The following is the Introduction to The Future of Freedom Foundation’s new book An Encounter with Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story by Jacob Hornberger. Purchase the book at Amazon: $9.95 for the Kindle version and $14.95 for the print version.
In 1983, the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote a book entitled People of the Lie. It was a study of evil in human affairs. There is, in fact, evil in the world, Peck observed.There are evil institutions, and there are evil people. When a person encounters either one, it can be a deeply unsettling experience.
This book is also about evil, more specifically, one person’s chance encounter with evil, an encounter that ended up destroying the rest of his life. The dark secret involved in that encounter also resulted in a decades-long family taboo, extending long after that person who had that encounter with evil had passed away.
That person was Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed the famous “Zapruder film” that captured the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Through sheer happenstance, Zapruder’s life and the lives of his family were changed forever — for better and for worse — by his encounter with evil.
Revolving around a book entitled Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film, which was written in 2016 by Abraham Zapruder’s granddaughter, Alexandra Zapruder, this book is also about the avoidance of evil, specifically what some people will do to avoid identifying and confronting it.
I have studied the Kennedy assassination for some 30 years and have written four books prior to this one relating to the assassination: The Kennedy Autopsy; The Kennedy Autopsy 2; Regime Change: The JFK Assassination; and The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State, all of which were published by The Future of Freedom Foundation, a non-profit libertarian educational foundation that I founded in 1989 and where I serve as president. FFF’s mission is to present the principled, uncompromising case for free markets, private property, and limited government.
FFF previously published a book entitled JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas P. Horne, who served on the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s and later authored a five-volume book entitled Inside the Assassination Records Review Board: The U.S. Government’s Final Attempt to Reconcile the Conflicting Medical Evidence in the Assassination of JFK.
FFF has also published two books on the Kennedy assassination by Jefferson Morley, a former reporter for the Washington Post, entitled CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files and Morley v. CIA: My Unfinished JFK Investigation.
FFF has hosted two conferences relating to the Kennedy administration and assassination: “The National Security State and JFK” (2017) and “The National Security State and the Kennedy Assassination” (2021). The video presentations from those two conferences are posted in the multimedia section of FFF’s website (fff.org).
The multimedia section also includes a five-part video presentation by Douglas Horne entitled “Altered History: Exposing Deceit and Deception in the Medical Evidence” and a 29-part video presentation called “The JFK Assassination” by me.
Additionally, FFF’s website contains countless articles on the JFK assassination.
Like most people who have taken an interest in the Kennedy assassination, I was acquainted with the Zapruder film when I discovered Alexandra Zapruder’s book in 2021. I thought it would be an interesting account of the Zapruder family’s experience with the film. As I began reading it, however, I quickly realized that it was much more than that. Although she does not realize it and although it was no part of her intention, Alexandra Zapruder’s book provides a fascinating insight into evil, what happens to people when they encounter evil, and what people will do to avoid acknowledging and confronting evil.
In her book and in various oral presentations about the book, videos of which can be found online, Alexandra informed people that there was a taboo within the Zapruder family against discussing her grandfather’s film. Mind you, she denies that it was an actual taboo because, she says, there was not an expressed prohibition against discussing the film within the family. It was just understood by everyone in the family that the film was not to be discussed.
But that’s precisely what a family taboo is. It isn’t based on a formally expressed prohibition but rather on an implicit understanding that develops within a family, one with which everyone is expected to abide. In a lecture at Stockton University, Alexandra stated, “There was sort of a code inside the family. The decision to violate that code — to completely go against the prevailing culture of the family — was a very, very difficult one.” In a talk at Southern Methodist University, she stated, “One of the hardest things in writing this book was to go so much against the prevailing culture in our family.”
Usually, everyone within a family is scared to death to openly violate the taboo. As Alexandra put it in her book, “But I knew — we all knew — that the grown-ups really didn’t want to talk about it. Why was another story. I’m sure I never thought to ask. It simply existed somewhere offstage, there and not there, fascinating and a little bit scary.” She relates in her book that when she was 11 years old, she didn’t feel comfortable asking her parents about the film and so she went into her school library to read what William Manchester, the author of The Death of a President, had written about it. In her book, she describes it as a furtive and secretive “clandestine” endeavor.
Alexandra wrote, “Although in my growing-up years I did not experience our family’s silence around the film as particularly unusual, I grew to wonder what it was all about. Why didn’t we ever talk about it? Why didn’t I know more about this when I was growing up? Was there something that I needed to understand in order to make sense of the film’s place in our family’s life? Was there a personal legacy of the Zapruder film and, if so, what was it?”
A family taboo is almost always based on a dark secret, one that family members who are privy to the secret keep under wraps at all costs, including to other members of the family. Alexandra herself alludes to the possibility of such a dark secret in describing her decision to write her book. She acknowledges that she embarked on this journey with much trepidation over what she might discover about her family and about the family culture against discussing her grandfather’s film.
Alexandra wrote: “I had no idea what kind of book it would be or what I would find if I dug into this history; I just knew that there would be questions and that I would want to find answers. At the same time, the thought of publishing a book — that most public of actions — flew in the face of at least one central life principle about the Zapruder film, which was that we did not invite conversation about it. I could see the conflict looming from a hundred miles away…. I would run through all the reasons that this was a terrible idea. I would parse out all the ways that I didn’t want to do this…. As I worked, I struggled to reconcile the personal and historical imperative I felt to write this book with the worry that it would bring unintended and unwelcome consequences. These were real fears and they made the early years of this work difficult…. I had to believe that challenging the prevailing culture of silence around the film was a reflection of our values, not a contradiction of them, and that we would be better for incorporating this part of our past into our understanding of our family legacy.”
In deciding to write her book when she was about 40 years old, Alexandra was, in fact, displaying a remarkable degree of courage. When one decides to violate a decades-long family taboo and attempts to discover the reasons for it, it is entirely possible — even likely — that the person will find things that she might not want to discover — that is, the dark family secrets that lie behind the taboo. As she put it in her book, “Before learning the history of the film, without fully knowing the details of my grandfather’s and father’s handling of it, I knew there was a risk that I would run into facts, details, or decisions that might run counter to what I expected or undermine my fierce tendency to defend them against criticism.” She added, “What if I stumble on something I don’t want to write about?”
As we will see in this book, on a sunny day in late November of 1963, Alexandra’s grandfather, Abraham Zapruder, through sheer happenstance, was sucked into a maelstrom of evil that ended up forcing him to choose between two alternative courses of action, each of which came with horrific consequences. It was the choice that Zapruder ultimately made that ended up destroying the rest of his life and ultimately led to the dark secret that underlay the long family taboo against discussing his film.
As I finished reading her book, I concluded that notwithstanding the courage that Alexandra Zapruder displayed in deciding to write it, acknowledging and directly confronting the evil that her grandfather encountered 58 years ago proved to be too much for her. In this book, we will do what she was unable to do. We will identify and confront the evil that destroyed the rest of her grandfather’s life and uncover the dark secret that led to the Zapruder family taboo against discussing his film. We will also discuss what needs to be done to eradicate that evil, which is still among us. Our national well-being depends on it.