JFK Was Shot by a Marxist – Get Over It
I visit Dealey Plaza and check out the infamous “picket fence.”
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 is a tragedy carved into the conscience of almost all American adults, even those with no personal memory of that day. I visited the scene of this vile crime on a Monday afternoon in March nearly fifty years after it happened and found over a hundred persons present, at least three of them weeping.
Despite the grim nature of the event, pedaling conspiracy theories that supposedly refute the government’s finding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman has become a cottage industry, with several people making an income selling conspiracy related books, photos and DVDs. And then there is Oliver Stone’s 1992 movie JFK, a popular film that made no bones about its thesis that President Kennedy’s murder was a right-wing plot, and “proved” it using actors and props and special effects and lots and lots of innuendo.
A right-wing plot? Well, sure. At the time, there were organizations that the press had labeled “right wing extremist” (the John Birch Society, for example – the “Birchers”) who strongly opposed some of President Kennedy’s foreign policies, particularly the way he dealt with the Soviet Union. Others opposed the president’s support for civil rights (automatically winning them the label “right wing,” according to the media) and others didn’t like him being president while being a Catholic.
And we all know that these “right wing” types are naturally violent, don’t we?
So imagine President Kennedy taking a trip to Dallas Texas. In the eyes of the liberal press, “redneck” country. A place where right-wing kooks and extremists roam free, many with guns. The president insisted on riding past crowds of screaming people, screaming Texans, in an open-air vehicle.
And then the news breaks: the president has been shot.
Based on the political climate at that moment, what do you think the liberal press, and much of the government and media elite at the time, assumed about the person or persons who shot him?
It was assumed the murder was performed by the right – those Birchers.
As people slowly recovered from the initial shock and disbelief, the news broke that a man had been arrested and charged with the murder of both a Dallas police officer and (later that night) the President of the United States. People wanted to know: who is this guy?
Details about Lee Harvey Oswald emerged bit by bit: He had lived in Russia. Had defected to Russia, renounced his American citizenship in fact, then came back to the U.S. two and a half years later. He had been an active member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization. He had been interviewed on a radio program three months earlier and was asked directly whether he was a Marxist. He replied, “Yes, I am a Marxist.”
Hmmm . . .
It was not supposed to be this way.
So many Americans, particularly the media elites, academia, and the Left, simply knew that President Kennedy was shot by a hate-filled right-wing nut job. They just knew it.
When the president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, was first told about Oswald, she reacted with astonishment. She said, “He didn’t even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It had to be some silly little Communist.”
What a shocker.
As time went on, the media elites and their ideological cohorts on the Left began to form a theory that a right-wing cabal in the government, aided by or originating with the C.I.A., planned and executed the assassination as a coup, or an armed overthrow of a legitimately elected government authority – the president of the United States. They did this, they speculated, with the knowledge and consent of Vice-president Lyndon Johnson and with the understanding that once the coup was accomplished and Johnson assumed the presidency, he would implement certain policy changes – such as the escalation of American presence in Vietnam.
The falsehood that John F. Kennedy was killed by “the right” continues to this day. Writing recently in a Huffington Post article, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said, “Jack’s death forced a national bout of self-examination. In 1964, Americans repudiated the forces of right-wing hatred and violence with an historic landslide in the presidential election between LBJ and Goldwater. For a while, the advocates of right-wing extremism receded from the public forum. Now they have returned with a vengeance — to the broadcast media and to prominent positions in the political landscape.”
Incredibly, not once in the 870-word article about assessing blame for his uncle’s murder did Mr. Kennedy mention the name Lee Harvey Oswald.
No Conspiracy Theory is Supported by Hard Evidence
The dirty little secret the conspiracy theorists don’t want you to know is they have never been able to produce a shred of hard evidence supporting any conjecture that it was anyone other that Lee Harvey Oswald – a self-proclaimed Marxist – who shot at President Kennedy that afternoon in Dallas.
For example, nearly all conspiracy theorists will tell you that there was at least one other gunman on the grassy knoll. Why didn’t anyone see him? He hid behind the picket fence at the top of the knoll, under a strand of trees and out of view, and shot the president from the front at the same time Oswald was shooting from behind.
What evidence do they offer? No shell casings or anything like that were ever found behind the fence. No one actually saw a person with a rifle or a firearm near the fence either. Instead, conspiracy enthusiasts offer grainy video showing three very quick, very tiny flashes of light from near the fence. Those were the gunshots, they believe. Plus, several witnesses have been found who claim they saw puffs of smoke behind the fence – at the same time everyone was diving for the ground or running for their lives.
Could those tiny flashes and smoke puffs be a gunman? Sure. But they can also be bits of sky flashing through the tree leaves and smoke from someone’s cigarette or nothing at all – just a mistaken memory in the heat of the moment.
No, say the conspiracy theorists – there was a gunman back there. Had to have been. Part of the right-wing coup, you see.
Does it really make sense to stick a shooter behind that fence? I’m no expert in sniping, but I do have a modicum of common sense, so I know that any sniper position must meet two requirements: it must be discreet, where people would not see you and possibly apprehend you, and it must allow a clear shot at a moving target – and that target should not be moving across the shooter’s field of view. It should be moving mostly toward or away the shooter’s position, because if it is moving across, it will be difficult to hit.
What sort of distant moving target would you rather shoot at – one moving toward or away from you, or one moving across your line of vision? With an equal distance, which would be easier to hit?
The key, I believe, is the fence. Is it a decent sniper nest? I had to visit the fence and see for myself.
The Picket Fence
I had been to Dealey Plaza only once before, on a cold, windy, rainy December evening in order to eat dinner in downtown Dallas with a colleague. That night I saw the Schoolbook Depository and the grassy knoll but little else – the scene was smaller than I expected.
This visit was on a sunny afternoon and the familiar Plaza still struck me as much smaller than it appears in photos and video. The scale seemed compressed, almost as if it was a half-scale mockup for a movie set. If you’ve never been there, trust me – the grassy knoll that appears as a big expanse of green is actually quite small. The critical factor was this: the picket fence was close – close to everyone who was watching the president drive by.
Like many Americans, I’ve seen many programs and documentaries about the assassination and I’ve read a few books on the subject – both supporting and refuting the conspiracy theory. I’ve wondered: what the heck is behind the picket fence? If I went up there, what would I find? Is it credible that a gunman would be able to shoot from behind that fence and escape without anyone getting a good look at him?
I walked around to the back of the fence. There’s a small parking lot back there, everything out in the open, few places to hide. I walked up against the back of the fence and imagined I was trying to select a sniper’s position. I surveyed the street and spotted the two white “X” marks painted on the asphalt showing the spots where the first bullet struck President Kennedy and where the second, fatal bullet struck.
The president’s limousine would have been traveling mostly across the sniper’s field of view. There would have been some motion toward the shooter’s position, but I can see that the degree of cross-motion was huge.
If the quick “flashes” the conspiracy theorists claim are images of the shooter’s rifle shots are for real, they must have been using an automatic rifle. They would have had to pick up the shell casings before they made their getaway. The rifle shots would have been loud – we’re talking super loud – and lots of people would have been standing quite close – we’re talking tens of feet and as little as twenty feet or so. Yet, no one saw the rifle or anyone with a rifle.
To my admittedly untrained eye, the picket fence would have been a terrible position for a shooter.
I am skeptical – very skeptical.
There is a public museum in the building that was once the Texas Schoolbook Depository – the Sixth Floor Museum – and I also checked out the spot from which Oswald took his shots (photography is prohibited). I looked out the window only three feet away from the window Oswald aimed his rifle from. The distance to the two white “X” marks painted on the street is not far at all – not as far as it appears in photos – but more importantly: at the instant he was hit by both bullets, John F. Kennedy would have been moving almost directly away from Oswald – there would have been very little cross motion. The rifle could not be seen from the street at all – and Oswald used boxes of schoolbooks to block the interior view of his shooting position.
The sixth-floor window on the east end of the Texas Schoolbook Depository would have been a terrific position for a shooter.
The Conspiracy Guy
A few feet from the picket fence I found the display table of Mark A. Oakes, conspiracy enthusiast and seller of DVD’s, video tapes, books, and document reproductions proving Lee Harvey Oswald could not have acted alone.
Mark offered a non-stop explanation why there had to be a gunman behind that picket fence. His evidence was twofold: the testimony of witnesses who saw puffs of smoke and “someone” moving back there (but no rifle, no one actually shooting) and a short video showing three quick flashes. I listened to Mark and found he had a tendency to mention Oliver Stone’s movie JFK quite frequently, every two minutes it seemed.
When someone feels they need to repeatedly reference a Hollywood movie as part of their “evidence,” that makes me really skeptical.
I asked Mark if he had read Vincent Bugliosi’s book Reclaiming History. He did not answer directly, but he made it clear he did not think highly of the work. I had read the book (1648 hardcover pages!) cover-to-cover a few years ago. I thought that Bugliosi, an attorney, did a very thorough and convincing job of refuting every major claim made by conspiracy theorists, and then some. There is a full chapter devoted to every aspect of the controversy – whether it’s plausible that Jack Ruby was an assassin sent to rub-out Oswald before he spilled the beans, for example – and each chapter is as long and complete as a small book. It’s a big read, sure, but I could not quit until it was done. I agreed with the author’s premise (expressed pointedly in the book’s title) that the true nature of this historical tragedy had been stolen from us by those with an ideological axe to grind – people who simply could not accept that it was a left-wing zealot – not a Bircher – who murdered the president.
Various groups of tourists – on this Monday afternoon, mostly middle-aged – listened to Mark with rapt attention and seemed to believe what he was telling them. I asked what evidence he had outside of witnesses who saw “something” they could not precisely describe as being a gunman. My question was not answered directly, but Mark made it clear that the evidence of the witnesses was incontrovertible and there must have been at least one other gunman behind the fence. He recognized my objections about the line of fire as coming from Buglios’s book, and he did not refute them – he only offered testimonials and references to statements made by Ed Asner’s character in Oliver Stone’s movie.
People were buying Mark’s materials – paying cash, walking away with pamphlets and DVD’s of interviews and “never before seen” footage of the assassination. I politely asked one young man who had just purchased a DVD to balance his knowledge by also reading Reclaiming History, which I assured him was carried by most public libraries. He ignored me.
What’s frustrating is that most Americans “learned” most of what they “know” about John F. Kennedy’s assassination not from books or teachers but from the Oliver Stone movie. The movie is just that – a movie, a work of fiction, filled with scenes that never took place but are presented as historical fact. It is a myth, for example, that Lee Harvey Oswald was a bad shot. Oswald enlisted in the US Marine Corps, and every Marine is trained to be a competent marksman before they leave boot camp. In Oswald’s case, he qualified as a sharpshooter and he may have been one of the best riflemen to graduate from Paris Island ( see Reclaiming History for more detail). The F.B.I. conducted on-site tests years ago to confirm that an average marksman could hit a target from Oswald’s position moving as the president’s limousine was moving. It is not a difficult shot. Yet, Ed Asner’s character in JFK assures us that Oswald could not hit the side of a barn.
Another popular myth destroyed in Reclaiming History is that Jack Ruby, the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald on national television two days after the assassination, had “mob ties” and he was part of the conspiracy, tasked to rub out Oswald before Oswald “talked.”
First, Oswald had two days to “talk.” Why hadn’t he talked already?
Jack Ruby was a nightclub manager well known for his red-hot temper and his habit of carrying a loaded revolver in his jacket pocket. He had pulled the revolver on several patrons in his nightclub in order to get them to leave.
On the day Oswald was shot, Ruby was on an errand to wire money to one of his employees who needed it for an emergency. Western Union records show that Ruby wired the money just minutes before he shot Oswald. Ruby left the Western Union office and noticed some commotion going on outside the Dallas Police Headquarters. He asked someone and he was told Oswald was about to be transported to the county jail. Ruby walked into an open garage. Seconds later Oswald was brought out and, video shows, he was grinning broadly and acting as if he enjoyed the attention. Ruby instantly pulled his pistol and shot Oswald in the stomach – police testified he was infuriated and muttering “Oswald!” in a hate-filled tone.
Ruby left his beloved dog in his car – because he expected to be right back after he wired the money.
If Ruby was “assigned” to rub out Oswald, would it make sense to be in position only seconds before Oswald came out of the building? He nearly missed his one chance to be near Oswald. How would you coordinate something like that? Were the police officers and F.B.I. agents moving Oswald “in on” the conspiracy?
The more details that are examined, the less credible the conspiracy becomes. Almost certainly, Oswald acted alone. And without a doubt, he was a creepy little Marxist. But today’s cultural left can’t accept that – it was a right-wing coup, they insist, no question about it – the hate-filled conservative bigots killed our president.
As a man once said, some people just can’t handle the truth.