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On JFK and Conspiracy Theories

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JFKfacts.org links to a 12-minute video commentary called “Conspiracy’s Grip,” which focuses on various conspiracies and conspiracy theories, including the JFK assassination. Among the people who are featured in the commentary is Jefferson Morley, a former reporter for the Washington Post who runs the JFK Facts website and who will be one of the speakers at our upcoming conference “The National Security State and JFK.” Morley is the author of FFF’s bestselling ebook CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files; Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA; and (upcoming in October) The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton.

A fascinating aspect of the video commentary is how it lumps the JFK conspiracy with a host of other conspiracies, some of which are bogus. While the commentary appears to be simply an analysis of conspiracy theories in general, I got the distinct impression that the real purpose of the commentary was to suggest that the notion of conspiracy in the JFK assassination is as bogus as, say, the conspiracy in what has become known as Pizza-gate.

I was particularly struck by the statement at the end of the video by a man named Robert A. Goldberg, who is professor of history at the University of Utah, who, after referring to President Trump, lamented, “We are going to have a great deal of difficulty rooting conspiracy thinking out of the American mainstream.”

I find Goldberg’s type of mindset absolutely fascinating. Why would anyone want to root out conspiracy thinking from anyone, especially people whose minds orient toward critical thinking and do not automatically defer to authority?

Let’s start with an indisputable fact, one that might make people like Goldberg very uncomfortable: There are conspiracies happening on a regular basis, or at least allegations of conspiracies. If you don’t believe me, walk into any federal courtroom in the land. Ask the U.S. District Court Clerk to show you copies of pending federal indictments. I will guarantee you that the very first count of the vast majority of those indictments alleges … yes, conspiracy. In drug cases, it might be conspiracy to possess or conspiracy to distribute, but you can bet your bottom dollar that in most federal criminal indictments there will be an allegation of conspiracy.

What’s fascinating is that no one ever makes a big deal out of this. Here you have the Justice Department regularly accusing a vast number of people of conspiracy and there isn’t anyone out there exclaiming, “Conspiracy theory!” or calling U.S. Attorneys and assistant U.S. Attorneys conspiracy theorists.

Why is that? It’s because everyone recognizes that there are, in fact, lots of conspiracies taking place in society at any given time. The number of criminal indictments and convictions for conspiracy attest to that phenomenon.

What is a conspiracy? It’s really nothing special or extraordinary. A conspiracy is simply an agreement between two or more people to engage in an unlawful or nefarious act. That’s it. If a person does it all by himself, it’s not a conspiracy. If he does it in concert with one or more people, then it’s a conspiracy.

Thus, for the life of me, I have never been able to understand the mindsets of people like Goldberg. Why would anyone want to “root out conspiracy thinking” when conspiracies are nothing special and happen all the time, as reflected by all those federal criminal indictments and convictions. Does Goldberg want to root out conspiracy thinking within federal prosecutors?

Most of the time, those federal criminal indictments involve conspiracies between private individuals. But the fact is that there are also conspiracies that periodically take place within the government. As much as some people have convinced themselves that Watergate was the only conspiracy ever engaged in by federal officials, such is clearly not the case.

A good example is the Chilean coup of 1973, especially since it bears some similarities to the Kennedy assassination.

In 1970, a man named Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile. Allende, who had been a Chilean physician, believed in socialism and communism, much like former U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders does. Allende received a plurality of votes in the election, which meant that the Chilean parliament would decide who would be president. They elected Allende, who served 3 years of a 6-year term, until he was violently ousted in a coup in 1973 that was engineered by the Chilean national-security establishment.

If anyone in 1973 alleged that the U.S. national-security establishment might have played a role in the events leading up the coup, people like Goldberg would have undoubtedly exclaimed, “Conspiracy theory! We need to root out conspiracy thinking among the American people.”

But what oftentimes happens in cases like this is that there are people whose minds orient toward critical thinking and who don’t automatically defer to authority. They notice anomalies and inconsistencies in the official story that don’t make sense. They pull on a strand and keep pulling. They press for answers and explanations for what seem to others (i.e., those who don’t have critical mindsets and who automatically defer to authority) to be picayunish things. It is those people whose perseverance and determination ultimately bring to light the truth and the facts of the actual conspiracy.

That’s in fact what happened in Watergate. If it hadn’t been for Woodward and Bernstein, Watergate would have been just another “conspiracy theory,” one that today would be poo-pooed by those whose minds do not orient toward critical thinking and who lean toward deference to authority. It was because Woodward and Bernstein kept pulling on those stands that didn’t make sense, despite the objections of those who were claiming that there wasn’t a conspiracy, that the conspiracy to obstruct justice finally came to light.

In 1973, CIA Director Richard Helms testified before Congress about events in Chile. He told Congress under oath that the CIA had played no role in bringing about the Chilean coup. At that point, there were undoubtedly people like Goldberg, who exclaimed, “See, I told you so, another conspiracy theory, as Helms has testified! We just have to root our conspiracy thinking among the American people!”

But there were those strands, the anomalies and inconsistencies that didn’t make sense. And there were those with minds engage in critical thinking and who don’t automatically defer to authority. Ignoring the pleas of those who wanted the entire matter dropped as some sort of conspiracy theory, they kept pulling on the strands and kept pressing for answers and explanations.

Because of them, the entire U.S. conspiracy about Chile came to light. And, yes, it was a conspiracy. Actually, it was a big conspiracy in which many smaller conspiracies were enveloped.

The fact, as discomforting as it might be for some people to accept, was that Helms had lied. He had committed perjury before Congress. He might even have agreed with others, especially within the CIA, that he was going to lie, which would make it both perjury and a conspiracy to commit perjury.

The big conspiracy, which Helms and others were trying to keep secret, was to secretly bring about regime change in Chile, one that would oust Allende from power and replace him with a brutal “pro-capitalist,” anti-communist rightwing military dictatorship.

As part of the big conspiracy, some U.S. officials conspired to bribe members of the Chilean parliament to vote for someone other than Allende. Bribery of government officials is a felony. That conspiracy took place partly here in the United States and partly in Chile. No one was ever indicted for it.

Another conspiracy involved convincing the Chilean national-security establishment to “save” the country by initiating a violent coup that would install a military dictatorship over the country. A military coup was illegal under Chilean law and the Chilean constitution. No one was ever indicted for it.

Another conspiracy involved one to violently kidnap the commanding general of the Chilean armed forces, Gen. Rene Schneider, who, having taken an oath to support and defend his country’s constitution, was opposed to a coup. U.S. officials, both here in the United States and Chile, conspired to have him kidnapped. Both kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap are felonies. Schneider was killed in the kidnapping attempt. That made the conspirators guilty of the crime of felony-murder. No one was ever indicted for conspiracy to kidnap and murder Rene Schneider.

Another conspiracy involved the cover-up of the CIA’s role in Schneider’s kidnapping and assassination. The CIA, undoubtedly operating on orders from people in Washington or Virginia, paid hush money to the kidnappers-murderers to keep them silent and repossessed the high-powered weapons that the CIA had smuggled into the country for the kidnapping. No one ever was ever indicted for that conspiracy.

Another conspiracy was to have the CIA engage in actions intended to bring economic suffering, possibly even starvation, to the people of Chile. For example, CIA officials bribed Chilean truck drivers to go on strike so that they wouldn’t deliver food to people around the country. The aim was to cause the Chilean people to suffer so that they would call for or welcome a coup. No one was ever indicted for this conspiracy.

Another conspiracy involved the murder of two American men, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, both of whom were leftist, socialist, or communist. Teruggi’s ideological situation was made worse by the fact that he had opposed the Vietnam War, which the U.S. was losing in 1973. Horman’s ideological situation was made worse by the fact that he had discovered U.S. participation in the coup and intended to disclose it. The U.S. conspiracy to have both men murdered by Chilean national-security officials was later revealed in a secret State Department memo, which stated that U.S. intelligence had played a role in their murders, a memo that some U.S. officials conspired to keep secret. Since it is highly unlikely that U.S. agents on the ground in Chile would have ordered the murder of two American citizens without approval from Washington or Virginia, that means that the conspiracy to murder Horman and Teruggi extended to the United States, where it is a crime. No one was ever indicted for conspiracy to murder Horman or Teruggi.

As it turned out, Helms had lied to Congress, intentionally. The people who were poo-pooing suspicions in the early 1970s that the U.S. government was involved in the events leading up to the Chilean coup were proven wrong. Thanks to those people who engaged in critical thinking, who refused to defer to authority, and who demanded answers to unexplained anomalies and inconsistencies in the evidence, the entire conspiracy to effect regime change in Chile, as well as all the subsidiary conspiracies, ultimately came to light.

It’s no different with the Kennedy assassination. Those with mindsets that are unable to engage in critical thinking or who automatically defer to authority simply exclaim, “Conspiracy theory!” But when you ask them to explain a strand of circumstantial evidence that cries out for explanation, they stare at you blankly. Their minds simply are incapable of doing that.

For example, if I were to ask Goldberg or any other person who shares his mindset to explain Saundra Spencer’s testimony before the Assassination Records Review Board, my hunch is that he would answer, “Who is Saundra Spencer?” The question would probably seem unimportant to him, an annoyance.

U.S. Navy petty officer Saundra Spencer was in charge of the White House Laboratory at the Naval Photographic Center in Washington. In that position, she dealt regularly with classified information and worked closely with the White House.

During the weekend of the assassination, Spencer was asked to develop the autopsy photographs of President Kennedy, on a top-secret basis. She complied with the request.

Thirty years later, in the 1990s, Spencer was summoned to testify before the Assassination Records Review Board. The ARRB was the commission established to secure release of long-secret records of the CIA, the Pentagon, the FBI, the Secret Service, and other federal agencies that related to the assassination of President Kennedy. Congress called the commission into existence as part of the JFK Records Act in response to the outcry over continued secrecy generated by Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, which posited that the Kennedy assassination was a regime-change operation based on “national security.” (See FFF’s best-selling ebook JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne, who served on the staff of the ARRB.)

During her sworn testimony before the ARRB, Spencer was asked to identify the autopsy photographs that are in the official record. After examining the official photographs, she stated directly and unequivocally that the autopsy photographs that are in the official records were not the ones that she developed during the weekend of the assassination. She stated directly and unequivocally that the photographs she developed showed a large exit-type wound in the back of Kennedy’s head, which would connote having been shot from the front. The autopsy photographs in the official records depict the back of Kennedy’s head to be fully intact.

A person like Goldberg might say, “Oh, no big deal. That’s just a minor point. Let’s move on. We’ve got to root out conspiracy thinking in the American people.”

Not so to someone whose mind orients toward critical thinking and who doesn’t automatically defer to authority. That’s an anomaly that cries out for explanation. It’s a strand that needs pulling.

It would be virtually impossible to find a more credible witness than Saundra Spencer. The possibility that she would falsify evidence, especially relating to the assassination of a president of the United States, was, for all practical purposes, non-existent.

Yet to this day—and certainly not at the time she testified, no member of the Pentagon, the CIA, or any other person has ever offered any explanation for Spencer’s testimony. To my knowledge, no one has ever accused her of lying or being mistaken about what the photographs she developed–and certainly not at the time she testified and was still alive to refute any adverse accusations. If she were lying or mistaken in what she told the ARRB under oath, wouldn’t you think that someone in the Pentagon or the CIA would have openly objected at the time, approached the ARRB, and said, “Spencer is either lying or mistaken. We have to get to the bottom of this and clear it up”?

If Spencer was telling the truth and if she wasn’t mistaken, that can lead to but one conclusion: someone or some group of people substituted a different set of autopsy photographs into the official record.

But a critical mind doesn’t stop there. It would start pulling on the strand and ask more questions. Why would they do that, especially on the very weekend of the assassination? What would be their purpose? Why would they keep that secret for decades? Why did they never accuse Spencer of lying or making a mistake? What was their overall aim?

(For more information on Saundra Spencer, see my article “The JFK Autopsy Cover-Up: The Testimony of Saundra Spencer.”)

And that’s not the only strand that researchers have been pulling on in the Kennedy assassination. They are many others, as I set forth in my ebook The Kennedy Autopsy.

For example, everyone agrees that a large portion of Kennedy’s brain was blasted away by the gunshot that hit him in the head. Yet, the autopsy report reflects that Kennedy’s brain at the time of the autopsy weighed more than an average person’s brain. How is that possible? A brain cannot regenerate itself, especially after a person is dead. There is absolutely no possibility that Kennedy’s brain, much of which was blasted away, could weigh more than a regular person’s brain at the time of the autopsy.

For some people, something like that is just no big deal. For someone whose mind engages in critical thinking, however, it’s an enormous deal. It cries out for explanation, especially given that the official autopsy photographs in the record — the ones that Saundra Spencer said were not the ones she developed — depict a full-sized, albeit damaged, brain.

This year in October the National Archives is required to release tens of thousands of assassination-related records that the CIA and other federal agencies have succeeded in keeping secret for more than 50 years. The only thing that can stop the release is if President Trump grants a request by the CIA or other agency for an extension of time for more secrecy.

Some of us believe that the CIA is most definitely going to request an extension of time for secrecy, based on “national security.” No, not because there might be some confession of guilt in those records but because the records will likely contain even more anomalies and inconsistencies and strands to pull on, much like what happened in the Chilean regime-change operation several years after the Kennedy assassination.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.