Unless the unthinkable happens and Donald Trump directly contradicts himself, could this be the end of modern history’s first and most productive conspiracy-theory generator?
On Thursday, as the Troll-in-Chief tweeted yesterday, he intends to sanction the publication of 3,000 classified documents relating to John F Kennedy’s murder.
He reserved the right to change his mind, and yield to FBI and CIA pressure to block the law mandating the documents’ release. But this is unlikely. According to a White House official, “he believes [they]… should be made available in the interests of full transparency”.
Oh yup, he does love that. That’s why he can’t stop releasing his tax returns.
But even if his motive is purely to divert the headlines away from his many epic failures, anyone who has been sated with the JFK theories ages ago might enjoy the novelty of agreeing with Trump.
For a mental image of the sheer volume of conspiracies the Kennedy killing has produced, picture the almost 1000 books on the subject piled into a column. For a snapshot of just how long it’s been going on, look at my ravaged old face.
On 22 November 1963, the shock of hearing about the shooting in Dallas sent my mother into what was not, as she still likes to remind me, a swift or relaxing labour. Three days later, I emerged into a world of tears just as Kennedy was being buried in Virginia. The midwives, nurses and doctors were crying, without the venue’s traditional precursor of a slap on the bum.
If that tells a story of how loved across the planet Kennedy was, the reason so many have spent so long in such a futile pursuit as solving the almost certainly non-existent mysteries of his death goes beyond grief.
Kennedy’s murder was more than a heart-wrenching human tragedy. It is widely assumed to be a history-changing event. Stephen King’s novel, 22/11/63, is predicated on that idea. In 2011, a New England teacher goes through a “rabbit hole”, back to 1958 to begin preparing to stop Lee Harvey Oswald shooting the President. If Kennedy lives, after all, everything changes. No military escalation in Vietnam, no culture wars, no later assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, no Richard Nixon using a blatantly divisive strategy to win the White House (remind you of anyone?).
On any timeline where Oswald is stopped and Kennedy lives, so King’s protagonist believes, the future of America and beyond is far gentler, kinder and more civilised than ours.
Whether that proves true or another outlandish theory (the law of unintended consequences is a mighty piece of legislation), the received wisdom holds that Kennedy’s death was worse than the end of something good. It was the start of something hideous – a uniquely powerful trauma with massive, far-reaching consequences.
Small wonder that no single occurrence in modern history has inspired such obsessive speculation. Did Oswald act alone or with an accomplice, or was he (as he claimed in the the days between killing Kennedy and being shot by Jack Ruby) “a patsy”.
Did Moscow collude to change the occupancy of the Oval Office (once again, ring any bells?) in payback for JFK’s perceived humiliation of Nikita Khrushchev over those Cuban-bound nukes the previous year?
If it wasn’t the KGB, did Fidel Castro commission the hit in response for various attempts on his life by the CIA? Was it the CIA itself or the mafia or Lyndon B Johnson, or Sooty and Sweep, Alf Ramsey, or one of the myriad others fingered by the phalanx of theory-concoctors down the decades?
Any violent death radiates shards of confusion which can be finessed into a sinister plot by those who wish to do so. Princess Diana’s car crash and the 9/11 attacks created industries of their own.
But as a character in Stephen King’s novel says, it’s best to rely on Occam’s razor. The simplest solution is usually the right one, and it’s a 97 per cent likelihood that Oswald acted alone. The Warren Commission investigated for a year and found no conspiracy, domestic or international.
The peculiar Catch 22 genius of the conspiracy theorist, of course, is that nothing confirms the conspiracy like evidence it never existed. The more and harder proof you offer, the stronger they believe what is being disproved. It’s like one of those pirate knots that get tighter and tighter the more you struggle against them.
Barack Obama tried to destroy his conspiracy theory by publishing a long-form birth certificate issued in Hawaii. He was reluctant to engage with crazy racists but eventually decided it was time to shame them into silence, and abort one individual’s embryonic political ambitions.
Five years later, America replaced Obama with the Birther Supreme; the same Donald Trump who, during the campaign, tweeted that the Cuban-born father of Republican rival Ted Cruz was with Oswald shortly before the JFK murder, and may have been involved.
So bring it on, Mr President, and let us know at last if Oswald did have an accomplice hidden behind that fabled Texan hillock. Who better than Twitter’s troll to unlock the secrets of the grassy knoll?