top of page
Search

Episode 7.4 "JFK:DOA" (part 4), feat. JFK conspiracy researcher Paul Bleau

Updated: Jun 4, 2023


(From left to right:) Paul Bleau, James DiEugenio, and Oliver Stone



"Fallacious and Salacious"

(Paranoid Planet Podcast, Season 2, Episode 7.4, Chapter 1)



A fallacy is a statement, or set of statements, that contains misleading logic. While fallacies are sometimes used deliberately to deceive, for example in advertising, they are usually committed unintentionally by careless communicators. Fallacies typically do one of three things: (a) they manipulate people’s feelings, (b) they distract the audience from the issue being discussed, or (c) they draw a facile connection using vague or deceptive language between certain premises (alleged facts) and one’s thesis (what one is trying to prove). In other words, a fallacy is a cheap shortcut used to win arguments under false pretexts. The deliberate and unscrupulous use of fallacies is called sophistry.


Conspiracy researchers often resort to fallacious logic because conspiracy theories are speculative by nature, requiring their authors to justify their beliefs with many unproven assumptions. The strong emotions that make such theories compelling can also skew one’s ability to reason clearly. Since conspiracy claims habitually try to explain unresolved mysteries or expose secret plots conducted by powerful groups, conspiracists easily fall prey to paranoia and other types of emotional reasoning that prevent them from being objective. The most common conspiracist trap is to engage in circular reasoning, which is to begin an argument with the assumption that one’s conclusion is true before sufficient evidence has been collected to support it.



This leads researchers to cherry-pick only the evidence that favors their conclusion and to ignore any evidence that challenges it. Circular reasoning also leads conspiracists to arbitrarily “fill the gaps” in the evidence record using rhetorical questions as if the answer were self-evident. An example of circular reasoning can be found in the following passage from Josiah Thompson's Last Second in Dallas (U.P. Kansas, 2021): "Most striking were the observed effects of Kennedy being shot in the head. There was the obvious catapulting of his body backward and to the left, clear evidence of the shot coming from the right front." [1]



Reading only books or websites that suggest a theory is true, without being compelled to consider alternate viewpoints, will also prevent you from learning about evidence that might change your mind. Circular reasoning may even make you believe in a hoax. Many examples exist of intentional forgeries that were accepted as true by thousands of willing believers: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Majestic-12 documents, Ray Santili’s alien autopsy film, Pierre Plantard’s Dossiers secrets, etc. Kennedy assassination buffs are no less vulnerable. When the Warren Commission concluded, for instance, that Jack Ruby’s shooting of Lee Oswald was the work of one man, many refused to accept it and went looking for any shred of circumstantial evidence—however lurid or unlikely—that might link Ruby to the mob or CIA.


A poster from the 1992 film Ruby


Others simply cannot accept that the most powerful man in the world, a president in whom they had vested their hopes as a symbol of change, could be gunned down at high noon by an insignificant loner. As historian and JFK biographer William Manchester noted, the story lacked a certain moral and narrative proportionality—a scenario in which a great crime against a great man should have been committed by an equally great criminal, not a “wretched waif” like Oswald.[2] At least, that is what typically happens in novels and movies, and art greatly influences our perception of real-life events. It leads us to look for similar patterns in history, which is usually far more chaotic.


Examples of proportionality in Hollywood action movies


Fallacies come in two basic types. Formal fallacies are logical faults in the structure of the argument. Such an argument could contain only proven facts and still be wrong because these facts (premises) do not support the conclusion. Consider the following argument:


1. If A then B

2. B

-----------------------

3. Therefore A


1. If it rained, the sidewalk will be wet

2. The sidewalk is wet

-----------------------

3. Therefore it rained


Clearly, this argument is logically inconsistent. The rule presented in the first premise establishes that B will happen as a consequence of A, but it does not stipulate whether the mere existence of B implies that A must also be true. For instance, the sidewalk could be wet for a number of other reasons (a fireman's hose, a window washer, a dog urinating on the street side). This type of formal fallacy is called "affirming the consequent" and it is the evil twin of the always valid argument called modus ponens (1. If A then B; A; Therefore B). But formal fallacies are not always this obviously incorrect. Consider the following example:


1. Oswald was either on the sixth floor of the TSBD or he was not on the sixth floor of the TSBD.

2. No one saw Oswald on the sixth floor of the TSBD.

____________

3. Therefore, Oswald did not shoot Kennedy


The central problem with this argument is not that it makes factual mistakes. The premises of this argument (statements 1 and 2) are arguably true. The main problem with this argument is that it is not logically consistent. Its premises, even if they were true, do not make the conclusion either necessary or probable. One could equally conclude, for instance, that Oswald was on the sixth floor but hidden from view, or that he shot JFK from the rooftop, from another floor of the building, from the grassy knoll, or from some other location.


Informal fallacies are individual statements that are logically misleading or too vague to produce a specific conclusion. Most fallacies that appear in JFK conspiracy theories are of this type. There are dozens of kinds of informal fallacies. Many are easy to spot with a little training and practice. Much the same way an experienced birdwatcher can identify a species by its song, color, or shape, you can teach yourself to sniff-out misleading nonsense. All it takes is awareness and concentration. By teaching yourself to be on the lookout for fallacies, you can avoid being ensnared by these reasoning traps.


Students of conspiracy theories should study logic alongside their favorite conspiracy books. Below is a list of reasoning fallacies that frequently turn up in conspiracy literature. [3]


LIST OF COMMON FALLACIES


1. Ad Hoc Rescue: An exceptional and untestable one-time explanation that defies trends, predictability, or the rules of logical consistency.


2. Appeal to Emotions: Using language or symbols that manipulates the audience to accept a claim based on their feelings of pity, fear, anger, patriotism, etc.


3. Appeal to Popularity: (aka: Ad Populum or “Bandwagon Effect”) Claiming that X is true because a majority or people (or ancestors, or some well-known celebrities) believe it is true.


4. Appeal to an Unqualified Authority (aka: Ad Verecundiam): To claim that someone’s viewpoint is true by virtue of their status or expertise in a different domain than the issue at hand.


5. Circular Reasoning (aka: “Begging the Question”): Supporting a thesis with a premise that is only true if one first assumes that the conclusion is true.


6. Equivocation: Changing the meaning of a crucial term or concept in the middle of the argument.


7. Fallacy of Composition: To make an inappropriate inference from the properties of the parts of a set to the set as a whole.


8. Fallacy of Division: To make an inappropriate inference from the properties of a set to the properties of its constituent parts.


9. False dilemma: To offer a forced choice between two (or more) options when other possible alternatives exist.


10. Faulty Analogy: To make an inappropriate inference between two things that are only superficially similar.


11. Furtive Fallacy: The unjustified assumption that all events are guided by a hidden and malicious power.


12. Guilt by Association: Ascribing blame on the basis that a person has some suspicious “connection” to other suspects.


13. Hasty Generalization (aka: Stereotyping): To make a broad generalization about a whole group, or about a person’s possible actions, based on insufficient examples.


14. Moving the Goalposts: To reject a piece of evidence by demanding it meet an unnecessarily high criterion of legitimacy.


15. Personal Attack (aka: Ad Hominemor “Poisoning the Well”): To criticize the person(s) presenting the argument instead of the argument itself.


16. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (“After this, therefore because of this”): To claim that the consequence of an event is a proof of its cause.


17. Red Herring: An irrelevant fact or digression that draws the audience’s attention away from the issue at hand.


18. Slippery Slope: To assume that a possible action will inevitably lead to an unavoidable (and undesired) chain of events.


19. Straw Man: Presenting an overly simplistic or distorted version of an opponent’s argument to make them look silly.


20. Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy: Arbitrarily deriving a pattern from a cherry-picked set of random coincidences.


[1] Josiah Thompson: Last Second In Dallas, University of Kansas Press, 2021, p.96, emphasis added. This is circular reasoning by the fact that in the accompanying passage, Thompson only dwells on evidence that serve his belief that a shot came from the front of JFK's limousine but ignores all of the counterevidence that disconfirms it. In fact, this statement also contains a false dilemma fallacy insofar as it only offer two possible explanations: either JFK was shot from the front and was catapulted backwards, or he was not shot from the front in which case he would not have been catapulted backwards. Thompson does not discuss the widely accepted argument made by forensic pathologists and ballistics experts who studied the event that JFK suffered a neurological spasm and was not struck by a frontal projectile, as well as many other explanations for this backward motion (jet, effect, sudden deceleration and acceleration of the vehicle, muscular reactions, influence of Kennedy's back brace, etc.).


[2] William Manchester: “No Evidence for a Conspiracy to Kill Kennedy,” The New York Times, Feb. 5, 1992.


[3] For a longer discussion on fallacies, with links to critical thinking sources, See Bradley Dowden: “Fallacies,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://iep.utm.edu/fallacy/.



This essay is adapted from Appendix 1 of my book, Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination: Debunking the Myths and Conspiracy Theories (Routledge, 2022)


M.J. Gagné, 2022/2023.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


"On 'Chokeholds', Autopsy Gaffes, and CIA Henchmen:

A Short(ish) and Amicable Rejoinder to Paul Bleau"


Addendum to Episode 7.4 (May, 2023)


In a 2016 article titled, “The Three Failed Plots to Kill JFK: The Historians' Guide on how to Research his Assassination – with an addendum,” posted on the Kennedys and King conspiracy research website (administered by Jim DiEugenio), Paul Bleau offered eleven reasons—which he called “chokeholds”—that, in his opinion, are insurmountable proofs that President John F. Kennedy was killed by a covert operation involving multiple assassins and organizers---i.e., a wide-scale domestic conspiracy involving the CIA, the Secret Service, organized crime, Jack Ruby, elements of the FBI and military, and possibly others (but not Lee Oswald).


Most of these alleged proofs of a conspiracy are addressed and debunked in my book, Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination: Debunking the Myths and Conspiracy Theories (Routledge, 2022). They have also been addressed by several other authors critical of JFK conspiracy theories. In this short-ish rejoinder to Mr. Bleau’s 11 chokeholds, not in the intention to pick an ugly fight but to give him the honor of receiving a thorough response, I will identify some of the problems I identified with these reasons. While I am under no delusion that this will necessarily change Mr.Bleau’s mind, I do hope it will give him food for thought and the opportunity to second-guess some of his root assumptions regarding the Kennedy assassination.


Curious readers and conspiracy believers are invited to peruse my book and/or the books, articles, and/or websites of Gerald Posner, John McAdams, Mel Ayton, Vincent Bugliosi, Larry Sturdivan, Max Holland, Fred Litwin, John Lattimer, Luke and Mike Haag, David Reitzes, David Von Pein, and many others to find a more thorough and detailed explanation of the Lone Gunman Theory.



1. The debunking of the Magic Bullet theory


Often touted as an impossible shot, the “Magic Bullet Theory”—as it is frequently called by conspiracy researchers but never by the Warren Commission—is actually the most likely explanation for the ballistic and wound evidence found in the bodies and clothes of President Kennedy (in his upper back and throat) and Governor Connally (in his back, chest, right wrist and left thigh).


Oliver Stone’s JFK, among other sources, makes the claim that this bullet had to zigzag, pause, and perform sudden U-turns to account for all of the wounds suffered by JFK and Connally prior to the fatal head shot. To produce this fallacious straw-man scenario, Stone et al had to rearrange the location and orientation of the two men’s bodies in the limousine and ignore the elevation of JFK’s seat, the lower position of Connally’s jump seat, and the descending slope of Elm Street. In addition, they needed to ignore the bullet wipe marks found on JFK’s jacket but not on Connally’s, the bunching up of JFK’s jacket, the damage caused to JFK’s shirt collar and necktie, the oblong bullet hole in Connally’s suit jacket (proving that the bullet was yawing—i.e., tumbling—after it exited JFK’s throat) and the flattening of bullet CE399 (a hard military bullet designed to pierce, not maim its victims), proving that the slower-moving projectile struck Connally’s rib and wrist sideways before it struck his left thigh backwards (causing a shallow wound), leaving particles of lead in his chest, wrist, and thigh that were squeezed out of the bullet’s softer core. The bullet then fell out of the governor’s clothing while his body was stripped and transported at Parkland Hospital.


By reorienting the bodies of Kennedy and Connally in their “magic bullet” diagrams and locating JFK’s back entry wound based off inaccurate drawings and the holes in his clothing rather than the precise location of JFK’s back wound recorded on the autopsy face sheet (“14cm to the left of the right acromion”—the tip of the shoulder bone—and “14cm below the right mastoid process”—the boney bump behind the ear), conspiracists are guilty of distorting the Warren Commission’s findings and the autopsy report to fit a circular argument.

Furthermore, this “almost pristine” (a contradiction in terms) bullet’s rifling marks matched Lee Oswald’s 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to the exclusion of other rifles. Moreover, planting a fake bullet in Parkland hospital less than an hour after the assassination would have required the alleged conspirators to already know how many bullets and bullet fragments might subsequently be discovered by policemen, deputy sheriffs, federal agents, emergency room doctors, surgeons, hospital nurses and orderlies, pathologists, and curious civilians in Dealey Plaza, risking the chance of planting more bullets than the lone gunman theory could sustain. Further problems are faced by those who claim that Lee Oswald’s rifle was used to produce fake bullets, a rifle that had to be stolen from and replaced in Ruth Paine’s garage where only Lee and Marina knew it was hidden.



2. What Dealey Plaza and Parkland Hospital witnesses saw (and Bethesda personnel as well) and what the Zapruder film showed


This circular reasoning claim rests on trusting any eye-witness whose testimony supports (however obliquely) the multiple-shooter conspiracy theory while ignoring all witnesses whose memories don’t, as well as ignoring all available physical evidence (photos, X-rays, films, bullet fragments, bone fragments, JFK’s brain, damage to the limousine, etc.) that reveal that all the shots fired into the limousine, as well as the one that injured bystander James Tague, came from behind Kennedy. Likewise, it relies on interpreting the Zapruder film in a circular fashion, looking only for proofs of a conspiracy while ignoring the elements in it that don’t (e.g., the initial forward head snap, the forward burst of blood and brain tissue, and the absence of any blowout at the back of JFK’s head). It also rests on ignoring the testimony of multiple ballistic and forensic science experts who found no evidence of a shot from the front and have no particular reason to lie about it.


While it is true that several eye-witnesses reported seeing things that contradict or lines-up differently than other eye-witness claims reported in the Warren Report, the autopsy report, and other “official” sources, it is not unusual for eye/ear-witness reports to clash. In fact, it is sadly the norm. And even though these reports (e.g., of hearing more than three gunshots) tend to be in the minority, it also matters immensely whether the witnesses he has in mind had any expertise in ballistics, forensic wound pathology, acoustics, legal depositions, film and photography, familiarity with Dealey Plaza, etc. It also matters where they were positioned and how much time they had to observe the events they reported. Other considerations include the length of time elapsed before these memories were recorded, whether or not they were recorded under oath, any biases or character traits that might mine their credibility, and the fact that some individuals just have a better memory while others are prone to misinterpret, reimagine, or fabulate. For instance, one of the closest witnesses of the assassination was Jean Hill, but she also turned out to be one of the least reliable. Others, like Governor Connally, had a lot of experience assessing the sound of gunshots, but did not have the benefit of seeing when JFK was first struck, and whether the first shot he heard completely missed the limousine, struck Kennedy but not Connally, or wounded both men at once.


As to the personnel of Parkland hospital in Dallas, their time with Kennedy’s body was relatively brief. They had no time to perform any detailed observations of his wounds after he was declared dead. Before that, they struggled for less than 20 minutes to keep him alive using transfusions, cardiac massage, and by performing a tracheotomy. JFK’s head was matted with gore and his body was never turned over from the gurney. This means that there was ample opportunity for the Parkland staff to misconstrue the small exit wound in JFK’s throat as an entrance wound (due to the restrictive action of his necktie), and to misinterpret the size of the large avulsive wound on the side of his head as stretching all the way back into the occipital area (i.e., in the lower rear, where the neck meets the head).


I have already addressed in the introduction to the episode why FBI agents Sibert and O’Neill, who observed a large portion of the autopsy, recorded slightly different observations about Kennedy’s wounds than did the pathologists, which can all be understood as simple misunderstandings of what the pathologists said and the two agents' lack of experience observing autopsies. (According to his ARRB deposition, this was only the third autopsy that Sibert had ever witnessed, and the first gunshot-related one). To conclude anything beyond this requires conspiracy believers to disregard all of the elements of Sibert and O’Neill’s Nov. 25, 1963 302-Report, as well as their ARRB testimonies, that support the “official” version of events, including the type of coffin JFK’s body arrived in, the condition of JFK’s body when it arrived, the legitimacy of the autopsy photographs, the non-sinister cast of characters who were present during the autopsy proceedings, and their attestation that their Warren Commission depositions were accurate, all of which invalidates claims made by the conspiracists' star witness in this matter, Bethesda Naval Hospital morgue technician Paul O'Connor. To cherry-pick one witness claim that supports the conspiracy view while ignoring the many claims that don’t, or to ignore the many contradictions between alleged conspiracy witnesses, is disingenuous and manipulative.

3. The impersonation and attempted framing of Oswald in Mexico City a few weeks before the assassination


Mr. Bleau is not the only person who is frustrated at the confusing jumble of information that exists concerning Lee Harvey Oswald’s trip to Mexico City in late September 1963. Many skeptics, including myself, share that frustration. Under heavy pressure from President Johnson, who had no intention of triggering a nuclear war with Cuba and the Soviet Union should evidence emerge that Lee Oswald was acting on behalf of the Communist government of Fidel Castro, Chief Justice Warren guided his commission to downplay Lee Oswald’s possible ties to Castro, and this included the time he spent in Mexico City visiting the Cuban and Soviet embassies there.


That being said, conspiracy believers tend to exaggerate the unknowns and contradictions of the Oswald-in-Mexico story, some going as far as claiming that Oswald was never there and that the entire Mexico City caper was a CIA plot to frame him as a patsy using lookalikes and fake phone calls. Much of this comes down to a photograph of an anonymous man (who was clearly not Oswald but whose identity has not been confirmed) that was sent to CIA headquarters by the Mexico City CIA office to report that an American citizen named Lee Harvey Oswald had been spotted visiting these embassies. The CIA then passed this information and photograph to the FBI for them to investigate Oswald’s reasons for being there. There remains some mystery as to why the CIA sent a photograph of the wrong man to the FBI and was not subsequently able to produce a genuine picture of Oswald in Mexico. (This is why some conspiracists argue that he was never there, while some skeptics speculate that the mystery man on the photograph was a Soviet operative who got confused for Oswald). This could have been a simple mix-up, revealing the incompetence of field agents running surveillance on enemy embassies, a deliberate attempt to expose an enemy agent to have him repatriated by Moscow, or some other explanation that still evades conspiracists and skeptics alike.


It remains possible that the CIA did impersonate Lee Oswald during a phone call to the Soviet embassy that occurred during this time, perhaps in an attempt to extract information under false pretenses. But none of this proves that the CIA was involved in murdering President Kennedy. Rather, their ongoing secrecy about these events can be explained as damage control, for instance by trying to avoid having their methods and informants in Mexico City exposed. Remember that this all happened before Lee Oswald became a significant historical personage, before the Church Committee’s revelations about multiple CIA illegal activities, and before the American intelligence services were brought under tighter Congressional oversight. To reveal that the CIA deliberately impersonated an obscure lone-wolf pro-Castro activist as a foil to spy on the Soviets and Cubans, a man who managed to assassinate the American President only eight weeks later, would, still today, tarnish the agency’s reputation and reveal their lack of vigilance in tagging this man as a possible threat to U.S. national security. Spying on U.S. citizens has never been permitted by the CIA, though I reckon they have, and still do, if they deem it necessary and can get away with it. [1]


It is now well-established by multiple researchers, both conspiracist and skeptical, that Lee Oswald did indeed travel to Mexico City by bus seeking an immediate visa to migrate to Cuba, that he visited both the Cuban and Soviet embassies repeatedly, failing to convince them of his worth and good intentions, that he behaved erratically (getting angry, pulling out a pistol, and begging to the point of tears). What remains unknown is whether or not he contacted any pro- or anti-Castro agents while he was there or in transit. While multiple theories have been offered, these rely largely on hearsay and speculation. It is unlikely, however, that any comprehensive and elaborate CIA efforts to impersonate or manipulate Oswald occurred during this time.


In short, claims that Lee Oswald was being set up as a patsy in Mexico City rely on circular reasoning as well as the furtive fallacy: the belief that reality is never what it appears to be and that malevolent powers are constantly working behind the scenes to deceive the masses.



4. The Silvia Odio incident


As discussed above, there remains some mystery as to what Lee Oswald did, where he went, and whom he met during the days he travelled from New Orleans to Mexico City and back from there to Dallas. One theory offers that he met up with two anti-Castro Cubans in Houston and drove up to Dallas to pay a visit to Sylvia Odio (never contacting his wife and daughter, who had already moved back to Dallas to live with Marina's friend Ruth Paine). Odio was the daughter of a rich Cuban businessman and counterrevolutionary who was imprisoned in Cuba during that time. She was living in Dallas with her sister in late September 1963 when, she later told the Warren Commission, a man called “Leon Oswald” came to her house in the company of a man calling himself “Leopoldo”, a Cuban who claimed to be a friend of her father and who was asking for financial help to support his anti-Castro activities. Odio was suspicious because she did not recognize these men, and no one in her family was familiar with her description of them. After the assassination, she recognized Lee Oswald’s photo in the news as that of the non-Latino man who had accompanied “Leopoldo” to her apartment.


Odio’s testimony has left most people baffled. Her description of Oswald was atypical (he usually was always well-groomed and close-shaven, but not this time). The date of this visit is also hotly debated. Odio herself remained certain that she had met Lee Oswald on September 26 or 27, 1963, but Warren Commission and FBI investigators, as well as authors who interviewed her or her acquaintances widely disagreed on her state of mind and credibility. While it remains possible that Lee Oswald met up with some anti-Castro Cubans (he had a history of trying to infiltrate their cell groups and pass himself off as one of them) or pro-Castro Cubans trying to dig up some dirt on Odio’s family, the narrow window of opportunity makes all of this unlikely. Evidence shows that Oswald transited through Houston on his way to Mexico City and made several local calls to the private home of Socialist Labor Party member Horace Twiford on the evening of September 25, 1963. He arrived in Mexico City by the 27th. While it is not impossible, this 480-mile side trip is hard to fit into the established record. Nevertheless, many skeptics, including Vincent Bugliosi, believe Odio may in fact have met Oswald, but argues that this does not prove Lee Oswald was a CIA agent or a patsy, but merely that he was always trying to improve his reputation as a pro-Castro “hunter of fascists” to be taken in by the Cuban government. Infiltrating an anti-Castro cell (with or without "Leopoldo's" awareness) and using whatever information he might obtain there to later impress the Cuban authorities fits the pattern of the Lone Gunman Theory as well as, if not better than, the spin given to these events by conspiracist authors. In the end, the Sylvia Odio incident is a large piece of errant data that does not fit neatly into any theory, mostly because of the lack of strong evidence pointing in any direction.



5. Oswald’s relationship with David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, Guy Banister, Cuban exiles and Intelligence


See Paranoid Planet episodes 7.3A and 7.3B, as well as Patricia Lambert's False Witness, concerning the credibility of the 1967-69 Garrison inquest that served as the basis for Oliver Stone’s JFK (and other conspiracist sources).


The short answer is, there was no relationship between Lee Oswald and any of these men. The Clay Shaw trial was a farce that ended with the accused being exonerated and District Attorney Jim Garrison being nailed with a permanent injunction and counter-sued by Shaw (who died of natural causes before the case could be heard). Even many conspiracist authors turned their backs on Garrison, seeing that his JFK assassination theories were fraught with factual and logical errors and legal malpractice. While it later emerged that Shaw had served as an unpaid informant to the fully-legal and non-sinister Domestic Contact Service of the CIA during the 1950s (he was an international businessman with many contacts in Europe and Latin America), he never worked for the CIA, despite the claims made by Oliver Stone et al.


The two pieces of evidence that are most often used by conspiracists (including Mr. Bleau) to suggest that Lee Oswald had any connections to this sordid cast of New Orleans anti-communists include a “Hands Off Cuba” leaflet that was allegedly stamped by Lee Oswald with the address “544 Camp Street”, an address adjacent to the offices of an anti-communist private detective called Guy Banister (there never was such a leaflet—see Fred Litwin’s explanation here). The other is the Grand Jury testimony of Perry Raymond Russo, a young Baton Rouge insurance salesman who knew David Ferrie and testified that he once attended a party where Ferrie, Shaw, and “Leon” Oswald discussed murdering Kennedy in the company of several anti-Castro Cubans. But Russo’s testimony was elicited illegally and unethically by Garrison. It was also exposed as a fraud by the Saturday Evening Post’s James Phelan before Russo even managed to present it at the Shaw trial (see here). The entire New Orleans “gay fascists” intrigue concocted by Garrison was, at best, a shameful example of guilt-by-association. At worse, it was a deliberate ploy to score political capital by scapegoating homosexuals----on whom Garrison was obsessively fixated (as opposed to, say, organized crime)----along with the CIA and Garrison’s former employer, the FBI.



6. Jack Ruby’s connections, comportment and later statements


Unsurprisingly, the shooting of Lee Oswald by Jack Ruby two days after the president’s murder—in the parking garage of the Dallas Police of all places—gave birth to many conspiracy theories. Because connecting Ruby directly to the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, Castro, anti-Castrists, the “Military-Industrial Complex”, or New Orleans gay fascists is a quasi-impossible task without rewriting the script of history, organized crime is usually brought in to complete the conspiracy picture. In some cases, a CIA-mafia collaboration is tenable. After all, the two organizations were cooperating (albeit at arm’s length) in trying to eliminate Fidel Castro during the last year of Kennedy’s administration. Other mafia connections, like the one presumed between Lee Oswald and New Orleans mafia don Carlos Marcello (via Oswald’s bookmaker uncle Charles Murret), are as far-fetched as a Rube Goldberg machine.


It takes little effort to connect Jack Ruby—a flighty and financially-strained exotic night club owner, as well as a semi-observant Jew with a hatred for anti-Semites—to various members of organized crime involved in the local restaurant and “adult entertainment” industries. But to claim that Ruby was in any way working for the mob (or was a homosexual fascist, for that matter), one must ignore multiple elements of his personal life, personality, and social habits. In fact, he had many more friends in the Dallas police, which allowed him (with a pistol in his pocket) to stalk Oswald during the three days he was in police custody. Ruby also befriended employees of the local radio station and newspaper offices and ran many legal side-hustles to make ends meet financially. Ruby was an exuberant socialite, an erratic and short-tempered bigmouth who was constantly promoting his various business ventures and could hardly be trusted with any secret. His behaviour after his killing of Oswald demonstrated two things: that he thought his friends in the police all wanted to kill Oswald themselves but were afraid of doing so, and an escalation of mental health problems (as well as a generalized cancer that was diagnosed late) that caused him to develop intense emotional bouts of paranoia. While conspiracists are quick to point out that Ruby offered to divulge the secrets of a conspiracy to the Warren Commission if he could be brought to a safer jail cell in Washington (Warren declined), it is clear that the kind of conspiracy he had in mind was one in which a group of antisemites (like the Ku Klux Klan or the John Birch Society) had killed JFK in order to blame it on the Jews. Ruby often said he heard the screams of Jewish children being tortured in the basement of the prison where he was kept. He never claimed to be part of a conspiracy himself; he claimed he killed Oswald to prove that Jews did not kill Kennedy, and to avenge the Kennedy family, whom he admired. Ruby expected he would become a national hero. He would be sorely disappointed.


However unlikely it might seem to some authors that Ruby managed to enter the police parking garage on November 24, 1963, without being stopped by a single policeman who was guarding the exit ramp, the succession of unplanned mishaps that led Ruby to face Oswald at the very moment that Oswald was being escorted from the elevator to a police car in a busy garage filled with journalists, floodlights, and TV cameras, can hardly be attributed to anything else than dumb luck or the will of God. If the Dallas police can be faulted for any of this sordid weekend’s misdeeds, it should be for Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry’s desire to please the public too much by allowing the press (and Ruby with them) to enter the Dallas Police headquarters without restrictions. Any attempt to make Ruby out to be a mafia hitman must ignore everything else we know about his personality, movements, social network, and state of mind.



7. The CIA’s handling of Oswald’s files


This is a vague premise. It is not clear to me which files Mr. Bleau is referring to here. If this “chokehold” refers to files that have never been seen, then without some indication that some information has gone missing (e.g., a catalog of files or a list of items), then this may be a case once again of the furtive fallacy (assuming that nothing is as it seems), and of an argument from ignorance fallacy, claiming that the absence of X is necessarily a proof of X.


One might rightly expect the CIA (and FBI) to have kept a record of information about a former American marine who defected to the Soviet Union, later returned and was found to engage in small-scale pro-Castro propaganda, was assaulted in public by an anti-Castro activist (Carlos Bringuier), and soon afterwards showed up in Mexico City seeking a visa to migrate to Cuba. (Indeed, Oswald’s own mother was the first to send conspiracy claims to the FBI concerning her son’s defection, letters which they kept, along with newspaper clippings, and other pertinent communications during his time in the USSR). Certainly, this was enough of a reason to keep tabs on Oswald henceforth, which is what Dallas FBI agent James Hosty was trying to do during the weeks prior to the assassination. Not wanting to confront Oswald in his place of work (an FBI standard operating procedure), Hosty met with Marina twice but could not locate Oswald’s boarding house until after he was arrested for murdering Kennedy and Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.


One might also expect both the CIA and FBI to have realized by then how lax they had been in assessing the poor and friendless Oswald as a national security threat (and possibly also stealing his identity in a Mexico City operation). The simplest and least sinister explanation for the destruction of such files is that these two organizations tried to cover up their own ineptitude by hiding, destroying, or lying about the information they previously held on Oswald. Indeed, it was revealed twelve years later by the Church Committee that Special Agent Hosty had in fact destroyed an unsigned and threatening note sent to him by Oswald several days before the assassination, but which he did not connect to Oswald until after the assassination. Destruction of any other evidence is a serious matter of concern that, if possible, still needs to be investigated. But it does not on its own prove that the CIA (or FBI) were complicit in JFK’s assassination. It only proves their determination to cover their butts.


8. David Atlee Phillips’ connections to Oswald, post assassination propaganda and sheep-dipping


At the heart of this claim lies a confusing system of vague “touchpoints” between the CIA (Phillips), the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (which Oswald was loosely affiliated to), Tampa mob boss Santo Trafficante, and various anti-Castro Cubans (which inspired our Episode 7.4 fake sponsor ad for the fictitious game “Six Degrees of Lee Harvey Oswald”). The evidence supporting these connections are tentative at best.


I am least familiar with the facts surrounding Phillips’ activities for the CIA. Nevertheless, even if Mr. Bleau’s facts are correct, the logic of Mr. Bleau’s argument is not convincing as it involves a great deal of hearsay, conjecture, and guilt-by-association, as well as the need to interpret all of these “touchpoints” with a pre-existing belief that the CIA was involved in planning out the Kennedy assassination. This entire line of inquiry appears to be a red herring fallacy (an unrelated distraction from the heart of the argument) which only serves to make the CIA look suspicious but does not contradict the basic facts that support the view that Oswald acted alone.



9. The timely lack of security in a hostile environment during a threatening period


This is also a vague premise, so it is hard to know exactly what to address here. Perhaps it is referring to Fletcher Prouty’s claim that all of the open windows overlooking Dealey Plaza were proof positive that the Secret Service deliberately put JFK in harm’s way. However, that claim never takes into consideration that there were thousands of other open windows throughout the rest of Kennedy’s motorcade through Dallas, as well as through many other cities he previously visited in an open-top limousine (Houston, Tampa, Honolulu, Cork, Berlin, etc.). Sealing thousands of windows simply wasn't the job of the Secret Service, nor was it feasible for the local police to do so and thereby divert hundreds of agents who were needed to escort the motorcade, patrol the streets, keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour, and maintain a regular police presence throughout the rest of the city. It also ran counter to the desire JFK had that people see and celebrate his visit. As hostile as Dallas might have been politically, it was not Normandy in 1944. It was a peaceful American city that the President was trying to woo with speeches, handshakes, smiles, and waves, as well as his lovely wife and a trail of Texas political figures in tow.


Conspiracists often neglect to consider that JFK himself had frequently admonished his security detail not to crowd around him. He wanted to be seen as a man of the people who was not afraid of the voting public. This turned out to be a contributing factor to his vulnerability on 22 November 1963, a cause of deep regret for Secret Service agents like Clint Hill who fell into depression and alcoholism believing he should have done more to protect the Kennedys that day, and new standard operating procedures for all subsequent presidential motorcades.


It is true that there was a smaller number of police officers stationed in Dealey Plaza compared to the rest of the motorcade route, but that was simply because the motorcade was over as it rounded Houston onto Elm Street and was headed to the Stemmons Freeway onramp to take Kennedy to a luncheon at the nearby Dallas Trade Mart. One may also notice that while a few dozen people stood on each side of Elm street, that Dealey Plaza had in fact been cordoned off, which explains why the density of bystanders was much lower on Elm street compared to the crowds gathered on Main and Houston.


In sum, this premise contains a moving the goalposts fallacy—expecting Dealey Plaza to be subject to a much higher level of security than anywhere else Kennedy was due to travel that day (including the Trade Mart, which was believed to be the most likely place for an attack). So this claim is only logically consistent if one knows in advance that Dealey Plaza was to be ground zero for the assassination, which of course would only be known by the assassin(s), not the agents protecting Kennedy.

10. The equally terrible investigation effort and investigation sabotage that followed


Did the Warren Commission cut some corners? Of course it did. It had a tight schedule and restricted budget, a small staff, and difficulty obtaining full cooperation from the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service (and Kennedy family too), all of whom had failed to predict and prevent the assassination from happening and therefore could be scapegoated for Kennedy’s death. It also did not have the benefit of the rapid improvements in forensic science that occurred in the following decades (which the HSCA and ARRB did have), and it tried to avoid controversial explanations for Oswald’s motive. Some were raised, but these invariably led to either Castro or Freud, and so it left that point moot.


As stated above, President Johnson was fearful of a military showdown with the Soviets should the U.S. discover that Castro was involved in the murder, and LBJ remained convinced until he died (wrongly, it turned out) that Oswald had had some direct line of communication with Castro.


And if Johnson was in on the hit, then he did the exact opposite of what conspiracists would expect the fascist “Men Who Killed Kennedy” to do, which was to put an end to all covert operations against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, allowing “The Beard” to rule his Marxist utopia in relative peace for another four decades. These same authors rarely concede that JFK and his brother Bobby were deeply and personally committed to getting Castro ousted from power. This would suggest that the Men Who Killed Kennedy ought rather to have saved JFK and killed Johnson instead.


The Kennedy family were also very restrictive of the autopsy materials from the start (and until today). But unless you believe that Jackie, Bobby, Ted, and the rest of the clan were in on the crime, this proves absolutely nothing about a conspiracy. What it proves, and this was firmly established by historian Robert Dallek (An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963, 2004) was that the Kennedy family were deeply worried about JFK’s legacy and what the publication of his medical records (illnesses, use of many prescription drugs, and other physical conditions) might do to mine his reputation as a healthy, virile, and virtuous man of the people. With little to no access to the direct evidence of the autopsy, the Warren Commission staff were forced to rely on the hastily-written autopsy report, which itself was entirely based on blood-stained handwritten notes and the memory of the pathologists, who were given no opportunity to cross-examine their notes against the president’s body, X-Rays, photographs, bone fragments, and other documents like the notes taken by FBI agents Sibert and O’Neill. Indeed, all that remained to examine in Bethesda hospital the next morning was the president’s brain soaking in formalin.


To speak of all this as “sabotage”, however, is to look at the problem through a thin conspiracy-shaped telescope. Conspiracists oversimplify or ignore much of the minute historical data we have regarding the comprehensive efforts made by the Warren Commission’s staff to accurately report the events of the assassination, of Lee Oswald’s and Jack Ruby’s lives, and to provide a coherent explanation for the deaths of JFK, Officer Tippit, and Lee Oswald. This was not a trial. It was a long explanation. It lacked some context, cohesion, and the absence of speculation (The Single Bullet Theory, for instance, would require further testing to be cogent). But as Philip Shenon’s A Cruel and Shocking Act (2013) shows, it was a gargantuan task that in the end got a whole lot more right than it got wrong. In fact, these errors and omissions (like the erroneous 5.6-second assassination sequence, or their lack of interest in the first shot that missed) often ended up serving conspiracists far more than they served skeptical Lone Gunman theorists, who would later be vindicated with the emergence of better scientific tools.


Conspiracist claims of foul play are legion, from the faking of Oswald’s backyard photographs, to the many claims of secret CIA machinations, to the so-called “Zapruder film hoax”. I am open to debating this issue further with Mr. Bleau if he can produce a short list of the greatest examples of “sabotage” in the work of the Warren Commission, the HSCA, and/or the ARRB. If there has been any clear evidence of sabotage, however, or at least disinformation, it came in the form of (a) the acoustic evidence that allegedly proved, according to the HSCA in 1979, that there was a shooter on the grassy knoll who took one single shot and hit nothing, then disappeared out of thin air, and (b) the deliberately fallacious “magic bullet theory” concocted by many conspiracists. But that is probably not the kind of sabotage Mr. Bleau is talking about.



11. The strong consensus of post-Warren Commission investigations and investigators/insiders that the Warren Commission version of events is full of holes


Finally, any discussion of a "consensus" needs to look beyond merely comparing the number of people who believe X versus those who believe not--X. Not everyone is correctly informed or benefits of having the time, acumen, and training to reach a correct verdict on a complex historical “cold case” (if we can call the JFK assassination that). To simply tally the number of believers against the number of non-believers and then conclude that the majority wins is an appeal to popularity fallacy. It is not the way either the law, science, history, or logic works. To arbitrarily select a sample of individuals who agree that X while ignoring all the other voices that believe in not--X, is even more disingenuous. This moving of the target to suit one’s own conclusion is called the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. (My apologies to all offended Texans, who probably shoot much more accurately than any of my philosopher friends can).


In perusing Mr. Bleau’s articles, I find little reference to qualified experts who have investigated some aspect of the JFK assassination at length within their sphere of expertise and found the conspiracy argument wanting, and of these there are many (Lattimer, Sturdivan, Nalli, Haag, Zavada, Aynesworth, Holland, McAdams, Bugliosi, Posner, Ayton, Dallek, Giglio, McMillan, Boot, Olmsted, Shenon, and many others). To omit these voices does not produce a consensus but rather an echo chamber. Mr. Bleau cites only conspiracist authors and “insiders” who worked for various government investigations (Tannenbaum, Blakey, Kantor, Horne, etc.), but these all had conspiracist convictions prior to their involvement in various government commissions, or only disbelieve in some aspect of the “official story” without necessarily endorsing a conspiracist interpretation of the event (or at any rate, one that agrees with Mr. Bleau’s version). This tabulation of conspiracy-believing insiders fails to consider that, using the same methods, one would have to conclude that the conspiracist version is false since the vast majority of WC, HSCA, and ARRB members have never endorsed the conspiracy viewpoint. To put it another way, if the conspiracists want to establish a consensus based on the majority beliefs of commission members, the non-conspiracy side would win every time. If they want to build a consensus based on the opinions of ballistic, forensic, history, film, and photography experts alone, again, the non-conspiracy side would win again and again. On the other hand, if they want to use the word "consensus" to refer to the arbitrary set of all of the people who agree with their anti-Warren Commission position and produce long and speculative meandering conspiracy tomes, then indeed, the conspiracy side may win, but only because every other voice has been silenced. They would also need to find a new word to replace the term consensus, because their use of the term defies every dictionary definition.


There is much more that I could add, but I think this rejoinder is long enough already. if Mr. Bleau offered me a manageable short list of genuine and pertinent errors committed by the Warren Commission (say, three to five items) that he considers to be the biggest “holes” in its argument—holes that are still significant enough to warrant a re-evaluation of the Lone Gunman Theory—I would be happy to participate in such an exchange. It was a pleasure to have him on the show and I wish him well. Despite disagreeing with him, I found him to be a pleasant conversationalist. Hopefully he feels the same about me.


M. J. Gagné, May 2023.


[1] "The CIA, under its original charter in 1947 and executive orders since then, is generally prohibited from spying on Americans, with the FBI given legal authority for conducting virtually all intelligence operations on U.S. soil. But spymasters at Langley, Virginia, have found ways time and again to stretch and break through those limitations under the guise of national security. Too often, terrorism and national security have been used by the CIA and other intelligence agencies as a pretext for trampling on Americans' civil liberties." Eric Lichtblau: "The CIA might be collecting data about you. Here's why that's wrong and why you should care," USA Today, Feb. 11, 2022.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Documents related to this episode:*


1. Darkest Hour (Focus Features/Universal, 2017). Dir. by Joe Wright. Feat. Gary Oldman and Stephen Dillane.


2. Skeptoid Podcast, with host Brian Dunning.


3. Spiderman 2 (Columbia Pictures, 2004). Dir. by Sam Raimi.


4. JFK: Revisited (Ingenious Media, 2021). Dir. by Oliver Stone. Written by James DiEugenio. Feat. Oliver Stone, Jefferson Morley, and Paul Bleau.


5. Kennedys and King website. Admin. By James DiEugenio. Featuring articles by Paul Bleau on Failed JFK Plots, Lee Oswald, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, Jim Garrison, and History textbooks.


6. Fred Litwin: “Paul Bleau’s Plots” (2022). On the Trail of Delusion.


7. Special Agents James W. Sibert and Francis X. O’Neill: Autopsy of Body of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 11/22/63 (FB-302 Report, 11/26/63), Federal Bureau of Investigation (ARRB-MD44, pp.00552-00557). History-Matters. Dir. Rex Bradford.


8. Deposition of James W. Sibert, 11 September 1997. Assassination Records Review Board. Assassination Archives and Research Center. Dir. Jim Lesar.



10. William Manchester: The Death of a President: November 20–November 25, 1963. Harper & Row, 1967.



12. Michel Jacques Gagné: Thinking Critically About the Kennedy Assassination. Routledge, 2022.


13. Bradley Dowden: “Fallacies,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. University of Tennessee at Martin.


14. Zapruder film of Kennedy Assassination (Stabilized Motion Panorama HD plus SloMo). YouTube.


15. William Matson Law: In the Eye of History: Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence. JFK Lancer Productions & Publications, 2004.


16. Josiah Thompson: Last Second in Dallas. University Press of Kentucky, 2021.


17. “Puzzle Game” (music featured in fake ad: “Six Degrees of Lee Harvey Oswald”), composed by SergeQuadrado, 2022. freesound.org



* All copyrighted video and audio clips are used for educational purposes only under "fair use" regulations.

38 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page