The JFK Files Show that Reality Can Be Just as Strange as Conspiracy Theories

The 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been a source of intrigue and fascination for over half a century. The conclusion of exhaustive investigations was that the former army rifleman Lee Harvey Oswald carried out the killing on his own initiative, motivated by fame and his resentment of Kennedy’s anti-communism.

Conspiracy theorists have put forth numerous alternative plots usually involving multiple gunmen. It is no wonder that a grand scheme to kill Kennedy - a strident president who made many enemies during a time of Cold War paranoia, bitter social divisions and powerfully organised crime - was suspected in the murder’s aftermath.

President Donald Trump - perhaps to distract voters from his own shady activities - has heralded the long-planned release of secret government documents related to the assassination. The files contain no proof of a conspiracy but they do disprove the cynical assumption that investigations into one were obstructed.

The files show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation made inquiries into potential plots by various parties: including mobster Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union, Texan politicians, Oswald’s military colleague David Ferrie, the far-right extremist John Birch Society, and the Dallas Police Department linked to Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby.

The files might disappoint JFK theorists, but they do showcase evidence of actual conspiracies

The FBI attempted to track down Oswald in Dallas a month before the assassination, after which the Dallas PD failed to act on a tipoff from the FBI that there was a death threat against Oswald before he was killed by Ruby.

Unsurprisingly the Central Intelligence Agency suspected that Oswald - who once defected to the Soviet Union and campaigned for peace with Fidel Castro’s Cuba - was following the orders of the KGB. Meanwhile the KGB, which often spread misinformation as a propaganda tactic, implicated Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson as the real orchestrator. The Soviets worried that the assassination could spark a nuclear war if they were blamed for it.

The files might disappoint JFK theorists, but they do showcase evidence of actual conspiracies. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy resisted efforts by the CIA to recruit Mafia hitmen to kill Fidel Castro. After the disaster of the Bay of Pig invasion, it exhibits the CIA’s willingness to indulge in criminality to achieve its aim.

To manipulate public opinion, the CIA sent operatives into news organisations and considered carrying out terrorist attacks against Cuban refugees in Miami that they would blame on Castro. We learn of their plots to kill Soviet-allied independence leaders in the Congo and Indonesia, and spying on civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. for his links to communist activists.

Another civil rights activist, Malcolm X, was vilified for arguing that Kennedy’s killing was in retaliation for the CIA execution of the anti-American Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. Now we discover that Kennedy's own successor as president, Lyndon Johnson, agreed with him. We also learn that Johnson was allegedly once a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which if true turns his strong-arm tactics in forcing the Civil Rights Act through Congress in Kennedy’s memory into a tale of moral redemption.

the JFK files have - quite predictably - provoked more questions than they have provided answers

Kennedy has been exhumed back into the public consciousness. A visionary leader who helped pave the way to ending racial segregation and sending men to the Moon, it can be difficult to accept the official story that a crank like Oswald simply got lucky with a cheap firearm. Disturbingly we learn that he may have been stalking Kennedy and his family in the lead-up to the assassination.

It is certainly thought-provoking that a Cuban intelligence officer claimed to have known Oswald and praised his marksmanship, and that while visiting the Soviet embassy in Mexico City, Oswald spoke to an agent from the KGB assassinations department before fatefully settling in Texas.

It is also odd that Soviet defector Albert Osborne tipped off the Cambridge News about a “big story” in America a mere 25 minutes before the assassination. Another lead suggested that Oswald was in fact a US government informant who went rogue.

A majority of the American public do not believe that Oswald acted alone. The other batch of documents, currently withheld for “national security” reasons, may be more enlightening. Whatever the true story is, the JFK files have - quite predictably - provoked more questions than they have provided answers.

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

Follow Jacob on Twitter.

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