It's been 50 years since the shocking murder of President John F. Kennedy. Yet the nation still yearns for the truth of what happened that terrible day in Dallas.
For 50 years the "official" narrative has been based on the Warren Commission assertion that Lee Harvey Oswald, a disgruntled loner, a Marxist, acted alone.
The Warren Commission report
This version is being repeated as part of the current observances and is the subject of new books, television documentaries, articles and remembrances that also include the lie that Oswald was a member of the Communist Party USA. (Not only was he never a member of the party, there is also no indication in his checkered history that he was actually a "Marxist.")
Yet according to an NPR report 75% of the American people think JFK died at the hands of a conspiracy.
Upon release, the commission's report was questioned by a chorus of critics including Mark Lane (Rush to Judgment), Harold Weisberg (Whitewash), Sylvia Meagher (Accessories After the Fact), and countless others, along with a skeptical public.
They have battled a powerful cover-up machine, including a CIA-style disinformation campaign employing influential journalists, some with ties to the CIA and other branches of the intelligence community.
The cover-up cited by the researchers includes destroyed evidence (including Kennedy's missing brain), altered and suppressed evidence, corporate media silencing of honest journalists, the killing of dozens of witnesses (and scaring into silence countless others) and the killing of many of the conspirators including some of the gunmen.
Nevertheless, this citizens' movement has poked giant holes in the Warren Commission report (most notably the magic "single bullet theory"), unearthed suppressed evidence and assembled the outlines of an "unofficial" narrative of what occurred, why and who was responsible for the assassination.
Files and evidence now available
In recent times, the body of research has been enriched by the release of U.S. government files in the 1990s and evidence and intelligence information made available from the Soviet Union after the 1991 collapse. One of the best studies of these documents is JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by James Douglass.
In addition the Cuban government has released evidence it has compiled of CIA and Cuban émigré terrorist plots to overthrow the revolutionary government, including information about suspected participants in the assassination. These were brought together in ZR Rifle: The Plot to kill Kennedy and Castro, by Claudia Furiati.
The evidence suggests that what happened in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, was nothing less than a coup by powerful interests, executed and covered up using organs of the state and a compliant corporate mass media.
This evokes similar episodes in U.S. history including the attempt to organize a fascist veterans march to oust President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, the Bush-Cheney theft of the 2000 election, and most recently the government shutdown engineered by the tea party and right-wing Republicans to undo the results of the 2012 elections.
1960: A time of broad social change
Kennedy was elected president in 1960 in the midst of a broad social change beginning to sweep the country that challenged the fanatical Cold War anti-communist hysteria, Jim Crow segregation and attacks on democratic rights on university campuses. At the same time stormy global developments were challenging U.S. imperialist domination.
Kennedy inherited the Cold War policies of the Eisenhower administration that included a policy of nuclear supremacy, overthrow of the Cuban revolutionary government and deepening military involvement in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Kennedy held contradictory views on foreign affairs. According to Douglass, while Kennedy's outlook was shaped by the Cold War, his thinking was also deeply affected by his combat experience in World War II and his Catholic faith. Kennedy supported the independence of Algeria and other colonial nations.
Ultra-right domination of the U.S. government
When he became president, Kennedy almost immediately came in conflict with fanatical anti-communist elements that dominated the institutions of government. The military-industrial complex, the national state security apparatus, powerful right-wing business interests, the Mafia, anti-Castro Cubans, pro-segregationists and other power centers all eventually coalesced into a hostile force opposing Kennedy.
Documents show that Kennedy began clashing with the CIA, which by law comprised an autonomous branch within the U.S. government, operating without accountability, and the right-wing military establishment who worked behind Kennedy's back to undermine his policies.
Records show that in 1961, the newly elected president was thrust into a trap orchestrated by the CIA to carry out the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, aimed at overthrowing the new revolutionary government. Kennedy had been assured the Cuban people would welcome the "liberators" and rise up.
While Kennedy went along with the invasion he warned the CIA that he would refuse to provide U.S. troops and air cover. The CIA thought once the invasion began the young president would be forced to respond.
When Kennedy refused to cooperate and the invasion turned into a debacle, the CIA, right-wing generals and anti-Castro Cubans were livid. They never forgave Kennedy for what they considered a traitorous surrender to socialism.
Documents show that Kennedy was equally contemptuous of what he considered efforts to bypass and undermine presidential authority. After the Bay of Pigs, he told one advisor, "I want to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." He quickly fired CIA Director Allen Dulles (who later became a key figure in the Warren Commission), Deputy Director Charles Cabell (brother of Dallas mayor Earle Cabell) and invasion architect Richard Bissell.
At a 1961 meeting of the National Security Council, Joint Chiefs of Staff and CIA, Dulles presented a plan for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. Kennedy listened, shook his head and remarked as he left the room, "And we call ourselves the human race." (JFK and the Unspeakable, Chronology)
Kennedy's thinking was especially affected by the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. With the world on the brink of nuclear war, Kennedy refused to cave in to U.S. generals who were exploiting the crisis to provoke an invasion of Cuba and a massive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.
In the end, Kennedy and Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev negotiated a way out. But this experience left an indelible imprint on Kennedy, who, according to files that have been released, concluded the only path forward was through a policy of peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union and normalization of relations with Cuba.
He deeply distrusted the Joint Chiefs, the intelligence community, State Department and many of his advisers. According to Douglass, this resulted in his opening a secret back channel to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and prior to his death, steps toward a secret dialogue with Fidel Castro.
Kennedy was also heavily influenced by the dying Pope John XXIII and his papal encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) published in April 1963. Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review and a leader of National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy, the largest peace group at the time, describes in The Improbable Triumvirate how he helped develop a back channel for Kennedy with the Pope and Khrushchev.
Ending the nuclear arms race
Kennedy publicly made a break with the Cold War when he delivered a commencement address at American University on June 10, 1963, known as his "peace speech," which has been largely ignored by commentators. Kennedy called for an end to the nuclear arms race and declared a suspension of atmospheric testing.
By that summer the Kennedy administration successfully negotiated a limited nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union that outlawed atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing. Kennedy bypassed the military brass and opposition in the U.S. Senate, including among his own party. He turned to Cousins to organize an education campaign on the treaty that resulted in a dramatic change in public opinion and its ultimate adoption.
Following the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy had promised Khrushchev that the U.S. would abandon attempts to invade Cuba. However, unknown to Kennedy the CIA continued arming anti-Castro Cuban exiles and carrying out attacks. According to Douglass, when Kennedy learned of the operations, he moved to shut them down and close the training bases.
As Howard Jones writes in Death of a Generation, Kennedy also began having serious doubts about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He was convinced by Sen. Mike Mansfield and others that the U.S. was being drawn into a deepening conflict, which was impossible to win.
He took steps to begin the process of bringing U.S. military forces home, which was to be completed after the 1964 elections. However, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge secretly refused to carry out his orders.
According to the researchers, those who ordered and planned Kennedy's murder hoped that by attributing the assassination to a "sympathizer" of Castro, they could provoke an invasion of Cuba and overthrow of the revolutionary government or a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union or both.
The covert CIA program responsible for assassination of foreign leaders (code name ZR Rifle), especially Fidel Castro, and overthrow of the Cuban government, which employed Cuban exiles and the Mafia, was then turned over to the operation to kill Kennedy, the researchers report.
There were at least two and possibly three attempted assassination plots, including one in Chicago in early November (The Echo from Dealey Plaza, by Abraham Bolden). Perhaps it was no accident that the actual assassination occurred in Dallas, whose atmosphere had been poisoned by right-wing, anti-communist and pro-segregationist hysteria including from key figures in the city establishment, as described vividly in the new book Dallas 1963.
The hysteria resulted in the famed "mink coat" riot against then Sen. Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, during the 1960 election campaign, and the mobilization of a hostile crowd to greet UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson two weeks before the assassination, where he was spat on and hit with a sign.
The right-wing atmosphere and links to political officials made it easy for local law enforcement officials to cooperate in the plot.
Oswald and Ruby
Space doesn't permit the full unofficial "people's" narrative from being told here. However, some information about two key figures in the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, is enough to raise big questions about the credibility of the Warren Commission report.
The official history of Oswald rarely tells the full truth about his past.
Oswald joined the U.S. Marines and was assigned to a top-secret radar spying installation at Atsugi Air Force Base in Japan under the supervision of the CIA.
In 1959 he defected to the Soviet Union as part of what Victor Marchetti (CIA and the Cult of Intelligence) believed was a program to send agents there posing as "defectors." Oswald lived and worked in Minsk but apparently was never trusted by the Soviets.
Oswald married a Russian woman, had two children and returned to the U.S. in 1962. He was never prosecuted for his defection and in fact his return was facilitated by the CIA.
Still only 24 years old, Oswald settled in Dallas where he worked for both the CIA and FBI, according to the researchers. The CIA began manipulating him in a way that left a "trail" to set him up as the assassin "patsy", and to especially leave the impression Oswald was a Marxist or connected to a Cuban and Soviet plot.
Oswald was assigned to New Orleans where he got job at a CIA-related company. Working under CIA direction, he established a branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and organized a street provocation that got him on local television.
The Communist Party USA received a number of correspondences from a person who identified himself as Oswald during this time. And one of the first lawyers sought by Oswald after his arrest was CPUSA attorney John Abt (John Abt, Advocate and Activist). But the party regarded Oswald with suspicion and steered clear of him.
The CIA also cooked up an elaborate scenario to make it appear that Oswald visited the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City to obtain visas to travel to both countries. The CIA evidently was clumsily trying to make it look like Oswald was participating in planning a plot to assassinate Kennedy concocted by the Soviets.
Jack Ruby, who shot and killed Oswald inside Dallas police headquarters (!), was a member of the Chicago Mafia who was sent to Dallas to expand the mob's drug, casino and prostitution markets. In the late 1950s, Ruby was a gunrunner for the CIA to Cuba, where the CIA at the time supplied both Castro and dictator Fulgencio Batista, so as to hedge their bets, according to Douglass. When the revolution triumphed, Ruby supplied guns to the anti-Castro Cubans.
Ruby was integral to numerous aspects of the assassination plot. Eyewitnesses place Ruby in Dealey Plaza, the assassination site, on Nov. 22, including reportedly dropping off a team of assassins at the fence behind the grassy knoll. Ruby is believed to have been assigned to kill Oswald and easily gained access to police headquarters where Oswald was paraded in public twice.
The evidence unearthed by researchers and contradictions in the official story create grave doubts as to whether Oswald even fired a gun. Instead the finger points to trained snipers among the Cuban exiles and Mafia, overseen by CIA agents. Once their job was done, they were most likely whisked out from nearby Red Bird Airfield by airplane (Vendetta: the Kennedys, by Matthew Smith).
Names of those often associated with the assassination, including Richard Helms, David Atlee Phillips, David Sanchez Morales, Frank Sturgis and others, surface again during the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy and the 1972 Watergate burglary.
The desire to unearth the truth about this crime against democracy still burns 50 years later. In the end, it is interwoven with the broad people's movement to defend and expand our democracy and democratic institutions and to defeat right-wing extremism and corporate power that constantly seeks to undermine it.
Photo: Wanted for Treason." Infamous handbill circulated on November 21, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, one day before John F. Kennedy visited the city and was assassinated. Uncredited on original. Later investigation attributed it to Robert A. Surrey of Johnson Printing Co., Dallas. Wikimedia Commons