It’s a date that changed Dallas forever: November 22, 1963. And yet more than 50 years later, there is still confusion clouding exactly what happened when President John F. Kennedy took his ill-fated trip though Dealey Plaza. Today, tens of thousands of previously classified records related to the assassination will become public record. The question everyone wants to know: what’s left to find? If 54 years of official and unofficial investigations, countless books, and so many movies have failed to settle the details on the events that came together on that day to rewrite the course of history with the punctuation of a single bullet, what will?
After all, 90 percent of the files related to the assassination are already public. The remaining 30,000 to 40,000 pages of documents that have been secret (and will now be opened) have already been reviewed by the Assassination Records Review Board in the nineties. Most were classified as “Not Believed Relevant.” But of course, with a conspiracy as thick as the JFK assassination, who’s going to take some official government review board’s word for it?
Not Roger Stone, the political consultant, bestselling author on the Kennedy assassination, and apparent confidant of President Trump, who has been reportedly pushing the president to release documents that were already set to be released. Stone told Infowars’ Alex Jones, a man who could turn brushing your teeth into a conspiracy, that CIA director Mike Pompeo pushed the president to postpone the release and that he, nevertheless, prevailed in convincing Trump to get all the documents out in the open. Which is all worth bringing up if only to frame one of the JFK assassination’s lasting gifts to the United States: the slow, 50-year-long erosion of public trust in the institutions that govern us, which has finally bloomed into an atmosphere in which the holder of the highest office in the land lies to the public without remorse, credible journalism is castigated as fake news, and truth isn’t to be believed until it is framed as a conspiracy.
But the documents. What’s in the documents? And more specifically, will there be anything in the documents that reveals more about Oswald’s life and behavior in Dallas, as well as the extent to which Dallas officials and federal or foreign agents working in Dallas were aware of Oswald – or even, perhaps, encouraging him?
Well, maybe so.
For JFK experts, the big subject of intrigue surrounding the new documents is that some of them contain details of a trip Lee Harvey Oswald took to Mexico City just a few weeks before the assassination. What was he doing in Mexico City? Meeting with agents from Cuba? Russia? The CIA? Did any of them follow him to Dallas? Were they in contact with him while he was in Dallas? While most of the credible evidence around the assassination points to Oswald as a lone gunman, there is still an open possibility that he either acted on behalf of some other entity, or was actively encouraged by some other group.
It’s the latter possibility that, given all we know about Oswald’s character, strikes me as the most plausible – that in Mexico City someone associated with Cuban or Russian espionage heard Oswald ranting about killing Kennedy and told him, “Yeah, sure, go kill Kennedy, we’d be keen on that, comrade.” And then, on the morning of November 23, when they opened their newspapers and read that the main suspect in JFK’s murder was the same loon from Dallas, they spit out their coffee.
But then, there may be information about another conspiracy revealed in these new documents. In the Guardian, Philip Shenon writes that the real JFK conspiracy wasn’t a cover-up of a plot to kill the president, but rather the conspiracy was the cover-up of the incompetence of organizations like the CIA and FBI, which were tasked with protecting against such a plot:
I’m referring to the well-documented, proven conspiracy within the highest reaches of the US government – a criminal conspiracy from the start, involving the destruction of top-secret documents and photographs, the silencing of witnesses and whistleblowers, and the wholesale suborning of perjury – to cover up the truth about what the government had known in advance about Oswald and the clear threat he had posed to one man: President Kennedy.
This isn’t really news. In a 2014 internal report, a CIA historian acknowledged that the agency did hide evidence from the Warren Commission:
The cover-up was intended to keep investigators focused exclusively on evidence that proved “what the Agency believed at the time was the ‘best truth’ – that Lee Harvey Oswald, for as yet undetermined motives, had acted alone in killing Kennedy”.
That Orwellian line — “best truth” — should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
These allegations don’t change the facts surrounding who killed JFK, but they do point to what is, perhaps, a more frightening truth that rose to the surface on that November day in Dallas. By the time of the assassination, a kind of pervading sickness had already begun to take hold of the institutions of the American government: the swelling in power of semi-self-governing bodies operating within the federal government but possessing their own agendas, unchecked by the system of democratic power established by the U.S. Constitution. These forces would play an active role in the coming decade and in shaping the kind of nation the United States has become.
Perhaps the only real conspiracy concerning the JFK assassination simply amounts to the fact that the CIA and FBI worked to cover up their own incompetence in an effort to maintain their own credibility and political confidence – and thereby maintain their power. The irony is that in their efforts to hide the fact that there was no deep governmental conspiracy at work to kill Kennedy, these agencies were the midwives to the birth of conspiracy culture.
In a way, the conspiracy theorists have been right all along. The government was up to funny business, only it wasn’t the funny business they suspected. Not only were these agents incapable of pulling off some of the more elaborate schemes proposed over the years to explain the assassination, they couldn’t even keep tabs on a crackpot loner in Oak Cliff who told everyone he was going to kill Kennedy.
And then he did.
Somehow, that incompetence is more unsettling. But it goes deeper than that. If you have followed Barrett Brown’s writing about the prison system over the last few years, then you will know that this kind of incompetence present within powerful, self-governing institutions emboldens a brand of bureaucratic inertia and corruption that can quickly erode away the very ideals of freedom and individual rights this nation is supposedly founded on.
Now, of course, there may still be some secret truth out there hidden in documents that will not be released today: the documents that were destroyed by these duplicitous government actors. Regardless of what they contained, the absence of those records will ensure that the cottage industry of speculating about just what happened in Dallas all those decades ago will continue well into the future, perpetuating the culture of conspiracy whose grip on the public consciousness has never been stronger, as well as perpetuating this city’s uncomfortable but all-important relationship to that dark day.