May/June 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 3
Easily the JFK assassination. The puhlic is largely convinced that a massive plot killed the thirty-fifth President. Little wonder, since hundreds of conspiracy books for more than thirty years have postulated dozens of wild theories, including assassins hidden in sewers and behind picket fences, CIA murderers, mystery deaths to key witnesses, the theft of the President’s brain, the alteration of the Zapruder film, and the Manchurian Candidate assignment of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The most rabid conspiracy speculation was wrapped into a hellish celluloid vision in Oliver Stone’s 1991 JFK . There’s only one problem standing in the way of the plethora of theories and real history: the facts. The overwhelming evidence is that Lee Harvey Oswald, a twenty-four-year-old sociopath armed with a twelvedollar rifle, was the lone assassin who ended Camelot.
None are underrated. With society’s increasing fascination with conspiracy theories, most simple stories quickly fall victim to feverish and often byzantine conspiracy speculation. For instance, Princess Diana’s death in an accident caused by her drunken chauffeur becomes an assassination carried out by British intelligence at the behest of the monarchy; John Lennon’s murder by a deranged fan escalates to a CIA strategy to silence the rock star because of his outspoken politics; House Republicans who led the effort to impeach Clinton cannot be dismissed by Democrats just as overzealous partisans but are quickly injected into a “vast right-wing conspiracy” financed by reclusive millionaires who coordinate widespread campaigns to undermine the Presidency. Unfortunately, there are real conspiracies, and at different rimes government officials, police, military officers, and others whom we should ordinarily trust do become involved in nefarious plots against the public interest. Invariably—as in the cases of Watergate, the lying over Vietnam, Iran-contra—the schemes unravel. In the real world the individuals behind such plots are often more like the Keystone Kops than the public’s perception of James Bond. However, the mania to immediately cast almost any significant issue in terms of conspiracy—coupled with an almost frenzied speculation unrestrained by the facts—makes it more difficult to unmask the real conspiracies that may be brewing. While I cannot settle on the most underrated, there are a few subjects that 1 would like to further investigate, where at least my curiosity is high. These include precisely what the military knew regarding Gulf War syndrome; why the IRS completely reversed itself in its long war with Scientology, suddenly deciding to grant its longtime foe a church classification and tax immunity; and, finally, some loose ends over whether a John Doe 2 might have existed in the Oklahoma bombing case.