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The Conspiracy Buster

By R. Alan Clanton | published Thursday, January 2, 2014 |
Thursday Review Editor

November of 2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the media was filled with newly-produced full-length documentaries, multipage magazine spreads, entire special sections in major newspapers, as well as several new books on the subject, tomes released by publishers to coincide with what was expected to be a boom of renewed interest. Not above the mundane business of careful and crafty marketing, Thursday Review prepared two long-form Front Page articles on the subject (now available on our Politics Page), each of which received some of the highest click-rates in TR’s stint as an online publication. Indeed, a simple screen shot image of our Front Page from Friday, November 22, 2013—which we used with a routine promo blurb on Facebook—very nearly went viral, producing the most “likes” and “shares” we had ever experienced.

Kennedy's death left a deep scar on the American psyche, as it was, arguably, the most shocking moment of political violence in the nation's history since the close of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Over the years, a dozen or more major theories have emerged in the wake left by the final report issued by the Warren Commission (full name: The Official Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy).  The usual suspects include the CIA, organized crime and Mafioso figures, shadowy investment tycoons and Wall Street types, the top brass at the Pentagon, rogue elements of the FBI and military intelligence, Fidel Castro and Cuban operatives, and Lyndon Johnson.  Many of the theories most commonly portrayed in the popular press and in movies and TV involve some combination of two or more of the aforementioned players.

Even now, a majority of Americans believe that there was a conspiracy involving the death of the beloved Kennedy.

But over the decades one question has always been an intriguing one: were it not for the persistent ebbs and flows of Americans in their belief that JFK’s assassination was the result of conspiracy—i.e., that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone—would not the big industry of investigating his death and exploring complex webs of deception by powerful forces…would not these promoters eventually run out of steam? One could make the even more annoying argument that if the assassination buffs and theorists would cease and desist, and along with it their money-making machine of conspiracy, Americans might tilt easily toward the notion that Kennedy’s killing was, in fact, the work of a single, troubled young man.

After all, the single gunman advocates have little—if anything—to gain from their simple quest. The more elaborate and hexagonal the assassination scheme, the more likely that money can be made from new books, motion pictures and full-scale documentaries. How likely is it that Hollywood would ever produce a film with the modest thesis that Oswald acted alone?

For most scholars on the subject, the only major attempt to debunk the great conspiracy theories, after the Warren Commission’s final report, came from author Gerald Posner, whose 1993 book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, offered the most sober and compelling argument yet that Oswald, using an inexpensive Italian-made rifle, had acted alone.

But there are other persistent gadflies in the long, enduring process of skepticism.

One of those debunkers is John McAdams. McAdams, an associate professor of political science at Marquette University, has made his after-class passion the business of disproving the complex theories of the conspiracy advocates. And he is not afraid of tackling almost every aspect of the case. McAdams has built a huge website with hundreds of links to articles, books and research materials on the topic of the Kennedy assassination—including his own essays and investigations. The website features a long list of departments and categories ranging from the obvious—subtopics such as Dealey Plaza, Lee Harvey Oswald, Medical Evidence and the so-called Single Bullet Theory—to the more obscure, such as the spurious claims by some that witnesses in Dallas on that infamous day have been systematically murdered, or have a higher than average death rate as compared to the general population (statistically they do not).

McAdams also presents direct assaults on some of the most popular, mainstream vehicles for conspiracy discussion, including an entire section devoted to Oliver Stone’s film JFK, an electrifying and well-crafted movie which nonetheless took frequent liberties with the facts of the case. McAdams also takes head-on New Orleans DA Jim Garrison’s now famous trial of Clay Shaw, whom Garrison and his team in the late 1960’s charged with being a part of the conspiracy to kill Kennedy (Stone built much of his screenplay around Garrison’s failed court case).

McAdams also addresses one of the quirkiest of the theories: Kennedy, caught in the turmoil and chaos after the first shot was fired, may have been killed by accidental gunfire from a Secret Service agent—not exactly premeditated conspiracy, but a tragic foul-up which might have propelled a cover-up by agents and those security personnel around Kennedy. (Another theory holds that the assassin’s true target was Texas Governor John Connally, not the president; Oswald, after all, had already fired a bullet into the home of General Edwin Walker in Dallas).

But by far the most interesting and useful aspect of McAdams’ website is his reading list (we made mention of several of the most prominent of the major books in our November articles here), which includes dozens of the best books on the subject of the JFK assassination. McAdams offers brief descriptions and direct links to the works of many of those studies, including books by Jim Marrs (perhaps the best known and earliest of the conspiracy-advocate books), Gerald Posner, Edward Jay Epstein, Vincent Bugliosi, Anthony Summers and Garry Wills.  McAdams own book on the subject, JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think About Claims of Conspiracy, can be found at Amazon and other online book sources.

(For more on this subject, check out our recent articles by Kevin Robbie and Alan Clanton; you can visit John McAdam’s website by following this link: The Kennedy Assassination, by John McAdams )