Speculation as to whether JFK was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy began almost immediately after his death. Lee Harvey Oswald was detained on the same day as the killing and at the time it was believed that he was the lone gunman. However, when Oswald was shot and killed a few days later by Jack Ruby, suspicions arose regarding the connections between the two assassinations. President Johnson immediately formed the Warren Commission to investigate the case. Although the Warren Commission stated in their conclusion that there was no conspiracy to kill the President, many people were not convinced, and questions still remained unanswered. Did Ruby kill Oswald out of anger and vengeance? Or was he trying to silence Oswald on behalf of the conspirators? Were the CIA and the Mafia working together to kill the President to protect their own interests? Were Communists in the Soviet Union or Cuba involved?
These questions remained in the minds of Americans for years after the assassination, so in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which was formed to check the intelligence reports of the Warren Commission, published a report, concluding that JFK was likely killed as the result of a conspiracy. Many people throughout the years have tried to developed elaborate conspiracy theories, relating actual facts with possible scenarios and motivations to explain how the idea of Camelot could possibly have ended in a single instant by the work of one man. Many different political groups have been suspected of involvement in the assassination. Below lists various theories and motivations to explain why any of these groups would want to kill Kennedy.
The Single Bullet Theory:
The Single Bullet theory sets out to prove that there was only one shooter, by explaining how President Kennedy and Connally were shot within seconds of each other. Scientists used evidence to show that the bullet that hit Kennedy could have penetrated through his body and hit Connally right afterwards. This theory is very important because it denies the necessity of a second assassin and instead focuses all the blame on the shooter from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, Oswald.
The Mafia Theory:
There were always rumors that the Kennedy family had ties to the mafia. This theory is centered more around the President’s brother, Robert, who was the Attorney General at this time. Speculation also exists that some members of the mafia were on the CIA’s payroll. RFK supposedly was out to destroy organized crime, and the Mafia felt threatened, but believed that an attack on RFK would be too suspicious. Instead, the mafia went after the President, possibly employing various pro-Cubans and other foreign assassins so as to avert suspicion from the mafia and direct it towards a politically motivated assassination by Cuba or the CIA.
The CIA Theory:
Why would a federal government agency desire to kill the President? Some point to a threat made by JFK to “smash the CIA into a thousand pieces.” The CIA and Kennedy had different agendas when it came to foreign policy. The CIA tended to be more supportive of maintaining good relations with Cuba, while Kennedy’s actions seemed to favor the Soviets. The Bay of Pigs invasion might have been the turning point in the relationship between the CIA and Kennedy, because the CIA felt humiliated by the result of the operation. Thereafter, the CIA distrusted Kennedy’s ability to protect national security.
The Castro Theory:
Fear of Communism was deeply embedded in the minds of Americans during this Cold War era. Apparently, JFK signed a paper ordering the assassination of Fidel Castro, the Communist leader in Cuba. The mafia and a small group of Cuban exiles were enlisted to carry out the killing. However, Castro realized the plot and he may have used his own mafia contacts to reverse the assassination plan to instead kill Kennedy. If Americans found out that Castro was involved in killing their beloved President, it may have ignited enough emotion amongst the American public to start World War III. Therefore the CIA covered up for Castro to avoid another major war.
The Soviet Theory:
It is very difficult to uncover any real reasons that the Soviets would desire to kill Kennedy. Although the Cuban Missile Crisis was somewhat embarrassing for the Soviets, relations between the U.S. and Russia were still cooperative. Oswald is often linked back to the Soviet Union because of the time he spent there, but there is no explanation for why the Soviets would have brainwashed him to kill the President, as some people claim they did. This is not to say that the Soviets definitely were not involved, but a good motivation has yet to be revealed.
Various combinations of the above facts and motivations have spawned countless conspiracy theories that tend to interrelate. There is a limited amount of concrete evidence to support any of these theories, and therefore they tend to be very similar except for the party that they blame. The extent of the grief felt amongst the American public and the anger they would feel towards the person or party responsible could possibly be motive for the government to cover up any conspiracy. The government’s suppression of what many claim to be important information for revealing the true facts of the assassination has fueled all of the speculation and belief in a conspiracy.
Public Fascination with Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories resplendent with political intrigue and shadowy misadventures have tickled the fantasy of the public for centuries, not only predating the American experience but also playing an important role within the context of contemporary political culture.
The intense national trauma incurred by the untimely death of such a popular and charismatic national icon seemed ill-compensated by the bumbling persona of Oswald. The growing disaffection with the establishment during the Vietnam protest era, followed by mistrust of the military industrial complex as deconstructed during the Nixon-Watergate debacle created fertile soil for theories that assaulted the transparency and moral scruples of government and politics and added an ally to the under-equipped perpetrator. In addition, the tumultuous nature of the pluralistic composition of American society created antagonisms between the status quo and social movements. These latent fears were projected upon the fabric of the Kennedy trauma as a sabotage of progressivism by the powers that be.
Of course, fears that the conspiracy was begat by a minority interest in society were promulgated, as well. Conspiracy theories, politically speaking, are useful clubs to be wielded against a threatening minority. Though few in number, the subversive foe is always portrayed as cunning and in possession of nearly supernatural powers and organizational acumen. Through lurid descriptions of such peril, conspiracy mongering becomes a means of galvanizing the public and energizing it against a common foe. However, the preponderance of conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination are given particular importance by the pervasive sense of governmental control and of economic interdependence, both of which impart a feeling of vulnerability to the individual. The federal government, with its income tax and IRS, its legions of law enforcement officials, its reams of intrusive regulations, all seem to violate an older mythic view of nearly autonomous citizens prided over by a limited, Jeffersonian state. Conspiracy theories thus represent a latent psychological defense against the civic transgressions of the modern New Deal Liberal state.
In sum, the unique synthesis of the eras predating and following the Kennedy assassination illustrates the unique circumstances that allow for such alluring, yet often logic-defying theories of treachery, which snuffed out an American icon and would shape the public conscious of a generation.