by  Michael Hammerschlag

                                                                                Columnized              HAMMERNEWS.com

40 years ago the world changed in a flash. The evidence for conspiracy is compelling: faked Life cover photo of Oswald and rifle with shadows falling in different directions, people pointing and running towards the grassy knoll, photos of a rifle barrel and puffs of smoke there, a policeman challenging secret service agents that didn’t exist in the grassy knoll, a bullet that supposedly passed through a neck, chest, and shattered a wrist to emerge undamaged, the immediate murder of Oswald (and his Soviet defection and Cuban connections), Ruby’s Mafia employers, lost and altered evidence, additional audio gunshots, delayed botched autopsy.


That there was a conspiracy seems obvious (over 90% of the country believes so), yet magazines still runs the same hackneyed “historical” pictures, wishing as we would wish that it could be that simple. Who actually was responsible:   the Mafia, disgruntled Cuban refugees, the Soviet Union, a vengeful Castro, right-wing millionaire oilmen (Executive Action), power mad Lyndon; may forever remain a mystery; once I chose to hope that a deathbed confession by some tormented party would eventually bring the truth to light. The conspiracy theories defeat themselves, multiplying like mutant strains till the truth itself is only another aberration, another chip in a pile of chips. Indeed, the very subject of conspiracy still causes a virulent reaction because it challenges the basic order of things; the simple truths that are the foundations of our reality.


But if the Soviets could try to kill a Pope, couldn’t they try to kill a president who had hu­miliated them in Cuba (Khrushchev was inexplicably ousted within a year). If the Mafia could liquidate politicians by the dozen in Italy, couldn‘t they kill a President whose brother had waged war them. If G. Gordon Liddy was eager to kill anyone his bosses ordered (Jack Anderson), couldn’t a fanatical agent be convinced a President is a “security risk”. The questions hang unanswered, echoing with a painful urgency that does not cease.      

It was the crime of the century yet the killers still run free. They shattered our security and stole our future and unleashed an epidemic of assassination; and they should be hunted to the ends of the earth.


I was first exposed to the 2nd gunners in a 4 hour 1970 presentation by Mark Lane (an early conspiracy author) - a staggering display of photographs, films, facts, and hypotheses. It was an overwhelming and irrefutable demonstration: at its end the audience totally believed in a conspiracy, then a person asked, “What about Bobby”? Told that RFK was actually shot by a security guard standing behind him while witnesses stared at Sirhan, the college audience bridled, reacting with outrage. This was too much; these people were crazy- obsessed with plots. In 1983 LA Coroner Noguchi said on TV that powder burns proved RFK had been shot from behind and 3 inches away, but according to all witnesses Sirhan never got closer than 3 feet.


Inaccurate witnesses? Maybe, but if they got away with it once, couldn’t they do it again?


The ’93 book by Sam Giancana’s son and brother: Double Cross, seemed to be pretty definitive- the Mafia did it. Giancana was blown away by a plethora of bullets around his mouth the day before he was to testify to the House Committee on Assassinations. Oliver Stone’s monumental movie JFK was a brilliant period display of the timeline and contradictions in the official story, but he threw in a hokey plot by industrialists who wanted war in Vietnam. The best documentary ever done was a 6 hour 1988 British series: The Men Who Killed Kennedy, a detailed opus that interviews everyone involved and has incredible never seen video and photos. Dealey Plaza now has a mini-industry of assassination museums and paraphernalia salesmen, but the place still has the power to wound the soul. The Conspiracy Museum shows a frame by frame enhanced Zapruder film that's stunning in its quality. The wooden fence behind the grassy knoll has been replaced 3 or 4 times because of souvenir hunters. Sen. Arlen Specter was once soundly berated by  Politically Incorrect panelists for coming up with the idiotic “magic bullet” theory as an ambitious junior Warren Commission lawyer. ABC's re-revisionist Nov 20 documentary did a great disservice, ignoring a mountain of problems with the Warren Commission's Report, to conclude Oswald was the only one.


I interviewed a man named Rush Harp* near New Paltz, New York in ‘82, a conspiracist who’d put up a billboard on the freeway: WHO KILLED JFK, RFK, MLK, MJK??  He was a charming eccentric, bustling with the diverse passions of life, and an instantly likable character. He claimed that during the evacuation of the Jonestown Guyana suicides, the CIA attacked and wiped out a secret Soviet base in the Guyana jungle (remember the strange jump in body count from about 450 to 900), and he gave me a book on Mary Jo Kopechne’s  (Ted Kennedy’s accident at the bridge at Chappaquidick) death. It was loaded with fanciful interpretations of reasonable events and just didn’t hold up (though there were suspicious circumstances).


We spoke for 4 hours and I promised to call and visit him again, but I didn’t. I told myself it was because he had destroyed his credibility, because the Kopechne thing was so absurd, but that wasn’t true. Deep into our talks I started wondering: if any of this was true wouldn‘t somebody be watching him, recording him... and his contacts, and I started studying nearby cars through the restaurant window. There was something hideous about the juxtaposition of this amiable man and the nightmare stories he peddled; a victim permanently pushed through the looking glass into an alternate reality of infinite menace. The truth was, I was no less susceptible to paranoia, and to a fear of having my visions of sunny split-level America ripped away like a pretty calendar page over a rats nest; to reveal a ghoulish subterranean world of formless evil and monstrous machinations. I didn’t believe most of what he said, but once in a while over the next few months, before I fell asleep, a murky web would be spun on the fringes of my consciousness,.. and I would feel very small and cold.


Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries + articles for Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser, Columbia Journalism Review, Media Channel, & Moscow News, Tribune, and Guardian. He was a correspondent in Russia from 1991-1994, + was scheduled to fly over Manhattan on 9-11. His website is http://hammernews.com e-mail: hammerschlag@bigfoot.com




*Harp died the next year, supposedly under mysterious circumstances, which I just found out about now.