The Persistent—But Fading—Appeal of JFK Conspiracy Stories

Explaining two trends in public opinion.


Speaking of JFK's assassination, I have an article on the subject at today. Here's how it opens:

If you could settle the question with a national vote, there would be no doubt that a conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy. Two weeks after the shooting, a Gallup poll showed 52% of Americans blaming a force larger than Lee Harvey Oswald for the President's death. Half a century later, a new Gallup poll puts the number at 61%. Earlier this year an Associated Press survey said the number was 59%, while a Public Policy Polling effort said it was a more modest but still substantial 51% -- not far at all from those initial results in 1963.

Those numbers may sound surprisingly high, but by other years' standards they're actually low. A decade ago, an ABC News poll had 70% of the population believing there was more than one man behind the slaying. When ABC posed the same question in 1983, the number was 80%. In 1994, the sociologist Ted Goertzel suggested that belief in a Kennedy conspiracy has "increased as the event became more distant." For a while it did, but then it reached a peak and started sinking.

So there are two trends that cry out to be explained here. Why are Kennedy-assassination theories still so popular, and why are they less popular than before?

For my answers to those questions, read the rest of the piece.

On a related subject: New York magazine has marked the JFK anniversary by publishing a mini-encyclopedia of conspiracy theories. I contributed the entry on Operation Mindfuck.

NEXT: Pentagon Ditching Russian Helicopter Deal Could Complicate Situation in Afghanistan

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. On a related subject: New York magazine has marked the JFK anniversary by publishing a mini-encyclopedia of conspiracy theories.

    The wildest is the one where JFK was killed by a communist acting alone. It's so wild and crazy and obscure that I didn't hear about it until I was like 25.

    1. That's absurd! Why just last week Slate was telling me that JFK walked into the nightmare world of 1963 Dallas which was filled with right-wing nutjobs and racist state's rights people that hated our young, liberal New Englander president.

      1. That wasn't those partisan lefties at Slate, that was the paragon of journolistic excellence and objectivity, the NYT, so it must be true.

        1. That piece of shit article is astonishing. Let's see if we can follow the self-loathing dipshit's reasoning.

          Some people in Dallas were conservatives. Some conservatives in Dallas hated Kennedy. Some conservatives in Dallas who hated Kennedy said mean things. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas. Therefore, Dallas murdered Kennedy. Therefore, conservatives killed Kennedy. Therefore, we must hate conservatives.

          That sound about right?

          1. needz a bit more hate but you're on track.

          2. Seems like they could have made it a lot shorter and just said, "Duh, all right-thinking people hate Texas, peace out."

            1. all right-thinking people hate Texas,

              except Austin. Austin is cool

            2. As the supposedly fair minded and neutral Parkland said of Texas, "what a terrible place to die." As if there are good places to die.

              1. In the sack with three chicks.

          3. The chain of logic is unassailable.

            The fact that JFK was actually murdered by a whacko communist is a mere distraction.

            1. I've mentioned this before, but if you went to the museum at Dealy Plaza without knowing anything about the assassination, you'd come out thinking Oswald was a Republican.

              1. False narratives are very compelling to the TEAMs.

            2. the man walked into and out of the Soviet Union, with a Soviet national as his bride no less, and that is told as though it happened every day back then.

              1. A pretty hot Soviet national, it must be noted.

              2. But he wasn't a government agent, no sir. And his mom was whacko for saying so. And if the CIA is still hiding the files on his dealings with the Cubans, why, there must be a legitimate national security reason.

      2. It's just weird how desperate people are to link it to some right wing conspiracy, given all of the actual facts that are known. If you are going to go in for a conspiracy theory, one involving organized crime and/or Cuba would make a lot more sense.

        1. My favorites are the ones that involve Marilyn Monroe.

          1. Jerri Blank: Do a lot of the people die of syphilis?

            Mr. Chuck Noblet: Oh, absolutely. Historically, syphilis is right up there with Germans. It wiped out the Romanovs, it decimated our fleet at Pearl Harbor, and of course, Fidel Castro impersonated Marilyn Monroe and gave President Kennedy a case of syphilis so severe that eventually it blew the back of his head off.

        2. Anything to avoid noticing that Oswald was one of them.

          If you didn't know anything but the most popular theories, I'd be amazed to discover that Oswald was a communist. So rarely is that fact ever mentioned.

  2. Jackie did it! That phony Francophile!

    1. You almost got it. It wasn't Jackie, it was The Jacket.

      1. When was Nick born?

        Aha! You mean the Jacket was LHO in his previous incarnation.

        1. The Jacket lives throughout the eons. It slowly molds the wearer into something called a Gillespie.

          None who don it revert to their former selves.

  3. I happen to know that Hal Holbrook had him killed to keep the people aware of the faked Moon landings to come to a bare minimum.

    1. I thought it was because he was heckling Keith Hernandez?

      1. That's a widespread misconception. Holbrook was also secondarily motivated by revenge for his good friend, Joe DiMaggio.

        1. Ah, well, that makes sense.

    2. If only Holbrook had closed the beach earlier, the members of Capricorn One and JFK could have lived.

      1. Of course, what most people fail to understand is that Holbrook doesn't merely play Mark Twain in "Mark Twain Tonight." No. He was named as Samuel Clemens' successor on the Most High Star Chamber of the Illuminati when Clemens retired to New Haven twenty years ago. He teaches (under a pseudonym, of course) a class at Yale called "Racism in Mark Twain's Works: The Hermeneutics of Angry White Men."

        1. As holder of the Samuel Clemens sceptre, though, he would have had access to Data's head, and would therefore have known that in an alternate time line where JFK lived, he started a nuclear war which then set off a series of regional wars that only ended with the ascension of Khan Noonien Singh to the Peacock Throne.

          1. No, no, no, that TNG episode was a misdirection. However, you are correct to associate Twain with eugenics.

            1. You are both forgetting the subtle, yet important role Holbrook and his handlers played in the downfall of Nixon by acting in a landmark porno film.

              1. Who, Nixon? I don't want to know about this.

          2. This is why VP doesn't like us.

    3. When you ask the nation to put a man on the moon in one decade, chances are you might ask for proof, so why risk it?

  4. What, like maybe 7 or 8 more days of JFK? Ugh.

    1. We could at least make an annual festival out of it. You could do things like build giant JFK piniatas full of candy and prizes and let the neighborhood kids shoot the head off of it. Or maybe a national JFK Day Turkey Shoot.

      Hey, the possibilities are endless!

      1. Only the turkey is mounted on a moving platform 200 yards away and you have 8 seconds to fire 3 or 4 shots with a bolt action mail order assault rifle.

          1. As I recall, Kennedy was less than 300 feet from Oswald's location when hit, that the experts said the Carcano was an accurate rifle, that Oswald did use a scope, and that it was possible to get off three shots in the eight seconds determined from the enhanced Zapruder film. My brother had purchased a Carcano about the same time Oswald did, so we dry fired it and we pulled the trigger, chambered a round, pulled the trigger, chambered,pulled in about six seconds admittedly without a scope but sighting on a car moving down our street.

            1. Carcanos can be very good rifles...especially if you find a Moschetto TS, which was one that was tested and marked out for special service as a sharpshooter's rifle. Basically all they did was test each one and take out the most accurate 1% and marked them that way.

        1. And one of those shots has to create ~30 wounds.

        2. "bolt action...assault rifle"


    2. Days? With the media, it's measured in years.

    3. Compared to the last 50 years, that's nothing.

      Back, and to the left.

      1. I mean the frenzy leading up to the 50th. I'll be glad for it to drop back down to a light simmer of bullshit compared to the current roiling boil.

      2. If only his name were Khannedy.

        1. Have you ever read Milton, ProL?

  5. I like to speculate that if JFK had not been shot he would have died in office anyway because of his increasing drug dependency for back pain as well as the symptoms of his Addison's Disease.

  6. There's an old movie from the early 80's titled "Flashpoint" that makes a good riff on a JFK conspiracy. It's centered around two Texas border patrol agents (Kris Kristofferson and this other dude) who make a grisly discovery out in the desert.

    The movie is pretty short, and you can watch the whole thing on youtube. I like it because I love the southwest and this movie is filled with good scenery from that part of the country.

    1. Saw it and agree. Kind of Cormac McCarthyish


    Both Bill Paxton and William Hootkins were in Dallas during the assassination. Don't tell me that they weren't involved in the conspiracy!!!!

  8. When ABC posed the same question in 1983, the number was 80%.

    Miller: "You know the way everybody's into weirdness right now. Books in all the supermarkets about Bermuda triangles, UFOs, how the Mayans invented television. That kind of thing."

    1. The way I see it, it's exactly the same. There ain't no difference between a flying saucer and a time machine. People get so hung up on specifics.

      1. Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense! Everybody could stand a hundred chest X-rays a year! They oughta have 'em, too.

        1. Let's go get sushi and and not pay!

          1. Truly, those who have not watched this film classic, brought to us by the fortune built on Liquid Paper and TV music, please do so now.

            1. God damn dipshit Rodriguez gypsy dildo punks. I'll get your ass!

        2. Funny then, that the Ukrainian women who didn't leave after Chernobyl lived longer than those who did.

  9. Here's why JFK conspiracies should kick the bucket -

    So much time has past that the conspiracy would have been revealed.

    We even know who Deep Throat was, now.

    Conspiracies remain hidden while there are people who work at hiding them. Since nobody involved in any conspiracy to kill JFK could still possibly be holding a position of influence (they'd be far too old) any information out there about such a conspiracy would be out by now.

    1. That's what they want you to think.

    2. Supposedly E. Howard Hunt had a deathbed confession that he was in on the assassination conspiracy.

    3. What difference, at this point, does it make? Is that your argument?

  10. Nice alt text, Jesse.

  11. Justitia 7 hours ago
    The best way to cover up a conspiracy, is to simply add "theory". We all know who did it, one, vary evil family, and the foot

    soldier's who profit from the protection of the secret. Its hard to believe Main Stream Media would protect .000015% of the

    population, from 99.999985% of the population knowing the truth. I guess we'll need to overthrow the media, to get to

    the truth.


    What family? Plz be the Kochs plz be the Kochs plzplzplzplz

    1. Yes, it has to be the Kochs. Only they vary their evil in such a way as to remain elusive.

      1. The Kochs are all evil as they are no evil, and therefore they are an evil god. I await the Senate's unanimous decision.

        1. They are so evil that sometimes they are good, because they encompass the entire spectrum of good-evil. This is why they accidentally sponsor PBS programs.

      2. It was the Kochs, in league with Monsanto.

    2. Mary's there too proudly flying her "I'm cognitively disabled" flag two-blocked to the mast.

    3. No, it's the evil right wing LBJ family, even though he was a liberal too.

  12. The thing with conspiracy theory debunking is that they go after the low hanging fruit and then stop. For 9/11 it's easy to debunk theories about thermite and controlled demolition, but no one talks about any possible connections between the hijackers and Saudi princes, or the any possible connections between OBL and the Pakistani military or intelligence and their connections with the US military and intelligence. Conspiracy theorists bring all this up, but it's basically ignored.

    It's easy (well, these days) to debunk theories about multiple shooters taking out Kennedy and people say, "see, it was one guy that pulled the trigger, therefor no conspiracy," but what about Oswald's possible connections to the USSR and Cuba? They don't do too much looking into that (for instance).

    1. but what about Oswald's possible connections to the USSR and Cuba? They don't do too much looking into that (for instance).

      That's because the people doing the conspiracy theorizing are on the left.
      Oswald was a communist. He was one of them. They were horrified that one of their own did it, so they had to explain how it wasn't really one of them - it had to be the CIA. They had to come up with an explanation that shifted the blame away from communists and onto a secret right-wing plot.

      You're missing the essential fact that the whole point of this wasn't to find out who really did it. It was so that leftists could avoid having to recognize that one of their own murdered the President. Examining Oswald's links to the USSR doesn't help leftists avoid thinking about how one of their side did it.

    2. Agreed! People never talk about the possible connection between Gennifer Flowers, Bill Clinton, and Muhammad Atta--even though they were possibly in the same state at roughly the same time (give or take 6 months). Unfortunately, only MSNBC talks about the possible connection between Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, bin Laden, George H.W and G.W. and Marilyn Monroe. And since we are talking about possibilities (events not beyond the laws of physical science), the possibility that Neil Armstrong hired bin Laden because he had irrefutable proof the moon landing was fake due to the fact there were no stars in the background of the lunar surface photos.

      Also, it is only a possibility that I have a connection to the U.S. considering I live and work here.

      1. You're doing the same thing he accused them of.

        1. Uh, no. He accused the uniformed of debunking easily debunked theories and ignoring possibilities. I did neither and showed how smart I am by adding more possibilities.


            Oswald was a former U.S. Marine who defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959. He lived in the Soviet Union until June 1962, at which time he returned to the United States.

            You seem to be laboring (strangely) under the illusion that Oswald's connections to the USSR were merely theoretical.

            Given the typical coverage of the Kennedy assasination, you can be forgiven for not knowing that Oswald was in fact a dedicated communist who defected to the USSR and worked on behalf of pro-Cuba comminust organizations in the US.

            Somehow the mainstream media seems to forget all about that on a regular basis.

            1. In my defense, I assumed by saying there was a possible connection between me and the U.S., because I live and work here, was enough to show I was being sarcastic at the original poster's use of the word possible. In the future i will add the (sarc) tag for your benefit.

              1. SInce there has been no replies, I will edit the opening sentence to show i can write with comprehension in mind.

                I assumed it was enough to show I was being sarcastic by stating there is a possible connection between me and the U.S.--considering I live and work here.

                It really was a poor sentence, but I changed the latter part w/o editing the beginning. PLZ forgive me

  13. I think 9/11 taught people a lesson about conspiracy theories.

    Having witnessed a major terrorist attack, and then observed the delusional response of a slice of the population, and how that evolved into the 9/11 Truth movement, I think that taught people something about how conspiracy theories get formed. I think it taught people that those theories aren't really a search for truth, but that they are actually more of a delusional reaction by people who can't adequately process events that challenge their worldview. It's cognitive dissonance.

    And having observed the 9/11 conspiracy theories take shape and evolve, it became clear how the same thing might have happened with JFK conspiracies. People manufacturing evidence, confabulating, and rationalizing their way around the facts, and carefully constructing a theory that rejects all contradictory evidence and winds itself up in one big ball of confirmation bias.

  14. Kennedy was killed because he was an asshole from an asshole family, and somebody wanted to kill him.

    The end.

  15. So there are two trends that cry out to be explained here. Why are Kennedy-assassination theories still so popular, and why are they less popular than before?

    1. Because the official story is full of holes.

    2. Because people are happier to lick the boot of the state now than they were in the 70's and 80's.

  16. I fail to understand the apparently limitless fascination with the Kennedys in general and JFK in particular.

    The old man was a crook who made the family fortune through bootlegging and the rest of the clan spent most of the lives in politics instead of holding any actual productive jobs in the private sector.

    I know the goo-goo leftist types adore them for that but I don't see why there's been enough of a market for all the endless films and syncophantic puff pieces masquerading as documentaries about them amongst the general public who presumably should know better.

    1. You don't watch much TV or many movies, do you?

      1. I do watch TV.

        What I'm saying is I don't understand why there would be enough of an interest in the Kennedys from the general public to warrant the endless cascade of programs about them.

    2. While he was on Wall Street, Old Joe also made Ivan Boesky look like a boy scout.

    3. I had an aunt that absolutely adored him. Had a shrine to him, basically.

      I never got it, but it's the same sort of reason that Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian are popular - JFK was glamorous.

  17. Kennedy got in the way of one bullet intended for Connally, and another intended for Oswald.

  18. One more thing that I wish for to share at this time is that, whatsoever you are using free blogging service however if you don?t update your blog on on a regular basis basis then it?s no more attraction.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.