On 22 November 1963, US president John F. Kennedy was mortally wounded as he rode in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. At the time, the forty-six-year-old Democrat was campaigning to win a second term as president in the 1964 election. Sixty years on, and another US election looms. Today, candidates receive protection from US security forces — but perhaps it is the voters who need looking out for.
After the assassination, Kennedy’s accused killer was quickly arrested, though he never reached trial: Lee Harvey Oswald, a former US marine with a history of psychiatric illness who had defected for a time to the Soviet Union, was shot dead within days by Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner with mafia connections. In 1964, US president Lyndon B. Johnson set up the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy’s killing. It concluded that Oswald had acted alone.
However, rumours were already circulating of a conspiracy to kill the president. Among the more prevalent theories were that a second shooter aimed from a nearby grassy knoll; that a man with an umbrella signalled to the killer or shot a poisoned dart; that the US government, the mafia or the Soviet state police, the KGB, were involved; or that Cuban leader Fidel Castro ordered the shooting.
In 1976, a US House of Representatives committee was formed to reexamine the case. After conducting some 25,000 interviews and chasing down tens of thousands of leads, all suspicions of a conspiracy were dismissed. This did nothing to stop the rumours: then, in the 1990s, Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, followed by the expansion of the internet, helped theories which were decades old and decades disproved become even more entrenched.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1963 assassination, 87 per cent of Americans asked said they believed that there was only one shooter. Today, around 60 per cent are convinced that more than one person was involved. In 2022, US president Joe Biden ordered the disclosure of all releasable records, around 3,600 items, on the assassination. By June 2023, 99 per cent of all materials were made public — but there were no revelations.
2024: the Conspiratorial Presidential Nominees
In 2016, a whole new theory around the JFK assassination was born. The presidential candidate Donald Trump implied that his Republican competitor Ted Cruz’s Cuban father Rafael was an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald. With no evidence for this claim, it nevertheless reignited interest in a Kennedy killing cover-up. Fast forward to today, and (at the time of writing) Donald Trump is a favourite to win the 2024 US presidential election; this, despite the many serious criminal charges against him… Then, there is John F. Kennedy’s nephew, Robert Kennedy Jr., a candidate for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination. While he is unlikely to get far, Kennedy Jr. is a high-profile proponent of all kinds of conspiracy theories. He links vaccines with autism, calls Covid-19 ‘racially selective’, blames school shootings on antidepressants, and says the 2004 US election was “stolen”. He also claims that the CIA plotted his uncle’s death back in 1963.