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?

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I can see your point but your point is just an opinion. some people care about the jfk assassination and will always search for the truth maybe you should respect our nations history.

By michael d mclaughlin (not verified) on 22 Nov 2013 #permalink

" some people . . . will always search for the truth"

Umm, I think Mark's point is that we got the truth decades ago, and the truth is simply that Oswald shot JFK.

"your point is just an opinion"

Some opinions are well-supported, and some are held only by crackpots. Lumping these together as both being "just an opinion" isn't very reasonable.

By Physicalist (not verified) on 22 Nov 2013 #permalink

Thank you Physicalist. Very well put. Respect for opinions, certainly doesn't mean all arguments are created equal. Particularly, in this case.

By fiscalist (not verified) on 22 Nov 2013 #permalink

thank you.

By Lars Kvam (not verified) on 22 Nov 2013 #permalink

Thank you! You have perfectly summarized my own thinking....that people turn to conspiracy theories for very tragic events like this because the simple truth is more than they can bear from an emotional standpoint. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the correct on.

I would just love to know how Oswald, a mediocre marksman, according to the records of the Marines, was able to pull off shots that much more highly skilled shooters have been unable to replicate. Even under highly modified conditions.

Well supported evidence is what is still debateable. The oddity deaths of so many witnesses in such a short period erases a lot of evidence. 50 yrs still leaves many possible government officials still open to judgement and still alive. I will be more apt to believe judgements if, and when every government paper on the subject is open to the public. As long as even one related paper is kept under lock and key is, in itself,evidence of a conspiracy. I remember when a couple of different presidents promised to make all the related government files open to public. It is still not to this day. It is also time to put to rest the absurd trajectory of the one single bullet. Plus the complete illegal takeover of a lawful state investigation by the fbi..cia..judicial dept, all within a few hours of the death. Including taking the body, and any so called evidence with unprofessional rules of law enforcement.

Re SeanW @ #6

The notion that Oswald was a mediocre marksman is seriously in error. Oswald made sharpshooter at one point in his marine career. Sharpshooter is one step up from marksman, the lowest category.

Further, the notion that it was a difficult shot is untrue. I have visited the site of the assassination and observed Oswald' location and the approximate position of the limousine. In fact, it was a fairly routine shot that any competent rifleman could have made.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 23 Nov 2013 #permalink

Unfortunately, the investigation was significantly flawed, which opened the door to the conspiracy theorists.

1. The Warren Commission's accepting only the one bullet hypothesis was a mistake of monumental proportions. As the former Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, Milton Helpern, pointed out, Oswald would have had an opportunity for a shot about 1 second earlier then the earliest possible time opined by Arlan Specter, author of the one bullet hypothesis. As Helpern has pointed out, a bullet fired one second earlier would open the door to a two bullet hypothesis as the entire rational for the one bullet hypothesis was the finding by the FBI that Oswald would not have had time to fire a shot that hit Kennedy in the neck, worked the bolt action of the rifle and fire off a second shot that hit Connolly in the back, provided that one accepts Specter's time hypothesis of the first shot.

There are significant problems with the one bullet hypothesis, particularly relative to the condition of the bullet found on one of the stretchers on which Kennedy and Connolly were placed. There is also a problem with the apparent time interval between the latest time that Kennedy could have been hit and the time of a violent reaction by Connolly in response to his wounding, an interval of more then one second.

2. The autopsy on Kennedy was performed by pathologists who were unqualified in forensic pathology. Two of them had never conducted an autopsy on a gunshot victim while the third, Captain Finck, had performed a grand total of 5 such autopsies. Their performance has been heavily criticized by board certified forensic pathologists such as Milton Helpern, Michael Baden, and Cyril Wecht among others.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 23 Nov 2013 #permalink

Re adm @ #7

It is also time to put to rest the absurd trajectory of the one single bullet.

The notion that the trajectory of the one bullet is absurd if piffle. The fact is that a careful reconstruction of the positions of Oswald, the limousine, Kennedy, and Connolly demonstrated conclusively that, provided the bullet was not deflected in passing through Kennedy's neck, it had to hit Connolly in the back. There was not other place for it to go. This is totally foolish argument. The condition of the bullet, which deflected twice upon hitting bone in Connolly, and the time interval between when Kennedy was struck and the violent reaction of Connolly are more serious issues.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 23 Nov 2013 #permalink

"I would just love to know how Oswald, a mediocre marksman, according to the records of the Marines, was able to pull off shots that much more highly skilled shooters have been unable to replicate. Even under highly modified conditions."

As has been noted, he qualified as sharpshooter - his records waffled between that and marksman.
It is a lie that the shots have never been replicated. In one instance 8 of the 11 people who attempted a shot, with the same type of rifle, from the same distance, for CBS news, hit 2 of three shots, despite never having handled the rifle in their lives. Another person went 3 for 3.

The contention that the bullet that hit the president and governor had to make mysterious turns in order to do such is also based on a misconception. Kennedy's seat was roughly 8 inches higher than the governors. The bullet passed through Kennedy's neck, soft material, in a straight line. It began yawing when it exited and entered the air (hypothesized at the time of the investigation, behavior confirmed with modern ballistic testing procedures) and entered the governor's back at an angle. This was supported at the time by the fact that the hole in the governor's clothing was not circular but "ovalish", as was the entry wound in his back.

There is a common belief that Oswald's rifle was never tested, so there is no proof that the shell casings found with the rifle came from the rifle. That too is simply a lie by the conspiracy theorists: the rifle was tested. One of the shell casings found had a dimple near its neck: that was reproduced in the test firings from the rifle.

There is no problem in timing either: conspiracy backers jumped on the fact that the early analyses gave the maximum time span for the shots to be roughly six seconds. Recent analysis of the Zapruder film, on which the original analysis was based, found that the actual time span was more than two seconds longer, roughly 8.5 seconds. Adequate time to get the three shots off (one miss, two hits) even with a bolt action rifle.

Finally, referring to the bullet as "pristine" is foolishness of the highest order. The commonly distributed picture shows only one side, which has some marks but seems to be fine. The official photos also show the other side, which is deformed, with pieces missing. Saying that its condition is a problem not explained is a denial of facts.

And finally, there is no problem with Connaly's reaction time. Several analyses of the Zapruder film show that Kennedy was struck in the neck at roughly frame 222. The film shows his jacket lapel move at 224 and indicates that Connally began reacting by 225-226. To quote from one study:

I could observe what I would consider an involuntary and unusual motion of [Connally's] right hand and arm at 225. Before 225, his hand is hidden from Zapruder's view, down below the edge of the door. At 225-226 it can be seen to travel repidly (sic) upward until it is about level with his chin in 228. From 228-230 he flips his hat rapidly. At 229 it appears upside down in his hand with the thin edge of the brim extending toward Zapruder. By 230 the hat has flipped so that one can now see into it. This all takes place within less than 1/3 of a second so it would appear to be somewhat unusual."

Connally initially stated that he believed he had been hit at roughly frame 234: doctors believed the picked this time because it was likely he identified this from the film as being when he tried to breathe deeply with a destroyed rib and collapsed lung and remembered the result.

In short, Mark's comment that

Conspiracy theorists have consistently fabricated, misrepresented, or misunderstood the relevant evidence to serve their interests, time and time again.

rings especially true in this situation. It has been demonstrated for 50 years that people are perfectly willing to ignore facts and continue making things up and/or think logically (look at comments 1, 6, and 7 for examples). I'm resigned to accepting that it will continue to be this way for another 50 at least.

Re dean @ #12

1. The issue relative to a 2 bullet hypothesis is not the total time, it's the time between a proposed bullet 1 and a proposed bullet 2. In order to set the stage, we note that the 8mm Zapruder film had a frame rate of 18 frames per second. If bullet 1 stuck Kennedy in the neck at, say frame 202, the earliest claimed by Specter in the Warren report, and the latest it could have struck Connolly at frame 240, which is the beginning of a violent reaction by him, that's a maximum time interval of 2.1 seconds. FBI firearms expert experiments showed that a minimum of 2.4 seconds would be required to work the bolt action and fire a second shot. Therefore, if this construction is accurate, then a 2 bullet hypothesis is impossible. The time interval between frame 240 and frame 313, which is now taken to be the frame at which Kennedy was struck in the head, tis a time interval of 73 frames or 4 seconds, so Oswald could have fired a shot at frame 240, worked the bolt action and fired another shot at frame 313 easily.

The flapping lapel of Connolly's coat is the theory of Gerald Posner in his book, Case Closed. I did not find this theory very convincing.

2. Milton Helpern's theory was that the first shot that hit Kennedy in the neck was fired earlier the frame 202. He pointed out that, there was a hole in the foliage between the limousine and where Oswald was, at frame 185 so that Oswald had an open shot. If, indeed, the first shot was fired at frame 185 the time interval to the Connolly shot (assuming it occurred at frame 240) would be 65 frames or 3.5 seconds. Under this theory, Oswald could have fired the neck shot, worked the bolt action and fired the Connolly shot 3.5 seconds later.

3. The condition of the stretcher bullet has been an object of considerable debate. For instance, forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht is adamant that the damage is insufficient for a bullet that was deflected by twice striking bone in Connolly. Further, even if one rejects the frame 185 theory, there is still a time interval of 1 second or more between when Kennedy was hit and when Connolly was hit, indicating a delayed reaction on Connolly's part (I don't accept the Posner theory).

The bottom line is that the Helpern 2 bullet theory is just as feasible as the Specter 1 bullet theory. In either case, there is no need to bring in a second assassin.

It should also be noted that 8 board certified forensic pathologists examined the autopsy photographs and all agreed that all the wounds on both men were caused by bullets fired from the rear. This eliminates the railroad overpass and the grassy knoll theories.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 23 Nov 2013 #permalink

Thank you Dean for your superb exposition on the whole matter. Regardless of the infinitude of murky scenarios one (or many) might believe or imagine about an assassination of a US President, this event was caught on film. The Zabruder film and the precise layout of Daily Plaza have been painstakingly recreated by Dale Meyers using a 3D computer graphics program which demonstrates unequivocally that the second shot that hit Kennedy in his upper back exited and hit Connelly. The precise projection of this bullet can be determined and shows to have come from that 6th Floor snipers nest. There is no leap of faith required to accept this. Nor is it in anyway implausible. If you are still searching for tiny apparent anomalies and ignoring the incontrovertible facts that are by now well established, it would appear you have a religious devotion to your own bias. This is an incredibly parochial error to make in an attempt to find the truth. As if your opinion couldn't be wrong. You serve as a terrible role model for young people. 'You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.' - Beatles

By Robert Hilleary (not verified) on 23 Nov 2013 #permalink

The evidence show quite clearly that Oswald was the shooter.

However this does not mean that there was not a conspiracy. It is a fact that the CIA is withholding information that has on Gosling and there are several discrepancies with what the CIA says they know about Oswald and what the historical record says.

I'm not saying that the CIA set up the assassination, but it is very likely they are hiding something like Oswald was previously a CIA asset or something like that.

Most of the evidence is laid out in the excellent front line documentary Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald

A further note on the Helpern 2 bullet theory. As I and Dean have pointed out, given the position of the location where Oswald fired the neck bullet, the relative position of the limousine, the relative position of Kennedy and Connolly, the neck bullet had nowhere else to go but into Connolly's back. So how does Helpern explain that. He hypothesizes that the neck bullet was a short, and that it lost all its momentum passing through Kennedy's neck, ending up caught up in his tie. It then fell out onto the stretcher when Kennedy's body was lifted off (in fact, it is not known who was on the stretcher, Kennedy or Connolly). Thus, he opines that the bullet was the neck bullet, not the Connolly bullet. This eliminates the argument over the condition of the bullet as, if his hypothesis is correct, it was not deflected by bone and thus would not be expected to be severely deformed.

Let us imagine what would have happened if DNA analysis had been available in 1963. The blood and flesh on the bullet could have been subjected to a DNA analysis. If the one bullet hypothesis is correct, one would expect to see 4 alleles, two from Kennedy and two from Connolly. If the 2 bullet hypothesis is correct, one would expect to see only 2 alleles from either Kennedy or Connolly. Of course, this would not satisfy the critics as they would argue that either the DNA tests were phony or that the bullet was planted with blood from both victims added after the fact.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 24 Nov 2013 #permalink

Is it true that national archives lost president kennedy s brain? Also the Stone mountain hearing which all major defence contractors attended right before the assasination? Kennedy wanted to shrink military budget to minimum...and was killed a week after he stated this?...I am sorry something fishy is going on.Then Robert killed for helping Israel obtain a christian jordanian.....Robert had just started investigating big mafia families....dont forget "conspiracy" is not by definition can still go to prison for conspiracy..shalom

By james ainoris (not verified) on 24 Nov 2013 #permalink

I don't think it's intelligent to discount "conspiracy theories" as this article does. The truth of the matter is Building 7 was not hit by a plane and the building was in freefall which is congruent with controlled demolition. As far as the JFK assassination; you should read "Me and Lee" by Judyth Vary Baker.

"Building 7 was not hit by a plane"

Building 7 was located directly beneath the two that were hit by planes, and was pulverized and set on fire by the mountains of giant burning debris that had been falling onto it for hours.

"the building was in freefall which is congruent with controlled demolition"

No, being in freefall is congruent with FALLING. Everything falls "in freefall" unless there are external sources of either thrust or drag to speed it up or slow it down. So unless the original blueprints for WTC included rocket engines or parachutes this is a meaningless nonpoint. SEE ALSO: "the building collapsed into its own footprint!" - because the footprint was beneath the building, which fell down, instead of, what, falling over backwards like a domino?

I thought Posner's Case Closed was the book that finally demolished the conspiraloons.

Before deciding that it's time to put the Kennedy conspiracy theories to rest, can we work on ending the Lincoln assassination conspiracy theories, which I still hear people spouting? It's been well over 50 years on those...

By Michael Suttkus, II (not verified) on 26 Nov 2013 #permalink

I like the comments here. Some of the common tropes arose, and were dealt with expertly. Oswald was a perfectly capable shooter, and the shot was not that difficult. It has been replicated, multiple times, by unexperienced shooters and shooters with equivalent training, and improved upon. The Troofers showed up and demonstrated by their lack of understanding of physics why we should generally be suspicious of the wackadoo conspiracies. Most of the misunderstandings about the shooting, including the magic bullet, and supposed evidence the shooting was impossible from Oswald's location or with his skill, are just pervasive myths. The evidence is in. The shots were replicated, the path (or paths) were logical and ballistics are sound, the bullets came from his gun, that he ordered through the mail, he was tied to the scene, a previous assassination attempt on another public figure, and shot a cop while fleeing the scene. Oswald was the shooter.

@ A H, yes, it is impossible to rule out some tenuous connection between Oswald and various nefarious groups. Of note, the FBI had interviewed Oswald when he returned from the USSR, and in the immediate assassination aftermath, one of the supervising agents tried to destroy the evidence that they had interviewed him (in a bizarre attempt to cover their ass for missing out that they had checked out Oswald and dismissed him as a threat). Again, the evidence of this has come to light. Conspiracies do happen, the problem with conspiracy theories is that they are non-explanatory, they exist to justify an absence of evidence for a theory, rather than synthesize the available data. And the consistent fact is, secrets are hard to keep, criminal and government malfeasance gets leaked, declassified, and exposed. It's been 50 years. We know who deepthroat is, the Pentagon papers have been released, Oliver North traded arms for drugs, Clinton got a BJ, our top spy was nailing his biographer, and the NSA reads our email. What evidence is there our government can keep the lid on a can of tuna? No new data on a connection between Oswald and any external group is suggestive that there will never be further evidence of a conspiracy, and all the evidence available to date shows he was a lone nut. Alternative explanations are simply not plausible.

Re Mark @ #22

I generally agree with Mark's comment. However, the mistakes that were made during the investigation are what have opened the door for the conspiracy theorists like Mark Lane, Harold Weisberg, and Oliver Stone.

1. The Dallas police failed to consider the possibility that Oswald might have been a hired assassin and that the folks who did the hiring might want to eliminate him. Their carelessness in allowing him to be assassinated in turn by Jack Ruby has been highly flammable fuel that has fed the conspiracy fires.

2. The Government erred in allowing unqualified pathologists to conduct the autopsy on Kennedy. Their many mistakes, amply identified by board certified forensic pathologists like Milton Helpern, Michael Baden, and Cyril Wecht again served to fuel the conspiracy theorists.

3. The acceptance of the 1 bullet hypothesis without considering other possibilities, such as the Helpern 2 bullet hypothesis, again provided fuel for the conspiracy theorists who could point to the two apparent holes in that theory. These consisted of the time delay between Kennedy's reaction to the neck wound and Connolly's reaction to being hit in the back and the condition of the bullet found on the stretcher. Even if the Posner theory of the flapping lapel at frame 225 on Connolly's coat is accepted, there could be as much as a delay of 23 frames, some 1 5/18 of a second. Further, competent forensic experts like Cyril Wecht have opined that the condition of the bullet is not consistent with having been deflected twice by contact with bones.

As for the various conspiracy theories, the conspiracy theorists have produced scant evidence. In fact, most of them have been discredited by failing to criticize the phony investigation by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the basis for the pile of crap produced by Oliver Stone, the movie JFK.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 30 Nov 2013 #permalink