Are Conspiracy Theories Dangerous?
An interview with Fred Litwin.
“There is—for example, whenever a corporate board meets—planning or coordination or whatever you want to call it. And it’s true that people who search for hidden conspiracies outside the normal institutions are quite confused—that’s not the way the world works.”
“Conspiracy theories are all about seeing hidden connections and believing that you’re the beneficiary of secret information that shows these connections are real. And once you start believing in some sort of conspiracy, you go and find like-minded people who also see the same sort of connections.”
“Chomsky is right that this JFK assassination nonsense is really just a distraction from the important discussions that we should be having about state power, about corporate power, and about the military–industrial complex.”
“And Chomsky is right about the harm that the cult caused to the left. Take Mort Sahl—he was a very important figure on the left and he could’ve played an amazing role in raising awareness on a whole variety of real problems, but he decided that the JFK assassination was the thing and he went down the JFK rabbit hole and destroyed his career. So Chomsky is correct about the damage that the cult did to the left.”
As a young man growing up in the heyday of Kennedy assassination theorizing, Fred Litwin believed a conspiracy killed JFK. And then he grew, and he studied and he researched. The result is this volume, a thorough, cogent and meticulously argued case for a lone assassin. A seasoned conspiracy skeptic will learn new things here, and a conspiracy believer open to looking at the other side could do no better than this volume.
I think that conspiracy theories are dangerous and counterproductive and harmful. Everyone should click on—and take a close look at—the below chart that shows how conspiracy theories aren’t all equally dangerous:
The chart displays an inverted pyramid whose first four sections are labelled as follows:
(1) “Things that actually happened”
(2) “We have questions”
(3) “Unequivocally false but mostly harmless”
(4) “Dangerous to yourself and others”
We all know people who believe one or another conspiracy theory—this chart is disturbing because it makes you worry about whether innocuous beliefs can evolve into dangerous beliefs.
I’m interested in the conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination—I saw a 2021 video that prompted me to worry about the degree to which the left is still mired in JFK stuff in 2022:
It’s definitely disturbing to witness the time and energy that people invest into conspiracy theories, but you’d need to do an extensive study in order to get a sense of how much damage the JFK stuff—or conspiracy stuff in general—does to the left in 2022.
Everyone should check out my 20 April 2022 interview with Robert Buzzanco—Buzzanco explains in that interview that JFK was a hawk and that there’s no basis for the idea that JFK was a dove. And everyone should read Noam Chomsky’s 1993 book about JFK—it’s called Rethinking Camelot and it has lots of sources and evidence and background.
And people should—if they’re interested in the forensic evidence about the assassination—check out the 2013 documentary Cold Case JFK that appears on YouTube:
Litwin has an encyclopedic knowledge of the JFK assassination—it was amazing to be able to ask him about the various claims that the conspiracy theorists have put forward.
I was honored and thrilled to interview Litwin—see below my interview with him that I edited for flow, organized by topic, and added hyperlinks to. And note that I conducted this interview on 7 December 2021.
Inaccurate Conspiracy Theories
1) Inaccurate conspiracy theories—I’ll call them “ICTs” for short—are increasingly popular. What do you think about Noam Chomsky’s interesting comments about ICTs? Chomsky says the following in those comments:
(A) there’s ubiquitous and meticulous and consequential elite planning within the normal institutional channels
(B) conspiracies have happened, including a major one that might destroy our entire civilization
(C) ICTs distract from normal mainstream power
(D) power likes ICTs—power benefits from ICTs that distract the public from normal mainstream power
(E) we have Pentagon advisory documents that actually tell the government to periodically leak information about the JFK assassination in order to distract the public from normal mainstream power
(F) Chomsky wouldn’t be shocked if future declassifications revealed that the Bush administration was sympathetic to the 9/11 conspiracy theories
I found these points really interesting.
I’m not personally familiar with the Pentagon advisory documents that Chomsky refers to in those comments—back in the ’60s the JFK conspiracy industry was active enough that the CIA didn’t need to stimulate it and the recent trajectory has been that fewer and fewer really care about the JFK assassination, so I’m not sure at what point the US government wanted to stoke the flames.
There is—for example, whenever a corporate board meets—planning or coordination or whatever you want to call it. And it’s true that people who search for hidden conspiracies outside the normal institutions are quite confused—that’s not the way the world works.
Conspiracy theories are all about seeing hidden connections and believing that you’re the beneficiary of secret information that shows these connections are real. And once you start believing in some sort of conspiracy, you go and find like-minded people who also see the same sort of connections.
2) How would you respond to Chomsky’s comments below on the CIA and on how institutions function?
And if you look at the place where investigation of “conspiracies” has absolutely flourished, modern American history, I think what’s notable is the absence of such cases—at least as I read the record, they almost never happen. I mean, occasionally you’ll find something like the Reaganites, with their off-the-wall subversive and terrorist activities, but that was sort of a fringe operation—and in fact, part of the reason why a lot of it got exposed so quickly is because the institutions are simply too powerful to tolerate very much of that stuff. As far as the Pentagon goes, sure, the Services will push their own interests—but typically they do it in pretty transparent ways.
Or take the C.I.A., which is considered the source of a lot of these conspiracies: we have a ton of information about it, and as I read the information, the C.I.A. is basically just an obedient branch of the White House. I mean, sure, the C.I.A. has done things around the world—but as far as we know, it hasn’t done anything on its own. There’s very little evidence—in fact, I don’t know of any—that the C.I.A. is some kind of rogue elephant, you know, off on its own doing things. What the record shows is that the C.I.A. is just an agency of the White House, which sometimes carries out operations for which the Executive branch wants what’s called “plausible deniability”: in other words, if something goes wrong, we don’t want it to look like we did it, those guys in the C.I.A. did it, and we can throw some of them to the wolves if we need to. That’s basically the role of the C.I.A., along with mostly just collection of information.
It’s the same with the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, all these other things that people are racing around searching for conspiracy theories about—they’re “nothing” organizations. Of course they’re there, obviously rich people get together and talk to each other, and play golf with one another, and plan together—that’s not a big surprise. But these conspiracy theories people are putting their energies into have virtually nothing to do with the way the institutions actually function.
The Kennedy-assassination cult is probably the most striking case. I mean, you have all these people doing super-scholarly intensive research, and trying to find out just who talked to whom, and what the exact contours were of this supposed high-level conspiracy—it’s all complete nonsense. As soon as you look into the various theories, they always collapse, there’s just nothing there. But in many places, the left has just fallen apart on the basis of these sheer cults.
So Chomsky is saying that ICTs have distracted people from “the way the institutions actually function” and that ICTs have done a lot of damage to the left.
I have very different politics from Chomsky, but I agree with Chomsky on this and I also agree with some of Chomsky’s thoughts on the Kennedy administration and on the Vietnam War.
Chomsky is right that this JFK assassination nonsense is really just a distraction from the important discussions that we should be having about state power, about corporate power, and about the military–industrial complex.
The CIA is—hopefully—an intelligence agency that runs at the president’s behest. That’s how the CIA is supposed to operate.
And I think that the JFK conspiracy crowd is really confused and off base to suggest that the CIA was somehow a rogue elephant that wanted to kill JFK. Allen Dulles was a really good friend of the Kennedy family and of JFK and of RFK—RFK actually asked LBJ to have Allen Dulles put on the Warren Commission. JFK and RFK didn’t want to fire Dulles after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and they only fired him after he kept on saying: “I’ve got to go—you’ve got to get rid of me.” They didn’t want to do it, but they finally realized that it was best for him to go—there was no animosity.
And in fact, you can go to the LBJ Presidential Library and listen to the tape of a phone conversation between LBJ and RFK in 1964 where they place a call to Dulles to try to get him to go down to Mississippi to investigate some of the race-related stuff down there and there’s a lot of friendship on that call between RFK and Dulles—it’s clear that they were friends.
There are organizations where elites get together—conspiracy theorists talk about Bohemian Grove, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, and so on. Elite politicians and elite businessmen gather each year in Davos to discuss things and make agreements on a variety of things—are they “conspiring”? I think that that’s just the normal state of affairs between people of that ilk.
I agree with Chomsky that all of this conspiracy stuff just distracts from normal institutional functioning.
The JFK conspiracy people are definitely a cult. It was a huge cult on the left in the ’60s and ’70s, and now it’s becoming a cult on the right—the right sees the assassination as evidence of the “deep state”. You see various right-wing figures going down the JFK rabbit hole—particularly various right-libertarian figures like Lew Rockwell. And Roger Stone has a book that blames the assassination on LBJ.
And Chomsky is right about the harm that the cult caused to the left. Take Mort Sahl—he was a very important figure on the left and he could’ve played an amazing role in raising awareness on a whole variety of real problems, but he decided that the JFK assassination was the thing and he went down the JFK rabbit hole and destroyed his career. So Chomsky is correct about the damage that the cult did to the left.
3) In terms of ICTs, what do you think about their allure? Chomsky commented that ICTs can tell a compelling story about why the world is so rotten—another point is that people whose lives are falling apart will dive into ICTs.
The allure is—as I mentioned—the idea that you have secret knowledge and the idea that you can see connections that other people can’t see. And you can—particularly now through social media—quickly build up a group of like-minded people who share your view about this secret knowledge. So it’s very alluring to think that you’re special.
And once you get into this stuff, you want people to join your in-group. And that’s where the cult-like nature of this stuff is clearly evident—you see the cult-like nature of it all the time. And you see the disdain that the in-group has for people who don’t see the same connections that the in-group sees.
Conspiracy theories are also just a lot of fun—that’s alluring.
The JFK assassination is the original conspiracy theory. And it’s politically versatile—you can use it for whatever political purpose you want. So if you don’t like the CIA, you can talk about the JFK assassination. And if you don’t like US foreign policy, you can talk about the JFK assassination—Oliver Stone really wanted to make a movie about Vietnam, but he decided: “OK, people don’t really want to talk about Vietnam. But I can do a movie about the JFK assassination and that way I can slide Vietnam into the conversation.” So people use the JFK assassination as a tool to talk about other things.
4) What do you think about ICTs’ increasing popularity?
Social media certainly plays a big role in the increasing popularity. And Fox News plays up conspiracy theories as well.
There’s also a lot of completely understandable distrust of mainstream media, which leaves the door open for people to come in with all of these crazy conspiracy theories.
And today it’s easy to throw up a website with all sorts of crazy nonsense and people will actually start to use your website as a source and tweet out links to your website.
5) What do you think about ICTs’ effect on the world?
It’s pretty harmless to sit in your basement and talk about Sasquatch or UFOs or something, but the problem arises when you start to become dangerously disconnected from reality or you elect conspiracy theorists like Jim Garrison to office.
Just look at vaccine hesitancy—you’ve got people who are putting themselves in danger and putting their families and friends in danger on the basis of some conspiracy theory that mRNA vaccines somehow do something to the DNA of your person. So conspiracy theories can be seriously harmful.
And there are all sorts of food- and health-related cults that can actually get quite dangerous for people.
And then you can look at the ways that conspiracy theories can motivate violence against Black people and against Jews and so on—the idea is that there’s some threat to you that you can’t escape from and that you have to take violent action against, so that’s dangerous.
6) What do you think are the best ways to combat ICTs?
I cite—in my 2018 book about the JFK assassination—Gallup data that shows a 20 percentage-point decrease in belief in conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination since 2000, and that decrease correlates with the rise of the internet.
What’s the explanation for the decrease? I think that you have better books out there debunking the conspiracies, but I also think that people can debunk things online—I do this all the time on Facebook and will never convert hardcore conspiracy theorists, but I can actually reach a large number of people who are in the middle and who are just curious about what people are talking about. So the internet does allow debunkers to reach open-minded people.
Of course, debunking things only makes the hardcore believers more cultish—it’s just incredible how angry people get when I debunk things. You wouldn’t believe the insults I get every day on Facebook—people accuse me of working for the CIA and they call me a disgrace or a reactionary or a fascist or a neo-Nazi.
Regarding education, I think that it’s important to teach kids critical thinking and I also think that it’s crucial to give kids a basic foundation of historical facts—it’s important to improve both of these aspects of education.
7) What’s the best way to talk to people who believe ICTs?
There’s just no amount of logic and evidence that can reach them if they’re really hardcore.
But there’s a big middle ground of people who can be reached.
And we should focus our attention to make sure that we always put forward argumentation and logic and facts and that we never go crazy in terms of insulting people. The middle-ground people will see very clearly that you treat people in a calm and polite and respectful way and that the conspiracy people are venomous in their behavior—that sharp contrast will help you reach the middle-ground people.
After I’m done this interview I’ll go on Facebook and there will be about five or six new insults waiting for me from the conspiracy people.
8) There are all kinds of inaccurate beliefs in our society—where do you draw the line as to what’s too crazy to even engage with? My friend said that I went too far in terms of engaging with right-wing conspiracy theories about Covid—we disagreed about where to draw the “crazy line”. And there’s an excellent scientist who even engages with material that says that viruses don’t exist—some might say that that virus-denial material crosses their “crazy line”. And you have to always worry about giving crazy stuff oxygen, but there’s also the danger that ignoring crazy stuff will allow it to grow and spread and metastasize.
I have a lot of friends who wonder why I spend time on the JFK assassination when I could be doing a lot of other things that might be more interesting and fun.
Everybody’s different—everybody has their own line.
And I think that your personal line has a lot to do with where you come from and with what tools and knowledge you think you have—I spend time on the JFK assassination because I used to believe in the JFK stuff and so I think that I have the tools and the knowledge to be useful on that front.
9) To what extent do we see a “pipeline” where people start to believe innocuous ICTs and then move on to believing dangerous ICTs? The idea here is that one day your friend is talking about the JFK assassination and it’s all good fun, and then before you know it they’re talking about how global heating isn’t real or how a secret cabal runs the government or something.
Well, JFK is ground zero—it’s a very usable conspiracy theory for whatever you want to believe in.
I worry that someone who goes down the JFK rabbit hole might never emerge because there’s just so much literature on JFK—there are just so many books out there.
I see the whole conspiracy-theory pipeline every day and it’s a scary phenomenon—I know a very, very lively forum that discusses JFK and I can see that they’re moving toward the Covid stuff about Fauci and Bill Gates and so on.
10) Would you consider the JFK ICTs to be innocuous?
It can be good fun if it’s just you in your basement.
And it’s just generally dangerous for society when unhinged beliefs spread and people start to vote—and act—based on these unhinged beliefs.
How Popular Is the JFK Stuff?
1) How popular are JFK ICTs today and what’s been the long-term trajectory with their popularity? There’s an interesting piece here:
“Most People Believe In JFK Conspiracy Theories” (23 October 2017)
The piece says that “most respondents believed that Oswald didn’t act alone” and that this result held across “pretty much every demographic”.
I saw polling a few years ago that indicated a 20% decrease in belief since 2000—I haven’t looked at the current numbers, but I think that the numbers will continue to go down.
Younger people just aren’t interested in the JFK assassination.
2) To what extent have polls asked Americans why exactly they disbelieve the official story and which exact alternative view they adopt?
I think that it’s more distrust than anything else and I don’t think that most people have any clear conspiracy theory that they actually support.
And of course, conspiracy theorists themselves can’t agree on anything about the assassination.
3) When and to what extent did the right wing join in on the action regarding JFK ICTs, and why?
Right-wing people have really gotten into JFK in the last 10 years—they think that this “deep state” stuff explains everything.
And there are quite radical libertarians who don’t like the CIA and don’t like American adventurism abroad.
Debunking the JFK Stuff
1) What are the most believable reasons you’ve seen that might explain why a high-level conspiracy might have been hatched to take out JFK?
I think that the one that’s really currently in vogue is that JFK wanted to change American foreign policy and have detente with Russia and have detente with Cuba—this is the idea that started with Oliver Stone.
So the idea is that the powers that be had to get rid of JFK because JFK posed a threat to the horrible and ugly and militant foreign policy that they wanted to pursue.
And you can certainly get more specific about the CIA and say that the CIA got rid of JFK because he wanted to smash the CIA into 1000 pieces.
Of course, you can also say that anti-Castro Cubans wanted to get rid of JFK because they were upset about the fact that JFK had reneged on the promise to liberate Cuba. But you might not consider that to be a “high-level conspiracy”.
The right-wingers would link it to foreign adventurism and would say that the “deep state” killed JFK because he was a threat to the “deep state”.
2) What do you think about Chomsky’s 1992 piece “Vain Hopes, False Dreams”? In the piece, Chomsky argues that JFK was a hawk—Chomsky bases his argument on the following:
the “historical facts”
the “record of public statements”
the “internal planning record”
the “memoirs and other reports of Kennedy insiders”
So multiple lines of evidence apparently point toward the conclusion that JFK was a hawk.
I think that Chomsky is largely correct.
Just look at the speech that JFK was going to give in Dallas—JFK was bragging in that speech about increases in the military budget and about weapons. So there’s that whole Cold Warrior element of JFK that Chomsky certainly understands and knows about.
But I don’t know if JFK would’ve gone into Vietnam—like LBJ did—or not. I think that the record shows that JFK did understand some of the pitfalls that the French had fallen into in Vietnam, but we don’t know what JFK would’ve done.
There was a movement to pursue neutralization regarding Vietnam—JFK refused to support that option and it’s hard to square that refusal on JFK’s part with the idea that JFK wanted to get out of Vietnam.
3) In terms of motivation for a high-level conspiracy, how would you respond to the idea that JFK posed a threat to the CIA?
Nobody has been able to demonstrate that JFK actually made any comment about dismantling the CIA. And I don’t think that JFK ever made any such comment.
JFK liked the CIA—JFK may have thought that the CIA had given some bad advice regarding the Bay of Pigs Invasion, but there’s no basis to the mythology that JFK wanted to get rid of the CIA.
4) And the idea that JFK posed some sort of threat to the military–industrial complex?
I’m sure that there were some people in the military–industrial complex who didn’t like JFK.
But so what? Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you’re willing to take the huge step of killing them—it would’ve been treasonous in the extreme to kill JFK.
Lots of people get angry about lots of things and a lot of groups had anger toward JFK—anger is one thing and wanting to go and kill someone is another thing.
And keep in mind that you don’t just have to kill him—you also have to get away with it. So that risk would’ve deterred anyone who was actually willing to go as far as assassinating a president.
Yes, I know about Northwoods, and have written about it. It was one of many proposals (another one by Arthur Schlesinger) about how to create opportunities for a renewed attack on Cuba. There are dozens of such proposals in the declassified record. They are mostly meaningless, and for that reason, are discarded, as this one was. It’s the job of the military to construct contingency plans when they are asked to. They even have plans for invading Canada.
So Chomsky doesn’t think that it makes sense to say that people wanted JFK dead because of Operation Northwoods.
I think that Chomsky is right.
There are all of these contingency plans out there for a variety of things—we should remain focused on what actually happened as opposed to some plan that somebody hatched that was never implemented.
6) The CIA has done a lot of awful things, so why wouldn’t the CIA go after someone domestically if someone posed a threat to the CIA’s interests?
The CIA has done bad things, but the CIA is under the direction of the president—the CIA had all of these assassination plots against various people, but those assassination plots came from the top.
7) How would you respond to the claim that the CIA has acted extremely suspicious regarding the assassination?
Not releasing documents is the CIA’s business—this is what the CIA is all about.
People should come to Canada—up here we have all sorts of government files that are still secret and that have nothing to do with anything. And you can observe that every intelligence agency around the world has this resistance to releasing documents.
Releasing documents is a hassle—you have to get someone to go through everything and make sure that you’re not releasing any information that shouldn’t be released.
Secrecy is the natural course of government—I don’t know why people are so surprised about this.
People always get excited about new JFK material being released. But then you look through the newly released material and there’s nothing there.
8) Is it true that LBJ was one of the most corrupt and evil presidents ever?
He wasn’t any more corrupt than other politicians.
Obviously the Vietnam War is a huge stain on LBJ’s legacy—I’m a huge critic of the Vietnam War. But LBJ was one of the few politicians who actually gave a shit about poverty—maybe because he came from a poor family—so he did a lot of good.
9) At minimum, how many people would have to have been in on a high-level conspiracy to kill JFK? And what are the odds that all of these people would’ve kept the secret over the years?
You don’t need a lot of people in order to kill JFK.
The problem is the cover-up—you wouldn't kill JFK unless you believed that you could cover up your tracks. So the conspiracy theories really become unworkable when you need a whole array of people to tamper with medical evidence and fake the autopsy and so on.
But you could have a very, very low-level conspiracy where somebody encouraged Oswald to kill JFK—we have no evidence that that happened, but that’s certainly possible, although you do have to remember that Oswald was a loner.
The conspiracy theorists don’t want to say that Oswald was the lone gunman. Saying that puts you on a very different and very difficult trajectory—you now have to show something about Oswald and some sort of connection having to do with Oswald.
So the conspiracy theorists have to say that the evidence has been planted or altered. And it takes a lot of people to plant evidence or alter evidence.
10) What do you think about Executive Order 11110?
This is a silly theory about the Federal Reserve and stuff—this is really out there in la-la land with the right-wing conspiracy people.
11) How much assassination-relevant documentation have we gotten over the years, and is it true that this documentation has been highly redacted?
We have every document that’s genuinely related to the assassination. There are some unreleased records that are—under the Assassination Records Review Board’s very expansive definition—“assassination-related”, but people need to understand that these documents aren’t genuinely related to the assassination and are instead to do with the Cold War and Mexico City and Cuba.
So we have all of the genuinely assassination-related documents. And I don’t know of any redactions in the documents. And you have to remember that a redaction only matters if something relevant has been redacted—for example, it’s not relevant if the name of a CIA agent has been redacted.
12) Why did Oswald shoot JFK?
Oswald was living in New Orleans in the summer and fall of 1963—Fidel Castro gave a speech in September 1963 in which Castro warned that American leaders wouldn’t be safe if the attacks on Cuba didn’t stop, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that speech, and Oswald certainly saw that coverage.
Oswald was very, very into Castro—Oswald even had on his mantelpiece a picture of Castro. It’s certainly true that Oswald was disillusioned with Soviet Communism, but all of Oswald’s attention was on Cuba when Oswald returned from Russia—Oswald wanted to go to Cuba.
So Oswald loved Castro—I think that Oswald killed Kennedy as a blow for the Cuban Revolution.
13) To what extent was the CIA monitoring Oswald?
The CIA had a file on him—he was a person of extreme interest.
The CIA was—after he defected—monitoring his mail and intercepting his mail.
14) Was Oswald mentally sound?
I don’t want to get into a big psychological analysis.
But Oswald was a violent person. He drew a knife on his own mother—how many people would do that? And he drew a knife on his stepbrother as well. And he tried to kill General Walker. And he killed Tippit.
So clearly Oswald was a disturbed person who was prone to violence.
15) How much skill did the assassination of Kennedy require? There was a study in which top marksmen tried to reproduce what Oswald supposedly did—the results apparently showed how incredibly difficult the shots were.
Not much—Oswald definitely had enough skill.
Oswald was a very good shot. He was a sharpshooter in the Marines—you can look at page after page in his Marine score book and see how great he really was. And Oswald’s brother also confirmed that Oswald was a very good shot.
And the shots were pretty easy shots—the first shot was 55 yards, and the shot that hit JFK’s head was around 85 yards, and Oswald had around nine seconds to do three shots.
As for the gun, it wasn’t a bad gun in 1963—it was good enough to do what Oswald wanted it to do.
But Oswald would—assuming that the first shot missed—have had maybe nine seconds for the three shots. So the shots suddenly aren’t so difficult if you allow that additional time.
16) Why did so many people connected to JFK and Oswald die after the assassination? How would you respond to the YouTube video about various people who died?
Well, people die—this is what happens in life.
There’s nothing there—the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) actually did a study of all of the people who died after the JFK assassination and they couldn’t find anything at all that was out of the ordinary.
And the problem is that the people who think that there’s something mysterious about people dying will bring in all of these extra people from the periphery—for example, they’ll say that the housekeeper who worked at Oswald’s boarding house died of cancer, but what does that have to do with anything?
So there’s just no mystery when it comes to this matter—there’s nothing out of the ordinary in terms of how many people died or in terms of how the people died.
17) What do you think about the NSA document about the assassination?
This is one of those things that I wouldn’t even touch—Robert Morrow was a complete fraud who wrote a book in which he claimed that he himself was part of the conspiracy and that he himself was involved.
This is so far out there that the conspiracy theorists themselves don’t even take this seriously.
I actually used to correspond with Wecht back in the 1970s—I know Wecht quite well.
Wecht was—in 1972—the second doctor to be allowed to look at the JFK autopsy material. And Wecht wrote a 1972 article in which he said quite adamantly—based on the medical evidence—that JFK hadn’t been hit from the front and that JFK had only been hit from behind.
But Wecht now says the opposite and he doesn’t have any good evidence for his new position. And the way that he sets up the chairs in his single-bullet recreations doesn’t make sense—it doesn’t take into account the limousine’s actual setup.
19) Why do conspiracy theorists want to deny that the shots only came from behind?
They can’t admit that Oswald was the only gunman or else it’s much, much harder to claim conspiracy—they need there to have been a second gunman.
20) Who’s the best conspiracy person in terms of presenting the least bad arguments?
What a question!
Thompson has always been a thoughtful researcher—he’s never resorted to nastiness.
And Summers wrote the big conspiracy books back in the 1980s and he has—over the years—gotten rid of a lot of crazier and less plausible stuff. I think that he now leans towards Oswald being the lone gunman—he focuses on Oswald’s trip to Mexico City and the mysteries around that trip.
I can’t pay attention to this stuff—it’s such a completely out-there ridiculous theory.
People would have noticed—and said something—if someone in the car behind JFK had actually shot JFK.
22) What do you think about the 2015 interview with JFK’s ER doctor?
Think about the situation when they brought JFK to Parkland. He’s wheeled into the emergency room and you’ve got many doctors and nurses frantically removing his clothing and working on him and trying to revive him—the whole commotion lasts around 15 minutes. And then they’re done and he’s dead and it’s over.
So people walk out of that situation—what do they remember? They weren’t examining his wounds—they were frantically trying to save his life. They performed a tracheotomy—they put in a variety of chest tubes and they were monitoring all of this stuff.
So it’s not surprising that a few doctors come out of there and remember things that simply didn’t happen.
But fortunately we have the photographs and the autopsy X-rays—these things show us exactly where the wounds were and exactly what the wounds consisted of. And four doctors from Parkland looked at the autopsy materials and confirmed that it’s exactly what they witnessed at Parkland.
Robert McClelland made some mistakes—he remembers stuff that nobody else remembers. He made a mistake about whether there was a gunshot wound to Kennedy’s left temple—Kennedy wasn’t shot in the left temple and McClelland had to recognize that that was a mistake. And McClelland inaccurately remembers a big wound in the back of Kennedy’s head—that was another inaccuracy.
23) Did the shot that hit JFK in the head make a hole—in the skull—that you can use to determine where the shot came from?
The bullet created a beveling on the skull’s interior—we see this beveling in the autopsy X-rays.
There’s clear evidence that the shot came from behind.
But you can’t trace a clear trajectory—the bullet fragmented when it hit the skull and the bullet fragments exited out of the right side of Kennedy’s head.
You can—however—trace a clear trajectory from the throat wound. And that trajectory goes right back to the Depository window.
24) How did Oswald manage to get busted? He could’ve changed his appearance and gotten as far away as possible.
I don’t think that he ever thought about getting away with it—he probably thought that he was going to get killed in the process and was probably surprised to have gotten out of there alive.
He knew that he was going to get caught at some point—he’d left all of this evidence behind.
I don’t think that he had any plan at all.
25) You said in your 2018 interview with Steve Paikin that two private doctors concluded—in accordance with the official story—that the shots came from behind. But what about the point that the autopsy photos and the autopsy X-rays were never published, and the point that those private doctors’ conclusions were never publicly explained and never publicly supported, and the point that significant doubts remain about the nature and location of JFK’s wounds?
The autopsy material was never published because it’s under the Kennedy family’s control. And that material will probably never be published because the Kennedy family—understandably—doesn’t want people to remember Kennedy based on autopsy pictures and instead wants people to remember Kennedy based on his life.
You can certainly see some of the autopsy photographs on the internet and in books.
Many, many forensic pathologists have seen the autopsy material—the forensic pathologists all agree that Kennedy was shot from behind, although some doctors lacking expertise in forensic pathology have claimed otherwise.
Any doctor can apply to the Kennedy family for permission to see the autopsy material—you’ll probably get permission as long as you have medical credentials.
You can read articles from Cyril Wecht and from John Lattimer—they discuss the autopsy material, which they examined.
There’s a lot to read if you’re interested in what forensic pathologists think about the autopsy material—you can read the extensive HSCA report in which a panel of nine forensic pathologists analyzes the autopsy material, and you can also read two other reports in which panels of forensic pathologists analyze the autopsy material.
These panels of forensic pathologists have all concluded that the shots came from behind.
The conspiracy people claim that the autopsy material has been altered and that that’s why the evidence doesn’t support their view.
26) What do you think about the documentary The Assassination & Mrs. Paine?
I actually met Ruth Paine in Dallas—she’s a very, very nice woman and the things that conspiracy theorists have said about her are scandalous and libelous and ridiculous.
The people behind this documentary should be ashamed of themselves.
27) How would you respond to Lamar Waldron’s writings about the JFK assassination?
He thinks that the mob was behind the JFK assassination.
The mob certainly had the ability to kill Kennedy, but the mob wouldn’t have done it knowing that there was—given the investigative power of the FBI and the CIA and everybody else—no way to cover it up and get away with it and keep the lid on their involvement. So it would make no sense to kill Kennedy knowing that you’ll get caught.
And there’s nothing that would connect Lee Harvey Oswald with the mob.
1) What about the suspicion around the fact that Oswald was about to tell his story and then Oswald was conveniently silenced?
Oswald had two days to tell his story—he had lots of time to say anything that he wanted and there were several hours of interrogation during which he could’ve said anything that he wanted.
Anybody who was truly worried about Oswald saying something would’ve had him killed before he was taken into custody.
2) Isn’t it highly suspicious that Jack Ruby had mob ties?
Jack Ruby didn’t have mob ties.
He knew people in the mob, but they wouldn’t have him—he was such a loudmouth, and he blabbed to anybody, and he wasn’t the kind of person who the mob would want to be in the mob.
3) Isn’t it highly suspicious that Jack Ruby was somehow able to get close enough to Oswald to kill him? How did Ruby get into that building and get so close to Oswald?
Security in 1963 wasn’t like security in 2020. The Dallas police wanted to show the world that they were behaving properly, so there were 100s of journalists wandering the halls of the police station—Ruby snuck down the main ramp when one of the police officers was distracted.
It was a lucky break for Ruby—he only went downtown in order to wire some money to one of his strippers and the Western Union was right across the street from the police station.
4) How did Oswald know that he’d have a chance for a second shot? Or a third shot?
Oswald didn’t know anything—he didn’t even know whether he would get a shot off at all, he didn’t know who would be on the sixth floor, he didn’t know whether the bubbletop would be on the motorcade, and so on.
5) What about the notion that witnesses heard a shot from the grassy knoll?
Any serious analysis of the witnesses will show that very few witnesses reported hearing a shot from the grassy knoll, although you can certainly quibble about which exact number of witnesses reported each thing.
And Dealey Plaza was a bit of an echo chamber, so it makes sense that some people had difficulty in pinpointing where the shots came from—read Abraham Zapruder’s testimony and Lee Bowers’s testimony and you’ll see that they both specifically mention the echoes.
Most witnesses thought the shots came from the Depository.
And nobody—not a single person—saw anybody with a gun on the grassy knoll. The only place that anybody saw a gun was the Depository window.
Dealey Plaza is a tiny place—you’ll find it striking how small it is if you ever go there—so there’s no way that a gunman firing from the grassy knoll wouldn’t have been seen. The people there would’ve noticed that gunman immediately.
And why would the conspirators want to shoot JFK from the grassy knoll if the goal was to frame Oswald?
6) Is it suspicious that Howard Brennan was somehow able to identify Oswald from so far away?
Brennan had exceptional eyesight.
I have several friends who sat where Brennan was sitting and had no problem picking out people who were in the window who then exited the building.
7) What about the claims that Oswald worked on the U-2 spy plane, that Oswald was able to go unmolested into the Soviet Union after declaring an intention to give them state secrets, and that Oswald was then allowed back into the US unmolested?
Oswald didn’t work on the U-2 spy plane—he was a radar operator and there’s no evidence that Oswald’s unit dealt with the U-2.
Oswald didn’t have the security clearance that you’d need in order to access any important secret information.
What could he tell the Soviets? What secrets did he have? The answer is none—he was a lowly private in the Marines.
It’s true that Oswald was allowed to leave, but the people at the US Embassy in Moscow knew that Oswald was just a kid and would most probably want to go back to the United States—they knew that his threat was just bravado and that Oswald had no secrets to divulge.