Today is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was not alive to remember the horror that occurred on November 22, 1963, but I've certainly read a lot about it, and I didn't think the day should pass without some acknowledgement. As the JFK assassination is the "grandfather" of modern conspiracy theories, and I've done relatively little (publicly) with that theory, beginning today I'm rolling out a new feature on my Twitter feed: for the next 100 days I will be doing one tweet a day presenting a link debunking one or another aspect of the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
More on that later, but first, background. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, riding in an open-top limousine in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, was struck by shots fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, a ne'er-do-well Communist sympathizer perched with a high powered rifle on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Oswald acted alone, but many people assumed that he was working with others, or even that he was just a "patsy" who had nothing to do with the assassination but was set up by others who did. The major event that got people thinking about conspiracy was when Oswald was himself assassinated by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, two days later in the basement of the Dallas police department. Ruby eventually died of cancer, in prison, in 1967.
You Mean You Don't Believe in a JFK Conspiracy Either??!?!?
I do not. There is no credible evidence that there was a conspiracy in the killing of JFK. Indeed, contrary to what most people think, the evidence that Oswald did it-and that he acted alone-is overwhelming. For instance, ballistics tests proved scientifically that the bullets that struck Kennedy were fired from Oswald's rifle, to the exclusion of all other weapons in the world. All physical evidence-autopsy, etc.-indicates that three shots were fired, that they came from the rear, and they all came from Oswald's gun. No evidence has ever been found that Oswald was acting in collusion with anyone. That Oswald did it, alone, has been proven beyond all doubt many times, although most people refuse to believe it. A poll taken within the last few years shows that 75% of Americans believe JFK was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.
Oliver Stone's Movie
One of the major reasons why people believe there was a conspiracy was as a result of a movie made by Oliver Stone in 1991, called JFK.
This was a very popular movie in its day, and as Vincent Bugliosi, author of the wonderful book Reclaiming History,
put it, Stone's movie probably had more to do with fostering the idea of conspiracy in the JFK case than any other single factor. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the movie's release.
The problem with JFK
(the movie) is that it isn't very accurate. Bugliosi's book runs 1700 pages and devotes one lengthy chapter to debunking the film. Stone based the movie on the memoirs of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who brought the only prosecution ever in the assassination of JFK-against an innocent man called Clay Shaw (played by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie) who had nothing to do with the killing. Garrison was the definition of a delusional conspiracy theorist. His "star witness," Perry Russo, had to be drugged in order to tell the story Garrison wanted him to tell at the trial; Russo later recanted. Shaw was acquitted in 1969 and later sued Garrison for malicious prosecution. Almost everyone connected with the case was astonished at the miscarriage of justice that Garrison created. Indeed, even most JFK conspiracy theorists disavowed Garrison and his faulty investigation, at least until 1991.
Yet, given artistic license, Oliver Stone turns Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) into a hero. The movie makes so many wild and bizarre claims, most of them self-contradictory, that the film is a mismash of faulty logic and half-baked conspiracy theories. Even people who believe in a JFK conspiracy find the plot impossible to figure out because Stone crammed so much crap into it.
Ten years ago a man named David Reitzes created a website of JFK assassination resources,
and which contains a lengthy section debunking the film.
This is the best information you can find on the web about JFK. When people ask me where they can get good, factual information on the assassination, I direct them to Bugliosi's book-which few want to read at 1700 pages-or Reitzes's website. It is this website that's the source of the links that I'll be posting on Twitter in the next 100 days.
My History With the JFK Movie And JFK Conspiracies In General
I used to be a conspiracy theorist. I can't say unequivocally that it was JFK that made me into one, but it certainly helped. I saw the film when it first came out. I was 19 years old, impressionable, and angry at the government-especially George H.W. Bush, who seemed to me like the absolute worst president of all time. (I had no idea how much worse it could get until his son got into office). When I came out of that theater in December 1991, I was convinced that Stone had presented a very compelling case for conspiracy. What I didn't know was how inaccurate, misleading, and flat-out false the information fed to me by the movie really was. That took ten more years to sink in.
During the 1990s you could say I was a conspiracy theorist. I certainly believed that there was a conspiracy to kill JFK. I also believed the government was covering up evidence of UFOs. I thought the stories of Roswell were quite credible. When TWA Flight 800 blew up over Long Island Sound in July 1996, I was convinced that the U.S. Navy had shot it down accidentally during an exercise and then covered it up. This was before 9/11, so that conspiracy theory hadn't been minted yet. I was never an "activist"-I did not subscribe to conspiracy newsletters or go to conspiracy websites, but these were opinions that I had.
Years later, not long before 9/11, I was watching (on video) Nigel Turner's film The Men Who Killed Kennedy,
which first aired in 1988. When one of the pathologists who claimed there was a conspiracy was interviewed I noticed a curious thing. The doctor-I don't recall his name-was holding up a diagram of Kennedy's head, and he said something to the effect of, "The lower back quarter of the president's head was blasted away."
There was just one problem: the diagram he was holding up-on camera-did not show that the lower back quarter of JFK's head was gone. In fact, it showed the top right section
of the head gone-completely consistent with a shot from the rear, the School Book Depository.
This was one small clip in this multi-hour movie that went by very quickly, but it stuck in my mind. I started to think, "Hmm. That guy's words didn't match the evidence he was presenting. Are there other errors in this movie?"
I started "doing research," which is what conspiracy theorists urge me to do about every week. (To a conspiracy theorist, "do your research" means "look at conspiracy websites and YouTube videos." That is not research to me. My job involves research-with real books, in a real library-and research has been a crucial part of my day-to-day work for the last 13 years). When I "did my research" I found that Nigel Turner's The Men Who Killed Kennedy
was so riddled with errors and inaccuracies that it couldn't even be broadcast legally in England, where it was made, without a disclaimer. Even some of the people interviewed in the film disavowed it. That got me thinking, if that movie was so inaccurate, what about Stone's JFK?
In around 2000-2001, my thinking on conspiracy theories changed dramatically. Every time I subjected a claim to logical scrutiny, it fell apart. I read the entire Warren Commission report. Contrary to what conspiracy theorists claim, it was not shoddy, incomplete or full of holes. It was very exhaustively researched and left very little out. I started looking at the other conspiracy theories I believed in. After reading a lot of scientific material, I concluded that TWA 800 crashed because its fuel tank blew up-an accident, not a Navy missile. I found out that the documents that I thought "proved" the government knew about aliens were total forgeries. The "alien autopsy" film, broadcast on TV in 1995, turned out to be a fake. Conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory simply crumbled when I touched it.
Nevertheless, I was a holdout on JFK. As late as 2003 or 2004-even as I had begun to push back against 9/11 "Truthers," whom I regard as believers in a particularly fulsome and offensive conspiracy theory-I still thought it likely that Oswald had help. Then I began to think maybe it was possible he did it alone. I read some more. I did some thinking. A lot of parts of the conspiracy theory simply didn't add up.
What Surprised Me About JFK Conspiracy Theories
During my period of research on JFK conspiracy theories I learned some things that surprised me-things I accepted as axioms, when I believed in conspiracy, that simply didn't hold up under scrutiny. For example:
"The magic bullet had to do an S-turn in midair."
-No, it didn't. If you actually see the way the limousine was laid out and where people were sitting, there's no S-turn needed at all; conspiracy theorists misrepresent where Kennedy and Connally were in relation to each other.
"The bullet was pristine when it was recovered."
-No, it wasn't. Actually it was quite mangled, but conspiracy theorists only show a picture of one side of it in their books and websites.
"Oswald was a poor shot."
-No, he wasn't. His records from the Marine Corps indicate he was actually a pretty good shot.
"FBI sharpshooters couldn't replicate what Oswald did."
-Yes, they could. Not only could they aim and fire as quickly as Oswald did, but in fact they improved significantly on his time and accuracy.
"Oswald couldn't have fired three shots in 5.6 seconds."
-Yes, he could. In fact, Kevin Costner does it on-screen in the movie JFK.
If you watch the scene with a stopwatch you can see it for yourself.
"The autopsy was botched."
-No, it wasn't. It was actually done pretty well, given the extreme pressures everybody was under.
"Many witnesses saw/heard shots coming from the grassy knoll."
-Not really; most of the witnesses who claim this first made their claims more than 15 years after the assassination.
The list goes on and on. This is not the place to list everything. If you want a comprehensive rundown, see Bugliosi's book.
So What Happened?
Finally I realized the conclusion was staring me in the face. The evidence was conclusive. Ballistics, witnesses, physics, science, everything. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
This was not a conclusion I came to because "the government said so." Very little of the evidence I looked at was government-created. I came to this conclusion because the evidence in the case pointed unmistakably to it.
There was no conspiracy in the assassination of JFK.
What's Happening on my Twitter
So here's what will be happening on Twitter. Beginning today at 12:30 PM-that's the time of day Kennedy was shot-and continuing on, every day at that time for the next 100 days, I'll be posting a link to one of the "100 Errors of Fact and Judgement in Oliver Stone's JFK." Each tweet will have the hashtag #JFK in it somewhere, and a brief statement of what the link contains. It's not a comprehensive debunking of all aspects of the JFK assassination, or even of the movie, but it's a start.
It might surprise you to know that, despite my opposition to conspiracy theories, I actually still enjoy JFK as a movie. I find it immensely entertaining, absorbing, and well-made-and those feelings have not changed since 1991. I own JFK
on DVD, in a special collector's edition, and I'd say I watch it at least three or four times a year. That doesn't mean I believe the factual accuracy of what it claims. I don't. But, it's at least a very good piece of filmmaking.
My purpose in doing the "100 Days of JFK" on Twitter is to put some information out there that contradicts the conspiracy theories and serves up a little fact and critical thinking for a change. I also hope to increase the visibility of David Reitzes's website, which is really a very impressive piece of work. I think Reitzes is to JFK what Mark Roberts is to 9/11-the "Obi Wan Kenobi" of debunkers.
On November 22, 1963, America suffered a terrible tragedy. Let's put that tragedy in perspective and keep hold of the facts surrounding it. I hope only to present the facts. There's enough misinformation in the world as it is without taking Hollywood movies as historical truth.