Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dave Reitzes the Skeptical Skeptic

JFK at the Fringe of Reason

Pseudoscience and Pseudohistory in the John F. Kennedy Assassination
by David Reitzes

The November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy occupies an almost absurdly controversial place in American culture. The vast majority of criminal investigators and forensics experts who investigated the case and have studied it in the decades since agree that the evidence points conclusively to a lone assassin.

BK: Totally untrue. The vast majority of independent criminal investigators who have investigated the case – Bill Turner, Sylvia Meagher, Mary Ferrell, Mae Brussell, Joshia Thompson, Harold Weisberg, Bud Festerwald, Jim Lesar and many others- certainly the vast majority of those who have studied the case in detail have concluded Oswald didn’t do it or didn’t do it alone. Most of the forensic experts won’t touch the case or when they begin to look at the forensics determine that the chain of evidence has been broken in almost every case. Only well funded shyster lawyers like Posner the Plagerist and the Bug fall for the patsy, as they are paid to do.  

The President was struck by two bullets fired from above and behind him; the bullets were identified as having been fired from the rifle owned by Lee Harvey Oswald, to the exclusion of all other weapons. Three spent cartridges found inside a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, overlooking the assassination site, were proved to have been fired from Oswald's rifle. Oswald was employed in the building as a laborer, and was inside without an alibi when the shots were fired.(1)

BK: Yes, he was in the building but not on the Sixth Floor when the shots were fired. The above facts would be incriminating if you ignore other questions that you can’t answer – why did Oswald order the rifle through the mail under an alias traced only to him when he could have bought a better rifle two blocks for Dealey Plaza without any record of the sale? How did the rifle get in the building? Where did the bullets come from? Did Oswald practice with that rifle and scope as his brother said he would have had to? How come every eyeball witness said the Sixth Floor sniper wore a white shirt when Oswald wore a brown one? Who was the other man in a brown sports coat that witnesses saw on the Sixth Floor before the shooting and what happened to him? If Oswald was the Sixth Floor sniper how did he get past four people on the stairs without them seeing him? How come Roy Truly didn’t see Oswald go through the lunchroom door as he came up the stairs to the second floor landing when Baker behind him saw Oswald through the closed door window? Who was the man in the Sixth Floor window moving boxes around four minutes after the shooting when Oswald was positively on the second floor?  

Criminal investigators, scientists, historians, and journalists commonly dismiss JFK conspiracy theories as no more worthy of consideration than, say, "9/11 Truth" theories alleging U.S. government complicity in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

BK: Absolutly not true – that is an attempt to marginalize the vast majority of those who seriously study the assassination with the True Believers of the 911 Truth movement, who I don’t agree with.

In professional and academic circles, many equate Kennedy conspiracy theories with such pseudoscientific or paranormal beliefs as extraterrestrial visitations, alien abductions, hauntings, and extrasensory perception (ESP). From this point of view, JFK conspiracy theories are at best a distraction, and at worst, potentially misleading and corrosive.(2)

BK: In real professional and academic circles they keep an open mind to all new knowledge about the assassination, only in small minds like David Reitzes do they try to equate a serious CSI murder case with UFOs and the paranormal. Dave should hang around in professional and academic circles more often and he might learn something. JFK conspiracy theories may be a distraction, but not an excuse not to conduct a serious CSI investigation of the murder, one that recognizes Oswald was set up as a patsy and whatever you believe happened at Dealey Plaza was a covert intelligence operation and not the actions of a deranged lone nut.

Yet polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans believe the assassination of JFK was the work of a conspiracy. A 2003 ABC News poll found that only 32 percent of American adults believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in Kennedy's murder, 51 percent believe there was a second shooter, and more than two-thirds believe there was a government cover-up.(3) A 2004 FOX News poll determined that 74 percent of Americans believe there was a cover-up, and a 2006 Scripps poll found that 40 percent of American adults consider it either "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that U.S. officials were directly involved in the President's death.(4) A 2003 Gallup poll found that 34 percent of the population believes that our own Central Intelligence Agency was involved in Kennedy's demise.(5)

Which side is right?

BK: Why do you only present two sides? When there are many more possibilities?

How can we be so certain that there is no validity to the idea that John Kennedy was overthrown by what filmmaker Oliver Stone termed, in his blockbuster 1991 film JFK, a coup d'etat?(6) 

BK: Because there is validity to it. Read Ed Lutwak’s book “Coup d’etat – A Practical Handbook” to see how they did it.

After all, conspiracies do happen, sometimes even at the highest levels of our government, the Watergate scandal being an obvious and uncontested example — albeit "a rather pitiful botched conspiracy," in the words of one commentator.(7)

The common denominator between the coup d'etat paradigm of the JFK assassination and the realm of pseudohistory, pseudoscience, and the paranormal is methodology.

BK: No its not, the common denominator between the coup paradigm of the JFK assassination and the realm of pseudohistory et al., is to ignore the realm of pseudohyistory et al., and conduct a real criminal intelligence investigation of the assassination.

Michael Shermer, prolific author and publisher of Skeptic magazine, defines pseudohistory as historical claims advanced "without supporting evidence and plausibility and presented primarily for political or ideological purposes."(8) (Holocaust denial, for example, is a widely accepted example of pseudohistory.)(9)

BK: The Real Skeptics are those who are critical of the official Warren Commission theory that the assassination was the work of one person, which the vast majority of people consider what Shermer calls “pseudohistory.”

How do we judge what is history and what is not? "The key," Shermer observes, "is the ability to test one's hypothesis."(10) 

BK: So why not test your hypothesis? Recreate the assassination so it can be shown how one man alone accomplished it? Where did the bullets come from? How did the rifle get into the building? How did Oswald get past four people on the stairs without them seeing him? How did he get past Truly on the second floor, but not Baker? How did he get out of the building without Brenner seeing him? How did Oswald kill JFK alone? That’s one hypothesis that has yet to be tested.

Unfortunately, in the case of the conspiracy theorists, the axiom known as Occam's Razor or the law of parsimony — the principle that the theory that involves the least number of assumptions is probably the correct one — seems to have been supplanted by what we might call Garrison's Dictum, after onetime New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who led a tragically misguided farce of an investigation into the JFK assassination in the late 1960s, and (ironically) became the inspiration for Oliver Stone's movie. Garrison told the world, "The key to the whole case is through the looking glass. Black is white and white is black. I don't want to be cryptic, but that's the way it is."(11)

BK: Unfortunately it wasn’t Garrison that made it black and cryptic, it was Oswald, the primary suspect who fits the Covert Operational Personality (COP) profile of one who is trained in the black arts of intelligence and utilizes them in the course of secret operations, as Allen Dulles details in his book “The Crafts of Intelligence.”

Shermer notes that scientists strive for objectivity ("basing conclusions on external validation") and avoid mysticism ("basing conclusions on personal insights that elude external validation").(12) That's not the way conspiracy theorists seem to think. A statement Jim Garrison made in 1969 offers some insight into the conspiracy-oriented mindset:

You see, most people don't realize we're living in a totalitarian state. Most citizens of this country live — we live — in the world thatappears to be, while those in power live in the world that is. . . . Especially those hiding behind the intangibles of power in the government and the military complex and the CIA. When you recognize and deal with the intelligence apparatus in this country, you're encountering the world that is.(13)

 BK: When Garrison spoke those words we had yet to hear of Watergate or the National Security State that now exists. Garrison may not have been right about Clay Shaw, but he was a prophet on the rise of state security.

Many of the Kennedy conspiracy theories seem to flow from this premise. When inevitable anomalies arise in the evidence, the simplest solution (human fallibility) is brushed aside in favor of sinister, more complex scenarios involving shadowy government agents and operations.

For example, contradictory descriptions of the President's wounds lead to theories of forged autopsy reports, forged photographs and X-rays, and even the wounds themselves being altered or another body substituted for autopsy.(14) 

BK: Autopsy photographers didn’t recognize their own photos and took more than are now on record. What are we to make of that fact?

Disparate recollections of the official examination of the President's brain lead to a theory of two separate examinations of two separate brains.(15) 

BK: The autopsy doctors wrote reports on two separate brain exams, one that included a photo of a brain in a formula that a forensic doctor said was the color of a brain that had been in the formula for weeks before the assassination and therefore couldn’t have been JFK’s brain. Explain that.
Divergent descriptions of Lee Harvey Oswald throughout his life lead to scenarios concerning CIA Oswald imposters.(16)

BK: Yes. Look closely at the more than a dozen times someone intentionally impersonated Oswald. What was that all about if Oswald wasn’t framed as the patsy? They are not all cases of mistaken identity, and in some cases the impersonator has been positively identified (as either Michael Paine or Larry Crafard).

In his book, Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer has isolated some of the most common problems with pseudoscientific thinking. With some qualification, these problems apply to pseudohistory in general and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories in particular. Let's examine some cases in point.
"Anecdotes Do Not Make a Science"(17)

BK; So is that how you get into Skeptic magazine, quote the editor? Why do people believe weird things such as one person alone killed the president?

Eyewitness accounts can enrich the historical record and fill in gaps where hard evidence is inadequate or inapplicable, but they cannot, in and of themselves, supplant or invalidate hard evidence.
Conspiracy theorists commonly express the opposite view. For example, author Harrison Edward Livingstone (High Treason) writes that "if a group of doctors all say that they saw a certain type of wound, and there is no credible evidence to controvert it, giving credence to a suspect photograph is a mistake. A contradictory photograph should be suspicious rather than the statements. Their observation becomes a fact."(18)

If a number of eyewitnesses describe a wound of exit towards the back of the President's head, Livingstone says, then "the photographs and X-rays showing the back of the head [intact] are false and cannot possibly be correct."(19)

BK: Livingstone is a conspiracy theorist who believes weird things, like Fester and Reitzes, but the observations of those who saw a large grapefruit sized hole in the back of JFK’s head (Parkland doctors, SS Agent Hill) are supported by the evidence of the Harper Fragment, and cannot be easily dismissed as faulty eyewitnesses.

Similarly, radiation oncologist David W. Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., argues:

The legal principle is that eyewitness testimony has priority over photographs. This principle was turned upside down by the battalions of lawyers who worked for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) and for the WC [Warren Commission]. For them, against all legal precedent, the assumption was always the reverse: if the witnesses disagreed with the official view, it was assumed that they were in error or even lying. On the other hand, the photographs (and the X-rays, too) were assumed [sic — see below] to be immutable monuments to truth. In a real trial, no competent judge would have permitted this illegal approach.(20)

 BK: Dr. Mantik is a responsible and serious critic, unlike the others you are fond of quoting.

"It is curious," attorney Milton Brener once observed, "that among the career critics of the [Warren] Commission there are few who qualify by training or experience as investigators, and fewer yet whose lives have been spent in the evaluation of evidence."(21) This lack of training and experience can be detected in the conspiracy theorists' reliance on eyewitness testimony and handy dismissal of the physical evidence that contradicts their hypotheses.

BK: How about the training and experience of former Philadelphia DA Richard Sprague, who successfully prosecuted the assassins of the president of the United Mine Workers, and was chief counsel to the HSCA until he was removed for trying to solve the case? How about Robert Tannenbaum, former NYC DA who also believes a conspiracy was behind the assassination of JFK and the removal of Sprague? Joshia Thompson, twenty five year Private Detective who has solved hundreds of cases? What are Dave Reitzes training and experience compared to these guys? Zilch. 

Things get even more confusing when people come forward with strange, unverifiable tales of conspiratorial goings-on. Journalist James Phelan writes:

There are certain sensational cases that have a fascination for unstable people and fetch them forth in droves. A classic example was the "Black Dahlia" mutilation murder of playgirl Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles. Over the years, dozens of people came forward and confessed to this crime, which still remains unsolved. Celebrated cases also attract witnesses who are not psychotic, but who falsely identify key figures out of faulty memory or a desire to lift themselves out of dull anonymity into the spotlight. Chief Justice Frankfurter once commented that eyewitness testimony is the greatest single cause of miscarried justice. In a sensational case, a careful prosecutor often spends more time winnowing out false witnesses than he does working with authentic ones.(22)

BK: Yes the eyewitnesses who blame Oswald for being the Sixth Floor Sniper are wrong. 

"Scientific Language Does Not Make a Science"(23)

A minor movement of sorts was launched in 1998 with the publication of Assassination Science: Experts Speak Out on the Death of JFK, edited by James H. Fetzer, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The book was intended, Fetzer writes, "to place the investigation of the assassination of JFK on an objective and scientific foundation."(24)

But not a single "objective and scientific" contribution to the book ever passed muster with a peer-reviewed, scientific journal. Instead, the editor decides who qualifies as an "expert" and what constitutes an "objective and scientific" study. 

In one chapter, historian Ronald F. White, Ph.D., offers what might be construed as an explanation of sorts, warning that historical research published in scientific journals must always be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. Scientists simply are not trained in the basics of historical research and therefore are not likely to be very critical of their sources. For the study of the Kennedy assassination, gullibility can easily poison one's research. To make matters worse, the peer review process in scientific journals becomes distorted when the reviewers, who are themselves non-historians unfamiliar with the details of the assassination, serve as referees. Unlike historians who are trained to carefully scrutinize the authenticity of the primary evidence, scientists and physicians tend to limit their professional critique to issues of methodology. Therefore, science journals are notorious for producing bad history.(25)

Historians would do a better job, White suggests, because they take into account issues important to "assassination experts," such as eyewitness testimony, hearsay, and lay interpretations of forensic evidence.(26)

Besides The scientific method represents a highly idealized and perhaps naive vision of human inquiry. Because scientists are, by their very nature, idealists, they have always been among the first to be duped by political power.(27)

The legacy of this kind of reasoning is a bewildering array of theories that multiply with each passing year, and no end in sight.

BK: The number of theories may increase, but as we learn more and more from the once secret files we can narrow down what happened and determine what did happen. 

"Bold Statements Do Not Make Claims True"(28)

"One unerring mark of the love of truth," John Locke wrote in 1690, "is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant."(29) This thought was echoed by David Hume some decades later: "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence."(30)

BK: Yes, and the evidence indicates the man Reitzes accuses of killing JFK was not on the Sixth Floor at the time of the shooting so a wise man would consider that evidence in his evaluation. 

And, as Michael Shermer notes, "the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinarily well-tested the evidence must be."(31)

BK: Yes, the extraordinary accusation that one man alone killed JFK should tested, but when the SS tried to recreate the assassination if Oswald had done what he is accused of doing, they stopped at the Second Floor Landing and Lunchroom where they realized Oswald was not the shooter. 

It makes one wonder what evidence of conspiracy has been tested so thoroughly and successfully to allow James Fetzer to categorically state that "anyone sincerely interested in this case who does not conclude that JFK was murdered as the result of a conspiracy is either unfamiliar with the evidence or cognitively impaired."(32)

BK: That statement - quote may have been repeated by Fetzer, but it is rather the tag line of another conspiracy theorist, not Fetzer. 

"Heresy Does Not Equal Correctness"(33)

Jim Garrison wrote, "For the government and the major media to have acknowledged what virtually everyone knew (that Kennedy had been fired at by a number of guns) would have put an end to the sacred pretense that the President's assassination was a chance occurrence."(34)

But there is nothing "sacred" about the idea that a lone gunman killed the President; it's simply the conclusion that flows most logically from the evidence.

BK: But that conclusion does not flow most logically from the evidence, though the theory is sacred to a small minority of people who refuse to consider all of the facts and evidence. 

"Burden of Proof"(35)

The burden of proof lies with the person making the extraordinary claim. It is not enough for conspiracy theorists to pick at the "official" conclusion, as creationists do with the theory of evolution.(36) As with evolution, the case for Lee Oswald's guilt is constructed of neatly interlocking, mutually corroborative pieces of hard evidence.(37) Chipping away at one facet cannot falsify the whole, nor can this method validate an hypothesis of conspiracy

BK: The burdon of poof lies with the prosecution who must prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the suspect and accused is guilty, something that no one has done against Oswald. 

"Rumors Do Not Equal Reality"(38)

Perhaps you've heard that Jack Ruby (the strip club owner who gunned Oswald down during an abortive police transfer two days after the assassination) was hired by the Mafia to silence the assassin. Or that Oswald was a secret agent. Or that the President was killed by the CIA, which he had reportedly threatened to splinter into a thousand pieces after the Bay of Pigs disaster. Or that the military-industrial complex murdered him to keep him from withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam. Or that the same forces responsible for JFK's death also took out Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no factual basis for any of these stories.

BK: If you read the HSCA reports on Ruby you see who he was meeting and talking to in the weeks and months before the assassination, and they are most certainly connected mobsters. As for RFK and MLK, they would never have been murdered the way they were if the JFK case was properly investigated and prosecuted. 

"Unexplained Is Not Inexplicable"(39)

Michael Shermer observes, "Many people are overconfident enough to think that if they cannot explain something, it must be inexplicable . . ."(40) Shermer is referring to the natural world, but it applies equally well to historical events.

BK: JFK said that problems (crimes) created by man can be solved by men, and it is not true that the unanswered questions related to his assassination will forever remain a mystery. We have answered many of the questions Reitzes believes are unanswerable. 

Conspiracy theorists commonly demand answers to questions that are impossible to answer conclusively from the available evidence. For example, if Oswald did it, what was his motive? (We don't know; he never confessed.)(41)

BK: As any crime investigator knows, Motive is one of the three elements of the crime and without it the crime is not solved. Oswald only had a motive to kill JFK if he did in fact kill him, but if he didn't then what is the motive for the Patsy? 

 But if he wanted to become important or famous or to accomplish something for a political purpose, why didn't he confess? (Fair question, but Oswald's still not talking.) Why are there discrepancies — sometimes seemingly minor, sometimes perhaps not — between the many different reports, photographs, and other items of evidence in the record? (Practically every criminal or historical case has loose ends or discrepancies. Would it ever be possible to explain every conceivable detail to every critic's satisfaction?) Just because we don't have explanations for everything hardly invalidates the evidence we do have.

BK: Not true, as Joshia Thompson, who has worked hundreds of cases, there comes a point where one piece of new evidence or fact is the piece of the puzzle that makes sense of all of the other pieces, and then it all comes together and there are no loose ends, except that didn't happen with Oswald. There is an explanation for everything even if Reitzes doesn't understand it. 

"Failures Are Rationalized"(42)

One of the key tenets of many conspiracy theories is that President Kennedy was fatally shot from a patch of land to the President's right, commonly known as the grassy knoll, not from the Texas School Book Depository building behind him. One argument frequently advanced in support of this hypothesis is that eyewitnesses at Parkland Memorial Hospital who attempted to save the President's life (but did not examine his wounds) tended to describe an apparent exit wound on or extending into the back of the head, consistent with a shot from the front. There are ways of testing this hypothesis.

BK: Just look at the Zapruder film and determine for yourself from what direction the head shot came from. 

For example, one can examine the photographs and X-rays taken at the President's autopsy, as numerous experts have done — including a panel of nine forensic pathologists retained by the House Select Committee reinvestigating the assassination in the 1970s — and confirm that the photographs display a small, beveled wound of entrance on the rear of the President's head and a large wound of exit on the right side, forward of the ear. The photos and X-rays show no large defect in the rear.(43)

BK: The Parkland doctors and SS Agent Hill - the closest living witness to the head shot said there was a grapefruit size hole in the back of JFK's head and the Harper Fragment supports those views. 

One of the expert pathologists consulted by the House committee was Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., then coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, a nationally prominent expert on forensic pathology, and long one of the most vociferous critics of the Warren Commission. In 1967 Wecht had noted the critical importance of the autopsy photos and X-rays (which were controlled by the Kennedy family and inaccessible to researchers at that time), stating that the X-rays "might help us decide whether or not the President was struck more than once in the head."(44)

Given the opportunity to study these materials a decade later, Dr. Wecht was the only one of the nine-member HSCA Forensic Pathology Panel who dissented from the conclusion that President Kennedy had been shot only from the rear. While conceding the evidence for a second head shot from the President's side to be "Very meager, and the possibility based upon the existing evidence is extremely remote," Wecht insisted that the evidence was insufficient for him to rule out the possibility of such a shot.(45)

BK: Wecht is the foremost forensic pathologist in the nation and if he says there is not enough evidence then there is not enough evidence. 

When asked why his eight co-panelists, whom he agreed were eminently qualified in the field of forensic pathology to render an expert opinion, would take the position that the original autopsy report's conclusion of a single head shot from behind was accurate, Wecht speculated about possible government affiliations that could taint his colleagues' integrity.(46)

BK: They all worked for the government either directly or through government contracts and pensions. They knew what they were asked to do and who they were working for - the government. 

 When the photos and X-rays fail to support their hypotheses, conspiracy theorists commonly assert that some or all of them must be forgeries. The House committee's panel of expert photographic analysts subjected the films to careful scrutiny utilizing state-of-the-art methods, and uncovered no evidence of forgery;(47) but since the release of the committee's report in 1979, theories postulating forged evidence have multiplied rather than declined.(48)

BK: Review the HSCA and ARRB testimony of the X-Ray techs who took the x-rays and the autopsy photographers who didn't recognize their work and claimed to use a different type of film. What do you make of that without speculating too much? 

"After-the-Fact Reasoning"(49)

It is commonly believed that Jack Ruby killed Oswald on behalf of the Mafia, but there is no evidence for this. It is often pointed out, however, that Ruby made several phone calls to Mob-connected individuals in the months prior to the assassination. Is this evidence that the Mafia ordered Oswald's murder?(50)

BK: No, but there is evidence that Ruby was connected to the Chicago and New Orleans Mafia families and knew their leaders personally and communicated with them in the weeks and months before the assassination, that was not a mob hit but as Dr. Wecht has classifified it a coup d etat. 

"Correlation does not mean causation," Michael Shermer reminds us.(51) Just because one event follows another does not mean they are related. In fact, a great deal of testimony indicates that the phone calls in question were related to Ruby's professional grievances with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), which represented the strippers he employed at his nightclub. The AGVA "was riddled with corruption and compromised by its mob connections,"(52) so anyone dealing with the AGVA could have been rubbing shoulders with the Mob, whether they realized it or not. There is no evidence that Ruby had any significant relationship to organized crime or that any of his phone calls or actions were related to a conspiracy.(53) 

"In the paranormal world," Shermer observes, "coincidences are often seen as deeply significant."(55) By the same token, coincidences play a vital role in the world of conspiracy theories.

For example, New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison thought it highly significant that a phone call was placed in September 1963 from a New Orleans attorney's office, where an alleged Oswald associate named David Ferrie (more about whom below) was employed, to a Chicago apartment building where a woman named Jean Aase (and many other people) lived; Jean Aase would later be connected to a sporting goods salesman named Lawrence Meyers, who would visit Texas and socialize with Oswald's assassin Jack Ruby on the evening prior to JFK's assassination.(56)

BK: That phone call went from G. Ray Gill's New Orleans office to the Chicago hotel where Larry Meyers was, and Meyers then visits Dallas on the weekend of the assassination and associates with Jim Braden who then travels to New Orleans to an office on the same floor next door to Gill's office, a clue that cannot be denied, and not a coincidence. 

Political scientist John McAdams writes:

Thus, David Ferrie had a (very tenuous) "connection" with Oswald, and a tenuous "connection" with Jean Aase. Aase, in turn, had a real connection with Lawrence Meyers who had a real connection with Jack Ruby who had a real connection with Lee Oswald: he shot and killed him.

Given that each of these people had equally close "connections" with at least dozens, and sometimes hundreds of people, there had to be hundreds of thousands, and probably millions, of people with as close a connection to Oswald as Ruby had through Meyers and Aase and Ferrie.(57)

It is Gill the mob attorney and the oil office next door that should be investigated, not Ferrie and Aasie, who I believe are innocent bystanders or like Oswald, patsies. 


"We forget most of the insignificant coincidences and remember the meaningful ones," observes Michael Shermer. He writes:(59)

We must always remember the larger context in which a seemingly unusual event occurs, and we must always analyze unusual events for their representativeness of their class of phenomena.

BK: The class of phenomena we are analyzing is the assassination of a president, not the silly theories that Reitzs wants to discuss endlessly, and mudy the waters with the Bermuda Triangle and UFO Bullshit. That's Reitzes muddy mind confused by silly BS when he should just take a class in logic and reason or CSI. 

 In the case of the "Bermuda Triangle," an area of the Atlantic Ocean where ships and planes "mysteriously" disappear, there is the assumption that something strange or alien is at work. But we must consider how representative such events are in that area. Far more shipping lanes run through the Bermuda Triangle than its surrounding areas, so accidents and mishaps and disappearances are more likely to happen in the area. As it turns out, the accident rate is actually lower in the Bermuda Triangle than in surrounding areas. Perhaps this area should be called the "Non-Bermuda Triangle."(60)

One of the most durable bits of folklore surrounding the JFK assassination concerns the "mysterious" or "convenient" deaths of assassination witnesses. In 1967 Penn Jones, the editor of a small Texas weekly newspaper, publicized a list of eighteen deaths he claimed were related to the assassination. In a widely reported blunder, The Sunday Times in London used Jones's list to conclude that the odds against all eighteen dying within three years of the assassination were one hundred thousand trillion to one. But the Times had not taken into account the tremendous number of people involved with or tangentially related to the Warren Commission investigation (for example, Jones's list included the cab driver who gave Oswald a ride shortly after the assassination, journalists who wrote about the case, and the husband of one of Ruby's strippers), and discovered, after publishing its first edition, that its calculation of odds was nothing more than "a careless journalistic mistake."(61)

BK: Forget the strange deaths and just look and investigate the murders and homicides of important witnesses - Oswald, Tippit, Roselli, Giancana, et. al. 

In cases involving the paranormal, 

BK: The JFK case does not involve the paranormal, except for those who believe Oswald was a magician and could do everything he is accused of by himself. 

Shermer concludes, one "would be well advised to first thoroughly understand the probable worldly explanation before turning to other-worldly ones."(62) One should also give full consideration to non-conspiratorial possibilities before assuming that a conspiracy is required.

Missing Links

Thousands of conspiracy-oriented claims have been advanced about the Kennedy assassination, but examining them calls to mind acclaimed astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan's conclusion about his youthful interest in the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFOs: "All in all, the alleged evidence seemed thin — most often devolving into gullibility, hoax, hallucination, misunderstanding of the natural world, hopes and fears disguised as evidence, and a craving for attention, fame, and fortune."(63)
On that same subject, Sagan notes:

Everything hinges on the matter of evidence. On so important a question, the evidence must be airtight. The more we want it to be true, the more careful we have to be. No witness's say-so is good enough. People make mistakes. People play practical jokes. People stretch the truth for money or attention or fame. People occasionally misunderstand what they're seeing. People sometimes even see things that aren't there.(64) 
Other observations of Sagan's regarding belief in extraterrestrial visitors seem relevant as well:

I've found that the going-in attitude of many people is highly predetermined. Some are convinced that eyewitness testimony is reliable, that people do not make things up, that hallucinations or hoaxes on such a scale are impossible, and that there must be a long-standing, high-level government conspiracy to keep the truth from the rest of us. Gullibility about UFOs thrives on widespread mistrust of government, arising naturally enough from all those circumstances where — in the tension between public well-being and "national security" — the government lies.(65)

BK: No, the widespread distrust of government stems directly from the Warren Report's Whitewash and not UFOs, that were used by the military to cover the U2 and satellite surveillance technology. 

Here Sagan has isolated two causes that apply equally well to JFK conspiracy believers: belief in the reliability of eyewitness testimony and mistrust of the government.

With the coming of the Atomic Age and the Cold War, the U.S. public was vulnerable to fears of threatening technologies and insidious infiltrators around any corner. With the unexplained death of the President in 1963 followed by growing discontent, both in the domestic and international arenas, Americans became increasingly prone to conspiracy theories. As Senator Joseph McCarthy vividly demonstrated in the 1950s, such a climate can be exploited to devastating effect.

In the right environment and with a little fortuitous help, pseudoscientific or paranormal movements can catch fire due to the efforts of as little as a single person. For example, hairy wild men roaming the Pacific Northwest were little more than a legend until a prankster named Ray L. Wallace reportedly strapped on some 16-inch, wooden "feet" in 1958. Thanks to the tracks found at the construction site Wallace was managing in Humbolt County, California, "Bigfoot" became a national craze.(66)
BK: Retizes could folow Bigfoot's trail right to Oswald's doorstep. 

Writer John A. Keel likewise attributes much of the credit for the widespread interest in UFOs to Raymond Palmer, whom Keel dubs "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers."(67) Ray Palmer was a science-fiction writer who, as editor of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories in the 1940s, boosted sales with yarns about bug-eyed monsters and other visitors from outer space, occasionally decorating the covers with circular, saucer-like spaceships. Such phenomena, Palmer strongly suggested, were real.(68)

The Coming of the Saucers

As writer Martin Kottmeyer observes, the term "flying saucers" came into being in a rather ironic fashion. On June 24, 1947, businessman Kenneth Arnold was piloting his private airplane over Washington State's Mount Rainier when he saw what he described as a series of nine somewhat crescent-shaped, flying objects. The way they flew, he said, was "erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across the water."(69)

The objects Arnold reported "were not circular" like saucers, he would clarify, but "flying saucers" is what they were dubbed by the national press. "Soon everyone was looking for these new aircraft which according to the papers were saucer-like in shape," Kottmeyer writes. "Within weeks hundreds of reports of these flying saucers were made across the nation."(70)

In the words of writer Lionel Beer, "Possibly no one was more surprised by Kenneth Arnold's 1947 story, regarded as the UFO sighting that triggered off the 'modern era' and certainly gave the phenomenon its first popular name — flying saucers — than Ray Palmer. Palmer's fiction had become a reality!"(71)

 If the field of JFK conspiracy theories has a Ray Palmer of its own, a strong candidate for the position would be Jim Garrison.

BK: The association of UFOs to the JFK assassination is much deeper than that and should be explored more throughy, as I have tried to do elsewhere. 

The D.A.

By his own account, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison saw no reason to question the findings of the Warren Commission when they were announced in 1964. A chance conversation in 1966 sparked his interest, however, and he launched headlong into a study of the 26 officially published volumes of evidence and the handful of books that had appeared to question or attack the commission's findings. Oswald had spent the summer before the assassination in New Orleans, so Garrison wondered whether there could be a local angle.(72)

BK: The New Orleans Secret Service were the first to seriously investigate the New Orleans connection, especialy SAIC John W. Rice. 

 The D.A. even had a suspect of sorts, an eccentric former pilot and jack of all trades named David W. Ferrie with questionable ties to Lee Oswald (they had crossed paths in 1955). Ferrie and two friends had driven from New Orleans to Houston late in the evening following the assassination. "It was," Garrison declared, "a curious trip, a most curious trip, by a curious man to a curious place at a curious time."(73) The D.A. never did manage to tie the trip to the assassination, but that did not deter him.(74) Ferrie was a CIA operative, Garrison decided; the CIA had killed Kennedy, he informed his closest associates, and Ferrie was the key to the case.(75)

 When the local news media got wind of the D.A.'s probe and questioned its legitimacy, Garrison blasted the press for doubting him. His office had determined that the Warren Commission had been mistaken, he said; that there indeed had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, and that the conspiracy had been hatched in New Orleans. "We already have the names of the people in the initial planning," the D.A. claimed. "We are not wasting our time and we will prove it. Arrests will be made, charges will be filed, and convictions will be obtained."(76)

Then, just as Kenneth Arnold's story had ignited the kindling arranged by Ray Palmer, something happened that forever altered Jim Garrison's fortunes: David Ferrie died of a stroke. The District Attorney handily brushed the coroner's verdict aside: "The apparent suicide of David Ferrie," Garrison declared, "ends the life of a man who, in my judgment, was one of history's most important individuals." "Evidence developed by our office has long since confirmed he was involved in events culminating in the assassination of President Kennedy."(77)

And as the national and international press descended in droves upon New Orleans, Jim Garrison's pronouncements grew even bolder. "My staff and I solved the case weeks ago," he proclaimed. "I wouldn't say this if I didn't have evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt. We know the key individuals, the cities involved, and how it was done."(78)

In fact, Garrison had absolutely nothing, not even a live suspect.(79) Except a New Orleans attorney, Dean Adams Andrews, Jr., had testified to the Warren Commission that he was telephoned the day after the assassination and asked to fly to Dallas to represent Lee Harvey Oswald by a mysterious "Clay Bertrand." He would admit under oath in 1969 that there was no truth to the story, but when Garrison asked him about it in 1966, Andrews was pleased enough to repeat the tale. He was shocked when Garrison informed him shortly thereafter that he had identified Bertrand as a prominent local businessman named Clay Lavergne Shaw. "One, Bertrand is homosexual," Garrison had told members of his staff — and Shaw was rumored to be gay. "Two, Bertrand speaks Spanish" (or so Garrison gathered); Shaw spoke fluent Spanish. "Three, his first name is Clay." Shaw fit these criteria therefore Shaw was Bertrand.(80) The D.A.'s office began showing Shaw's photograph to acquaintances of Dave Ferrie, and soon enough they came up with a young insurance salesman named Perry Raymond Russo, who said he recognized Shaw as someone he had glimpsed with Ferrie once at a gas station. (Russo said he had never met Lee Harvey Oswald.) But after a series of interviews, including one conducted under the influence of sodium Pentothal and at least three under the influence of hypnosis (techniques later linked to generating false reports of everything from sexual abuse to alien abductions), Russo was ready to testify that he had been in attendance at Ferrie's apartment on an occasion when Clay Shaw, David Ferrie and Lee Oswald had plotted the assassination of President Kennedy.(81)  

BK: If you are familiar with the Houma Bunker raid, you will realize that these bozos and Yahoos were not capable of pulling of the Dealey Plaza caper and that it was a much more sophisticated covert intel op that included the psychwar aspect to blame the event on Castro, something that Oswald, Ferre and Shaw were incapabe of doing. 

On March 1, 1967, the New Orleans District Attorney's office arrested Clay Shaw and charged him with conspiracy to assassinate the President. Though the CIA was one of Garrison's prime suspects, it was Shaw's homosexuality that the D.A. initially believed to be the key to the businessman's motive. Shaw, Ferrie, Oswald, and Jack Ruby were all gay, Garrison claimed to select confidantes; so while the CIA and anti-Castro Cuban emigrants provided the guerrilla team in Dealey Plaza, it was the kick of a homosexual "thrill-killing" that attracted his suspect to the plot. All that remained was to somehow link Shaw to the CIA.(82)

Three days later Paese Sera, a crypto-Communist, Italian newspaper known for its anti-American slant, sensationalistic style, and propensity for "imaginative" stories with "made-up," "synthetical" details, launched a series of articles linking Clay Shaw to the CIA. Paese Sera would later be identified as a vehicle for Soviet disinformation, and reputable news media steered clear of its claims, but other left-leaning newspapers around the world picked up the story. A March 8 issue of l'Humanité, the official newspaper of the French Communist Party, came to Garrison's attention, with the headline: "Clay Shaw a travaillé â Rome pour les services U.S. d'espionnage" ("Clay Shaw Worked in Rome for U.S. Intelligence").(83)

BK: Max Holland wrote a lenghly article for the CIA inhouse newsletter that deals with this issue, and the bottom line is Shaw was connected to the CIA, though I don't believe he had anything to do with the Dealey Plaza operation. 

There it was in black and white: like Ray Palmer's flying saucers, Jim Garrison's fantasies were becoming reality.

BK: It is Dave Reitzes fantazies we are dealing with here.