John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories
| Some dare call it|
|What THEY don't want|
you to know!
Please don't send me any screwball theories, opinions, or even questions.I've heard them all and I'm tired of it.
|—Alexander Jason, Crime Scene Analyst|
The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one of the most popular sources for conspiracy theories. The people who subscribe to these theories often focus on the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone, that he was a "patsy," or that Oswald didn't commit the murder at all. They also often argue that shots were fired from the "grassy knoll" near Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and not only from the Texas School Book Depository from where Oswald shot Kennedy. Some conspiracy theorists also believe that the Warren Commission report was a coverup.
JFK conspiracy theorists are notoriously fractious and may hold to one of several competing theories:
- Oswald made the shot; however he had some group providing logistics.
- The mafia was behind it, as payback for JFK
sleeping with their mistressesand his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, cracking down on organized crime after they allegedly helped them win Illinois in the 1960 election. Alternatively, they did it because JFK went too easy on Fidel Castro, which cost the mob revenues from Cuban casinos.
- Right-wing anti-Castro groups were behind it, as payback for the botched 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
- Fidel Castro himself was behind it, in retaliation for the Bay of Pigs invasion or numerous assassination attempts from the CIA.
- The CIA, or a rogue faction of CIA agents and private wingnut activists was behind it.
- The government of Israel and Mossad were behind it, because Kennedy opposed Israel's nuclear weapon development programs.
- The Soviet Union brainwashed Oswald during his time in the USSR and programmed him to do it.[note 1] That or he was recruited by the KGB to do it. Or the KGB sent a double in his place. Or...
- The Democrats assassinated Kennedy because he was a Conservative. People like Mary Lou Bruner believe this.
- Woody Harrelson's estranged father, Charles Harrelson, was behind it.
- Lyndon Johnson was behind the assassination. (Due to LBJ's personality and style, this is the one that manages to get the most fanfare.)
- Kennedy was assassinated because he had attempted to restore the printing of paper money by the U.S. Treasury rather than the Federal Reserve bank (a favorite theory of Paulbots).
- Kennedy was assassinated by a cabal who wanted to expand the Vietnam War, because he was about to pull U.S. troops out.
- Some focus more on the theory that there was a second gunman at the grassy knoll and, again, Oswald being a "patsy" rather than trying to ascribe any broader conspiratorial motive.
- T. Casey Brennan did it, or so he says. This claim is just one ingredient of his mighty chick-magnetism.
- Principia Discordia author Kerry Thornley was Lee Harvey Oswald's best friend in the Marines in 1959, so there is a Discordianism connection to the assassination.
- Kennedy shot first.
- The driver shot Kennedy. This one is thought to be a parody since there would be millions of people seeing JFK being shot. Unfortunately, it isn't.[note 2]
- Oswald shot Kennedy through the neck and a Secret Service agent in the following car accidentally shot him in the head raising his rifle to return fire (the third casing by Oswald was used to keep the chamber of his rifle clean).
- Oswald was a patsy and Joseph Milteer, a right-winger associated with extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and who was under surveillance for threatening to kill the president, had arranged or participated in the assassination. Some believe Milteer was part of a conspiracy masterminded by the Papacy which involved the U.S. Intelligence communities and remnants of the Third Reich brought over during Operation Paperclip.
- Kennedy arranged it all as an elaborate suicide.
- Kennedy was killed by a version of himself from the future, because otherwise it would cause WWIII. (Okay, that makes a lot less sense out of context. But that episode of Red Dwarf was badass.)
- Kennedy survived and was replaced by a double "they" buried instead, alien abducted, still secretly running things from behind the scenes along with his family, the "curse" being a huge smokescreen, died in a mental institution as a vegetable from the brain damage... take your pick.
- Kennedy was shot in the head in Dallas but survived thanks to the government putting a metal plate in his head, they then dyed his skin brown and put him in a nursing home to live out the rest of his days as the senile old man no one believes. After this he meets Elvis Presley (who everyone thinks is actually just an Elvis impersonator, mainly because this Elvis was bored of being Elvis so he went and swapped places with an Elvis impersonator) and they go on a quest to kill a resurrected mummy who is sometimes referred to as Bubba ho-tep.
The first official investigation was undertaken by the Warren Commission, which concluded that the assassination was not a conspiracy, and all official investigations after it have more or less accepted its findings. The United States House Select Committee on Assassination (HSCA), however, concluded that there is a high probability that the assassination was a conspiracy. However, the only evidence which they based this on (a Dictabelt recording by a motorcycle police officer's radio microphone which was stuck in the open position at the scene ) was later debunked; it turns out that "the alleged “shot” sounds were recorded approximately one minute after the assassination" (not that this has stopped the conspiracy theorists). They also leave out the fact that the HSCA concluded that "Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy. The second and third shots Oswald fired struck the President. The third shot he fired killed the President." While they released their report in 1979, the "official story" had been under systematic attack from critics since the beginning - this only fed the fires.
Two early books critiquing the Warren Commission report were Inquest by Edward Jay Epstein, and Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane. Both hinted at a conspiracy and were relatively tame by today's standards. Mark Lane later went off the deep end with conspiracy books on several other subjects (including the Jonestown mass suicide, and the assassination of Martin Luther King; oddly enough, in footage filmed at Jonestown before the mass suicide, Jim Jones can be heard saying that "Martin Luther King was murdered by a conspiracy").
The John Birch Society was an early proponent of an assassination conspiracy theory, with an article by Revilo P. Oliver claiming the KGB did it. Liberty Lobby later took up the assassination conspiracy theory and wooed Mark Lane into defending them in a libel lawsuit brought against them by "Plumber" E. Howard Hunt, in response to an article in Spotlight newspaper claiming Hunt was implicated in the assassination (Hunt's children later tried to cash in on a supposed confession, with JFK star Kevin Costner allegedly offering $5 million). Louisiana district attorney Jim Garrison prosecuted New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw in 1969 for conspiracy to murder in the Kennedy assassination, claiming that it was the job of a bunch of homosexual males, including Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, and that it was a "homosexual thrill-killing"; no, seriously, that's how Garrison described it. He said they "had the same motive as Loeb and Leopold when they murdered Bobbie Franks in Chicago back in the twenties". Faced with this utter horseshit, the jury took just 54 minutes to find Shaw not guilty. Oliver Stone went a step further by inadvertently disproving the theory himself in his effort to support Garrison's claims in his film JFK (however, Stone decided to leave out the homosexual thrill-killing part, although the film contains "a bizarre gay orgy scene" which even Mark Lane criticized; there exists no evidence that Clay Shaw attended any such parties). In the film, one of Garrison's colleagues tries to recreate the shooting, stating that "[t]he Zapruder film establishes 3 shots in 5.6 seconds." He then times the shots, claiming that it takes "[b]etween six and seven seconds", and that this is without really aiming. However, actor Jay O. Sanders "did get off three shots in under six seconds -- 5.6 seconds, to be precise." "More importantly, the Warren Commission never stated that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots in under six seconds. [...] Based upon an evaluation of the home movie taken by bystander Abraham Zapruder, the Warren Commission concluded that the time span between the shot entering the back of the President's neck and the bullet which shattered his skull was 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. If the second shot missed, then 4.8 to 5.6 seconds was the total time span of the shots. If either the first or third shots missed, then a minimum of 2.3 seconds (necessary to operate the rifle) must be added to the time span of the shots which hit, giving a minimum time of 7.1 to 7.9 seconds for the three shots." Furthermore, "The growing consensus among assassination researchers is that the first shot was fired at about frame 155 of the Zapruder film, and missed. If correct, this would give Oswald an ample 8.6 seconds to fire three shots."
Another more reliable book criticizing the investigation came from task force member Gerald Ford. In A Presidential Legacy and The Warren Commission, Ford stated that the CIA destroyed or kept from investigators key facts that would expose operations—which, he said, could easily be read the wrong way as collaborating with the assassination.
Two popular films portraying the Kennedy assassination as a conspiracy were Oliver Stone's 1991 flick JFK, based on Garrison's theory, and the 1973 movie Executive Action, based on Lane's theory that a cabal of right-wing businessmen was behind the assassination. JFK assassination conspiracy books proliferated, in particular after the release of the popular 1991 film, ranging from the meh to the completely ludicrous. Public reaction to the film caused Congress to enact the JFK Records Act and establish the Assassination Records Review Board, which released (almost) all records of the investigation by October 2017. Despite JFK being marketed as based on a true story, the film is riddled with errors, baseless supposition and in many cases outright falsehoods.
Lee Harvey Oswald did it.
Why? It was due to a lack of bowling alleys and nightclubs. No, really. More immediately, he hung out with Castro sympathizers in Mexico City during his unsuccessful attempt to get a Cuban visa, some of whom voiced the opinion that Kennedy should be killed in retaliation for his attempts to have Castro assassinated. According to CIA files released in 2017, Oswald visited the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City, and on September 28, 1963, he met with "a Soviet consular official named Valery Kostikov, the reputed head of the KGB’s assassinations operations". However, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover said his agency's files "do not contain any information to fully support" the CIA's assessment that Kostikov worked for the KGB's 13th Department. Hoover's memo also cited a letter the FBI received from the CIA's counterintelligence chief five months before Kennedy's killing stating that the CIA "could locate no information in your files to indicate Kostikov was a representative" of the KGB's assassinations department." Oswald did live in the Soviet Union for about three years, after making several attempts to defect which were declined as the Soviets viewed him as mentally unstable. After an attempted suicide, the Soviets finally let him stay reasoning that a dead American on their watch would be far worse, and furnished him with a job and apartment in Minsk, in the Byelorussian SSR. Oswald would later become bored and return to the United States. He was viewed poorly for the most part by the Soviets, with an internal Soviet memo describing Oswald as "a neurotic maniac who was disloyal to his own country and everything else". Oswald was never given Soviet citizenship.
Oh, and the KGB spread many of the other conspiracy theories, because they knew that given the climate of the time, the Soviet Union was likely to be blamed and they wanted to mitigate that to some extent – it appears to have worked more than they ever imagined. They knew fairly early on that American intelligence didn't believe they were involved, but if the American public was to hold a widespread belief that the Kremlin had Kennedy killed, not only would the door be open for retaliation (some nutjob shooting up Soviet embassies, for example) but it could cause the public to press for war. If declassified Soviet materials are to be believed, they were just as surprised as the Americans by the assassination.
The "magic bullet" theory that so often pops up among the conspiracy theories is also based off the seating of the people in the car, Kennedy included. However, if one actually looks at the seating arrangements in the car, then the theory, and any that expand on the idea, are defunct instantly. The theories claim that Governor Connally was sitting in front of Kennedy, and that this proves that Kennedy couldn't have been shot by Oswald. In reality, Kennedy was in the back, and Connally in front of him but slightly to the left and sitting significantly lower than Kennedy on a jumper seat. Connally was in fact always in the path of Oswald's shot. Indeed, the entire thing can be disproved by the way everyone was sitting when Kennedy was shot. Additionally, a closer look at the Zapruder film shows Connally's lapel flip outwards at precisely the moment the first bullet strikes Kennedy. And the notion that the bullet was "found in almost "pristine" condition" has been thoroughly debunked; "it is bent and severely flattened on the base and one side, with lead extruding from the base".
Conspiracy theorists also claim that the Zapruder film proves Kennedy was shot in the head from the front, perhaps by a shooter hiding on the grassy knoll (the infamous "Back, and to the left..." scene from the Oliver Stone movie). However, if the individual frames of the Zapruder film are analysed, Kennedy's head clearly lurches forward (be warned, the link is graphic) the instant the bullet impacts it. Furthermore, any sniper aiming from such a position would have "no clear shot at the middle lane of Elm Street [where the limousine was] until the instant of the head shot, allowing for no earlier shots or tracking of the moving target. It turns out that the intended victim is obscured by road signs and a white retaining wall about ten feet in front of the fence", not to mention "the crowd that lined the sidewalk [...] If the assassin shot Kennedy in the head, he had to shoot in the first second the car emerged from behind the retaining wall", right past the heads of spectators (or through them). "Such a shooter would have been standing only a few yards to the right of Abraham Zapruder and his receptionist, Marilyn Sitzman, who were perched on a pedestal several feet above the ground. When asked by Gus Russo about the possibility that someone was shooting from the knoll area, Sitzman replied, "That's absurd. I was only a few feet away, and I didn't hear or see anything suspicious." In fact, not a single person that day reported seeing anyone fire from the grassy knoll, despite the fact that the stockade fence is only five feet tall. Moreover, such a gunman would have been completely exposed on the sides and in the back, yet eyewitness Lee Bowers, in an elevated railroad tower some yards away, saw no one with a rifle, nor did he see anyone flee the area."
And it gets even better: "In Dale Myers's meticulous reconstruction of the event, he asked the computer to draw a line from low in the back of Kennedy's head -- where some have erroneously stated a wound existed -- to the wound in the right temple area. Giving the front-shooter theorists the benefit of the doubt, and negating all the autopsy X-rays and photos, Myers then followed the line forward to determine where such a shooter had to be located. It turns out that if the shooter were in front of Kennedy, in a line with his wounds and front-to-back axis of movement, the assailant could only be in one place: [thirteen] feet in the air above the southernmost point of the railroad underpass." That's right; in order to be consistent with the wounds to Kennedy's head, a frontal shot would require an invisible, levitating sniper.
The theory that there were multiple shooters is discredited by the fact that no bullet fragments or shells other than what came from Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle were discovered anywhere by anyone in Dealey Plaza, the limousine, Parkland Hospital, or in the bodies of Kennedy or Governor Connally. Furthermore, "an overwhelming majority of the witnesses -- 80.8% -- reported hearing two or three shots, with the next largest group -- 10.5% -- reporting a total of one or two shots, and a mere 8.7% reporting four or more shots."
There are still some unanswered questions concerning the event, like the infamous and unidentified Babushka Lady who appears to have filmed it, as well as reports that someone, probably mentally ill, made calls in California saying that Kennedy was going to be killed in Dallas that day. The latter is most likely coincidence and could be a fabrication (the POTUS has been a routine recipient of death threats for decades; Barack Obama was allegedly receiving 30 a day at one point duing his tenure), and the former, even though the footage would offer another, more detailed perspective on Kennedy's death which could be much more valuable than the footage we have, is most likely unimportant to the bigger picture. Former nightclub singer Beverly Oliver claimed that she was the Babushka Lady in 1970; she alleged that she filmed the motorcade with a Yashica Super 8 movie camera, and that the film was confiscated by FBI agent Regis Kennedy three days after the assassination; however, the Yashica 8 was not manufactured until 1965, and Regis Kennedy wasn't even in Dallas after the assassination, he was in New Orleans. Oliver later backtracked on the type of camera she had used.
However, Oswald's death and the failure to prevent it is questionable, as it prevented his trial, obviously, and only fanned the flames of conspiracy. Had Oswald been properly protected, and not left wide open for Jack Ruby, which, admittedly, no one could have seen coming but in hindsight should have been accounted for, maybe a lot of this nonsense could have been put to rest before it spread. Whether Oswald would have continued to insist on his innocence in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him, like Sirhan Sirhan, is impossible to know.
Much like Abraham Lincoln, nobody knows how things might have turned out if Kennedy hadn't been shot.
- The Umbrella Man, an Errol Morris mini-documentary on one aspect of the assassination.
- Mortal Error, a book that analyzes the ballistics and concludes that Oswald acted alone, but the shot to Kennedy's head was an accidental shot by a Secret Service agent.
- JFK Assassination Magic Bullet Computer Recreation - part of a larger documentary (shows how non-magical the magic bullet was).
- Ballistics expert weighs in.
- When even the pros are tired of it.
- Myth: The Federal Reserve had a role in the JFK murder, John McAdams
- Former FBI agent blames Milteer, Oswald a patsy
- Who Killed JFK? The Milteer-Nazi-CIA-Papacy theory
- 59% as of 2013
- Background of John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories on Wikipedia
- Letter from Assistant Attorney General William F. Weld to Peter W. Rodino Jr.
- A Presidential Legacy and the Warren Commission
- See the Wikipedia article on Gerald Ford.
- JFK (1991), IMDB
- Executive Action (1973), IMDB
- Trump releases some, but not all, JFK assassination records by Jeremy Diamond & Kevin Liptak (Updated 8:04 AM ET, Fri October 27, 2017) CNN.
- 5 Turncoats Who Changed the Tide of History, Cracked
- Why'd Oswald Do It?, Slate
- Shapira, I.; Miller, M. E. (November 4, 2017). "New batch of JFK assassination files: Oswald in Mexico City and the Watergate burglars". The Washington Post.
- JFK Assassination System Record Number 157-10004-10245 (09/01/94)
- K.G.B. Told Tall Tales About Dallas, Book Says, The New York Times (the Mitrokhin Archive, if you were wondering).