Recent releases of official documents on the assassination of US President John F Kennedy in 1963 omit some key elements and are unlikely to end the persistent speculation that more players than just a single fanatic were involved in his demise. Andy recently gave a written interview for French magazine Inexpliqué on the JFK mysteries and the culture of doubt surrounding them, which is reproduced here in full…
Before Watergate, Moon landing arguments, wide doubts about the official story of 9/11 and the current slew of alternative views on Covid, the JFK conspiracies came first, the many glaring inconsistencies and claimed cover-ups surrounding his killing setting the scene for entire generations of suspicious minds who have come to distrust the word of authorities.
The release in December 2022 from the US National Archives of an incredible 13,173 documents pertaining to the JFK assassination, including “95%” of all CIA papers, unsurprisingly – for the most part – fail to undermine the view of the original Warren Commission investigation that claimed Communist sympathiser Lee (Harvey) Oswald acted alone. Only a few documents suggest the vaguest of leads to other possible causes – but then conspiracists not unreasonably hold the view that anything more damning would almost certainly have been destroyed decades ago, while that missing 5% of CIA records has inevitably raised eyebrows.
Is the persistence of wider JFK theories simply unfounded paranoia or evidence for something askew in the official records..? This interview with Andy Thomas, researcher and author of several books on conspiracies and why people believe them, and who features prominently in Amazon Prime’s Who Killed JFK? – The Conspiracies, was conducted via email in October 2022 with journalist Nicolas Montigiani of Inexpliqué and explores some of the complex issues around the JFK case and why the cultures of doubt around this and subsequent areas of alternative enquiry are likely to live on.
NM – As a world-renowned researcher specialising in conspiracy theories, how do you view the period during which the assassination of President John F. Kennedy took place?
AT – Seen from today’s perspective, the immediate pre-assassination years appear to have been the last era where the majority of white Americans trusted authority and didn’t think to question what they were told. The Cold War and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis had many gripped in fear but most appeared to believe their government was trying to protect them.
The killing of Kennedy, with all its many unresolved anomalies, not only shook people’s faith in the ability of the state to protect its own leaders but also made them question what they were told about huge public events. The unsatisfactory way in which the investigation was handled and the further killing of Robert Kennedy in 1968 would pave the way for the full-on disillusionment that followed when the Watergate scandal unfolded in the early 1970s, creating a climate in which conspiracy theories were inevitably bound to thrive from thereon.
Why do you think authorities, journalists and sceptics still fiercely deny today, in the great majority, the possible existence of a conspiracy?
I would question whether a majority within the establishment actually do deny a wider conspiracy around the Kennedy assassination when they think about it quietly by themselves. But given all the many false leads and confusion surrounding the multiple theories put out there about Kennedy over the years, mixed with the increasing media taboo around discussing conspiracies of any kind with any open-mindedness (which in itself simply generates more conspiracy accusations of media complicity), it has become simpler just to let it lie and fade into history rather than keep confronting the issues. Hence, most mainstream sources leave the whole subject alone.
Contrary to the official establishment view, however, I would say from my own experience that the majority of people I meet do now assume that there was a state conspiracy of some kind either to kill Kennedy or at least to cover up what was known about the events. But as the years goes by it feels ever less relevant to our lives, so everyone just shrugs – which may be how most probable conspiracies are eventually sidelined; authorities can rely on the passing of time to get them ‘off the hook’. The longer that obfuscation and delay of proper investigation can be kept going, the more likely it is that perpetrators will never be held to account, and/or governments will never have to admit to making mistakes.
The official investigation would have been, it seems, “orientated” to favour the theory of the “eccentric and solitary” shooter … What do you think?
The initial Warren Commission which was set up to investigate the events surrounding the assassination was famously lacking in many areas and clearly wanted to divert attention away from any suggestion that more than one gunman might have been involved because that would immediately imply the existence of a wider conspiracy which might expose some establishment responsibility. Blaming one lone fanatic, no matter what indications to the contrary were available, was the easier option. As time went by, cleverly, an impression was given that the multiple gunman theories were just modern speculation being applied retrospectively – but the reality is that reports of other gunmen being present were being discussed within hours of the shooting and there are written minutes available of speeches made by dignitaries just days afterwards that make clear that such talk was rife.
Over the years, there have been claims from people even claiming to have been the other gunmen [most prominently James Files and Loy Factor] but they have not been believed or properly followed up even when some of the evidence has been compelling. Others have even suggested the driver, William Greer, may have taken a shot himself, in a quick covert moment which went unnoticed amidst the chaos, although this is very contentious. But the ‘lone gunman’ theory is neat, dramatic and easy to tie up, which is another reason why it is attractive to journalists who don’t like messy, unresolved complexities.
If we only take into account “the facts and nothing but the facts”, without distorting them, what is the most “reasonable” hypothesis?
As ever, the problem here surrounds whose facts we rely on the most and what constitutes a ‘fact’ – something which is always a problem in the world of conspiracy speculation, as this is always contentious. If we depend solely on the Warren Commission, its facts would appear to suggest that Oswald was a Communist-sympathising fanatic who shot the president – end of the story. If we question those facts, as many do, then the situation becomes far more complicated and we are left having to guess what a reasonable hypothesis actually is.
The evidence that there was a wider conspiracy to remove Kennedy, organised by a cartel with mixed motives, remains too strong to dismiss lightly, in my view. It should also be noted – and this is often forgotten – that in 1979, an official US inquiry entitled the House Select Committee on Assassinations attempted to make up for some of the shortcomings of the Warren Commission with a new investigation and concluded that there was indeed a probability that at least one other gunman was involved. The panel lacked the powers to act on these findings, however, and the implications of these surely remarkable conclusions were not taken any further. So, the strange reality is that elements of the US state do suspect that there was a broader conspiracy but no further action has ever been taken.
Was Oswald really “in on it”?
In the brief hours we had to hear from Oswald [pictured left] before he himself was shot dead by Jack Ruby, he reportedly denied being the assassin and implied that he was a ‘patsy’ set up to take the full responsibility for something much bigger. Certainly, the Oswald situation is far from straightforward, with unsettling evidence available that in the weeks before the shooting there were at least two men travelling around purporting to be him, apparently to obfuscate the reality of what they were up to. Whether both these men were aware of their doppelgangers remains unclear and some believe that the real Oswald was completely innocent of the shooting. This said, a majority
appear to believe that he did fire at least some of the shots, if not all.
One of the very key arguments surrounds the implausibility, in the eyes of some ballistics experts, that Oswald could have really fired all of the bullets so quickly and so accurately at a moving target with the gun he was supposedly using and from where he allegedly was. Many believe not, which immediately brings the ‘other gunman/gunmen’ argument into play, something enhanced further by the claims of the onlookers on the ‘grassy knoll’ (a raised green area in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, where the shooting took place) that they heard shots coming from over the wall there, which was not where Oswald was. There is also a theory that a security guard’s pistol accidentally went off in the melee, apparently explaining some of the bullet anomalies, but this is seen by some as a deliberate diversion and leaves several aspects unexplained.
Another often overlooked aspect is that Rose Cherami, a dancer at one of Jack Ruby’s sleazy nightclubs, informed local police days before the assassination that she had witnessed both Oswald and Ruby [pictured right] together as if they were friends or even lovers, with a group of men she believed to be CIA, all discussing the shooting of Kennedy that was due to take place shortly after. She was not believed at the time so her warning was for nothing – suspiciously, she was later found dead after an apparent hit-and-run ‘accident’. It is likely, therefore, that Oswald was almost certainly entangled somewhere in the mesh of complex events that led to the assassination, but what his precise role was may always remain a mystery, publicly at least.
Several “alternative” theories are available to us: the CIA, the Mafia, the Communists, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson or even, although much more “taboo”, an intervention by the Israelis who would not have supported JFK denying them the right to possess atomic weapons. What do you think?
In the absence of any definitive answer to the Kennedy shooting, all the theories are probably in some way ‘alternative’ … There were certainly many people at the time who would have benefited from his removal, from Cuba’s Fidel Castro or Cuban exiles aghast at the whole botched Bay of Pigs operation in 1961 to some of the factions listed in the question. Johnson’s mistress did certainly claim later that Johnson had told her directly that he had been part of a plot to get rid of Kennedy; he had never liked working with the Kennedys and had a lot to gain from his killing, immediately then becoming president himself as he did. But claims are not proof.
It should be noted that Kennedy was also giving speeches against secret societies (very powerful in the US especially) and wanted to reform the Federal Reserve banking system, which many people believed was set up on illegal grounds from the start. Both of these moves might have upset very powerful forces. He was also advocating, to some people’s surprise, that the US and the then Soviet Union should work on a joint space programme and even share information on UFOs and the like. This sounds like fantasy but is actually true, and inevitably gives rise to much deeper theories and a belief that the ‘New World Order’ project of planned Western hegemony was being threatened by Kennedy’s actions. In the absence of irrefutable evidence in any direction, all possibilities should perhaps be considered.
More mundanely, both John and Robert Kennedy had upset the Mafia and both infamously had love affairs with the actress Marilyn Monroe (who many believe was murdered to keep her from spilling secrets she may have learned from them). District Attorney Jim Garrison’s ultimately futile attempts to implicate a cartel of allegedly corrupt and politically motivated businessmen as the culprits (as fictionalised in Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie JFK) can also be added into the mix. In truth, by 1963 there appeared to be enemies queuing up who might have gained from Kennedy’s death, which is one of the very difficulties of ever getting to the full truth of who was ultimately responsible, although there are Kennedy researchers who have made direct claims and accusations at one or several of the above options without apology.
Everything has been going on, for decades, as if the truth is never to emerge … Do you share this feeling?
This goes back to my earlier comments: in the end, as time goes by, the generations most affected by the death of Kennedy pass on and the memories – so shocking at the time – fade into legend and become mere historical notes. With this process, and the many very complex layers of possibility that remain unresolved, and indeed are just added to as each year goes by, in the end we are left with the possibility that we will never have definitive answers, as is the case with most of the more probable real conspiracies. The muffling blanket of time is used as a convenient way of moving people on, too distracted to realise they never received any proper answers to some very reasonable questions.
Some conspiracy researchers believe that false stories and theories are deliberately put out there by authorities with the very intention of adding so much confusion into the big picture that no one can ever come to a final proper conclusion in any contentious conspiracy area, whether it be about Kennedy, Princess Diana, 9/11 or any of the other enduring arenas of doubt that probably do deserve some proper reassessment and reinvestigation but are unlikely ever to receive them.
This “truth”, precisely; will we know it one day in your opinion?
At this moment in history, we are undergoing an alarming level of censorship towards ‘alternative’ thinking, particularly online, something I have warned about in my writings, especially in my current book The New Heretics: Understanding the Conspiracy Theories Polarising the World. Perfectly legitimate questions that seekers have a right to ask authorities are being blocked, and voices which speak out against any orthodoxy are being silenced, branded as fanatical ‘conspiracy theorists’. This is a very unwise and ultimately counterproductive policy. Silencing people doesn’t change their minds and the danger is that all we do by this is to push dissenting views underground where they are far more likely to fester and lead to extremism though the desperation of the less discerning to be heard. If this censorious policy worked, fewer and fewer people would today be drawn to conspiracy thinking, but instead the trend is in the other direction – more people believe in conspiracies than ever. We are being told to pretend otherwise and this is a foolish and unsustainable situation in the long run.
In the meantime, those who gather proper evidence for conspiracies, with the Kennedy assassination really being the beginning of the modern wave of such approaches, will have to bide their time and keep gathering information ready for the moment when the pendulum of suppression eventually swings back into more open ways of thinking, which is likely sooner or later. Then, perhaps, there may be new perspectives which could highlight certain ‘truths’ in ways that we can’t yet see. But it would be better if this were to happen before evidence turns to legend and legend turns into mythology, which I think we are already seeing with the JFK mysteries.
History is full of conspiracies and yet, we are told every day that they are rare or even non-existent, the fruit of an overflowing imagination intended to build a reality that does not exist. How should we react to this?
It does not take much research to demonstrate that proven or very likely conspiracies have occurred throughout time, from the many plots and assassinations of the Roman empire to the Gunpowder Plot (which some Catholics believed was encouraged as a Protestant false flag operation to further discredit them), Watergate and so on. To deny that such things must also be going on today, albeit as yet undeclared, is extraordinary and an indication of an establishment frightened that its more dubious activities might yet be revealed for all to see.
The invention of the internet was like a genie coming out of the bottle – suddenly everyone could easily exchange information on areas that had previously been difficult to find. Authorities have been trying to squeeze that genie back into the bottle ever since and now they believe they have found a way to do it with the new demonisation and suppression of those who dare to question. Some conspiracy ideas probably do go too far for many observers but by constantly associating the more sensible areas with the extreme ones in the public eye the media in particular apparently hopes to tarnish all questioners as being dangerous enemies of reason, and that is not a fair position. The hope would seem to be that eventually, with all conspiracy thinking pushed by censorship into the hard-to-find and unsavoury fringes of the online world, most of us will forget that such views ever existed or will never think to seek them out. But that is not the same as having dealt with something.
Conspiracy thinking is likely always to be with us because it is a natural compulsion of people to ask questions when something does not feel quite right. Whether they reach the correct conclusions is another matter but denying them the right to ask the questions is no solution. Those who do believe we must continue to challenge authorities need to ensure that the evidence for their beliefs is always robust and convincing, not just hearsay, and must try to keep their challenges visible to all within reasonable means, no matter how many times they are censored. The public need to be reminded that conspiracies do sometimes exist and that it is not a wrong thing to point this out.
With a little persistence, the desperate claim that no conspiracies of any kind exist will eventually be seen to be the empty absurdity it is and a more balanced way of keeping debates alive about the likes of the Kennedy assassination and other big areas of contention will in the end have to be forged. If not, we will end up living in a worrying and overly-controlled world of very unhealthy delusion.
Interview conducted between Andy Thomas and Nicolas Montigiani, October 2022, for Inexpliqué magazine
Andy is the main guest in a documentary on the controversies surrounding the assassination of John F Kennedy, entitled Who Killed JFK? – The Conspiracies, which is available to watch on Amazon Prime at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Who-Killed-Conspiracies-Andy-Thomas/dp/B08KYM8LY1