nine percent of the American population is crazy. Even Salon's David Talbot has gotten into the act, recently calling the assassination “America’s greatest mystery” and the alleged factual cover-up “a triumph for the rapidly growing U.S. national security state”.
I do get it. Sort of. Because I used to be one of them. I once believed the Kennedy assassination resulted from a conspiracy – until about ten years ago, when I became more seriously interested in the case and began doing some actual research outside of Oliver Stone movies and Nigel Turner documentaries. Turns out it was pretty simple: a lone sniper shot three times from a sixth-floor window, and the third shot hit the mark. If the victim had been anybody but a U.S. president, the whole thing would have been treated as the simple, open-and-shut case it was, and nobody would have suspected more.
“But even Robert Kennedy didn’t believe the Warren Report!” some say. “Neither did Jackie! Or John Kerry! Or Kevin Costner!” That’s all well and dandy, but opinion is not the same thing as evidence. Too many conspiracy theorists start with an opinionated conclusion and then accept only the evidence that appears to back it up. “But the CIA and FBI had better motives! So did the mob! The military-industrial complex! The gubmint! Castro! The Three Stooges!” Doesn’t matter. Pay attention to your Agatha Christie: anybody can have a motive, but only hard evidence counts when you’re trying to out a murderer.
And when you pay attention to the credible evidence in this case, it's stupidly obvious that Oswald did it. I can understand why somebody might believe that Oswald might have collaborated with somebody (while I don't agree), but “Oswald was innocent” is crazy talk to me.
Why is it so hard to believe that one man could have pulled off a presidential assassination? Why do Americans cling to JFK conspiracy theories half a century later? Most puzzlingly, why are some people so desperate to exonerate Lee Oswald, a deeply troubled young loner with a history of violent behaviour? What favour did Oswald ever do for any of us?
“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,” William Manchester famously wrote in Death of a President. “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.” Assuming that Kennedy's murder was the result of a huge, inevitable, Caesar-style conspiracy fills the bill perfectly, making the assassination look almost like a fated event rather than the random act it really was.
Actually, I think the answer's simpler than that. I think people still go for the conspiracy side because it's just a better story.
I know, because that was my reason. That's part of the reason why Stone struck paydirt with the conspiracy-themed movie JFK, while this year's more historically accurate Parkland flopped. (Well, it also helps that Stone is a highly talented filmmaker). Nobody wants to hear that a high-school dropout with delusions of grandeur took out the leader of the free world. It doesn’t sell. It doesn’t appeal to our beloved collective myth of the noble little guy standing up against the corrupt big guns of the establishment. Instead, it suggests something scarier: that the little guy isn’t always so noble, and that any one of us could pull off something that horrible.
Below are my ten reasons why you should stop believing all the silly JFK conspiracy nonsense. This is aimed not at the diehard believers, who'll never change their minds, but at those who are willing to open themselves up to hearing out a few facts. For more detail, I highly recommend famed lawyer Vincent Bugliosi’s gigantic 2007 tome Reclaiming History – in my not-so-humble opinion, the only nonfiction book on the Kennedy assassination you ever need to read.
1. There was nothing magic about the “magic bullet”.
One of the most maligned bits in the official story is the single bullet that went through both Kennedy and Governor Connally – a bullet that, according to the skeptics, would have had to take ridiculous mid-air turns to make all those wounds. But the “magic bullet” raving is based on wildly inaccurate sketches of Kennedy's and Connally's positions in the limousine. Kennedy was sitting higher than, and to the right of, Connally, and both were turned to their right. Accurate recreations of the shooting, such as the computer model by Dale Myers and an experiment by Anatomical Surrogates Technology, have proved that the single bullet's trajectory is not only plausible, but the only logical explanation.
2. “Back and to the left” is irrelevant.
Another myth that still persists, despite having been debunked decades ago. Watch the Zapruder film in slow motion, or frame by frame, and you’ll see that Kennedy’s head moves forward a couple of inches in the split second before it snaps back. In addition, the blood and guts spurting from his head are clearly moving forward (the Orville Nix film also confirms this). It’s clear that the exit wound is at the front-right of Kennedy’s head. The fatal shot came from behind. No grassy-knoll shooter required. QED.
3. Jack Ruby was the second lone nut.
Ruby may have known mob figures, but he was far too unstable and unreliable a person for anyone to trust with such an important mission as a hit on a presidential assassin. And if Ruby were a hired hit man, why would he shoot Oswald in the belly, rather than in the head, in front of dozens of cops and reporters where he could be (and was) easily caught, at a random moment when Oswald was a few minutes late for a jail transfer? If Oswald hadn’t asked for a sweater at the last minute, Ruby would have missed his chance. Do professional hit men plan everything that poorly?
4. The physical and circumstantial evidence against Oswald is overwhelming.
Bugliosi himself identified no less than fifty-three items that prove or strongly suggest Oswald’s guilt, and I find it hard to imagine that anybody could have successfully faked all of them. Just one minor example: Oswald was seen carrying a rifle-sized paper bag into the Texas School Book Depository, explaining it away as “curtain rods”. No curtain rods were ever found in the building. Oswald’s rifle sure was, though, as was the bag, with his prints on both and on several boxes by the infamous window. You make the call.
5. Everything Oswald did right after the assassination screams “I did it!”
If Oswald was innocent, why did he flee from his job at the Book Depository right after the assassination? Why did he shoot Officer Tippit? Why did he sneak into a movie theatre and hide out? Why did he try to shoot one of the cops who arrested him? Why did he lie so much to the police? And if he was working with others, why didn't they provide a better getaway plan for him?
6. Oswald had tried to shoot a retired general only seven months earlier.
Conspiracy buffs tend to skip over this little anecdote. On April 10, 1963, Oswald fired a shot (from the same Mannlicher-Carcano rifle) at Major General Edwin Walker, an extreme right-wing segregationist and anti-communist, at the latter’s home – and just barely missed. There's no evidence that Oswald worked with anybody else in this case, either. Coincidence? Doesn’t basic logic suggest that he might have had a thing for political assassinations?
7. Oswald had a personality that was highly unlikely to cooperate with other people.
I won't scribble a full biography here, but if you read up on Oswald's background, you'll find out about a classic anti-social misfit, a loner who seemed to live for rebellion against authority, who was screwed up psychologically by a self-absorbed mother and an unstable childhood of constantly moving around and never making any lasting attachments. Yes, the Warren Report copped out when it came to Oswald's motive. But anybody who argues that Oswald was some kind of underground agent or CIA operative is giving him way too much credit.
8. Even the HSCA thought Oswald had fired three shots.
It’s true that the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1978 that JFK had been “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. What you may not know is that the HSCA agreed with the Warren Commission that Oswald had fired three shots from the Book Depository. The only basis for the probable conspiracy was supposed audio evidence of a fourth shot from the grassy knoll – audio evidence that has since been discredited.
9. Most conspiracy witnesses and theorists have had severe credibility problems.
Jean Hill changed her story radically over the years, as did Roger Craig. Other famed supposed witnesses like Beverly Oliver and Gordon Arnold probably weren't even in Dealey Plaza at the time. The granddaddy of conspiracy authors, Mark Lane, has been known to lead witnesses in interviews and spin facts to support a conspiracy scenario.
10. There has never been any credible evidence that anybody other than Oswald was involved in the assassination.
All the credible evidence points to Oswald and nobody else. Everything else is based on speculation, inaccurate memories, wrongly reported info or just plain BS plucked out of the air. Just think rationally: if there was a conspiracy, why hasn't anybody found out the truth yet? Why, among all the myriad theories, has there never been any kind of consistent story? Can you really believe that everybody in a massive conspiracy could keep it secret for this long?
Lee Oswald was a dumb young punk who got a lucky shot at infamy. That's it. That's all. Accept it, fellas. The world really is that random and chaotic sometimes, and we do ourselves no favours by clinging to the fairy tales. Let it go.