Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Kennedy killing spawned a cottage industry for conspiracy buffs


Then there was the mob connection. Under attorney general Robert Kennedy, the president's brother, the US Justice Department had been investigating organized crime, but Ruby has never been shown to have acted on behalf of any mob bosses. After being convicted and sentenced to death in Oswald's murder, he was awaiting retrial after a successful appeal when he died of cancer in 1967.

Or could politics have been behind the killing? Johnson and Kennedy had been rivals in the US Senate, and Johnson lost the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to JFK. The coincidence of Kennedy's violent death in Texas left a shadow of suspicion on the vice president and his home state's famous oil industry.

The theory that has perhaps gained the most over time weaves the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the "military-industrial complex" into a plot to stop Kennedy from derailing the increasingly lucrative US involvement in Vietnam. Of course, no one in 1963 could have foreseen the Southeast Asian quagmire that would sap US blood and treasure, and all evidence from that time shows that Kennedy fully endorsed a widening policy to aid South Vietnam.

The Warren Commission investigation, which eventually concluded that Oswald was a lone gunman and that Ruby acted alone to avenge Kennedy, is widely scorned by conspiracy buffs. A congressional report in 1979 also found that there could have been a second gunman and speculated on a probable conspiracy.

But the Justice Department closed the Kennedy assassination probe in 1988 with a finding of no "pervasive evidence" of a conspiracy.

Hollywood director Oliver Stone's 1991 movie JFK dabbled in several theories before pointing a fictionalized finger at the CIA, cementing the conspiracies into the popular culture.

The 40th anniversary of the assassination has revived the debate. In a two-hour special, ABC News aired its own finding that Oswald acted alone, bolstered by a computer-generated reconstruction of the shooting.

In 1993's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, journalist Gerald Posner demolished many of the conspiracy theories.

"Most Americans, despite the strength of the evidence, do not want to accept the notion that random acts of violence can change the course of history," Posner wrote in an author's note to the book's 2003 edition. "It is unsettling to think that a sociopathic 24-year-old loser in life, armed with a 12-dollar rifle and consumed by his own warped motivation, ended Camelot (as Kennedy fans nicknamed his administration). But for readers willing to approach this subject with an open mind, it is the only rational judgement."

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