James Fetzer, a retired professor of philosophy from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, is the very picture of a conspiracy theorist, from his dubious haircut to his hectoring tone to his assured command of facts. Professsor Fetzer recently offered his most detailed JFK conspiracy theory yet in Veterans Today, He purports to identify, by name, the six men who allegedly fired gunshots at President Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
The lavish detail of Fetzer’s allegations evokes one of the finest pieces of JFK journalism ever published — in the Onion. Fetzer’s is an American tale: a posse of six-shooters joins the army of Dealey Plaza gunmen.
Needless to say (and all joking aside), most JFK assassination scholars, pro or anti-conspiracy, whom I know and trust, do not agree with Fetzer. Some might call him laughable but I’m not one them. I will say Fetzer’s imaginative digressions about the Zapruder film and the Sept. 11 attacks do not enhance his credibility. But his documentation deserves at least to be crowdsourced. (Commenters?)
What do we know now?
Professor Fetzer is right about one thing: He says JFK’s assassination was a “national security event.” In the age of NSA mass surveillance in the service of the war on terrorism, the term should become more familiar. A “national security event” is an incident that is enshrouded in official secrecy because it involves the interests of U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
The apparent involvement of Lee Harvey Oswald, an itinerant ex-Marine who was tracked closely and constantly by senior CIA counterintelligence officers between 1959 and 1963, in Kennedy’s assassination assured that the case of the murdered president would be swathed in layers of official secrecy that have yet to be fully unwrapped.
The continuing secrecy around the CIA’s 1,100 assassination records indicates that JFK’s murder will continue to be treated as a national security matter in 2014, more than 50 years after the fact.
The major media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the JFK’s death had some interesting features. The 50th anniversary ceremony in Dealey Plaza was a dry-eyed dud. The movie “Parkland” puzzled critics and tanked at the box office.
The best JFK book of the year, “A Cruel and Shocking Act,” by former New York Times reporter Phil Shenon, offered a conventional lone gunman explanation of the causes of JFK’s death and a rather more intriguing narrative of what he called “the secret history of the Kennedy assassination,” in which Kennedy’s murder was followed by destruction of evidence, thwarting of legitimate investigation, and stonewalling on relevant questions.
Bob Woodward usefully linked the NSA mass surveillance scandal to the JFK assassination coverup. Both are manifestations of “the power of the secret world” at the heart of the American government, said the veteran Washington scribe who would know.
The best JFK documentary, in my opinion, was Shane O’Sullivan’s “Killing Oswald,” which I will write about in the new year.
The strongest dissenting voice from the Kennedy family was heard when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in Dallas that his father thought the Warren Commission report was “a shoddy piece of craftsmanship“ and that his father didn’t believe JFK’s death was the work of one man. RFK Jr.’s comments were covered by news sites across the political spectrum.
What happened on November 22, 1963?
The notion that President Kennedy was attacked by multiple shooters in Dealey Plaza cannot be dismissed just because Professor Fetzer’s theory is unfounded. If Fetzer is wrong, is RFK Jr. right?
Decide for yourself.
Witness Testimony: The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald fired three shots at the president from the Texas School Depository building. A PBS Nova documentary in November confirmed this finding via science.
The show didn’t delve into the fact that a lot of people at the crime scene had the impression of a crossfire with gunshots coming from both Depository and from in front of the motorcade. The litany of evidence on both sides is familiar. There is no doubt some gunfire came from the Texas School Book Depository. The quality of the witnesses who heard a grassy knoll shot is generally high (21 cops, for example). A variety of corroborating evidence creates a fairly consistent picture of a moment in time
Professor John McAdams assures us no less than 33 people thought a shot came from the direction of the grassy knoll area. Bill Newman thought the shot came “right over his head.” Abraham Zapruder’s associate Marilyn Sitzman thought she heard the sound of a shot to her right. In the lead car of the motorcade Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry ordered his his men to secure the parking lot behind the grassy knoll. Curry later concluded the fatal shot must have come from the front.
As for the two young black people who were sitting right on a park bench on the knoll, they ran away and were never heard from again.
A second shooter?
The investigation of what happened in the west end of Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22,1963, was incomplete at best. The FBI and the Dallas Police Department did not try to investigate the possibility of a shot from the front. They didn’t look for evidence of a second gunman. It was hardly surprising they didn’t find any.
No proof of a second gunman has ever been produced but that has not prevented serious investigation into the question. The most credible candidate for a second JFK gunman is, in my personal opinion, a Cuban man named Herminio Diaz. I’m not stating this as historical truth but the story comes from Anthony Summers, a veteran JFK reporter whose reporting has broken new ground in the case before.
My own research indicates that the original source of the story, a Cuban exile named Tony Cuesta, was also a credible source, trusted by senior CIA officers. Cuesta died in 1992, according to the New York Times.
For more on Diaz, see my Nov. 20 post, “Cuban said his friend was a Dealey Plaza gunman; CIA has files on the source.” Summers tells the Herminio Diaz story here.
Until Cuesta’s 47-page CIA file is declassified, the Herminio Diaz story cannot be dismissed.
What does science tell us?
“Acoustics evidence:” A Dallas Police Department audio recording remained the subject of inconclusive debate in 2013. Audio engineers at Sonalyst, a firm hired by University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, reached the same conclusion as several earlier studies: the gunshots were not recorded on the Dictabelt.
Don Thomas, the leading proponent of the theory the sound of gunfire was recorded, responded with a paper arguing that the Sonalyst study was “sophistry” that failed to explain the sound impulse pattern that he says constitutes evidence of gunfire.
My own view is that the acoustics evidence is not admissible evidence.
Photographic Evidence: The official JFK investigation suppressed Abraham Zapruder’s film for 12 years. The film, shown publicly for the first time by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrsion in 1969, showed Kennedy blasted backwards and to the left, indicative of a shot from the front.
It is not impossible that Kennedy was struck from behind — everybody who has seen war says bodies do strange things when struck by bullets — but the common sense impression left by the film is that President Kennedy was struck by bullets from two directions. That’s what CIA director John McCone told Robert Kennedy after he saw Zapruder’s film.
(See my Jan. 23 post: “CIA chief told RFK about two shooters.”)
Medical Evidence: What about the X-rays, autopsy photographs and the autopsy findings that the president was hit only by bullets from the rear?
The medical evidence presents the strongest case for doubting Kennedy was killed by a shot from the front but our confidence in the autopsy findings is undermined by the poor performance of the autopsy doctors and the admitted influence of unidentified military officers in the autopsy room.
One of the most powerful witnesses to be heard in 2013 was Dr. Robert McClelland who stood over JFK during the last efforts to save his life and looked at his wounds for about ten minutes. “It was not just a single shooter,” he said.
The testimony of medical technicians to the Assassination Records Review Board in the mid-1990s calls into question the veracity of the autopsy photographs held at the National Archives in College Park Maryland.
Several technicians testified under oath that the photographs they took of JFK’s body are no longer in evidence. Another testified that the brain specimen in evidence is not the brain that he removed from Kennedy’s body. And if you think such a story couldn’t possibly be true, please read George Lardner[s 1998 piece in the Washington Post.
Bill Kelly and Ed Primeau's reconstruction of the Air Force One tapes, first reported in JFK Facts, points out the fact that there once was a more complete recording of the communications of the presidential jet on Nov. 22, 1963, that has never been made public. This tape, if it still exists, might shed more light on the Pentagon's role in JFK's autopsy.
JFK researcher John Canal offered a thoughtful non-conspiratorial explanation of the contradictory medical evidence in "Washington Decoded."
In my opinion the evidence shows that Dealey Plaza was a scene of chaos on November 22, 1963, and a second gunman could have slipped away. The filmed evidence is consistent with crossfire. The contradictory medical evidence is not dispositive.
Who the other shooters were, if they existed, remains a matter of fervent speculation as Professor Fetzer’s far-fetched claims have shown us. It is also a matter that requires further investigation, as the careful work of Anthony Summers reminds us.
On the other hand, if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing JFK, as some people believe, then the contradictory evidence can be rationalized. The CIA’s pre-assassination interest in Oswald is judged irrelevant, an instance of incompetence, not malfeasance. The Dealey Plaza witnesses were simply mistaken in an oddly consistent way. Abraham Zapruder’s film is misleading. And the medical evidence cannot be impeached.
That’s a snapshot of the JFK case after 50 years. National security secrecy breeds conspiracy mongering and official apologetics, while the public waits for full disclosure, clarity, and perhaps answers.
Let’s hope 2014 prove more illuminating.
Happy New Year.