Everybody’s heard the term “conspiracy theory,” and most of us have heard at least one “conspiracy” in our lifetimes. In fact, conspiracy theories abound, but that’s only because actual conspiracies really do exist.
In more recent times there were a great many conspiracies floating around about the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, but perhaps the biggest conspiracy theories of the modern era are tied to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963.
Some believe that the CIA did it. Others have said it was a mob hit. Still others believe it could have been in response to Kennedy’s desire to stay out of Vietnam. Some have said that they believe it is a combination of these other theories.
In fact, as noted by the Center for Research on Globalization, a Canada-based think tank, the term was actually born from the Kennedy assassination, and was manipulated intentionally by the CIA, coincidentally, to debunk alternative views about what had happened, based on various accounts and other evidence at the time.
‘Government’s reputation at stake’
As the center noted:
“Conspiracy theory” is a term that at once strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of most every public figure, particularly journalists and academics. Since the 1960s the label has become a disciplinary device that has been overwhelmingly effective in defining certain events off limits to inquiry or debate. Especially in the United States raising legitimate questions about dubious official narratives destined to inform public opinion (and thereby public policy) is a major thought crime that must be cauterized from the public psyche at all costs.
The center noted that the negative connotations surrounding the term are traceable to liberal historian Richard Hofstadter’s well-known attacks against the “New Right.” But, the think tank noted, it was the CIA that most likely played the greater role in sort of “weaponizing” the term.
Following much skepticism over the findings of the Warren Commission, a panel formed by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate the circumstances surrounding the assassination that was led by then-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren (future president Gerald Ford, then a U.S. congressman, was also on the panel), the CIA sent a detailed directive to all of its desks and bureaus. Titled, “Countering Criticism of the Warren Commission Report,” the communique was key in transforming the term “conspiracy theory” into a weapon that could be used against any group or individual who questioned the federal government’s increasingly clandestine operations.
CIA Document 1035-960 was made public by The New York Times in the late 1970s, following a Freedom of Information Act request by the paper in 1976. The directive is notably significant because it lays out the top spy agency’s concerns regarding “the whole reputation of the American government,” vis-a-vis the Warren Commission report, which concluded, by the way, that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who assassinated the president. A motive could never be established (more on that in a moment), since Oswald was killed by low-level gangster Jack Ruby the following day, as he made his way to a waiting car in the basement of a Dallas police station.
‘Likely a conspiracy’
The CIA was very interested in maintaining its own image and role as it “contributed information to the investigation” conducted by the Warren Commission.
As further noted by the Canadian think tank:
The memorandum lays out a detailed series of actions and techniques for “countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit the circulation of such claims in other countries.” For example, approaching “friendly elite contacts (especially politicians and editors)” to remind them of the Warren Commission’s integrity and soundness should be prioritized. “[T]he charges of the critics are without serious foundation,” the document reads, and “further speculative discussion only plays in to the hands of the [Communist] opposition.”
This memo, and its directives, are utilized often today – by the media, most often, but also by politicians, presidential administrations and government agencies – to try to discredit anyone or any group that disagrees with the official government narrative (the global warming hoax immediately comes to mind).
Finally, there is this: In the late 1970s the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations launched a new probe into the Kennedy assassination. The congressional panel generally adopted the Warren Commission’s findings and agreed that two bullets from Oswald’s rifle did indeed kill Kennedy. But the HSCA also said that there was a high likelihood of a second shooter, and that some unknown conspiracy – a plot of some sort – was behind the murder.
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