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As everyone knows, the term that is commonly used when the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is raised is “conspiracy theory!” It is a term that the CIA long ago advised its assets in the mainstream press to employ against people who were questioning or challenging the official narrative of the assassination. The idea is that anyone who posits that the assassination was a national-security-state, regime-change operation, rather than an act of a lone nut, is doing nothing more than peddling a “conspiracy theory.” In the minds of those who use the term, the notion that the Pentagon and the CIA would assassinate a president of the United States is simply inconceivable.
Actually, in the years and even decades following the assassination, there was some merit in referring to those who were challenging the official narrative as “conspiracy theorists.” That’s because, in my opinion, there simply was not sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the national-security establishment of the crime.
In fact, if we go back to the first generation of assassination researchers, very few of them accused the national-security establishment of assassinating Kennedy and then covering it up. They were mostly focused on accusing federal officials of negligence and incompetence in investigating the crime.
There were certainly anomalies, some of which were very suspicious, but in my opinion, they were not sufficient to convict, at least not beyond a reasonable doubt. As I point out in my new book An Encounter with Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story, among the biggest anomalies was the decision on the part of federal officials to shut down the official investigation into the crime immediately after the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself assassinated. That was the position taken by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover on the Sunday Oswald was murdered. The very next day, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who was effectively in charge of the Justice Department, issued a memo stating “the public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large.”
How could Katzenbach know that so quickly? We know that is not ordinarily the way that federal officials operate. It’s also not the way state officials operate. When someone kills a cop, all the other cops do everything they can to determine whether there were other people involved in the crime. They don’t immediately shut down the investigation as soon as the killer is apprehended or killed. The same holds true whenever a federal official is assassinated. Federal officials do everything they can to determine if other people are involved and, if so, to bring them to justice.
Thus, the decision to immediately declare the case closed and shut down the investigation is a serious anomaly, one that would cause any reasonable person to raise his eyebrows and wonder what is going on. But obviously it is not enough to convict the national-security establishment — that is, the Pentagon and the CIA — of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Another strange aspect of the Kennedy assassination involved the Warren Commission, the official entity chosen by President Lyndon Johnson to ostensibly investigate the assassination. Most of its proceedings were shrouded in secrecy, based on the grounds of protecting “national security.” Yet, if the assassination was actually committed by a lone nut who just happened to be at the right place at the right time, why would “national security” enter the picture?
Moreover, the Warren Commission ordered that much of the evidence it accumulated be kept secret until the year 2039. Why would such secrecy be necessary given that the assassination was supposedly committed by a lone nut? Yet, in my opinion, that is still not enough to convict the national-security establishment beyond a reasonable doubt.
I began studying the Kennedy assassination after seeing Oliver Stone’s movie JFK in 1991. The movie posited that the assassination was a highly sophisticated regime-change operation carried out by the national-security establishment. I read countless books on the subject, the best of which was JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James K. Douglass. I became convinced that the assassination of President Kennedy was, in fact, a national-security-state, regime-change operation. Yet, even though I was convinced about what happened, I still didn’t believe there was enough evidence
to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that what happened was
such an operation. Thus, it made sense to me why some people would continue to refer to the notion as a “conspiracy theory.”
Yet, everyone would have to concede that it is entirely possible for a theory to materialize into fact based on the discovery of evidence that establishes criminality beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Schneider assassination
For example, consider the assassination of Chilean general Rene Schneider. He was the overall commander of the Chilean armed forces in 1970. He was shot dead that year on the streets of Santiago in an attempt to kidnap him.
Let’s assume that someone postulated immediately after that assassination, “I’ll bet that the CIA had something to do with Schneider’s murder.” That clearly would be a “conspiracy theory” given that there would be no evidence to support the allegation. Moreover, after CIA Director Richard Helms testified under oath before Congress that the CIA played no role in Chile’s domestic political affairs in the early 1970s, the allegation would most definitely remain a “conspiracy theory.” That’s because there would be no evidence to establish that the CIA was responsible for the kidnapping attempt and assassination of Schneider.
In 1976, however, the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee uncovered clear and convincing evidence that the CIA had orchestrated Schneider’s kidnapping and assassination. The evidence established that not only did the CIA secretly smuggle high-powered weapons into the country, it also paid hush money to the kidnappers/murderers after the assassination in the hope of keeping them silent. Helms was later convicted of testifying falsely during his congressional testimony.
Thus, what began as a “conspiracy theory” ended up being an established fact, even though it took several years to uncover the evidence establishing the CIA’s commission of the crime.
It’s worth examining the CIA’s motive for kidnapping and assassinating Rene Schneider, who was a totally innocent man, because it provides insight into the Kennedy assassination. In 1970, there was a presidential election in Chile. A man named Salvador Allende received a plurality of the votes. Since he had not received a majority, though, the election was thrown into the hands of the Chilean congress pursuant to the Chilean constitution.
The Cold War
This was at the height of the Cold War, a period in which U.S. officials were convinced that America was in grave danger of falling to the communists. The official mindset was that there was an international communist conspiracy that was supposedly based in Moscow whose aim was to put the entire world, especially the United States, under communist rule.
In fact, the Red threat was why the U.S. government was converted into a national-security state in the first place. U.S. officials believed that America’s founding system of a limited-government republic, with its limited federal powers, was insufficient to defend America from a communist takeover. To ensure that America did not go Red, it was necessary, U.S. officials maintained, that the federal government be converted into a national-security state, one in which the national-security establishment would wield the same omnipotent powers as the totalitarian regimes, such as assassination, torture, indefinite detention, and mass secret surveillance.
This international communist conspiracy, it was said, had already reached 90 miles away from the United States with the success of the Cuban revolution in 1959. Ever since then, communist Cuba was considered to be grave threat to the national security of the United States, which was why the CIA later initiated several assassination attempts against Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Pentagon and CIA officials considered the Cold War to be a war to the finish. It was believed that there could never be peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, or any other communist regime. Anyone who took the side of the Reds or even just remained neutral was considered to be an enemy of the United States.
Salvador Allende was a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. Even worse, from the standpoint of U.S. officials, he wanted nothing to do with America’s fierce anticommunist crusade. Worst of all, he actually befriended the Soviet Union and Cuba. In fact, after he became president, he invited Cuba’s communist president, Fidel Castro, to visit Chile. As the two leaders motorcaded in Chile, thousands of Chileans lining the streets cheered the two leaders.
In the eyes of U.S. officials, Allende constituted a grave threat to U.S. national security, not only because he was a self-avowed socialist but especially because he was befriending America’s avowed enemy, one that was supposedly determined to turn America Red.
Interestingly enough, however, the CIA did not attempt to assassinate Allende, or at least no evidence has yet surfaced to establish such an attempt. Targeting a democratically elected president with a state-sponsored assassination would not have been unprecedented for the CIA. In 1954, a man named Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala. Arbenz was a socialist who, like Allende later would, befriended the Soviet Union. Therefore, five years before Castro took power in Cuba, U.S. officials deemed Arbenz to be a grave threat to U.S. national security. As part of a CIA-orchestrated coup, the CIA compiled a list of Guatemalan officials to be assassinated. We are still not permitted to see who was on that list (“national security”), but there is no question but that Arbenz was at the top of the assassination list. Fortunately for him, he was able to escape the country before the CIA could murder him.
Moreover, just before President Kennedy took office, the CIA orchestrated the assassination of Congo leader Patrice Lumumba, another totally innocent man. The justification for Lumumba’s murder? As a leader in the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium’s imperial rule, he was deemed to lean toward the Soviet Union.
The Chilean coup
Once the Chilean election was thrown into the hands of the Chilean congress, the CIA came up with a two-pronged plan: (1) to bribe the members of the Chilean congress into voting against Allende, and (2) to induce the Chilean national-security establishment to take control over the reins of government with a coup.
As the overall head of Chile’s armed forces, Schneider refused to go along with a coup. His position was that the Chilean constitution did not allow for the violent removal of a democratically elected president, including one who was a socialist befriending the communist world. Schneider’s position was that the Chilean national-security establishment would uphold the country’s constitution that they had vowed to defend.
The U.S. national-security establishment’s position was diametrically opposed to that of Schneider. Its position with respect to Allende had very serious ramifications for the Kennedy assassination, which had taken place ten years before. It believed that given that Allende was leading Chile to doom through a communist takeover, the Chilean national-security establishment had a moral duty to ignore the country’s constitution and to save the country by ensuring he did not become president or by violently removing him from office if he did assume the presidency.
In other words, the position of the Pentagon and the CIA was that the constitution was not a “suicide pact.” If by following it the country would be destroyed or taken over by the communists, it was the responsibility of the national-security branch of the government to protect “national security” by violently removing its own democratically elected president from office and taking charge of the government.
Thus, the CIA determined that it needed to remove Schneider from power as the head of the Chilean armed forces. That’s what his kidnapping/assassination accomplished. Once he was removed as an obstacle, the Pentagon and the CIA were able to convince rightwing Chilean military-intelligence officials that they had a duty to save their nation by violently removing their own president from office. On September 11, 1973 — three years after Allende was elected president — the Chilean national-security branch of the government, with the full support of the Pentagon and the CIA, declared war on Allende and the executive branch of the government. After repeated attempts to assassinate Allende with bullets and missiles failed, Allende’s allies surrendered, and he reportedly committed suicide before he could be taken captive and subjected to the brutal torture that was later meted out to tens of thousands of his supporters.
To this day, there are right-wingers both in Chile and here in the United States who argue that the Chilean national-security establishment did the right thing in violently removing Allende from power, notwithstanding that the Chilean constitution did not authorize such an act. They say that the violent removal of a democratically elected president was justified because it saved the country from a president whose policies, they say, were leading toward a society that was no different in principle from that in Cuba and other communist nations.
In any event, what began as a conspiracy theory with respect to the kidnapping and assassination of Gen. Rene Schneider ended up as an established fact once the evidence surfaced establishing that the CIA had secretly orchestrated the event. Thus, supporters of the U.S. national-security state could justifiably cry “conspiracy theory!” if someone initially speculated that the CIA was responsible for his murder. Once the evidence surfaced several years later establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the CIA was behind the kidnapping and murder, the cry of “conspiracy theory!” was no longer valid.
A fraudulent autopsy
That’s what has happened in the Kennedy assassination. Years and even decades went by with people postulating that the assassination was a regime-change operation that was carried out by the U.S. national-security establishment, just like the one that would take place in Chile ten years later. But the problem was that the evidence establishing criminal culpability, while persuasive, failed, in my opinion, to meet the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard that is used in criminal cases.
That situation changed dramatically in the 1990s during the term of the Assassination Records Review Board. The ARRB uncovered evidence establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the U.S. national-security establishment had, in fact, done to Kennedy precisely what it would exhort its counterparts in Chile to do ten years later.
That evidence, however, did not come in the form of a confession or other direct evidence. Instead, it came in the form of circumstantial evidence, which, as every judge in the land will tell you, is just as valid as direct evidence in a criminal prosecution in a court of law.
The circumstantial evidence that the ARRB uncovered related to the autopsy that the U.S. national-security establishment carried out on President Kennedy’s body on the very evening of the assassination. The evidence surrounding the autopsy established beyond a reasonable doubt that the autopsy was fraudulent.
Now, ask yourself a question: Why would the military, which was directly responsible for the autopsy conducted on President Kennedy’s body, conduct a fraudulent autopsy? I will guarantee you: You cannot come up with an innocent explanation for a fraudulent autopsy. No one ever has. No one ever will. There is no innocent explanation for a fraudulent autopsy. It necessarily means criminal culpability in the assassination itself.
After all, a fraudulent autopsy is not something that happens spontaneously. In other words, imagine after President Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Hospital, someone at the Pentagon and the CIA saying, “Hey, what do you all think about conducting a fraudulent autopsy on the president’s body?” Someone else responds, “Wow! That’s a fantastic idea. Count me on board.” Imagine that everyone gets so excited about this idea that it’s all set into motion within a few hours of the president’s death.
Ridiculous, right? There is no way that such a plan could or would have been initiated on the spur of the moment. After all, what possible reason would there be for doing that?
Instead, a plan for a fraudulent autopsy had to have been pre-planned as part of a cover-up. But for whom would they be planning to cover up? If it’s preplanned, then there is only one conceivable answer: for themselves. They pre-planned a fraudulent autopsy as part of a cover-up of their own assassination of Kennedy. There is no other reasonable answer.
Over the years, it has been alleged that Kennedy was assassinated by the Soviet Union or Cuba. But if that were the case, then why would the national-security establishment immediately initiate a fraudulent autopsy. To cover up for the communists? That makes no sense. They hated the Reds.
No, there is only one conceivable reason for a fraudulent autopsy that was carried out within just a few hours after the assassination. A fraudulent autopsy necessarily means criminal culpability in the assassination on the part of the national-security establishment.
It’s worth reviewing how it was that the military took control over the president’s autopsy.
The assassination of President Kennedy was an unequivocal murder case under Texas state law. At that time, it was not a federal offense to assassinate the president. In all murder cases, Texas law required an autopsy to be conducted by the county medical examiner.
Thus, immediately after the president was declared dead at Parkland Hospital, the Dallas County medical examiner, Dr. Earl Rose, declared that he was going to conduct an autopsy in accordance with state law.
At that point, a team of Secret Service agents, headed by a man named Roy Kellerman, who was carrying a Thompson submachine gun, went into action. Declaring loudly that they were operating under orders, they informed Rose in no uncertain terms that he would not be permitted to conduct the autopsy. Rose persisted. The Secret Service agents pulled back their coats and brandished their guns. Screaming, yelling, and emitting a stream of profanities, they forced their way out of the hospital with Kennedy’s body, which had been placed into a very heavy, ornate casket. One rather large Secret Service agent actually physically picked up Rose, carried him a few feet, put him against a wall, and wagged his finger in his face.
There is only one person who could have issued such an extraordinary order to violate state law. That person was President Lyndon Johnson. In fact, we know it had to be him because after he arrived at Dallas Love Field, he had his personnel begin removing seats from the back of Air Force One to make room for the casket that he knew would be arriving shortly.
After Kellerman’s team arrived at the airport, the casket was placed on board Air Force One. Johnson then flew to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. There is something important to note about the Washington, D.C., area: There were countless competent and prominent civilian forensics pathologists in that part of the country. Johnson could have called on any of them to perform the autopsy. After all, America is not supposed to be a military nation, like the Soviet Union or Red China. Moreover, it wasn’t like Kennedy was killed in battle. What business did the military have taking control over the autopsy?
But that is precisely what happened. President Johnson delivered President Kennedy’s body into the hands of the military, which then proceeded to conduct a fraudulent autopsy.
As I indicated earlier, the fraud did not become manifest until the 1990s — more than 30 years after the assassination. By that time, the mainstream press had become passive and deferential to the national-security establishment. Moreover, thanks to the very successful propaganda campaign launched by the CIA, the term “conspiracy theory” had become a part of America’s political lexicon, and many people had developed a deep fear of being labeled a “conspiracy theorist.”
But even though the evidence establishing a fraudulent autopsy came out in the 1990s, it wasn’t until ten years later that it would be set forth clearly and succinctly in a watershed book that ended up sealing the case against the national-security establishment. That book was entitled Inside the Assassination Records Review Board by Douglas P. Horne, who had served on the staff of the ARRB.
This article was originally published in the September 2022 edition of Future of Freedom.