“Who killed John F. Kennedy?” Ask 50 people, and you’ll likely get every answer but the correct one: “Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone.” That so many on the right have embraced the conspiracy theories is a great irony, one that testifies in part to six decades of successful spin by their ideological opponents on the left.
It’s a testimony to the power of films that Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK” looms large in the mind of an American public with much to be cynical about thanks to Watergate and a myriad of other Big Government scandals. There were quite possibly conspiracies by the mafia, fringe groups, Cubans or others to kill the commander in chief.
Nevertheless, Oswald beat them to it when a target of opportunity rolled past his office window.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing investigative journalist and attorney Gerald Posner about his book, “Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK,” and the truth is more fascinating than any fiction. The book doesn’t let Oswald off the hook as what Posner calls a “cypher” and deny him the condemnation he deserves.
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize two years after Mr. Stone’s awful bit of history, Mr. Posner not only debunks the claims of the 2,000-odd books on the assassination, he looks deep into Mr. Oswald, and how “he could just as easily have been perched in Moscow shooting at Nikita Khrushchev.”
Oswald wanted to kill a high-profile target to earn a place in history. Ignored by those eager to blame “right-wing hate” for the murder is that Mr. Oswald first attempted to shoot a right-winger, Gen. Edwin Walker, but had the would-be kill shot deflected by a window frame.
Which brings us to the so-called magic bullet. Modern ballistics can easily recreate the deed without the full-metal jacket hanging in midair. People who knew Mr. Oswald — such as journeyman producer Donald P. Belisario who served with him in the U.S. Marines — testify that the assassin was a crack sharpshooter who could easily have worked the trigger in the required time.
Oswald was, as the New York Daily News described him in the immediate aftermath, “a leftist.” He had grown disillusioned with the United States and defected to the USSR before becoming fed up there and returning to America. As Winston Churchill described his return to the Conservative Party after joining the Liberals, “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”
Oswald was certainly a rat, with much in common with previous cheese-nibbling vermin, notably Charles Guiteau, who killed President James A. Garfield in 1881. Immediately after firing (also from behind, the coward), he proclaimed he’d done it to give Vice President Chester A. Arthur a promotion.
As Mr. Posner points out, a veep always has the most to gain, which is why suspicion often falls on Lyndon Johnson. (Another author told me how he’d outraged Roger Stone, a firm believer that LBJ had been behind the slaying, by saying the facts supported that Mr. Oswald had been a solo act.)
But that doesn’t mean that Johnson didn’t join the spin. He certainly didn’t want World War III with the Soviets, so he downplayed that, as the widow, Jackie Kennedy said, “some silly little communist” had killed her husband.
“There’s no doubt,” Mr. Posner told me, “that the first published authors who grabbed the public’s attention were those who were left of center and far left of center who came to Oswald’s defense. … So today, the biggest suspects in most American’s minds are the CIA or the FBI — American institutions, not Soviet or Cuban ones.”
Had Oswald been wearing the 1963 version of a MAGA hat, the collective guilt machine would work in reverse of the way the left feared. Likewise, had he been a Muslim terrorist. But the truth is simple: One angry young man changed history.
American presidents belong to all of us, and when we blame our own government for Kennedy’s death — whether were left, right or center — we not only exonerate his killer, we deny the 35th president justice.
Here in 2021, Cold War tensions can no longer be used to excuse downplaying the role Mr. Oswald‘s hateful politics played in leading him to that sniper’s nest. Leftists need feel no shame, and the right should certainly not feel defensive, much less join the perpetuating of Anti-American myths.
It’s long past time we let President Kennedy rest in peace, hold Oswald responsible as the lone gunman, and declare with one voice as a nation: Case closed.
• Dean Karayanis @HistoryDean is a producer for the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, longtime Rush Limbaugh staffer, and host of the History Author Show on iHeartRadio.