Conspiracy Thinking and the John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Assassinations: Part IHistorians/History
tags: MLK, RFK, Kennedys, RFK assassination, MLK assassination
Mr. Ayton is the author of The JFK Assassination : Dispelling The Myths (Woodfield Publishing 2002) and Questions Of Controversy: The Kennedy Brothers (University of Sunderland Press 2001). His latest book, A Racial Crime – James Earl Ray And The Murder Of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, was published in the United States by ArcheBooks in February 2005. In 2003 he acted as the historical adviser for the BBC’s television documentary, The Kennedy Dynasty, broadcast in November of that year and has written articles for David Horowitz’s Frontpage magazine, History Ireland, Crime Magazine and the History News Network. In 2006 he was interviewed about his latest book, The Forgotten Terrorist- Sirhan Sirhan and the Murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, for the NBC television documentary, Conspiracy: Mind Control.
A child dies from some unexplained illness; fisherman sail off never to return; random violence takes the life of an innocent bystander. And always behind these tragic events lies the question – Why? But there is a rational answer to such purported mysteries and it lies in the nature of the human mind which needs to bring order out of chaos; to seek truth where there is no truth. We must invent it because that too is the nature of the human condition. Believing in conspiracies and rejecting coincidences is more comforting than facing up to the fact that some things just happen.
Most conspiracy theorists see little merit in simplicity – to them it suggests feeble-mindedness. They often see the world as a black and white entity; enemies are clearly defined and there is a total absence of trust in any individual who works for the government. Conspiracy advocates were primed from the start. 60s America was awash with anti-war and anti-government sentiment and the media had been inundated with speculation about the JFK assassination. Given the mind-set of the public during this period it was inevitable Americans would link the RFK and MLK assassinations to suspicions about the JFK murder. As time passed these concerns grew into a popular view that not everything had been explained by the government.
During the past four decades American citizens were presented with a constant stream of books, television documentaries and op-ed newspaper accounts which seemed to suggest that the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK had hidden histories; histories that would reveal secret agendas and powerful dark forces that controlled American society. When logical answers were provided to explain some of the anomalies that existed in the assassinations, conspiracy advocates fanned the flames by finding patterns and connections where none existed or connected some parts of the story to speculation about hidden plotters and sinister forces who tried to hide the truth.
Post-Watergate America became intensely susceptible to conspiracy arguments. Many Americans began to wonder why these murders had happened at all. And because of the chaos and turmoil which followed the shootings it had always been extremely difficult to reconstruct the event in order to make sense of what happened. The assassinations were also criminal acts involving famous people therefore the cases demanded the closest scrutiny by investigative bodies. The amount of evidence in these cases was therefore voluminous. A less than perfect explanation for the assassinations was inevitable. As a result, the conspiracy-minded were always able to uncover one discrepancy after another from the thousands of pages of documented evidence. Thousands of people followed the case and were able, through their collective consciousness, to select many pieces of the murder case puzzles to construct numerous arguments rebutting the official conclusions. As William Buckley wrote, “If O.J. (Simpson) was found not guilty, why can’t everybody be found not guilty?”
The American public also came to believe that conspiracy theories were far more coherent than reality because they leave no room for mistakes, ambiguities and failures which are a prevalent feature in any human system. Allard Lowenstein, one of the first leading proponents of a conspiracy in the murder of Robert Kennedy, echoed these sentiments when he said, “Robert Kennedy’s death, like the president’s (JFK), was mourned as an extension of the evils of senseless violence…a whimsical fate inconveniently interfering in the workings of democracy. What is odd is not that some people thought it was all random, but that so many intelligent people refused to believe that it might be anything else. Nothing can measure more graphically how limited was the general understanding of what is possible in America.”
Some answers about the assassinations were never found, many mistakes were made by investigators and there were unrealistic expectations that the public would be presented with ‘perfect’ criminal cases with orderly, pristine and conclusive evidence.
For example, in the chaos of those crucial moments, many Lorraine Motel, Dealey Plaza and Ambassador Hotel eyewitnesses gave conflicting stories as to what occurred during the shootings. The LAPD did not secure the crime scene very well. The Dallas Police were less than competent in not only securing the physical evidence in the case but also in providing sufficient protection for Lee Harvey Oswald. The area around the MLK murder scene was not secured by Memphis Police in the moments after the shooting.
However, instead of concluding that all bureaucracies are fraught with imperfect methods, conspiracy advocates pointed the finger of suspicion at unknown ‘conspirators’ and accused the LAPD, the Dallas Police, the Memphis Police and the FBI of deliberate cover-ups.
Reconstructing the JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations was like fitting jigsaw pieces together. Some fell into place immediately whilst others did not fit quite exactly. There were bad joints here and there in much the same way that eyewitnesses have faulty memories. Human beings are programmed to see patterns and conspiracies and this tendency increases when we see danger. The notion goes back to primitive man who learned to spot danger signs in a bush and thus became programmed to avoid dangerous animals. It was not unusual for ‘witnesses’ to see ‘second shooters’ in Dealey Plaza, the area around the Lorraine Motel and the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. In the chaos and confusion that resulted when Oswald, Sirhan and Ray fired their weapons some observers reacted by trying to impose some sense of order. It was like a shooter firing his pistol and then drawing a target around the bullet hole. We give it meaning because it does mean something – but only to us.
It would therefore be surprising had no witnesses come forward to relate the existence of ‘second shooters’. If a stream of bullets were ricocheting off Elm Street and bouncing off ceiling tiles in the Ambassador pantry – if the echoes of the shots were reverberating throughout - it would have been a natural inclination, in the periods following the shootings and before the shock of the events had worn off, to believe more than one gunman had been present at each event. In the cases of JFK, RFK and MLK the only ‘credible’ witnesses to ‘second shooters’ were later discovered to be not credible at all, but only after researchers spent years investigating their claims.
The truths about ‘eyewitness’ testimony in the midst of chaos and turmoil was first recognised by the United States Army. Many of their reports about battles, based on combat experienced veterans, have shown that it is extraordinarily difficult to make sense out of a battle until the following day when soldiers have had a chance to experience a good night’s sleep. Information from ‘shell-shocked’ soldiers immediately after combat, the Army discovered, was notoriously poor. Following an intensely traumatic event the information may still be in the brain but it has not been processed in such a manner that it can be retrieved. Many ‘witnesses’ in the JFK, RFK and MLK murders who gave reports about the shooting immediately after the event later formulated better ‘pictures’ of what occurred in subsequent interviews.
Other witnesses discovered their memories of events connected with the assassinations were not as reliable as they initially thought. Some came forward to give detailed information about Sirhan Sirhan’s activities in the weeks and months preceding the RFK assassination and of how Sirhan had been accompanied by unidentified accomplices. When asked to state their stories were based on ‘positive identification’ many balked. Some witnesses like gun salesman, Larry Arnot, were eventually given polygraph tests which showed their stories were suspect and not believable. Arnot failed his test and admitted he could not remember selling Sirhan bullets at a time the young Arab visited the gunshop where he worked. Arnot eventually realised he had confused the Sirhan sale with another after the gunshop owner’s wife mentioned to him that Sirhan had been in the shop with others. Mrs Herrick, too, withdrew her story after she said she could not be sure. Mrs Herrick’s polygraph test revealed she could not honestly remember the alleged incident.
In the JFK case Beverly Oliver was typical of how some witnesses promoted themselves through interviews with gullible conspiracy researchers. Oliver’s claims that she had seen Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald and David Ferrie in Ruby’s nightclub were investigated by others and found to be bogus. (see: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/home.htm). She also claimed to have filmed the assassination using a camera that had not been manufactured in 1963.This information did not prevent numerous conspiracy writers from using her tall tales. Similarly, MLK conspiracy author William Pepper believed in the conspiracy claims made by Memphis restaurant owner Loyd Jowers even after numerous Jowers family relatives and friends came forward to tell the Memphis District Attorney Jowers had been lying and had invented his stories to ‘make some money’. Furthermore, many writers cling on to these witness stories for without them their conspiracy scenarios would collapse.
Conspiracy theorists seized upon numerous anomalies in the investigative reports of the assassinations – they expected all the pieces would fit together exactly, witnesses would give truthful stories and all the evidence collected without any mistakes having been made. Above all, investigations into political assassinations which go beyond the brief of a simple murder, requires informed judgements about the way Police Departments and American government investigative agencies work and also the ability to comprehend complex reports about ballistics, forensic pathology and crime scenes. But the public cannot form such judgements. They can glimpse only fragments of the covert picture – and since the world of conspiracy is essentially one of duplicity, carefully selecting evidence and relying on the testimonies of known liars and conmen, they have no way of knowing who is telling the truth or who or what to believe. Furthermore, how can the government ‘disprove’ the FBI and the CIA had been involved in the JFK, MLK and RFK assassinations when the public did not believe any claims the agencies made? The outcome has been a lethal open season of claim and counter-claim, in which partial out-of-context or otherwise misleadingly presented portions of ‘facts’ have been put before a bemused public which is in no position to judge their veracity. Thus a majority of the ‘American public’ are led into believing there had been conspiratorial involvement in the three assassinations.
In this alternatively constructed world conspiracy advocates claim they are the only people who can be judged to be reliable sources - ‘lone assassin’ proponents, they allege, are ‘tools’ of the government. But as the conspiracists probe deeper into the complexities of the cases they also connect together pieces of the puzzle that don’t necessarily need to fit or are the result of mere chance. Conspiracy advocates also fail to apply logical and rational answers to many of their conclusions about what really happened. Because the LAPD had made a number of mistakes in the collection and handling of the physical evidence in the RFK shooting and had difficulties in reconstructing the crime (due to the chaotic circumstances of the shooting) it was automatically assumed there were sinister reasons for the anomalies in the collection of the physical evidence – someone had been ‘covering up’. But, as Police Chief Daryl Gates reasoned, conspiracy advocates seek the least plausible explanation. As Gates reasoned, “In my mind, only one question remains unanswered…That is, how could you possibly get the police, the FBI, the Secret Service, prosecutors, courts and special commissions ALL to engage in this cover-up conspiracy?”
The way the LAPD had mishandled particular pieces of evidence was not at all unusual. Expert forensic scientist Michael Baden, who was called in to examine the JFK assassination medical evidence and the ballistics evidence for Martin Luther King’s murder, explained how physical evidence in notorious cases has a way of disappearing. But not because of any sinister motive, Baden insisted, simply because people wanted to collect memorabilia. As Baden explained, “Memorabilia of the famous have a way of vanishing into doctors’ private collections. This is what happened to Einstein’s brain. In the 1950’s, Martin Luther King was treated at Harlem Hospital for a stab wound in the chest. In 1978, when we tried to get his medical records and X rays for the House Assassinations Committee (HSCA), they were missing. The administrator had put them in a safe, but somehow they had disappeared ….(Missing evidence) …happens all the time; people take x-rays, brain tissue, microscopic slides – almost anything – as collectibles.”
Part II of this article will appear next week.
comments powered by Disqus
Robert Douglas Rowe - 6/29/2007
I'm no clairvoyant or genius, but I am willing to bet anything Mel has never worked anywhere near organized crime or talked at any length with anyone who has. His idea that 'things just happen' would not be useful in any 'real' investigative capacity.
Steve Broce - 3/24/2006
BTW, Fred, I appreciate the link for the free designer bag (?), but don't carry a handbag, free or otherwise.
Steve Broce - 3/24/2006
Fred, the reason I place no reliance on the unlikely story that Vanunu tells is simple. Vanunu has never provided any details of the “plot” and has every reason to lie to blacken Israel’s reputation.
You state that Vanunu never claimed to have first-hand knowledge of the assassination, but that “it was common knowledge” at Dimona, where he worked.
First, I can find no record that Vanunu ever made such a statement and I challenge you to document your claim. As best I can determine, Vanunu only made the “Israel assassinated JFK” claim in one interview that he gave to Al-Hayet, an Arab language paper. He never claimed that this information was ‘common knowledge” at Dimona. He claimed that he had come to the conclusion that Israel had assassinated JFK based upon “near certain indications”, which he never further explained. This is most unpersuasive. Your claim that Vanunu stated that the plot was “common knowledge” at Dimona appears to be more puffery of the evidence on your part to make Israel look complicit.
As for Vanunu’s age at the time of the JFK assassination, let me state that I was born in July of 1954, 3 month before Vanunu. I was 9 at the time of the JFK assassination. If I was 9, then Vanunu was 9. I do not see how you arrive at your conclusion that if Vanunu was born on 10/13/54, then he was 10 on 11/22/63. He most assuredly was 9, just as I stated. Check your math.
You continue to insist that Vanunu was a “physicist”. This is more puffery on your part. Check your facts. Vanunu was a PHILOSOPHY student and never graduated from college. He received a few months of training when he started at Dimona. He describes himself as technician and specifically denies that he was a “physicist”.
Check this article. It is very sympathetic to Vanunu, but it clearly states that he was not a “physicist”
Of course, I know that it makes him sound much more authoritive for you describe him as a ‘physicist”, rather that a “technician”, but the facts are the facts.
You state that Vanunu is believable because “he has given up years of his life to publicize Israel's now-admitted nuke program. He was truthful. He was right. He paid. To pay such a price for the sake of truth bespeaks integrity. Liars take the easy way out.”
This is silly. Vanunu was laid off from Dimona. He then left Israel and wondered the Globe, eventually ending up in England. It was here that he “told the truth" about something that was no surprise to anyone. By 1986, most people knew or suspected Israel had nuclear weapons. But it was only from this place of safety that Vanunu “told the truth”, never expecting to pay any price for his duplicity. But poor Mordechai. He had the hots for an American women working for Israel and allowed himself to be lured to Italy, where the Israeli’s put the “habeas grabus” on him and wisked him home, where he was tried and convicted.
He deserves no accolades for betraying secrets which he had sworn not to reveal. He disclosed these secrets never expecting to pay any price whatsoever. His mis-calculation does him no credit.
Did Vanunu “tell the truth” about Israel’s nuclear program. Sure, in the same way that Julius Rosenberg told the Soviets “the truth” about the US nuclear program. Does that make him credible? No way, not to me.
By the way, Fred, if the Israeli connection to the JFK assassination was “common knowledge” around Dimona when Vanunu worked there, why didn’t he reveal that to the world back in 1986? That was certainly more important, if true, than revealing the existence of a nuclear weapons program that had been an open secret for years. I’ll tell you why. Because Vanunu spent 18 years in prison for something that he has never acknowledged was wrong. He hates Israel and would say anything to make it look bad.
Now then, you claim that the “sharp spat” between Kennedy and Ben Gurion was “pretty public”. There was a sharp diplomatic exchange between JFK and Ben Gurion. However, Ben Gurion WAS NOT the Israeli prime minister at the time of the assassination. He had stepped down 5 months before. At any rate, motive, if indeed this exchange was “motive”, does not prove anything. By your measure, anyone with a political disagreement with JFK would be a suspect. Again, where is your evidence?
You accuse me of going “out on a limb with such flaky arguments.” Understand this, with respect to Israel and the JFK assassination; I consider your arguments to be flakier than a box of Wheaties.
Ultimately, your argument relies on the word of one man, Mordechai Vanunu. You know what I think of his credibility.
Frederick Thomas - 3/23/2006
It seems that you are wedded to the talking point of Vannunu's age in 1964. Vannunu never said that he was an eye witness. He says that this coup was common knowledge at Demona when he worked there 1975-85, a period of ten years.
By the way, MV was 10 at the time of Kennedy's assassination, not 9 as Mr. Ayton asserts, and you follow. He was born Oct 13th.
And I presume the source of your second talking point have never had anything at all to do with nuclear weapons.
Most of those with the title of "specialist" or "technician" are physicists, or have equivalent training. "Low level technicians" (sic) do not exist, as everyone who has contact with these weapons in any form could cause a horrendous accident if he does not understand how it works. You seem to want to make MV a janitor, which is bs.
So why is MV credible?
First, he has given up years of his life to publicize Israel's now-admitted nuke program. He was truthful. He was right. He paid. To pay such a price for the sake of truth bespeaks integrity. Liars take the easy way out.
Second, the sharp spat between Ben Gurion and JFK was pretty public. BG reportedly screamed at JFK: "You are threatening the survival of Israel!" That looks like motive to me, and since BG once sent Menachem Begin to England to assasinate the British Foreign Minister, opportunity as well. Would thugs who tried to "off" a foreign minister stop at a president?
I do not understand why you are willing to go out on a limb with such flaky arguments. That does not seem like you. Your unwillingness to even consider this possibility in the face of such evidence as exists is enough to arouse suspicion.
No one seriously challenges that BG, MB, and IS were all terrorists and mass murderers and also Israeli Prime Ministers. All have had their faces on British wanted posters, for murder. Together, they have the blood of 100,000 civilian victims on their hands, according to UN figures. Yet you are unwilling to consider the obvious. Strange.
Perhaps you believe that what MV asserts is true, but as an Israeli advocate are unwilling to admit it publicly.
Steve Broce - 3/21/2006
Fred, for Christ’s sake try to concentrate. Vanunu’s age at the time of the JFK assassination is obviously relevant to the notion that he might have some first–hand knowledge of the assassination. Vanunu was 9 at the time (as was I), making it extremely unlikely that he has any first-hand knowledge. Or do you suggest that Ben-Gurion recruited a 9 year-old into the “conspiracy”.
As for Vanunu being a “major part” of Israel’s nuclear program, two points: One, this is yet another example of your constant puffery of evidence. You previously described Vanunu as a “physicist” (which he is not) and now you claim that Vanunu (a low level technician) was a major part of the Israeli nuclear program (which he was not). Two, all that aside, what does Vanunu’s connection with Israel’s nuclear program prove about the JFK assassination?
Was Ben Gurion psychologically capable of having JFK assassinated? Perhaps, but so what. As I have pointed out to you before, your mother COULD have assassinated Kennedy, but that doesn’t mean she did.
But all your latest fascination with the “Israeli connection” really proves is that on the subject of Israel, you’ve become pathological.
Fred, last month you vigorously defended Jim Garrison’s pathetic theory that JFK was assassinated by a CIA/military conspiracy. This month, you are touting Mordechai Vanunu’s unsubstantiated accusations that it was really Israel that assassinated JFK.
What will it be next month, Fred?
Mel Ayton - 3/21/2006
Readers might be interested in the fact that I was 14 years old when JFK was assassinated and I have been studying this case since that time.Our ages, however, are altogether irrelevant.
Once again Thomas is engaging in anti-Israeli 'rhetoric'. He is also asking the reader to believe his ridiculous premise without supplying any credible and factual information whatsoever.
Thomas may wish to reconsider his position and spend some useful time answering Steve Broce's questions instead of once more showing how he has misread and misunderstood another of my articles.
Frederick Thomas - 3/21/2006
Is there any reason why you two toadies for the Warren Comission and apologists for Israel refuse to state your facts, or engage in something other than brainless ad homini?
If you have something factual to put forward, put it forward. Or are you still so bemused that you cannot get beyond the magic bullet?
And by the way, Vannunu's age at the time has nothing to do with him being a major part of the nuclear program which was Ben Gurion's baby. How old were you? Minus 30? Ben Gurion as chief of Irgun ordered a hundred thousand deaths, according to to the UN. Why would he hesitate for a minute at ordering one more killing to keep his precious nukes?
Grow some grey matter, children.
Mel Ayton - 3/20/2006
Ben Gurion killed Kennedy? - absurd speculation once again from Frederick Thomas who has been trying to peddle this stuff for some months now - what crackpot nonsense!
Frederick Thomas - 3/20/2006
So the fragile human mind reaches for explanations when there are none?
"...the human mind which needs to bring order out of chaos." What a crock!
That combined with the most superficial possible analysis of extremely selective bits from three rather complex bodies of evidence makes this article worthless, even as an apologist's manifesto.
I suspect that the reason why so many professional apologists are flogging their wares right now is that Israeli dissident and nuclear scientist Mordechai Vannunu has made credible
accusations that David Ben Gurion, the first leader of Israel and big-time terrorist, had JFK shot for threatening to publicize Israel's nuke program. It will not work, guys.
80% of Americans reject these facile lies because they are just simplistic nonsense, designed to misrepresent things which any layman who is qualified to sit a jury can interpret for himself. Right, Mordechai?
- Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation among documents sold for $6.2m in New York
- Family shines light on American POW killed by Hiroshima blast
- In Hiroshima 71 years after first atomic strike, Obama calls for end of nuclear weapons
- Artist Corrects Inaccuracies At The George W. Bush Library With Augmented Reality
- “Unprecedented” discovery of mysterious structures created by Neanderthals
- History Relevance Campaign meets at the Smithsonian
- Bernard Lewis Turns 100
- Jean Edward Smith, biographer of FDR and Ike, has a new biography coming out … of George W. Bush
- Flora Fraser, biographer of George and Martha Washington, wins $50,000 George Washington Prize