Most of you reading these words right now are deeply frustrated and vexed, and with good reason. You cannot understand how it’s possible that nearly half the country has gone mad. How can so many people possibly believe so many silly and ridiculous lies? Conspiracy theories abound about election fraud, Hunter Biden’s laptop, microchips in vaccines, Deep State manipulations, and so on, and without a shred of credible evidence to support them. How can so many people believe so much palpable nonsense?
The answer to such a question sometimes comes not from looking outside but from looking within ourselves. I cannot think of a better day than today, November 22nd, 2022, the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, to examine such a question. Because most of us have been similarly deceived for nearly six decades.
It’s understandable why so many people believe the popular notion that JFK wasn’t murdered by one lone nut but by a sinster and brilliant conspiracy. After all, how can we begin to assimilate the idea that a small, lonely, disturbed and pitiful nonentity like Lee Harvey Oswald could slay such a mighty giant like JFK in the midst of his limousines and security? To believe such a thing is almost to go mad and admit that we live in a world that isn’t just insane but absurd. I cannot blame you for believing such a thing, brothers and sisters. For years I believed it myself.
The answer to why we accept such things out of hand, believe it or not, is to be found at Fox News. No, I’m not saying Fox News is responsible for our JFK conspiracy theory beliefs. But I am saying that we can believe positively anything if we are exposed — Fox News-like — to one narrative and one narrative alone, and that narrative is fed to us night and day, to the exclusion of all other narratives, for a protracted period of time.
To date over 3,000 books have been published on the assassination of JFK, and virtually all of them are conspiracy books. The truly amazing part is, not one of those books entirely agrees with the other. In fact, many if not most of those books are actually incompatible with every other book. Despite this, many of us believe JFK’s death was a conspiracy, thanks to those highly profitable conspiracy books and the industry they promote by way of articles, YouTube videos and everyday conversations.
If you’re an average JFK conspiracy theorist who’s read one or more conspiracy books, I’m going to tell you something that you probably don’t know. When Lee Harvey Oswald was 13 years old he was ordered to undergo 3 weeks of psychiatric evaluation by a New York psychiatrist for truancy and potentially lethal violence against others. The psychiatrist determined that “this child has a potential for assaultive, aggressive, explosive acting out, a vivid fantasy life turning around the topics of omnipotence and power.” The diagnosis? “Personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies, an emotionally quite disturbed youngster …”. The recommendation? Mandatory psychiatric care at a home for troubled boys.
Many of you are learning this stunning fact for the first time. Why? Because in virtually none of the 3,000 conspiracy books is it mentioned. It was deliberately withheld from you because it does not fit into the usual JFK conspiracy narrative. Lee Harvey Oswald needed to be either an innocent patsy or a brilliant and resourceful operative working for the Russians or the CIA or military intelligence. He couldn’t be merely another would-be Columbine shooter. Such a narrative just didn’t fit. So they didn’t tell you. They lied to you.
I was personally astonished to learn, for example, that Jack Ruby, the man who took it upon himself to murder Oswald, was in fact a pitiful, almost childlike loser and not a smart and sophisticate gangster with deep ties to the Mafia. That fact was hidden from me as well because, again, it didn’t fit the JFK assassination conspiracy narrative.
The JFK conspiracy books and articles and YouTube videos that have invaded our culture and wormed their way into our minds are only interested in presenting their narrative. They conduct us down a narrow corridor where perfectly plausible explanations are deliberately left out and coincidence is king. Wherever a narrative supporting their pet theory can be found it is emphasised, nurtured and exaggerated. Sometimes facts are even made up for the spurious reason that, since their particular conspiracy is “obviously” correct, what harm can it do?
Your first impulse is probably to dismiss out of hand everything I have told you thus far. Your first impulse is probably to double down on what you already believe. That is exactly what Trump supporters who have been exposed to the lies of Fox News for years do as well.
If you want a good read, check out “Reclaiming History” by Vincent Bugliosi. It is a monumental work, breathtaking in its scope, its honesty and its meticulously documented destruction of every contemporaneous JFK conspiracy theory out there. It’s available for free online. As far as I know, no one who has ever read it from cover to cover has ever been able to resist its irresistible conclusion: that Lee Harvey Oswald murdered John F. Kennedy, and that he acted alone.
But if you’re an ardent JFK enthusiast then I can just about guarantee that you won’t read anything that contradicts your belief. Again, think of Trump supporters and remember how intractable they are in their beliefs, how unwilling they are to consider any contradicting opinion. If anything, arguing with them and presenting them with facts will only make them even more intransigent.
I doubt I have changed any minds. But perhaps I have given you an insight into how the MAGA cult thinks and how difficult, how nearly impossible it is to penetrate their defences. But to understand all is not to forgive all. Whatever one can say about JFK conspiracy theories, they are not evil. They have not destroyed democracy. They do not promote bigotry.
Even so, the JFK conspiracy phenomenon has left us with a sad legacy. It has made us vulnerable to other nonsense, nonsense that interferes with our duty of enlightened thoughts and deeds. If nothing else I hope I’ve given you something to think about. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.