What Cass Sunstein and the New Yorker get wrong about conspiracy theories

Ezra Klein and Cass Sunstein have some sensible things to say about the disturbing prevalence and power of conspiracy theories  in this Vox video, especially about the toxic combination of conspiracy theories, ignorance, and extremism. So does the New Yorker. But these opinion-makers are wrong–or rather, underinformed–about the JFK story.

Sunstein, with his allusion to opening allusion to “assassination,” implies JFK skeptics belong in the same category as people who think Princess DIana was assassinated or that HIllary Clinton has Parkinson’s. This is intellectual laziness.

Like many people living in the power elite bubble, Sunstein would prefers to pooh pooh JFK “theories” rather than actually acknowledge the disturbing and unresolved JFK fact pattern. Its easy to denounce stupid JFK theories, harder to confront plain JFK facts.

At the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik thoughtfully separates JFK skeptics (and me) from Donald Trump’s baseless JFK smear. And he makes a timely and necessary argument about the fascistic precedents for the malicious theories propounded by Trump and the alt-right.

But. But. But.

Today’s discourse about the dangers of conspiracy theories would be more credible if it made some relevant distinctions. If you want your warnings about the real dangers of conspiratorial thinking to be heard and accepted, you should leave the JFK story out of your indictment.

Does it really make sense, a la Sunstein, to say that astute power players like LBJ, RFK, Jackie Kennedy, Charles DeGaulle, and Fidel Castro are “conspiracy theorists?” on par with those who say the 2016 election is already rigged? That’s more intellectual laziness.

It makes more sense to say political realists of all stripes did not–and do not– buy the unconvincing official theory of a “lone nut,” (which is most vocally propounded these days by John McAdams, a climate change denier who was fired from his academic job for unprofessional conduct.)

Today’s discourse about the dangers of conspiracy theories would be more credible if it made some relevant distinctions.

Is Gopnik believable when claims there is a “mountain of evidence” to convict one man for killing JFK? Only if you don’t climb the mountain. If you

–examine the evidence that was ignored or misrepresented by the Warren Commission;

–acknowledge the pervasive pattern of CIA deception and misconduct culminating in the brazen obstruction of Congress in 1978;

–add the wealth of information developed by civil society, like the lucid account of the doctor who examined JFK’s head wound;

–and read the documents declassified since the 1990s, which show that senior CIA operations officers were monitoring Oswald’s movements just six week before JFK was killed;

If you confront the facts, you wind up with something closer to a mountain of evidence for that we still, after 53 years, do not have the whole or true story.

A more convincing case against the malign conspiracy theories floated today would acknowledge the legitimacy of skepticism about secretive government agencies. It would discuss the policy conspiracies exposed by the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate and Iran-contra investigations, and it would show respect for the solid majority of Americans who agree the official theory of JFK’s assassination isn’t credible.



From a 5-Star Amazon review of Jefferson Morley’s CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files,

“Can’t imagine a more meticulous take down of the CIA’s decades-long subterfuge surrounding the assassination.”

Jefferson Morley’s new ebook, CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, available on Amazon, provides the fullest account of the role of CIA operations officers in the events leading to the death of JFK, with a guide to what will be declassified in October 2017.




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