I. Overview and Analysis

bulletJFK’s death began a new era in conspiracy theory:
bullet“Broadened the base” of c.t. beyond the anticommunist far right-wing
bulletFears shifted from outside subversion to inherent evil of whole system
bulletClose relationship of 1960s radicalism and JFK conspiracy theories
bulletDespite Cold War & LHO beliefs, communists rarely  blamed for JFK murder, with exception of useful kooks such as Prof. Revilo P. Oliver.
bulletLeft-wing origin of most theories. Argument that LHO was spy, not Commie.
bulletRise of protest after JFK:  The Berkeley “Free Speech Movement,” 1964.
bulletDeep distrust of established institutions pervaded both JFK c.t.’s and 60s radicalism.  Example of Carl Oglesby, SDS leader & conspiracy theorist.
bulletThe “Sympathy for the Devil” thesis: JFK assassination as a distraction that turned ordinary citizens and radicals alike into ineffectual political paranoids.

II. How the Theorizing Began

bulletThe Manchester thesis: Crime and criminal did not balance.
bulletPolls showed that most public believed in some conspiracy from the beginning, at least that Oswald did not act alone.
bulletTruly, obviously bizarre/mysterious aspects of the case:
bulletJack Ruby’s mob background & police connections
bulletRuby’s murder of Oswald, entry & escape
bulletOswald’s “patsy” claim, plus failure to record what he said
bulletOswald’s strange, contradictory background
bulletCommunist in the Marines at sensitive posts
bulletDefection to and undefection from Soviet Union
bulletCommunist and anti-communist associations (Russian émigrés)
bulletSpy-like behavior: Post office boxes and aliases
bulletToo-perfect evidence trail (sightings, photos, mail-order rifle)
bulletFirst real c.t.s came from European Left, seeing Dallas as a violent coup d’etat such as commonly happened in world history.
bulletDefending “American exceptionalism”: US officials wanted to show that this could not happen here, that U.S. really was exceptional.

III. The Warren Commission

bulletRushed, sloppy investigation caused more problems than it solved.
bulletW.C.’s paternalism, emphasis on calming fears, quashing rumors & protecting “our institutions.”  Pressures due to 1964 election.
Members: Chief Justice Earl Warren, House leaders Hale Boggs & G. Ford, Senators R. Russell & J.S. Cooper, Chase Manhattan Pres. John McCloy, plus Allen Dulles (CIA director fired by JFK).
bulletProblems with the investigation:
bulletNon-cooperation of the CIA & FBI.   Warren’s failure to press.  Members’ failure to attend meetings.
bulletSet up as prosecution of Oswald, but Oswald was allowed no representation.
bulletW.C. adopted “lone gunman” & “single bullet” theories despite contradictions in the evidence. Leads were not followed if they led to a possible c.t.
bulletMainstream media largely accepted the lone gunman theory, at first.
bulletEarly emergence of independent critics & lay researchers, or “buffs”: Mark Lane (Rush to Judgment), Sylvia Meagher, Harold Weisberg, Josiah Thompson, David Lifton, & others. Buff investigations (and c.t. in general) as “people’s scholarship.”

IV. From Marginal to Mainstream

bulletDoubts about Warren Commission raised by mainstream media by 1966, encouraged by Edward Jay Epstein’s Inquest, a Cornell MA thesis.
bulletConspiracy theory in left-leaning pop culture: play Macbird! (1967)
bulletWide, quick public acceptance of the liberal martyr view of JFK: LBJ’s use of his legacy; Dion’s “Abraham, Martin, and John,” #4 hit in 1968.
bulletJim Garrison’s prosecution of businessman Clay Shaw, 1967-69: failed, homophobic, corrupt & baseless, but legitimated buffs & caused
wide distribution of Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of the assassination.
bulletFilm became centerpiece of a traveling roadshow that spread views of conspiracy buffs to local audiences, especially at colleges.
Zapruder film lent great power to “common sense” arguments of buffs, especially for a second shooter in front of JFK on the Grassy Knoll. One reason: apparent snap of head back and to the left.
bulletMost popular conspirators: LBJ, Dallas police, right-wing oil men as early favorites, replaced by anti-Castro Cubans & CIA with FBI cover-up.
bulletMilitary & arms-maker involvement, Vietnam motive emerged more strongly in early 1970s, after the Pentagon Papers scandal.
bulletFactors that allowed JFK c.t.s to go mainstream: RFK & MLK assassinations, 60s/70s distrust of authority, Watergate (affecting public & media attitudes),
Church Committee exposures of CIA & FBI, national broadcast of the Zapruder film in 1975 by Geraldo Rivera.
bulletHouse Select Committee on Assassinations (1978)
bulletAt last minute, endorsed conspiracy in general, based on since-discredited auditory evidence of a 4th shot.
bulletOther evidence mostly supported W.C. conclusions. Led to wide public acceptance of a JFK conspiracy.
bulletEmergence of the Mafia theory, a JFK c.t. for conservative 1980s.
bulletPolitical impact of Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991): effort to release assassination-related records.
bulletProblems of conspiracists recycling each other’s material, depoliticization of the JFK narrative.

V. The Best of the Worst of the JFK C.T.s

u The Multiple Oswalds (see above)
u “Triangulated crossfire”:  6-8 shots? The vast majority of the ear-witnesses heard only 3.
uSmoke on the Grassy Knoll
u They Stole Kennedy’s Brain: David Lifton’s “body alteration” theory
uEnd result of theories: a conspiracy too immense
uThe “Mysterious” Deaths: If they’re knocking off everyone Who Knows Too Much, who keeps writing all these books? Why were Mark Lane & Oliver Stone allowed to live?