Defenders of the semi-official theory of JFK’s assassination sometimes suggest that anyone who disagrees is deluded or dishonest. Dale Myers and Gus Russo have dubbed the benighted souls “the conspirati,” a term intended to convey disdain for those allegedly emotionally needy or intellectually incompetent people who doubt the claim that one man killed JFK for no reason.
The problem with this trope, alas, is the facts. There were plenty of astute observers of American power in 1963 who rejected the official theory of a “lone nut” and concluded President Kennedy had been killed by his enemies.
Here are six six U.S. government insiders in 1963 who suspected a JFK was killed by a conspiracy.
1) President Lyndon Johnson. Publicly JFK’s successor endorsed the lone nut theory. Privately, he told Atlantic magazine writer Leo Janos, “I never believed that Oswald acted alone, although I can accept that he pulled the trigger.”
2) and 3) Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy: Publicly, they endorsed the lone nut theory. Privately, they rejected it. Their views were unknown until 1999, when historians Tim Naftali and Aleksander Fursenko published a book on the Cuban missile crisis, One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964. Using newly available documents, Natfali and Fursenko wrote that artist William Walton — a friend of the First Lady — went to Moscow on a previously scheduled trip a week after JFK’s murder. Walton carried a message from RFK and Jackie for their friend, Georgi Bolshakov, a Russian diplomat who had served as a back-channel link between the White House and the Kremlin during the October 1962 crisis:
RFK and Jackie wanted the Soviet leadership to know that “despite Oswald’s connections to the communist world, the Kennedys believed that the president was felled by domestic opponents.”
This was what Jackie and RFK said privately one week after the tragedy in Dallas. They later publicly endorsed the findings of the Warren Commission.
4) Senator Richard Russell: This baron of the U.S. Senate and mentor to the young Lyndon Johnson was the epitome of a Washington insider, knowledgeable, discreet, and powerful. A member of the Warren Commission, he rejected the “single bullet theory,” which is the forensic foundation of the lone-nut theory. You can read Russell’s thoughts on the subject here. His biographer lauded Russell as “the first dissenter” in the JFK case.
5) Cabinet Secretary Joseph Califano. In 1963, Califano served as the Secretary of the Army and was involved in developing plans for a U.S. invasion of Cuba, including Operation Northwoods, which envisioned using deception operations to perpetrate a spectacular crime and blame it on Cuba. Califano would go on to become Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. In his memoir, “A Public and Private Life,” Califano wrote that he had come to share Lyndon Johnson’s view that Fidel Castro was behind JFK’s assassination.
“Over the years I have come to believe that the paroxysms of grief that tormented Robert Kennedy for years after his brother’s death arose, at least in part, from a sense that his efforts to eliminate Castro led to his brother’s assassination,” he wrote.
Scott was the respected chief of the CIA’s station in Mexico City at the time of Kennedy’s murder. A conservative Agency loyalist, he later wrote an unpublished memoir in which he said the Warren Commission’s findings about CIA surveillance of the accused assassin Lee Oswald in Mexico City were false. He knew it was false because he had been in charge of watching Oswald.
In the memoir, Scott wrote that there was “no serious investigation” of Oswald’s communist connections and concluded JFK was probably killed by a conspiracy. When Scott died, the CIA seized his manuscript and kept it hidden for 25 years, a revealing story I tell in my book about Scott, Our Man in Mexico.
After publication, I modified this piece on the suggestion of Mark Zaid, Anthony Summers, and John McAdams. Originally I included Col. Fletcher Prouty as one of the Washington insiders who suspected a JFK plot. Nothing I wrote about Prouty was inaccurate but these readers advised me of other things Prouty had done and said that called into question his veracity. So he’s not the best example to cite. I replaced him with another Washington insider, Joseph Califano.
For the record, here’s what I wrote about Prouty.
5) Col. L. Fletcher Prouty: This career military man served as chief of Pentagon special operations in 1963. He believed that there had been a plot against JFK among enemies of his policies in the national security agencies. Prouty was the basis for the character “Colonel X” in Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”