People that believe in wild conspiracy theories often have a lot of in common with people that unquestionably accept official explanations--they fail to test what they believe against common sense and facts. Most of the time, the official explanation is the best. Sometimes it's not. Fifty years after the JFK assassination, it's pretty clear that the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone is just as incredulous as baseless conspiracies that Lyndon Johnson or George H.W. Bush killed him.
That the Warren Commission failed should come as no surprise if you've ever given two seconds of thought about the circumstances of the assassination. I don't think most people have. The death of the popular president is seared into the nation's psyche, but how many people have thought of these obvious questions?
1. What was Lee Harvey Oswald's motive for killing Kennedy?
2. What was Jack Ruby's motive for killing Oswald?
People generally know why John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln. We know that McKinley was shot by an anarchist. We even know the motivation when it's done out of insanity and not politics, like when John Hinckley shot Reagan to impress Jodie Foster.
But one of the most covered and talked about events in American history? Nobody asks the obvious questions, which is a little surprising considering a majority of Americans assume a conspiracy. They seem to vaguely be aware that something is amiss, but haven't connected the dots. A lot can be learned by applying a little common sense.
The Warren Commission's conclusion is immediately suspect because people that act alone aren't taken out by career mobsters before they can testify in court. Sure, maybe Jack Ruby just felt so patriotic that he had to get revenge on the man who killed his president. But I think that requires us to suspend our beliefs more than thinking there were multiple parties involved.
Now, just because Oswald may have been linked to shady characters doesn't mean he didn't pull the trigger. Some say there's no way he could successfully killed Kennedy from the school book depository, but the evidence is against them. Consider that Oswald received a sharpshooter designation in the U.S. Marine Corps. Once again, we have to go where the facts and common sense take us, and there really isn't a strong case to be made that there was second gunman or that Oswald wasn't the shooter.
That doesn't mean there wasn't a conspiracy, however. Common sense still tells us that the fact he was rubbed out by the mob points to a broader involvement, but first we are just trying to understand his motivation.
You don't have to look very hard.
Oswald was an ardent socialist. He lived in Soviet Russia from 1960-1962. SOVIET RUSSIA. Who does that at the height of the Cold War? Radical communists , that's who (sort of like if you met your spouse in a Russian language class during this period). That famous picture of him holding the newspaper and the rifle? That's socialist literature he's holding. In the Marines, he was known as "Osvaldovitch" because he was always railing about capitalism. He was arrested for distributing pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans, defending Marxism.
Wouldn't you assume that such an individual would get the attention of some foreign powers?
In a new book, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon covers that angle. He writes that in September of 1963, Castro threatened Kennedy's life in an AP interview by saying, "aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders" would mean that "they themselves would not be safe." The AP story apparently ran in a New Orleans newspaper that Oswald read.
Furthermore, Shenon points to a June 1964 memo from J. Edgar Hoover, which said "our people in Mexico" reported that Oswald "stormed into the embassy, demanded the visa [to defect to Cuba], and when it was refused to him, headed out saying, 'I'm going to kill Kennedy for this."
In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, there was a widespread belief that Castro was involved--remember, this was right after the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Secret Service whisked Vice President Johnson to safety, fearing a larger communist plot. Thirty hours after Oswald shot Kennedy, Castro denied ever hearing a word about Oswald.
That wasn't true.
In 1964, Castro let it slip to an American informant that he knew of Oswald's outburst at the embassy, and had a dossier opened on him in 1959 when he was still in the Marine Corps and contacted the Cuban consulate in Los Angeles. A former national intelligence officer in Latin America says that a Cuban defector that was close to Castro said he told him stop what he's doing and to listen for "any little detail" from Dallas three hours before Kennedy was killed.
Still, none of that means Castro had Oswald shoot Kennedy, even though he may have known it was going to happen. He just didn't do anything to stop it.
Oswald's motive was that he hated the capitalist system, and Kennedy was its face. He loved Cuba and Castro, and Kennedy threatened them. He seems to be further enraged against the president after his visa was denied. From there, he could have either been motivated individually to kill Kennedy because maybe he though that's what Castro wanted, or maybe the Cubans subtly encouraged him. With the Cuban angle, we start to see that Oswald may have indeed acted alone, but he wasn't merely a lone nut disconnected to outside forces.
So that's Oswald's motive. What is Jack Ruby's angle--why did he kill Oswald?
If I told you the plot of a movie where someone kills someone, and then the murderer himself is wiped out right after, you'd say "oh, the other guy is obviously involved somehow and is covering something up." You'd definitely say that if I told you the second guy has strong ties to the mob. That's common sense, and you'd probably be right. Shouldn't we at least ask that about Jack Ruby?
Once again, the official explanation trumps common sense for many people. In 1964, the Warren Commission found that Ruby had no ties to organized crime and acted independently. However in 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations said that Ruby "had a significant number of associations" with the Mafia, specifically Sam Giancana and Joseph Campisi. Of course, we already know that the Kennedys famously fought against organized crime.
A day before Kennedy was killed, Ruby visited Campisi, and asked him to visit him a day after he was arrested for killing Oswald. Campisi worked for Carlos Marcello, who had previously threatened to kill JFK.
Sure enough, the House Select Committee on Assassinations suspected mob involvement in the JFK murder primarily because of Jack Ruby's killing of Oswald, finding that "Marcello had the motive, means and opportunity to have President John F. Kennedy assassinated" though it was unable to establish a direct link.
The mob also has a Cuban connection. A friend of Ruby's told the FBI that Ruby was supplying guns to Castro's guerillas in the 1950s.
In 1965, Ruby gave a televised news conference where he said, "Everything pertaining to what's happening has never come to the surface....The people had so much to gain...and will never let the true facts come above board to the world." A reporter asked if these people were in very high positions, and he said "Yes."
Just as the HSCA concluded, Ruby's murder of Oswald points to mob involvement. The mob has a connection to Cuba. The Cubans knew of Oswald. Oswald hated Kennedy. The Cubans hated Kennedy. The mob hated Kennedy. Common sense would tell you that the odds are favorable that there was at least the possibility of at least a loose conspiracy. My guess is we'll find out more when Castro dies, and in 2017 when all remaining JFK assassination documents are due to be released.