Conspiracy Theories Old and New

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Photograph of the Texas School Book Depository taken by Howard Brennan in 1964. Warren Commission Exhibit 477.

It’s Halloween 2017 and, perhaps appropriately, old and new mysteries of murder, collusion and conspiracy involving the highest realms of government — including the White House — have taken center stage.

On Friday, Oct. 27, the National Archives and Records Administration released 2,800 documents, held by the FBI and the CIA for 25 years, relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Hotly anticipated, this final document dump was supposed to definitively confirm or deny the Warren Commission’s official and controversial single-shooter, single-bullet conclusion about who shot JFK and why. But at the last minute on Friday, the National Archives held back the release of some records “for national security reasons”; these will be reviewed, re-redacted and released (perhaps) six months from now.

Also released that week, coincidentally, was the movie “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.” It’s a drama about the highly personal back story of “Deep Throat,” the FBI whistle-blower source who secretly leaked key information to the press about the complex conspiracy behind the Watergate break-in, eventually bringing down the Nixon presidency. The number-two FBI official, Felt was known as “the G-man’s G man,” the ultimate loyal FBI man. His identity as Deep Throat was not revealed until shortly before his death in 2008.

Also coincidentally, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, the stunningly refurbished Watergate Hotel opened its “Room of Scandal” for a press preview. Room 214 is where conspirators Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, working for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, directed the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the building across the courtyard. The décor by “Scandal” costume designer Lyn Paolo in the room, which goes for about $800 a night, includes 1970s tape recorders, cameras and walls adorned with news articles about the 1972 break-in and about Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.

All this is happening in a news environment dominated this week by the indictments of several of President Donald Trump’s campaign advisors for money laundering, lying while under oath and other alleged felonies. Possible collusion with the government of Russia to disrupt or even influence the 2016 election by officials in the Trump and/or Clinton campaigns lies at the heart of the investigation.

The release of only a portion of the “final” JFK documents was disappointing to researchers, though no surprise to some. Many Americans are skeptical about the single bullet, single shooter explanation of the Nov. 22, 1961, assassination and the circumstances behind the shooting on live television of alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald while in police custody a day later.

Various alternative scenarios and conspirators have been suspected over the years, including Cuba, the Russians (that is, the Soviet government), the Mafia, the FBI, the CIA (connected to Oswald in ways that remain unclear), even the Secret Service. In 2013, Roger J. Stone published his book “The Man Who Killed Kennedy,” accusing then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson of plotting the assassination after he learned that the Kennedys were considering dropping him in the next election.

Conspiracy theories were spurred on by Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie “JFK.” Renewed interest in the assassination drove Congress and President George H.W. Bush to pass the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act, mandating the release of all documents 25 years from Oct. 26, 1992. Conspiracy theorists were maligned during the ensuing years. But freelance investigative journalist Andrew Kreig claims: “We now know conclusively that the CIA led the way in a secret propaganda campaign against the American public to manipulate the nation’s news media to popularize the smear ‘conspiracy theorist.’”

President Trump in early October promised full release of all the records. But of the 2,800 newly released documents, only 59 had not been seen before, at least in redacted form. The new records added some context to Oswald’s already well-recorded visit to Mexico, just weeks before the assassination, to request a visa to the Soviet Union, but to date little else.

In the end, it may not matter what we know or what the facts are, at least according to Kreig, who states: “The official story will never be changed. J. Edgar Hoover, along with LBJ, Earl Warren and the members of the Warren Commission understood that it was impossible to tell the American people that their president has been assassinated by the U.S. military and U.S. security agencies. At a dicey time of the Cold War, clearly it would have been reckless to destroy Americans’ trust in their own government.”

Today, distrust in government, the media and most institutions, including universities, is high. Many believe these disconcerting times of mistrust began with the assassination of JFK and Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

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