Response to Dave Reitzes’ At the Fringe of Reason
JFK at the Fringe of reason: Pseudoscience and Pseudhistory in the JFK Assassination.
By Dave Reitzes
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy occupies an almost absurdly controversial place in American culture.
The vast majority of criminal investigators and forensics experts who investigated the case and have studied it in the decades since agree that the evidence points conclusively to a lone assassin.
BK: TOTALLY untrue, as many of the official investigators, including Richard Sprague, Robert Tannenbaum, Gaeton Fonzi, G. Robert Blakey et al., concluded the assassination was the work of more than Oswald, and some, like Gary Cornwell, believe Oswald was the assassin, but there were more than one shooter, and others believe if it was the work of a lone assassin, he was an agent of a larger intelligence network.
The President was struck by two bullets fired from above and behind him; the bullets were identified as having been fired from the rifle owned by Lee Harvey Oswald, to the exclusion of all other weapons. Three spent cartridges found inside a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, overlooking the assassination site, were proved to have been fired from Oswald’s rifle. Oswald was employed in the building as a laborer, and was inside without an alibi when the shots were fired.(1)
BK: Wait a minute, that’s all true until you get to the part of Oswald not having an alibi. What about Baker and Shelly at 12:31.30? They prove Oswald didn’t come down the stairs since Shelly didn’t see Oswald and Baker only saw him through the vestibule window, at the same time someone was seen in the Sixth Floor Sniper’s window. If not Oswald, who was that? Baker and Shelly provide Oswald with an alibi, if you believe them.
Criminal investigators, scientists, historians, and journalists commonly dismiss JFK conspiracy theories as no more worthy of consideration than, say, “9/11 Truth” theories alleging U.S. government complicity in the September 11 bombings.
BK: While CIs, scientists, historians and journalists do commonly dismiss JFK conspiracy theories, as most JFK conspiracy theories are bogus, they have given serious consideration to the 9/11 Truth questions and allegations, some of which are outrageous and ridiculous but they were given serious consideration (I attended most of the 9/11 Commission hearings). And most CIs, scientists, historians and journalists ARE interested in the assassination of President Kennedy and have many divergent views and perspectives of it, but like most professions, all professions, some 20% think Oswald did it alone because he was nuts and 80% believe there was more to what happened at Dealey Plaza than Oswald, and thus a conspiracy. Most scientists, historians and journalists don’t acknowledge their interest or pronounce their beliefs on the JFK assassination because it is not in their best professional interests.
In professional and academic circles, many equate Kennedy conspiracy theories with such pseudoscientific or paranormal beliefs as extraterrestrial visitation, alien abductions, hauntings, and extrasensory perception (ESP). From this point of view, JFK conspiracy theories are at best a distraction, and at worst, potentially misleading and corrosive.(2)
BK: Yes indeed, one of the principles of psychological warfare is to equate the unresolved murder of a president with such pseudoscientific, paranormal beliefs and extraterrestrial visitations, and it is indeed misleading and corrosive, except it is there, and not only because people like you try to associate those interested in the truth behind the assassination with such things. When I interviewed Michael Paines’s stepfather Arthur Young (the inventor of the Bell Helicopter), Young asked me if I was an alien, and expressed interest in UFOs, aliens and ESP. So was it a coincidence that at the very moment of the assassination Michael Paine was talking about political assassination with a co-worker at Bell Helicipter lunchroom. So what is the connection? I think it stems back to the intentional decision to develop and use the UFO phenomenon as a cover for the U2, satellite recon and other advanced research developments, but that’s just a hunch.
Yet polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans believe the assassination of JFK was the work of a conspiracy. A 2003 ABC News poll found that only 32 percent of American adults believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in Kennedy’s murder, 51 percent believe there was a second shooter, and more than two-thirds believe there was a government cover-up.(3) A 2004 FOX News poll found that 74 percent of Americans believe there was a cover-up, and a 2006 Scripps poll found that 40 percent of American adults consider it either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that U.S. officials were directly involved in the President’s death.(4) A 2003 Gallup poll found that 34 percent of the population believes that our own Central Intelligence Agency was involved in Kennedy’s demise.(5)
Which side is right?
BK: It doesn’t matter what the polls show. Even if everyone thought like you do and were convinced that Oswald killed JFK on his lonesome, there still would be the legal mandate as a suspicious death to have a proper grand jury investigation and conduct a proper forensic autopsy of the victims. The investigation of a homicide is not based on public opinion polls.
How can we be so certain that there is no validity to the idea that John Kennedy was overthrown by what filmmaker Oliver Stone termed, in his blockbuster 1991 film JFK, a coup d’etat?(6) After all, conspiracies do happen, sometimes even at the highest levels of our government, the Watergate scandal being an obvious and uncontested example — albeit “a rather pitiful botched conspiracy,” in the words of one commentator.(7)
BK: You can’t be certain since there is validity to the idea the assassination of President Kennedy was not just a conspiracy by some local yahoos, mafia goons, or renegade Cubans and CIA operatives, but a full fledged coup d’etat, not because Oliver Stone made a movie about it, because that’s what the records and the evidence in the case suggests.
The common denominator between the coup d’etat paradigm of the JFK assassination and the realm of pseudohistory, pseudoscience, and the paranormal is methodology.
Michael Shermer, prolific author and publisher of Skeptic magazine, defines pseudohistory as historical claims advanced “without supporting evidence and plausibility and presented primarily for political or ideological purposes.”(8) (Holocaust denial, for example, is a widely accepted example of pseudohistory.)(9)
BK: No Dave, let’s not use Holocaust denial as an example, let’s use the Kennedy assassination. And indeed, it is a test of one’s methodology.
How do we judge what is history and what is not? “The key,” Shermer observes, “is the ability to test one’s hypothesis.”(10)
BK: Dave, do you have a methodology or an hypothesis? My methodology is to approach the crime as a Crime Scene Investigator, and after discussion with Prof. K. Rahn, I developed an hypothesis, one that if followed, can lead to the resolution of the crime.
Unfortunately, in the case of the conspiracy theorists, Occam’s Razor (the principle that the theory that involves the least number of assumptions is probably the correct one)
BK: And doesn’t apply to the JFK Assassination because the theory that involves the least number of assumptions is that Oswald did it, but as any reasonable detective would also discover, the circumstantial evidence is so conclusive it appears contrived and when viewed closer, it is contrived, so there is more to what happened at Dealey Plaza than just Lee Harvey Oswald, and thus Occam’s Razor is out the window.
seems to have been supplanted by what we might call Garrison’s Dictum, after onetime New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who led a tragically misguided farce of an investigation into the JFK assassination in the late 1960s, and became the inspiration for Oliver Stone’s movie. Garrison told the world, “The key to the whole case is through the looking glass. Black is white and white is black. I don’t want to be cryptic, but that’s the way it is.”(11)
BK: Indeed, and they are words of wisdom because that’s the way it was set up and supposed to be, as it would only make sense if JFK the liberal was killed by a rabid Southern Yahoo racist, but he wasn’t, according to Occam’s Razor, he was killed by a Castro loving Commie, who hung around with neo-fascits White Russians. Which doesn’t make sense unless you go through Alice’s Looking Glass and down into the Ozzie Rabbit’s hole, where black is white and white is black.
Shermer notes that scientists strive for objectivity (“basing conclusions on external validation”) and avoid mysticism (“basing conclusions on personal insights that elude external validation”).(12) That’s not the way conspiracy theorists seem to think. A statement Jim Garrison made in 1969 offers some insight into the conspiracy-oriented mindset:
BK: Now remember we’re getting insight into how 80% of the people think – the “conspiracy oriented mindset” that Dave apparently has an uncontrollable compulsion to figure out and understand.
You see, most people don’t realize we’re living in a totalitarian state. Most citizens of this country live — we live — in the world that appears to be, while those in power live in the world that is. . . . Especially those hiding behind the intangibles of power in the government and the military complex and the CIA. When you recognize and deal with the intelligence apparatus in this country, you’re encountering the world that is.(13)
BK: Well President Eisenhower pretty much said the same thing in his farewell address, so we all know about the Military Industrial Complex.
Many of the Kennedy conspiracy theories seem to flow from this premise. When inevitable anomalies arise in the evidence, the simplest solution (human fallibility) is brushed aside in favor of sinister, more complex scenarios involving shadowy government agents and operations.
BK: No, we don’t just jump at that conclusion. But when we look at these people – and we are not making these people up – when you look at DeMohrenschildt, Schmidt, Bouhe, DeMenil, Ferrie, Bannister, Bringuier and the Paines, you can’t help but get mixed up in shadowy government agents and operations, as that’s what they were and what they were doing. They’re the friends and associates of the guy YOU say killed the President, but yet you deny that there’s a dozen intelligence agencies and networks operating here?
For example, contradictory descriptions of the President’s wounds lead to theories of forged autopsy reports, forged photographs and X-rays, and even the wounds themselves being altered or another body substituted for autopsy.(14)
BK: Well, we do have three autopsy reports in evidence, which one is the right one? We do have photographs that the photographer who took them said aren’t the ones he took, and we don’t have X-rays that were taken, where’d they go? And according to the two FBI guys standing right there (Sibert & O’Neil), before beginning surgery the doctor said there was “surgery to the head.”
Disparate recollections of the official examination of the President’s brain lead to a theory of two separate examinations of two separate brains.(15)
BK: Therse aren’t disparate recollections, these are the reports of the surgeons and photographer that there were two brain exams, one with Dr. Finck and one without him, and there are photos of a brain that isn’t JFK’s brain because it was photographed in a solution the color of which indicates it was in the jar for weeks before JFK was even killed, so it’s not his brain. And since JFK did have a brain that makes two brains, right? Not disparate recollections, but the recorded, photographed and documented fact.
Divergent descriptions of Lee Harvey Oswald throughout his life lead to scenarios concerning CIA Oswald imposters.(16)
BK: Why do they have to be CIA Oswald imposters? Whose the conspiracy theorist here? You Dave.
In his book, Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer has isolated some of the most common problems with pseudoscientific thinking. With some qualification, these problems apply to pseudohistory in general and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories in particular. Let’s examine some cases in point.
“Anecdotes Do Not Make a Science”(17)
Eyewitness accounts can enrich the historical record and fill in gaps where hard evidence is inadequate or inapplicable, but they cannot, in and of themselves, supplant or invalidate hard evidence.
BK: Besides hard evidence and the written records, that we know are also often wrong or intentionally deceptive, eyewitness accounts are the best evidence anyone can go on, it’s just a matter of determining who and what to believe.
Conspiracy theorists commonly express the opposite view.
BK: I don’t understand the fascination you share with Bugliosi and DVP and Prof. Rahn about so-called “Conspiracy Theorists,” since these people compose 80% of the population. It’s like trying to study left handed or blue eyed people. Why bother?
For example, author Harrison Edward Livingstone
BK: I was going to say that Livingstone is a bad example, but okay, he’s your typical “Conspiracy Theorist,” if you really need to pick on one.
(High Treason) writes that “if a group of doctors all say that they saw a certain type of wound, and there is no credible evidence to controvert it, giving credence to a suspect photograph is a mistake. A contradictory photograph should be suspicious rather than the statements. Their observation becomes a fact.”(18)
If a number of eyewitnesses describe a wound of exit towards the back of the President’s head, Livingstone says, then “the photographs and X-rays showing the back of the head [intact] are false and cannot possibly be correct.”(19)
BK: Witness testimony trumps photo evidence every time, as Dino Brugioni points out in his book of fake photos. And in the case you describe, Doug Horne contends that the photos aren’t faked but the head was doctored to hide the gaping exit wound with a flap of hair.
Radiation oncologist David W. Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., argues:
The legal principle is that eyewitness testimony has priority over photographs. This principle was turned upside down by the battalions of lawyers who worked for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) and for the WC [Warren Commission]. For them, against all legal precedent, the assumption was always the reverse: if the witnesses disagreed with the official view, it was assumed that they were in error or even lying. On the other hand, the photographs (and the X-rays, too) were assumed [sic — see below] to be immutable monuments to truth. In a real trial, no competent judge would have permitted this illegal approach.(20)
BK: The HSCA wasn’t a judicial court of law but a congressional hearing, where the witnesses are sworn, but the evidence not reviewed by a jury, who would take the eyewitness testimony over photos.
“It is curious,” attorney Milton Brener once observed, “that among the career critics of the [Warren] Commission there are few who qualify by training or experience as investigators, and fewer yet whose lives have been spent in the evaluation of evidence.”(21) This lack of training and experience can be detected in the conspiracy theorists’ reliance on eyewitness testimony and handy dismissal of the physical evidence that contradicts their hypotheses.
BK: Whose Milton Brener? I agree, I think the case should be reviewed by trained and experienced investigators and the evidence and witnesses they uncover should be presented to a grand jury, and we shouldn’t have to rely on a bunch of amateur students and sluths to do it.
Things get even more confusing when people come forward with strange, unverifiable tales of conspiratorial goings-on. Journalist James Phelan writes:
There are certain sensational cases that have a fascination for unstable people and fetch them forth in droves. A classic example was the “Black Dahlia” mutilation murder of playgirl Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles. Over the years, dozens of people came forward and confessed to this crime, which still remains unsolved. Celebrated cases also attract witnesses who are not psychotic, but who falsely identify key figures out of faulty memory or a desire to lift themselves out of dull anonymity into the spotlight. Chief Justice Frankfurter once commented that eyewitness testimony is the greatest single cause of miscarried justice. In a sensational case, a careful prosecutor often spends more time winnowing out false witnesses than he does working with authentic ones.(22)
BK: You don’t have to bring in such an unrelated and bizzare case as the “Black Dahlia.” There’s plenty of examples right among the JFK character witnesses. Didn’t James Phelan write a book about the Garrison case, American Grotesque? So he knows the characters.
“Scientific Language Does Not Make a Science”(23)
A minor movement of sorts was launched in 1998 with the publication of Assassination Science: Experts Speak Out on the Death of JFK, edited by James H. Fetzer, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The book was intended, Fetzer writes, “to place the investigation of the assassination of JFK on an objective and scientific foundation.”(24)
But not a single “objective and scientific” contribution to the book ever passed muster with a peer-reviewed, scientific journal. Instead, the editor decides who qualifies as an “expert” and what constitutes an “objective and scientific” study.
In one chapter, historian Ronald F. White, Ph.D., offers what might be construed as an explanation of sorts, warning that
historical research published in scientific journals must always be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. Scientists simply are not trained in the basics of historical research and therefore are not likely to be very critical of their sources. For the study of the Kennedy assassination, gullibility can easily poison one’s research. To make matters worse, the peer review process in scientific journals becomes distorted when the reviewers, who are themselves non-historians unfamiliar with the details of the assassination, serve as referees. Unlike historians who are trained to carefully scrutinize the authenticity of the primary evidence, scientists and physicians tend to limit their professional critique to issues of methodology. Therefore, science journals are notorious for producing bad history.(25)
Historians would do a better job, White suggests, because they take into account issues important to “assassination experts,” such as eyewitness testimony, hearsay, and lay interpretations of forensic evidence.(26)
The scientific method represents a highly idealized and perhaps naive vision of human inquiry. Because scientists are, by their very nature, idealists, they have always been among the first to be duped by political power.(27)
The legacy of this kind of reasoning is a bewildering array of theories that multiply with each passing year, and no end in sight.
BK: Well, Professor Fetzer is usually the first Conspiracy Theorist to be quoted by mainstream media, and is a typical example of such thinking – and he does, like Prof. Rahn at the other end of the spectrum, conducts classes in “critical thinking.” While his three anthologies were apparently not vetted, edited or peer reviewed properly, they do present some examples of the “Conspiracy Theory” mindset. But rather than multiply, the possible solutions to the assassination of President Kennedy are getting more narrow, and those who want to know can figure it out without getting too confused, as you appear to be.
“Bold Statements Do Not Make Claims True”(28)
“One unerring mark of the love of truth,” John Locke wrote in 1690, “is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant.”(29) This thought was echoed by David Hume some decades later: “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”(30)
And, as Michael Shermer notes, “the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinarily well-tested the evidence must be.”(31)
It makes one wonder what evidence of conspiracy has been tested so thoroughly and successfully to allow James Fetzer to categorically state that “anyone sincerely interested in this case who does not conclude that JFK was murdered as the result of a conspiracy is either unfamiliar with the evidence or cognitively impaired.”(32)
BK: Locke, Hume, Shermer and Fetzer, now there’s four aces for you. Yes, stick to the evidence and test your hypothesis. And that quote you attribute to Fetzer should actually be attributed to Charles Drago, of the Deep Politics Forum.
Heresy Does Not Equal Correctness”(33)
Jim Garrison wrote, “For the government and the major media to have acknowledged what virtually everyone knew (that Kennedy had been fired at by a number of guns) would have put an end to the sacred pretense that the President’s assassination was a chance occurrence.”(34)
But there is nothing “sacred” about the idea that a lone gunman killed the President; it’s simply the conclusion that flows most logically from the evidence.
BK: But it is the wrong conclusion that simply flows most logically from the evidence, since the evidence points to a man with an alibi, and a man who claimed to be a Patsy, a man with extensive ties to numerous intelligence networks and a man who was clearly framed for the crime. And that’s the logic of it.
“Burden of Proof”(35)
The burden of proof lies with the person making the extraordinary claim. It is not enough for conspiracy theorists to pick at the “official” conclusion, as creationists do with the theory of evolution.(36) As with evolution, the case for Lee Oswald’s guilt is constructed of neatly interlocking, mutually corroborative pieces of hard evidence.(37) Chipping away at one facet cannot falsify the whole, nor can this method validate an hypothesis of conspiracy.
BK: The burden of proof lies with the prosecution and since the alleged assassin was killed while in police custody by another Lone Nut, it is the responsibility of those who believe there was a conspiracy to provide the evidence that someone other than Oswald was responsible for the murder of the President and/or officer JD Tippit. Agreed, that just proving Oswald innocent is not enough, and those actually responsible should be identified and brought to justice, even at this late date.
“Rumors Do Not Equal Reality”(38)
Perhaps you’ve heard that Jack Ruby (the strip club owner who gunned Oswald down during an abortive police transfer two days after the assassination), was hired by the Mafia to silence the assassin. Or that Oswald was a secret agent. Or that the President was killed by the CIA, which he had reportedly threatened to splinter into a thousand pieces after the Bay of Pigs disaster. Or that the military-industrial complex murdered him to keep him from withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam. Or that the same forces responsible for JFK’s death also took out Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no factual basis for any such stories.
BK: The alternative is that JFK was killed by a psychotic nut case and his death has no connection whatsoever with his life, role as president or his policies.
“Unexplained Is Not Inexplicable”(39)
Michael Shermer observes, “Many people are overconfident enough to think that if they cannot explain something, it must be inexplicable . . .”(40) Shermer is referring to the natural world, but it applies equally well to historical events.
BK: I’m the one who says that it can and should be explained, and those who claim Oswald did it are the ones who claim “we’ll never know.” Well we do know and we can know more.
Conspiracy theorists commonly demand answers to questions that are impossible to answer conclusively from the available evidence. For example, if Oswald did it, what was his motive? (We don’t know; he never confessed.)(41)
BK: What if he didn’t confess because he didn’t do it? Why should he confess to something he didn’t do. “Don’t believe that so-called evidence, brother,” were among his last words to his brother. What’s the motive of the Fall Guy and Patsy?
But if he wanted to become important or famous or to accomplish something for a political purpose, why didn’t he confess? (Fair question, but Oswald’s still not talking.) Why are there discrepancies — sometimes seemingly minor, sometimes perhaps not — between the many different reports, photographs, and other items of evidence in the record? (Practically every criminal or historical case has loose ends or discrepancies. Would it ever be possible to explain every conceivable detail to every critic’s satisfaction?)
BK: Actually the opposite is true. Once a case is “cracked,” and suspects identified and focused on, as Josiah Thompson has pointed out from the cases he’s been associated with, they do come together, and most of the outstanding questions are answered, including motive.
Just because we don’t have explanations for everything hardly invalidates the evidence we do have.
BK: No, it just makes the evidence you do have suspicious, like saying we have a photo of Oswald with the gun, and his handwriting on the form, and his fingerprint on it, so it doesn’t matter how he got it out of the post office while he was working. The evidence will come together when the case is cracked, and it won’t fall apart, as it did with the Warren Commission’s conclusions.
“Failures Are Rationalized”(42)
One of the key tenets of many conspiracy theories is that President Kennedy was fatally shot from a patch of land to the President’s right, commonly known as the grassy knoll, not from the Texas School Book Depository building behind him. One argument frequently advanced in support of this hypothesis is that eyewitnesses at Parkland Memorial Hospital who attempted to save the President’s life (but did not examine his wounds) tended to describe an apparent exit wound on or extending into the back of the head, consistent with a shot from the front. There are ways of testing this hypothesis.
For example, one can examine the photographs and X-rays taken at the President’s autopsy, as numerous experts have done — including a panel of nine forensic pathologists retained by the House Select Committee reinvestigating the assassination in the 1970s — and confirm that the photographs display a small, beveled wound of entrance on the rear of the President’s head and a large wound of exit on the right side, forward of the ear. The photos show no large defect in the rear.(43)
One of the expert pathologists consulted by the House committee was Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., then coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, a nationally prominent expert on forensic pathology, and long one of the most vociferous critics of the Warren Commission. In 1967 Wecht had noted the critical importance of the autopsy photos and X-rays (which were controlled by the Kennedy family and inaccessible to researchers at that time), stating that the X-rays “might help us decide whether or not the President was struck more than once in the head.”(44)
Given the opportunity to study these materials a decade later, Dr. Wecht was the only one of the nine-member HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel who dissented from the conclusion that President Kennedy had been shot only from the rear. While conceding the evidence for a second head shot from the President’s side to be “Very meager, and the possibility based upon the existing evidence is extremely remote,” Wecht insisted that the evidence was insufficient for him to rule out the possibility of such a shot.(45)
When asked why his eight co-panelists, whom he agreed were eminently qualified in the field of forensic pathology to render an expert opinion, would take the position that the original autopsy report’s conclusion of a single head shot from behind was accurate, Wecht speculated about possible government affiliations that could taint his colleagues’ integrity.(46)
BK: Like I said before, it isn’t a matter of general consensus or majority rules, all it takes is one forensic pathologist to rule a death suspicious and to order a proper inquest, forensic autopsy and grand jury investigation, the legal means that the Constitution provides for such cases.
When the photos and X-rays fail to support their hypotheses, conspiracy theorists commonly assert that some or all of them must be forgeries. The House committee’s panel of expert photographic analysts subjected the films to careful scrutiny utilizing state-of-the-art methods, and uncovered no evidence of forgery;(47) but since the release of the committee’s report in 1979, theories postulating forged evidence have multiplied rather than declined.(48)
BK: Yes, the HSCA panel of expert photographers concluded the backyard photos were authentic, and also concluded that the Powell/Dillard photos were authentic, and that they indicated that someone in the Sixth Floor Sniper’s lair window moved boxes around after the last shot. This conclusion jives with two eyewitness accounts, including the primary eyewitness to the shooter, Howard Brennan, and Ms. Mooneyham, from the court across the street, who saw someone in the window moving boxes. So if Oswald is down on the second floor with Baker and Truly, whose that in the Sniper’s window mintues after the last shot? You want to believe the HSCA photo pathology and photo panels when it suits your fancy, but not when it goes against the grain of your theory as to what happened.
It is commonly believed that Jack Ruby killed Oswald on behalf of the Mafia, but there is no evidence for this. It is often pointed out, however, that Ruby made several phone calls to Mob-connected individuals in the months prior to the assassination. Is this evidence that the Mafia ordered Oswald’s murder?(50)
“Correlation does not mean causation,” Michael Shermer reminds us.(51) Just because one event follows another does not mean they are related. In fact, a great deal of testimony indicates that the phone calls in question were related to Ruby’s professional grievances with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), which represented the strippers he employed at his nightclub. The AGVA “was riddled with corruption and compromised by its mob connections,”(52) so anyone dealing with the AGVA could have been rubbing shoulders with the Mob, whether they realized it or not. There is no evidence that Ruby had any significant relationship to organized crime or that any of his phone calls or actions were related to a conspiracy.(53)
BK: In his book “The Enemy Within” RFK details how they figured out complex organized criminal conspiracies by following the phone calls and patterns that developed from their investigations of the communications that went into the crimes. Ruby’s pals were among those investigated, and his calls to them were suspicious because of their dramatic increase in the weeks and months leading up to the assassination. And if you believe Ruby had no significant relationship to organized crime you are only kidding yourself. Nor do I believe that the Mafia killed JFK, as the FBI had most of the leaders wiretapped and as Ralph Salerno, the organized crime specialist hired by the HSCA, if they were behind the assassination it would have been revealed in their taps of the phones of the mob leaders. And I agree. Ruby’s killing Oswald is another thing.
“In the paranormal world,” Shermer observes, “coincidences are often seen as deeply significant.”(55) By the same token, coincidences play a vital role in the world of conspiracy theories.
BK: Yea, I thought so too, until I read David Atlee Phillips’ autobio Nightwatch – 20 Years of Peculiar Service in which he relates how as editor and publisher of the local paper, he once changed the horoscope in order to recruit a particularly supersticious agent, and how the book The Big Con, the basis for the movie The Sting is used to train “the black arts” to prospective CIA operatives. As Phillips said, “The intelligence profession does not encourage one to accept coincidence as the cause of events.”
For example, New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison thought it highly significant that a phone call was placed in September 1963 from a New Orleans attorney’s office, where an alleged Oswald associate named David Ferrie (more about whom below) was employed, to a Chicago apartment building where a woman named Jean Aase (and many other people) lived; Jean Aase would later be connected to a sporting goods salesman named Lawrence Meyers, who would visit Texas and socialize with Oswald’s assassin Jack Ruby on the evening prior to JFK’s assassination.(56)
Political scientist John McAdams writes:
Thus, David Ferrie had a (very tenuous) “connection” with Oswald, and a tenuous “connection” with Jean Aase. Aase, in turn, had a real connection with Lawrence Meyers who had a real connection with Jack Ruby who had a real connection with Lee Oswald: he shot and killed him.
Given that each of these people had equally close “connections” with at least dozens, and sometimes hundreds of people, there had to be hundreds of thousands, and probably millions, of people with as close a connection to Oswald as Ruby had through Meyers and Aase and Ferrie.(57)
BK: No, you and McAdmas, get those connections wrong Dave. That phone record is HARD EVIDENCE that you previously mentioned only in passing. And it was made from the law office of Carlos Marcello’s attorney G. Ray Gill, to the Chicago hotel where Jean Aase lived, that was owned by White Russians and operated by a business associate of Ruby’s friend Larry Meyers. Meyers called the same number, and Jean Aase accompanied Meyers to Dallas on the weekend of the assassination, vistited with Ruby and became entwined in the assassination story. Another suspect, Jim Braden, stayed at the same hotel as Meyers and Aase, and then left Dallas and went to his business partner’s office on the same floor of the same building as Marcello’s attorney Gill. So the call comes full circle in light of Braden’s actions. While it could have been anybody in Gill’s office, it is Gill and Garrison who claim it was Ferrie who made the call, on September 24, 1963, the day Ruth Paine took Marina to Texas, Oswald split New Orleans for Mexico, the Joint Chiefs were briefed by the CIA on the use of Operation Valkryie to get Castro and the day they confirmed and announced the details of JFK’s visit to Texas. But unlike McAdams’ irrational and illogical evaluation, the phone records are considered HARD EVIDENCE that trump witness testimony and photos, and this is one phone call that deserves further investigation.
“We forget most of the insignificant coincidences and remember the meaningful ones,” observes Michael Shermer. He writes:(59)
We must always remember the larger context in which a seemingly unusual event occurs, and we must always analyze unusual events for their representativeness of their class of phenomena. In the case of the “Bermuda Triangle,” an area of the Atlantic Ocean where ships and planes “mysteriously” disappear, there is the assumption that something strange or alien is at work. But we must consider how representative such events are in that area. Far more shipping lanes run through the Bermuda Triangle than its surrounding areas, so accidents and mishaps and disappearances are more likely to happen in the area. As it turns out, the accident rate is actually lower in the Bermuda Triangle than in surrounding areas. Perhaps this area should be called the “Non-Bermuda Triangle.”(60)
BK: The Bermuda Triangle might be a myth, but what happened at Dealey Plaza wasn’t. It was murder, and trying to equate the assassination with the Bermuda Triangle myth doesn’t make it a valid comparison of anything.
One of the most durable bits of folklore surrounding the JFK assassination concerns the “mysterious” or “convenient” deaths of assassination witnesses. In 1967 Penn Jones, the editor of a small Texas weekly newspaper, publicized a list of eighteen deaths he claimed were related to the assassination. In a widely reported blunder, The London Sunday Times used Jones’s list to conclude that the odds against all eighteen dying within three years of the assassination were one hundred thousand trillion to one. But the Times had not taken into account the tremendous number of people involved with or tangentially related to the Warren Commission investigation (for example, Jones’s list included the cab driver who gave Oswald a ride shortly after the assassination, journalists who wrote about the case, and the husband of one of Ruby’s strippers), and discovered, after publishing its first edition, that its calculation of odds was nothing more than “a careless journalistic mistake.”(61)
BK: You don’t have to take the “Mysterious Deaths” as an example. Sure many of them aren’t mysterious at all. But you have to take the list of related, unsolved homicides serious, as they aren’t mysterious at all, but remain unsolved homicides that are related.
In cases involving the paranormal, Shermer concludes, one “would be well advised to first thoroughly understand the probable worldly explanation before turning to other-worldly ones.”(62) One should also give full consideration to non-conspiratorial possibilities before assuming that a conspiracy is required.
BK: Absolutly. First it is determined if a death is natural or unnatural, and then it is determined if it was a conspiracy. In fact, none of the related, unsolved homicides are the result of anything other-worldly, but for the most part, any reasonable investigative law enforcement officer would conclude they were a conspiracy by their very nature.
Thousands of conspiracy-oriented claims have been advanced about the Kennedy assassination, but examining them calls to mind acclaimed astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s conclusion about his youthful interest in the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFOs: “All in all, the alleged evidence seemed thin — most often devolving into gullibility, hoax, hallucination, misunderstanding of the natural world, hopes and fears disguised as evidence, and a craving for attention, fame, and fortune.(63)
On that same subject, Sagan notes:
Everything hinges on the matter of evidence. On so important a question, the evidence must be airtight. The more we want it to be true, the more careful we have to be. No witness’s say-so is good enough. People make mistakes. People play practical jokes. People stretch the truth for money or attention or fame. People occasionally misunderstand what they’re seeing. People sometimes even see things that aren’t there.(64)
Other observations of Sagan’s regarding belief in extraterrestrial visitors seem relevant as well:
I’ve found that the going-in attitude of many people is highly predetermined. Some are convinced that eyewitness testimony is reliable, that people do not make things up, that hallucinations or hoaxes on such a scale are impossible, and that there must be a long-standing, high-level government conspiracy to keep the truth from the rest of us. Gullibility about UFOs thrives on widespread mistrust of government, arising naturally enough from all those circumstances where — in the tension between public well-being and “national security” — the government lies.(65)
Here Sagan has isolated two causes that apply equally well to JFK conspiracy believers: belief in the reliability of eyewitness testimony and mistrust of the government.
BK: Absolutly correct. The widespread mistrust of government began with the assassination of President Kennedy, and accelerated with the issuance of the Warren Report and continued to decline with Watergate and ABSCAM and the WMD in Iraq and continues today, and won’t abate until the original issue of the assassination of the president is resolved. And it will be one day.
With the coming of the Atomic Age and the Cold War, the U.S. public was vulnerable to fears of threatening technologies and insidious infiltrators around any corner. With the unexplained death of the President in 1963 followed by growing discontent, both in the domestic and international arenas, Americans became increasingly prone to conspiracy theories. As Senator Joseph McCarthy vividly demonstrated in the 1950s, such a climate can be exploited to devastating effect.
BK: Except the government’s continued attempts to reclaim the public’s confidence has failed, and will continue to fail, no matter how hard Bugliosi, Hanks, McAdams, Rahan and Reitzes tries.
In the right environment and with a little fortuitous help, pseudoscientific or paranormal movements can catch fire due to the efforts of as little as a single person. For example, hairy wild men roaming the Pacific Northwest were little more than a legend until a prankster named Ray L. Wallace reportedly strapped on some 16-inch, wooden “feet” in 1958. Thanks to the tracks found at the construction site Wallace was managing in Humbolt County, California, “Bigfoot” became a
Writer John A. Keel likewise attributes much of the credit for the widespread interest in UFOs to Raymond Palmer, whom Keel dubs “The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers.”(67) Ray Palmer was a science-fiction writer who, as editor of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories in the 1940s, boosted sales with yarns about bug-eyed monsters and other visitors from outer space, occasionally decorating the covers with circular, saucer-like spaceships. Such phenomena, Palmer strongly suggested, were real.(68)
The Coming of the Saucers
As writer Martin Kottmeyer observes, the term “flying saucers” came into being in a rather ironic fashion. On June 24, 1947, businessman Kenneth Arnold was piloting his private airplane over Washington State’s Mount Rainier when he saw what he described as a series of nine, somewhat crescent-shaped, flying objects. The way they flew, he said, was “erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water.”(69)
The objects Arnold reported “were not circular” like saucers, he would clarify, but “flying saucers” is what they were dubbed by the national press. “Soon everyone was looking for these new aircraft which according to the papers were saucer-like in shape,” Kottmeyer writes. “Within weeks hundreds of reports of these flying saucers were made across the nation.”(70)
In the words of writer Lionel Beer, “Possibly no one was more surprised by Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 story, regarded as the UFO sighting that triggered off the ‘modern era’ and certainly gave the phenomenon its first popular name — flying saucers — than Ray Palmer. Palmer’s fiction had become a reality!”(71)
BK: Dave, if you want to compare big foot and UFOs to the murder of the President, you can, but you are only confusing yourself. As Kenn Thomas (See: Steamshovel Press ) has studied, John Crisman , another JFK suspect was involved in that UFO caper that you write about, and as I have speculated, the whole UFO phenomena was part of a psychological warfare ploy to cover for the U2, satellite recon and other advanced weapons research, that just happens to be based at Area 54.
If the field of JFK conspiracy theories has a Ray Palmer of its own, a strong candidate for the position would be Jim Garrison.
BK: You can compare Jim Garrison to the flying saucer guy if you want to, but on the whole, Garrison just got a piece of the action, as I don’t believe that the New Orleans Yahoos were responsible for what happened at Dealey Plaza any more than the Mafia were. But the bottom line is Garrison did what no other prosecutor has yet done, and that’s convene a grand jury of ordinary citizens to review the evidence of crimes related to the assassination and indict those suspected of having committed those crimes. Now that still has to be done.