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The Numbers Don’t Lie: We Never Really Believed It

NOTE: My original plan for October and November, which I posted here, was to blog twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For these 8 weeks, I would blog on Tuesday about writing-related topics, and on Thursday about JFK-assassination-related topics. But with my increasingly-hectic schedule promoting my novel Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition, the Tuesday-Thursday thing went by the wayside a little. So this week of the 50th anniversary, I’ll post two blogs, both on JFK–it’s appropriate–the first of which appears below:

At rock bottom, Americans have a straightforward, common-sense approach to life. We may stray from that common sense for awhile (and there’s enough evidence in our history of that), but eventually, we tend to see things more clearly. Abraham Lincoln once observed (in one of his most-mangled quotes) that “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” (Funniest version I ever heard was Bob Newhart’s famous one on his early comedy album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Listen to it; it’s worth it.)

That same common sense was at work as we observed the incredible events of November 22-24, 1963. What happened on the 22nd was shocking and horrifying. But what happened after that was simply incredible. A Dallas police officer is killed, for no discernible reason, less than an hour after the president, but the two crimes are immediately linked.  A man is arrested for that crime (far away from the crime scene) and then charged with that murder and the murder of the president, though presidential assassins typically proclaim their guilt in front of the media, and this one vehemently denied it. Then the accused assassin, surrounded by seventy police officers and handcuffed to a police officer, in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, is shot dead by a man who had no business being there, while the police just watched? We are then presented with the comic-opera explanation that the killer of the accused assassin (are you following all this?) felt so terrible about Mrs. Kennedy and her young daughter having to return to Dallas for the trauma of a trial that he took it on himself to rid the world of this malevolent menace.

But the man who cried crocodile tears for Jackie and Caroline was a nightclub owner named Jack Ruby, and in the dictionary under ‘unsavory’, you’ll find his picture. Ruby was known to have long associations with the Chicago mob. Less well known are his ties with the CIA (he was involved in some of the earlier CIA gun-running operations, going back to about 1959). There’s also the fact that Ruby had known Lee Oswald for a number of years (documented, among other places, in Judyth Vary Baker’s book Me and Lee, which also documented inconveniently that far from being a monster, Oswald was almost certainly the ‘patsy’ he himself claimed to be, and to go even further, his reason for being in Dealey Plaza that day was not to kill the president, but to try to save him.) How’s that for a twist? (I won’t deal with that here, but there are multiple sources for the notion that Oswald was communicating with the FBI regularly about the plot to kill the president, and that his role may have been to penetrate and expose the plot while posing as a potential assassin. There’s even a suggestion that Oswald may have been involved in quashing the November 2 plot to kill JFK in Chicago–yes, there were similar plots in both Chicago and Miami–check out Max Allan Collins’ Target Lancer for more. That alone suggests way more than a disaffected lone nut, doesn’t it?)

Most Americans didn’t know any of this at the time. Relatively few Americans know it even today. But … what Americans did know then and still know now is … SOMETHING about this case stunk to high heaven.

The numbers don’t lie: pollsters have been asking Americans their thoughts about the Kennedy assassination since the 1960’s, and when they do, Americans say loud and clear that they don’t believe the lone-assassin theory. And the media, trying to spin it, tries to find a way to make their disbelief look like belief.

The latest of such articles was November 3rd, where a Newsmax article was headlined “Poll: Belief in JFK Conspiracy Slipping Slightly“.

Oh, really?

The article stated things rather differently. It conceded that a ‘clear majority of Americans’ still believe there was a conspiracy to kill JFK, but that ‘the percentage who believed accused shooter Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone is at its highest level since the mid-1960’s.’

Hm. And what percent would that be?

Well, according to the April 2013 Associated Press-GfK poll, conducted among 1,004 adults nationwide, it’s a whopping 24%. That’s LESS THAN ONE QUARTER OF AMERICANS. However, 59% (more than twice the number of those who believe in the lone nut) believe there was a conspiracy involving two or more people, and 16% are unsure.

That huge 24% who believe in the lone gunman is the highest since 1966, when 36% who believed in the lone gunman.

Let’s say that again: in 1966 (2 years after the Warren Commission Report was released stating that Oswald acting alone killed the president), only 36% of Americans actually believed in the lone-assassin theory. And that was the highest percentage of Americans who ever did.

That’s just over one-third of the population.

And that was in 1966, after the Warren Commission Report had been widely disseminated and proclaimed as ‘the answer’ in the media, which included all the major newspapers and magazines and on radio and TV (yes, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, I’m talking to you). It was also before any major books had appeared from authors criticizing the Warren Commission Report, which is important: in many cases, those critics were the first people offering important and cohesive evidence that no lone gunman could possibly have committed the crime as the WC said it had been committed. So you could understand why that many people believed in a lone gunman: there was no one offering a reasonable alternative. But even so, the rest of the population didn’t believe it–they knew in their gut something was very, very wrong with that explanation.

Today, the percentage of those who still believe in the Warren Commission has dropped to LESS THAN ONE QUARTER of the population, with more than twice as many who believe in a conspiracy.  And if you add in those who are unsure, the number of people willing to consider the possibility of conspiracy rises to 75%, THREE-QUARTERS of the population.

It’s worth noting here that a 2003 Gallup poll found that 75% of Americans said they believed in a conspiracy. And that’s after it had been pounded into them for FORTY YEARS by Warren Commission defenders that it was Oswald, Oswald, Oswald. They still didn’t believe it.

But let’s play with the numbers in this poll for a minute here, just for fun. The AP-GfK poll has a +- margin for error of 3.9% (I’ll round up to 4 to make it simple). Let’s add that 4% to the lone-nut believers, bringing it up to 28% of who might believe in Oswald alone. Let’s then subtract that same 4% from the 59% who believe it was a conspiracy (which is really 8%, not 4–4 for those who believe in the lone nut PLUS 4 from those who believe in conspiracy). That gives us 55% who believe in conspiracy vs. 28% who don’t — even with all that tampering, it’s still about DOUBLE the number of people who believe in conspiracy. Let’s add that 4% margin of error to those who aren’t sure (16%), bringing that number up to 20%, and assume all those who are unsure would, if pushed, come down on the side of a lone assassin. Then let’s ADD that 20% to the inflated 28% (because of the margin of error) that we already know favor the lone-gunman theory. That would be 48% TOTAL for the lone nutters–but 55% (at the very least, and without adding in the unsure) for those favoring conspiracy.

So EVEN IF we give the entire numbers game to the lone nutters, and reduce the number of people who believe in conspiracy, and inflate the number of people who don’t, and give the lone nutters all those who aren’t sure and inflate that number too… the conspiracy believers come out on top, by at least 7 percentage points (and odds are very, very high that the spread is much wider than that–even allowing for the margin of error on both the lone nutters and the unsure, there’s no way every person who’s unsure will come down on the side of the lone nut).

What that tells me is that Americans still rely on common sense, and that what they do know–about the shooting of JFK and then the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald–still makes them think there’s more to it than what they’ve been told. No matter who tells them, or how often they’re told, that it was just a lone nut, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… well, to Americans, it’s still a duck.

Hope it’s a duck to you, too.

The ‘C’ Word – Why WON’T They Call It Conspiracy?

In my first two blogs about the JFK assassination, commemorating the 50th anniversary of that event and the new release of my novel (co-authored with Kevin Finn), FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition, I talked about the circumstances surrounding November 22, 1963, which many, many people are not really aware of. They know the president was shot and killed in a Dallas motorcade; they know Oswald was arrested and then shot on live television; they know a Dallas nightclub owner named Jack Ruby was wrestled to the ground afterward and that there couldn’t be the slightest doubt that he’d done it, as he’d committed the act in full view of the TV cameras and the seventy Dallas cops (among others) in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters.

But since 50 years have elapsed since then, the details have blurred for a lot of people. I think knowing the details is important, because it gives you a chance to draw your own conclusions. Given only a blurry outline, it’s easy to believe whatever half-cocked theory other people come up with.

This has been a source of continuing irritation for me, for years. I don’t expect the average person to have anywhere near the interest I do in this subject, or be conversant with some of the more arcane topics surrounding it: “Operation Paperclip”, “Alpha 66”, “S-179”, “George de Morenschildt”. (If you’re curious, Operation Paperclip was the secret government operation to transport the top Nazi scientists to the US after WWII ended, to use their expertise to develop rockets of our own; Alpha 66 was the violent anti-Castro group dedicated to overthrowing Castro and establishing a new government in Cuba; S-179 was Lee Oswald’s FBI informant number; and George de Morenschildt was the petroleum expert from a White Russian background (also accused of being a Nazi sympathizer in WWII) who was Oswald’s closest friend–an odd friend for a supposedly uneducated, belligerent whining loser to have, especially as de Morenschildt was also about 20 years older than Oswald. Yeah, I knew you wanted to know. Secretly.)

My point is that if you don’t really know much about the assassination, and you’re told that a blue-ribbon commission appointed by none other than President Lyndon Baines Johnson (JFK’s successor) thoroughly studied the entire event, and after talking to scores of witnesses and with the help of hundreds of exhibits, autopsy photos, x-rays, films and expert advice in many fields, they conclusively decided it had to be Oswald alone … well, you might just believe it.

Because all those smart people couldn’t have gotten that much wrong, could they? And they were acting in our best interests, weren’t they? And they had only the purest motives, right? And they had all the evidence they could possibly need, right there at their fingertips, didn’t they?

Well–uh–yes, they could have gotten it wrong. And they might not have been acting in our best interests, and not with pure motives, and plenty of evidence they should have seen they never did. And when it was finally published as the 26 volumes of exhibits of the Warren Commission Report (making this a 27-volume set that would take up an entire bookshelf in the average home), some of that evidence had been strangely twisted and re-arranged to fit the Commission’s conclusion that 24-year-old ex-Marine Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone nut. (In the last page of the Report, summarizing the evidence, they admit they couldn’t really come up with a motive for Oswald, but attributed that to the fact that he was really SO crazy they couldn’t explain it. I’m not kidding.)

Allen Dulles, the ex-CIA chief, was fired by JFK after the Bay of Pigs in 1961 (and yet this guy, who probably hated JFK, sat on the Commission to study his death? Seriously? Can you spell ‘conflict of interest’???) Dulles, being the charming cynic that he was, said it really wasn’t important what the Warren Commission Report said; the American public didn’t read, anyway.

He was wrong about that. Turns out quite a few Americans, troubled by the events of November 1963, took on quite a bit of reading, from 1963 onward, to try to get at what seemed to be a more plausible truth than what we were told. In fact, virtually all the hard evidence we have that has helped us put at least a sketchy outline together of the events surrounding the assassination, come from the relentless pursuit of fact and truth of private citizens who just couldn’t leave this subject alone. The people supporting the Warren Commission Report — and there are legions of them still, poor things — say that these private citizens still studying these arcane and puzzling bits of history are ‘conspiracy nuts’.

Uh-huh.

Why not? When you can’t make something go away, ridicule it. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

But that doesn’t make the facts of the case any more palatable to anyone who knows them. It’s the ones who DON’T know them, and who want to say indignantly, “How can you say your government is lying to you?”, that give the most trouble. They don’t want to be bothered by facts, and they aren’t guided by logic, so no matter how clear it is that MORE THAN ONE GUN was fired in Dealey Plaza, they don’t want to hear it.

I have a theory that partially explains this. I think of all the nationalities in the world, Americans are perhaps least likely to accept a conspiracy as real, because it’s so against our national character. Generally speaking, we live in the sunlight. We’re open people. Open borders between states. Open about our lives (for the most part) with our families, friends, neighbors. We rush to post our latest doings (and photos/videos of same) on Facebook and tweet about them endlessly.

Conspiracies are dark, quiet things that fester in the shadows. They’re built on whispers and secrets, on people who melt into the background and who lie for a living. So Americans, who can’t imagine living like that themselves, assume NO ONE can live like that. NO ONE could live in another identity (ok, except in witness protection, which is justified). NO ONE could keep that kind of secret. NO ONE could be part of something that unholy, and SOMEONE would have to have talked after all these years, if it had really been a conspiracy.

Well, there are two answers to that. One is that OF COURSE there are people like that. We do have a functioning CIA and other intelligence networks, in which the field agents spend their careers lying, committing illegal acts and gathering information for our country. It’s what they do. And OF COURSE there are professional assassins out there who do ‘wet work’ (killings) on a regular basis. (Like Vince Vaughn’s great response in MR. & MRS. SMITH when asked how he’s doing: “Same old, same old. People need killin’.”) Just because you don’t do it, you don’t believe there are others who do?

The second is that PEOPLE HAVE TALKED FOR YEARS about the assassination and what they knew about it. The problem is, what they say hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention. It should have. There have been deathbed confessions from some pretty interesting people, like E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate burglar, and others. The mainstream media has decided that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, and that’s all they’re willing to say.  Smaller publications have published some very interesting information, but it hasn’t gotten out there, or validated by any government authority or highly-rated media sources.

So people are still uneasy about calling it a conspiracy, when it can’t be anything but.

Stay tuned.

The JFK Assassination (#2) – November 22, 1963 Continued

In my first post on the JFK assassination last week (honoring the release of Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition, which I co-authored with Kevin Finn), I discussed the events of the assassination itself–that tragic Friday in November 1963 that changed our world.

Today, let’s continue with those events–in which you may begin to see a disturbing pattern:

After the president was pronounced dead, Lyndon Johnson, now the new President, was hustled out of Parkland Hospital under heavy guard and taken back to Air Force One, still on the tarmac at Love Field. He immediately took steps to take the oath of office on the plane, calling an old friend, Judge Sarah Hughes, who lived in Dallas, and asking her to come to Love Field to administer the oath, calling a shell-shocked Bobby Kennedy in Washington to ask for the wording.

Meanwhile, Earl Rose, the County Coroner, was at Parkland Hospital insisting on doing an autopsy on JFK’s body, which was Texas law (it was not yet a federal crime to kill a president, so this was a standard homicide). But JFK’s Secret Service detail and some of his aides were so shocked and angry that they were in no mood to bend to Texas law. Their Commander-in-Chief had just been murdered, and they’d be damned if anyone would touch his body in Texas! Rose was (literally) shoved aside as they called for a local mortuary to deliver a casket. The president’s body was wrapped in a sheet (his blood-soaked clothes had been cut off in the operating room) and placed inside a heavy mahogany coffin. And over Rose’s continued protests (and he was legally in the right), the president’s men took the coffin back to Air Force One, where Jackie Kennedy insisted she would sit with it all the way to Washington. She was disturbed only once; when Sarah Hughes arrived to administer the oath, Lyndon Johnson requested Jackie’s presence at his swearing in. He also requested that photos be taken, and that the ceremony be recorded on tape (which it was). The famous photo of that ceremony (which we mention in Forward to Camelot) showed a solemn Johnson with a pious hand raised, another hand on a book (JFK’s own Catholic missal–prayer book–which was all they could find to use for the oath. We deal with this at length in the novel–it’s the lynch pin of our plot–though in the context of history, it’s a minor point.) Next to him stood Jackie, her eyes staring at nothing, blood still visible on her pink jacket (though Cecil Stoughton, the Army captain who took the photo, did all he could to minimize the bloodstains). It is one of the most haunting images of the day–the new president so eager to be sworn in that he can’t even wait to get back to Washington, insisting that the widow of the dead president witness the moment. Once the ceremony was over and the camera stopped clicking (and one disturbing photo shows LBJ with a big smile), Sarah Hughes left the plane and Air Force One lifted off for Washington. The Kennedy contingent sat with the coffin in the back of the plane, away from the Johnson people, who were hustling along busily at the front.

Back at Dealey Plaza, the site of the shooting, there was chaos. Horrified spectators, some of whom had hit the grass at the sounds of gunfire, were being questioned by police, after many had initially run up the hill now called the Grassy Knoll, hoping to nab a shooter behind the picket fence, where they had heard shots. A motorcycle cop named Marion Baker had run into the seven-story brick building at the corner of Houston and Elm Street, the Texas School Book Depository, looking for a shooter there, and after locating Roy Truly, the superintendent, ran into a young man in the second-floor employee lunchroom, very calm and drinking a coke. The young man was Lee Harvey Oswald, a new employee, and after Baker drew his gun and asked Truly if Oswald worked there and Truly said yes, they left Oswald alone.

Oswald left the building shortly afterward, still alone, and made his way by bus and cab to the rooming house where he was staying temporarily in Oak Cliff, a rundown residential section of Dallas. There he went into his tiny room, changed his shirt and picked up his revolver. His landlady heard a horn honking outside and saw a Dallas police car pulled up at the corner by her house. Oswald left the house and walked several blocks.

Some minutes later, a Dallas police officer named J.D. Tippit was patrolling in his police car near Tenth and Patton, where he stopped a man walking by, who leaned in and conversed with him for a minute through the window. As Tippit got out of the car, the man fired three shots at him, in front of several witnesses. Tippit was dead before he hit the ground. The man ran off. (Here’s where it gets confusing, because while some witnesses saw one man, others saw two, who split up and ran in different directions after the shooting.)

In any case, Oswald was spotted by a shoe salesman some minutes later on Jefferson Boulevard, not far from the site of the Tippit shooting. He was at the Texas Theater, where he did not stop to buy a ticket but just walked in. The shoe salesman called the police, and when the house lights went on in the theater, the salesman pointed out Oswald sitting alone in the audience. After a short scuffle (in which Oswald called frantically to the other people in the theater, “I am not resisting arrest! I am not resisting arrest!”), he was handcuffed, his face bruised, and led outside. He was taken to Dallas police headquarters, where word began to spread that he was the man who had murdered J.D. Tippit and likely, assassinated the president.

But disturbing contradictions were turning up. The Dallas police, all familiar with firearms, had found a weapon at the Texas School Book Depository, a rifle stamped “Mauser”, which all of them knew was a superior German rifle. However, within less than 24 hours, the police were reporting that the weapon found was a cheap, inaccurate Italian rifle, a Mannlicher-Carcano (which the FBI quickly found Oswald had bought by mail order earlier in the year). All trace of the “Mauser”–all mention of it–was suddenly hushed. And when the FBI ran the rifle through their world-class fingerprint lab, they could not find a print.

The witnesses at the Tippit shooting were also problematical. Their description of the gunman (or gunmen) did not come close to fitting Lee Harvey Oswald–though supposedly it was in response to that description that he had been picked up by police. Witnesses said the man firing the gun was short, heavy-set and in his 30’s. Oswald was 24 and very slender. To make matters worse, the cartridges the police found at the Tippit murder scene were made for a pistol. But Oswald owned a revolver, not a pistol. And even more peculiarly, the cartridges didn’t even match each other. Dallas PD Officer Poe, who marked them with his initials for the chain of evidence, could not find his initials on the cartridges he was shown later, which indicates they were not the cartridges recovered at the scene.

Oswald was interrogated at police headquarters for over 12 hours, but not one word was recorded (which meant none of it could be admissible in court later). When he was paraded in front of reporters his demeanor was calm, and instead of proclaiming his great deed in front of the world, he stubbornly maintained that he had not shot anyone and further, that he had nothing against Kennedy. When he was shown some of the evidence seized in a search of the garage where he had stored some of his belongings, he told the police that the photo of him holding a rifle and a pistol and dressed in black was a fake; it was his head pasted on someone else’s body.

Constantly present when Oswald was in public was a Dallas nightclub owner named Jack Ruby, who was well known to the Dallas police and liked to host them at his club, the Carousel. Footage available on YouTube shows Oswald being moved in and out of various rooms at police headquarters, with a man who looks a lot like Jack Ruby never far away.

Kennedy’s body was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital for an official autopsy, but there too, strange things were happening. Orderlies saw different caskets brought in at different hospital entrances–one the expensive ceremonial coffin bought in Dallas, the other a cheap gray casket. The wrapping of the body was different, and most oddly, the doctors at the autopsy (and all those present in the room) saw an entirely different kind of head wound than the one described by a dozen doctors and nurses who attended Kennedy at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. (Check out David Lifton’s Best Evidence for more information on these strange anomalies, including the alarming possibility that JFK’s body was altered to make the wounds look different and more consistent with a single shooter than multiple shooters.)

The surreal weekend continued, with Oswald paraded in a bizarre police lineup where he was placed with teenage boys, which angered him. Who couldn’t pick him out of that group? (Among those who did was an hysterical woman named Helen Markham, who claimed to have talked to Officer Tippit for 20 minutes after he was shot. Since he was dead on impact, that must have been some conversation.)

On Sunday morning, as the world mourned and the president’s body was lying in state (where a quarter of a million people would file by to pay their respects), newsmen were notified that Oswald was finally going to be moved to the Dallas County Jail. Surrounded by police (and handcuffed to one), Oswald moved forward in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters, where a car was waiting. TV cameras were rolling; the whole world was watching.

There was a sound of a car horn blaring, and suddenly a man leaped forward and fired. It was Jack Ruby, and that one shot smashed into Oswald’s stomach and dropped him at the scene. He was rushed to Parkland Hospital, where doctors tried to stabilize him, but the effort was hopeless. He was pronounced dead.

The president was dead. A Dallas police officer was dead. The accused assassin was dead, shot on live television in front of millions.

What the hell was going on?