On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. The nation mourned his tragic and senseless death, and witnessed the collapse of the mythical Camelot he and his young family had created. Friends and foes alike demanded answers—nay, the truth—to bring the individual or group responsible to justice.
That has either happened or not happened, depending on who and what you believe.
The Warren Commission’s 888-page report identified ex-Marine and Communist sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman. Conspiracy theorists immediately mocked this report as a government plot to mask what happened. They suggested other possibilities, both plausible and insane. The list includes: Jack Ruby (the shady nightclub owner who assassinated Oswald while in police custody), the FBI, CIA, Soviet Union, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Israel, top Republicans and Democrats, aliens (both illegal and from outer space), unidentified gunmen, and even Chief Justice Earl Warren himself.
Fred Litwin’s intriguing book, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak, details his personal journey away from the grand conspiracy and into reality. His deftness in sweeping JFK conspiracy theorists aside with facts and logic is hard not to admire and appreciate. While not the first to have attempted this, Litwin’s book can be deservingly called one of the most powerful on the subject in recent years.
What attracted the retired marketing professional, NorthernBlues Music founder, and former leftist who shifted to conservatism after 9/11 and started the (now-defunct) blog Gay and Right, and the Free Thinking Film Society, to the JFK assassination?
He became entranced when Robert Groden showed clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder’s stunning, 27-second colorized film in its entirety on Good Night America with Geraldo Rivera on Mar. 6, 1975. “The studio audience gasped at the fatal head shot,” Litwin writes, and “[s]o did I.” Like other Americans who watched that telecast, the then-eighteen year old Litwin was puzzled by the fact JFK’s head “moved back, and to the left, in an unmistakable motion.” If Oswald was situated in the building behind the motorcade, how could the President’s head have gone backwards after the shot was fired? It didn’t make sense, and “could only mean that there was a second gunman and hence a conspiracy.”
This is what many people probably thought after they saw Groden’s bootleg copy of the Zapruder film. When they heard social activist Dick Gregory allege “the motorcade route had been changed,” and ask “who had the power to ensure it went right by where Lee Harvey Oswald happened to work?” it would’ve heightened their suspicions. And when writer/historian Ralph Schoenman made claims about Oswald (“both an FBI and CIA agent, according to Secret Service document 767”) and Ruby (told his psychiatrist “he was part of a plot to kill Kennedy,” and his death from lung cancer in 1967 was “suspicious”), they probably lost their collective minds.
But the biggest conspiracy may turn out to be the belief there was a conspiracy to assassinate JFK in the first place.
Litwin’s a-ha moment occurred when he began to look into the autopsy X-rays and photographs. These were “in the possession of the Kennedy family,” but urologist John Lattimer and forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht had separately examined them in 1972. Lattimer “was firmly in the lone-gunman camp and his illustrated articles on the medical evidence were superb.” His experiments of a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet going through a simulated neck “found that the bullet started to tumble after exiting.” Wecht adamantly believed “the head shot was NOT fired from the front,” in contrast to the Warren report. He felt the second movement of JFK’s head after being shot “was probably caused by a neuromuscular spasm causing involuntary muscle movement.”
Rivera’s three experts weren’t so trustworthy. Groden’s written about JFK assassination conspiracy theories for years, and claimed that “some of the JFK autopsy photographs have been doctored.” Gregory was a left-wing “loon,” gave lectures at university campuses which “were just plain kooky,” became a 9-11 truther, and never met a JFK—or Martin Luther King Jr.—conspiracy theory he didn’t like. Schoenman was a Trotskyist who claimed Oswald had links to military intelligence and the CIA with “no evidence to back it up,” supported left-wing radicals like Che Guevara, and developed an “anti-Israel animus.”
I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak lifts the deep, dark veil on other bizarre stories, characters, and revelations about this presidential assassination. For instance, Litwin thoroughly dismantles Oliver Stone’s movie JFK (1991) in one of the book’s strongest chapters. He blasts away at the “leftist film director” for creating an Academy Award-winning picture that touts an “evil homosexual conspiracy.” More to the point, he believes Stone made a movie that profiled Jim Garrison, “the real-life prosecutor who wrongfully charged a gay man of conspiring with other homosexuals to kill Kennedy.” Indeed, the storyline makes Garrison “the hero and his innocent gay victim, Clay Shaw, the evil villain.”
But there’s another underlying theme to Stone’s film: JFK had to be assassinated before he started his plan of “pulling troops out of Vietnam and ending the Cold War.” Litwin correctly recognizes this suggestion as a “left-wing myth”—JFK was a Cold Warrior “through and through.” Indeed, the then-President’s planned speech in Austin, Texas was going to favorably discuss his increase in military spending.
So, where did Stone get this information from?
His technical advisor for JFK was Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, who worked in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Operations until his retirement in Dec. 1963. Prouty had a “history of crackpot relationships,” from Lyndon LaRouche’s organization to Willis Carto’s far-right Liberty Lobby and Institute for Historical Review. “And guess who introduced Prouty’s work to Oliver Stone?” Litwin asks. “None other than Jim Garrison,” who is skewered by the author in a separate chapter.
Another JFK assassination story has a Canadian twist. Brian McKenna, an award-winning producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program The Fifth Estate, has produced six documentaries about the JFK assassination. While millions of viewers have watched his projects, it’s hard to imagine even a handful know exactly what his interests are in this particular subject.
A CBC associate told Litwin that McKenna was “obsessed” with the JFK assassination because they’re both Irish-Catholic. While this is certainly plausible, the producer’s 2010 speech to JFK Lancer, “a Texas-based organization predicated on the fervent belief that the U.S. government has conspired for over half a century to hide the truth from the world regarding the JFK assassination,” revealed something quite different. In accepting the group’s Pioneer Award McKenna suggested the assassination was a “sophisticated coup plotted by the U.S. military and CIA with support from Hoover’s FBI and Kennedy’s bodyguards, the Secret Service.” Moreover, he felt the mafia and billionaire H.L. Hunt were “co-conspirators” and vice-president Lyndon Baines Johnson “supported the coup which made him President.”
Unsurprisingly, McKenna has enlisted Prouty’s help on two occasions. He’s featured author David Lifton, a JFK conspiracy theorist, in four documentaries, and called his work “riveting.” One documentary, Dallas and After, contained various mistakes about basic facts and incorrectly claimed Oswald, a sharpshooter in the Marines, “was a poor marksman.” An advisor on that documentary, Peter Dale Scott, has “paraded out an endless array of corrupt people with ominous connections” and little in the way of proof.
Litwin has performed an important service in exposing the dark underbelly of JFK conspiracy theories, and the tangled web its proponents have weaved for decades. Readers must decide what is fact or fiction about this assassination, and whether to finally come to terms with the long-standing theory that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.