The assassination of John F. Kennedy remains one of the most controversial events of the 20th century. While the most widely accepted theory is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, a huge number of conspiracy theories have arisen about that fateful day in Dealey Plaza. But what if the President’s death was actually a terrible accident? First popularized by the ballistics expert Howard Donahue, an intriguing theory holds that after Oswald opened fire on the motorcade, a panicking Secret Service agent accidentally discharged his rifle, firing the shot that killed Kennedy.
This list is not intended to accuse anyone other than Lee Harvey Oswald of having anything to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Donahue’s theory is just that—a theory. The following is merely an examination of the evidence for (and against) one of the most fascinating “What Ifs” in American history.
10 • Multiple Witnesses Described the Last Two Shots As Very Close Together
Oswald used a bolt-action Carcano rifle, which requires the shooter to make four movements after each shot in order to cycle the spent case and chamber the next round. The Warren Commission found that the minimum time required to fire the rifle, cycle the bolt once, and fire a second shot was 2.3 seconds. The most commonly accepted theory is that Oswald fired three shots, one of which missed, requiring him to cycle the bolt twice. Based on footage from the Zapruder Film, the Commission concluded that the two shots that hit Kennedy were fired 4.8–5.6 seconds apart.
If the second shot missed, then all three bullets must have been fired in that time. If, however, the first or third shot missed, then the minimum timespan increases to 7.1–7.9 seconds for all three shots. Neither scenario is impossible, although 4.8–5.6 seconds would be a remarkably short time to fire accurately on a moving vehicle.
But the Warren Commission’s calculations are only important if the shots are assumed to have occurred at equal intervals. If, instead, the last two shots were to occur almost simultaneously, then a single bolt-action rifle could not fire them both. Interestingly, some witness testimony seems to support that scenario. Notable is the testimony of Secret Service agent Bill Greer, who drove the Presidential limousine, when asked: “How much time elapsed, to the best of your ability to estimate and recollect, between the time of the second noise and the time of the third noise?”
Greer answered: “The last two seemed to be just simultaneously, one behind the other, but I don’t recollect just how much, how many seconds were between the two. I couldn’t really say.”
District Clerk James Crawford, who was standing at the intersection of Elm and Houston streets during the shooting, stated: “As I observed the parade, I believe there was a car leading the President’s car, followed by the President’s car and followed, I suppose, by the Vice President’s car and, in turn, by the Secret Service in a yellow closed sedan. The doors of the sedan were open. It was after the Secret Service sedan had gone around the corner that I heard the first report and at that time I thought it was a backfire of a car but, in analyzing the situation, it could not have been a backfire of a car because it would have had to have been the President’s car or some car in the cavalcade there. The second shot followed some seconds, a little time elapsed after the first one, and followed very quickly by the third one. I could not see the President’s car.”
Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig was standing in front of the Sheriff’s Office on Houston Street, having watched the motorcade pass and turn onto Elm. Once it was out of sight, Craig heard three shots and started running toward the scene. Here is part of his testimony, as taken by Commission staffer David Belin:
CRAIG: The first one was—uh—about three seconds—two or three seconds.
BELIN: Two or three seconds between the first and the second?
CRAIG: It was quite a pause between there. It could have been a little longer.
BELIN: And what about between the second and third?
CRAIG: Not more than two seconds. It was—they were real rapid.
None of this conclusively disproves that Oswald was the sole shooter. But it does raise an interesting possibility—if the second and third shots were fired so close together, is it conceivable that one of them wasn’t fired by Oswald at all?
9 • George Hickey Was The Only Secret Service Agent Armed With A Rifle
There were 12 Secret Service agents assigned to guard Kennedy on the day of the assassination. Special Agent in Charge Roy Kellerman rode in the front passenger seat of the Presidential limousine, with Special Agent Bill Greer driving. Win Lawson and Verne Sorrels rode in the lead vehicle and Agent Sam Kinney drove the rear vehicle, with the President’s limousine in the middle. Also in the rear vehicle were Special Agent Emory Roberts in the front passenger seat, George Hickey in the left rear seat, and Glen Bennett in the right rear seat. Special Agents Clint Hill, Tim Mcintyre, Jack Ready, and Paul Landis stood on the rear car’s running boards.
The lead vehicle was a hardtop, the other two were convertibles with their tops down. All of the agents were armed with 4-inch-barreled revolvers. As per standard procedure, one agent, Hickey, was also armed with an AR-15 rifle. Thus, assuming Oswald did not fire the headshot, then Hickey’s rifle was the only other one available.
8 • Hickey Did Produce The Rifle During The Shooting
Hugh W. Betzner, Jr., an eyewitness who had been standing at the intersection of Elm and Houston when the motorcade turned left onto Elm, reported that: “I also saw a man in either the President’s car or the car behind his and someone down in one of those cars pull out what looked like a rifle.” Betzner also described seeing a “flash of pink” somewhere in the motorcade, which has occasionally been interpreted as a muzzle flash. This flash could have come from Hickey’s rifle, or any of the agents’ handguns, although an AR-15 creates a much more noticeable flash. However, it is much more likely that the “flash of pink” referred to Jackie Kennedy, who was dressed in pink, reaching out to Special Agent Clint Hill, who had jumped from the rear car onto the back of the Presidential limo. Betzner actually specifically describes the flash as resembling “someone standing up and then sitting back down,” so the muzzle flash theory seems relatively dubious.
However, Hickey himself confirmed Betzner’s report that he did “pull out” the rifle during the shooting, testifying: “At the end of the last report I reached to the bottom of the car and picked up the AR-15 rifle, cocked and loaded it, and turned to the rear. At this point the cars were passing under the overpass and as a result we had left the scene of the shooting. I kept the AR-15 rifle ready as we proceeded at a high rate of speed to the hospital.”
Get out your tinfoil hats. We’re going to talk conspiracy theories.
In general, the peculiarities of how we discern the theories we believe from those we don’t. And, specifically, what those beliefs or disbeliefs say about us as individuals.
First, I’ll make the assumption that if you are reading a newspaper column, or at least recognize the names “Mulder” and “Scully,” you are familiar with conspiracy theories. They range from mainstream speculations many people believe, such as John F. Kennedy assassination theories, to fringe concepts that many people dismiss, such as the “chemtrail” theory that posits the government is delivering biological agents through the white clouds trailing high-flying jets.
FOR THE PURPOSES of this column, I’ll focus on theories purported to involve the U.S. government because those have the most widespread social, political and economic impacts. Films such as Men in Black and Independence Day would have no pop-culture currency if not for the widely held suspicion the government has possessed alien life forms and technology since 1947.
Conspiracy theories persist because – in addition to a constant spate of broken promises (Yucca Mountain, “Read my lips – no new taxes,” “You can keep your health insurance”) – the government flat-out lies to us.
The thunderous boom and sunlike glare that alarmed New Mexico residents in the early morning hours of July 16, 1945, was not the world’s first nuclear weapon. It was an explosion at a “remotely located ammunitions” depot. The second attack on the U.S.S. Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin on Aug. 4, 1964, the very attack that gave President Johnson the push to send troops to Vietnam? It never happened.
Yes, the truth is out there, but when it finally materializes (41 years, in the case of the Gulf of Tonkin incident) the public usually has forgotten, or no longer cares, about the lie.
Which leads us back to the whole point of this exercise: What makes us doubt the official party line in some instances and not others?
One might assume a person who believes in a JFK conspiracy theory should believe most, if not all, conspiracy theories. After all, couldn’t a government powerful enough to snuff out the leader of the free world in public view, and successfully cover it up for decades, be capable of doing anything?
But that’s not how we think. We base decisions on our overall level of trust in government – in a nameless, faceless bureaucratic sense – and our specific viewpoint on whoever happens to be in the Oval Office at the time. And I believe emotions shape those decisions as much as hard evidence.
MORE – – –
Probably the best known mystery surrounding Kennedy’s death is his missing brain. Not as well known are the mysterious deaths of many people connected to the assassination, eventually prompting the House Select Committee on Assassinations to look into possible foul play. After a cursory investigation, it found none.
Of course, a mysterious death may or may not involve foul play. Here are accounts of 10 people who witnessed Kennedy’s actual assassination, or had pertinent knowledge of one or more people involved, and who died “untimely”—at least in some estimations.
10 • Jack Ruby
We begin with Ruby, the only very famous entry, who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV just two days after Oswald had been arrested for killing Kennedy. When Kennedy was shot, Ruby was five blocks away from the Texas School Book Depository, distributing ads. He originally claimed to have shot Oswald in order to “redeem” Dallas and spare Jackie Kennedy the agony of a trial. But these motives—and everything else in Ruby’s life—remain shrouded in contradictions.
Ruby himself later claimed that his first attorney had told him to testify to the above motives, while Vegas mobster Johnny Roselli claimed Ruby had been assigned to silence Oswald. In 1965, well after his conviction, Ruby had this to say about the murder: “Everything pertaining to what’s happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts of what occurred, my motives. The people who had so much to gain, and had such an ulterior motive for putting me in the position I’m in, will never let the true facts come above board to the world.”
On 3 January, 1967, Ruby died of a pulmonary embolism, a complication of lung cancer. Before his death, he had gone on record claiming that he had been visited by a man who injected him with what he was told were antibiotics for a chronic cold, but which he believed were really cancer cells. He had just been granted a new trial on the grounds that his first trial in Dallas could not have been fairly heard. Shortly before he passed away, Ruby told a psychiatrist that the assassination was a coup d’etat and that he knew who was responsible for Kennedy’s murder.
9 • James Richard Worrell Jr.
Worrell was one of the very best eyewitnesses to Kennedy’s assassination, providing unusually detailed answers to the usual questions about that day (his entire testimony before Congress is available here). In 1963, Worrell was a 20-year-old high school student living in Dallas with his mother and sister. When Kennedy arrived, Worrell decided to skip school in order to see the President, leaving home early in the morning and hitchhiking to Love Field. Finding he was too late to get a good view there, he left for Dealey Plaza and waited four or five feet in front of the Book Depository, on the sidewalk at the corner of Elm and Houston.
He watched as the motorcade came down Houston Street, and turned past him onto Elm. Then Worrell testified that he heard “four shots.” He looked up after the first, which he realized was too loud to be a firecracker, and saw a rifle barrel protruding from the 5th or 6th-floor corner window of the building. He looked back to Kennedy’s vehicle, heard the second shot, and saw the President slump over. He looked back up and saw the third shot’s muzzle flash, then began running in a panic around the Depository and onto Houston Street, where he heard a fourth shot. Stopping to catch his breath, he turned in time to see a man run from the rear exit of the Depository and later gave a basic description of Oswald’s height, build, and dress.
Three years later, on 6 November, 1966, Worrell was riding his motorcycle along Gus Thomasson Street in Dallas, along with a passenger named Lee Hudgins, when he apparently lost control of the vehicle, jumped the median curb, and overturned in the opposite lane. Worrell’s head, without a helmet, struck the curb, and Hudgins was flung in front of a car. Both died at the hospital.
8 • Thomas Hale Boggs Sr.
Boggs was perhaps the most high profile person connected to the assassination to die under mysterious circumstances. A longtime Louisiana Congressman, he was House Majority Whip when Kennedy was killed and became House Majority Leader in 1971. In 1963, he was appointed to the President’s Commission on the Assassination, nicknamed the Warren Commission after its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren. The Commission ultimately concluded that Oswald acted alone, but three of its members disagreed—Boggs and Senators Richard Russell and Sherman Cooper. Russell, who died of natural causes in 1971, publicly stated his “lingering dissatisfaction” with the investigation, while Boggs accused FBI director J. Edgar Hoover of “lying his eyes out” during the hearings.
Boggs was a strong critic of the single bullet theory. According to this theory, Oswald fired three shots, the second of which struck Kennedy in the upper back, passed through his throat and continued into Texas Governor John Connally’s back. The bullet then exited Connally’s chest, smashed through his wrist, and stopped in his left thigh, creating a total of seven wounds in two people. Some critics have claimed this would have required the bullet to somehow rise in mid-flight between the two men, but Connally had actually been sitting in a specially added “jump seat” few inches lower than Kennedy, which would have made it possible for the bullet to cause the seven wounds.
The fact of Connally’s seat height was not known at the time, but Boggs also strongly opposed the theory that Oswald acted alone, and that Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald. As House Majority Whip, then Leader, his words carried great weight.
On 16 October, 1972, Boggs was flying from Anchorage to Juneau with Alaskan Congressman Nick Begich and two others. They never arrived. The cause of the crash has never been discovered, nor has the wreckage of the plane, nor the bodies of the dead. Many civil aircraft of the time did not have emergency transmitters that would broadcast their locations upon crashing (such transmitters were made mandatory as a direct result of the incident). The four men were declared dead early the next year.
THE SHOW “JFK: The Smoking Gun”
WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 8 p.m. on Reelz
WHAT IT’S ABOUT The crush of JFK-related specials leading up to the 50th anniversary of his assassination begins with (what else?) this conspiracy theory documentary that postulates a Secret Service agent riding in the car behind Kennedy’s limousine accidentally discharged his weapon — the third shot that killed the president.
Veteran Australian detective Colin McLaren essentially says this theory, which was first postulated by a ballistics expert, Howard Donahue (who died in 1999), and later written up in the 1992 book by Bonar Menninger, “Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK,” is in fact the correct one. Per McLaren, the agent unlatched the safety lock on his automatic rifle after hearing the first shots, then stood up in the car and fell backward when it lurched forward. The gun went off at that point.
MY SAY Any JFK assassination conspiracy theory can be like a long ride down dark alleys, past empty buildings, and scarred landscapes… The view is invariably depressing, but rarely dull and always compelling — to a point, anyway, and then it’s just plain blight.
That point arrives fairly early in “The Smoking Gun” when it becomes obvious that McLaren has nothing much more to add to what Donahue postulated many years ago: The clumsy Secret Service agent did it. Like all conspiracy theories, or at least the good ones, this one luxuriates in the amassed evidence that would seem to point to an inevitable conclusion, unless evidence to the contrary is presented, which never is here. But then that’s the strange Kafka-esque reality of the entire JFK conspiracy industry. For every bumbling Secret Service agent, there’s some guy over on Grassy Knoll. There are hundreds — maybe thousands — of competing theories, and maybe one of them is true. Is this finally that one? What do you think?
BOTTOM LINE Recycled theory with some fresh perspective — but it still smells recycled.
[END] via Newsday (NY)
- Five Kennedy Conspiracy Theories Debunked by JFK: The Smoking Gun (illuminutti.com)
- Here come the conspiracy theorists about JFK (illuminutti.com)
- JFK Assasination – Conspiracy or Clumsiness? (blogs.abc.net.au)
- REELZCHANNEL “JFK: Inside the Evidence” Special to Premiere Monday, November 4 at 10pm ET/ 7pm PT (prweb.com)
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- New Documentary Says a Second Shooter Killed JFK (seattlepi.com)
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- The Case That Never Dies (online.wsj.com)
- Secret Service killed JFK, Aussie says (adelaidenow.com.au)
- Secret explanation of JFK’s killing (heraldsun.com.au)
From the complicated to the absurd, there is no shortage of hypotheses concocted by conspiracy theorists about what happened on that fateful day in Dallas nearly fifty years ago. While the upcoming REELZ documentary JFK: The Smoking Gun presents a straightforward, plausible and logical solution to this long unsolved mystery, many of the ideas that theorists come up with seem quite unlikely. Ballistics expert Howard Donahue and veteran police detective Colin McLaren came to conclusions which are simple and don’t rely on unsubstantiated claims, and audiences will get a glimpse of the processes they used when JFK: The Smoking Gun premieres Sunday, November 3rd. As for all those off-the-wall conspiracy theories, we took a moment to examine some of the claims, all of which look just a little more unlikely when compared with the evidence presented in the upcoming documentary.
Conspiracy Theory 1: The Mafia Killed JFK
One of the most popular theories about the JFK assassination is that it was a mafia hit. There are many variations on this theme, and mostly they differ in terms of why the mob decided to get involved. For example, some say the reason JFK was the victim of a mafia hit is because the mob rigged the Illinois election to ensure that Kennedy won the state. When JFK refused to play ball with them once he was in office, the mob felt a need to retaliate. Or maybe the reason that the mob was furious was because JFK continued the economic sanctions and travel embargoes to Cuba. Seeing as Cuba was something of a sanctuary for organized crime bosses, they felt they had to do something about it. Then there’s the simple idea that the mob was simply reacting to the fact that Attorney General Robert Kennedy was cracking down on organized crime. As sensational as these theories are, the fact is that the mob does not typically kill highly visible and powerful politicians or law enforcers, so the idea that they would call a hit on the POTUS seems unlikely. But even if the mafia did kill Kennedy and had a gunman on the grassy knoll, does the ballistics evidence substantiate that theory? Howard Donahue studied the bullet trajectories, and came to the conclusion that there’s no way any of the shots fired came from the grassy knoll. Though it’s had many proponents over the past fifty years, this theory doesn’t really hold up.
Conspiracy Theory 2: The CIA and/or the Illuminati Killed Kennedy
The myriad of theories that suggest that the CIA was responsible for JFK’s death is decidedly one jumbled bunch of ideas. One theory claims that the CIA resented the way Kennedy was handling Cuba, and officials were particularly irked that he was undermining their attempts to kill Castro. As a result, the government agency decided to kill Kennedy. Others claim that a shadowy Illuminati-type member of the Federal Reserve Bank wanted Kennedy killed because of a law he passed which could have made the Treasury more powerful than the Federal Reserve. This powerful figure was able to make the CIA do his bidding, because obviously the shadowy, underworld types control everything. The CIA even has a very lengthy (and very dry) explanation of how the story got started and why it is false in their online library. Would sworn US government agents really kill the President of the United States due to political disagreements? It hardly seems likely.
Conspiracy Theory 3: JFK was killed due to his interest in aliens
One of the more creative conspiracy theories is that JFK was killed because he was too interested in UFOs. They story is that he wanted to share the US government’s information about aliens and UFOs with the USSR in order to avoid a scenario in which a visitor from another planet was confused with an attack from the US. According to this premise, it was deemed that the President was sticking his nose where it didn’t belong so, of course, the only way to deal with the issue was for the CIA or some other government agency to assassinate him. Obviously this theory isn’t too difficult to disprove. Just a moment or two of critical thinking reveals the giant holes in the hypothesis, but really we have to love the intertwining of two major conspiracies.
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- Are conspiracy theorists really the sane ones? (mobile.wnd.com)
- Are conspiracy theorists really the sane ones? (wnd.com)
By Douglas A. McDonnell, M. Asher Cantrell via Cracked.com
Just about every major event in history has a conspiracy theory attached to it, whether you’ve heard of it or not. It’s just that most of them remain known only to the hardcore “we’ll believe anything” true believers, where others, like the ones below, pick up real traction.
But even among theories like these (which count their believers in the millions), you find that the whole thing is usually based on some embarrassingly simple misunderstanding. For example …
#5. The JFK Assassination Is Explained by How the Targets Were Sitting
If you’ve seen Oliver Stone’s JFK, then you’ll remember the climactic scene in which Kevin Costner “proves” that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy by demonstrating the impossible path of Oswald’s shot, which he sarcastically dubs “the magic bullet.”
The problem, according to those who believe in the conspiracy theory, is that Kennedy and Governor John Connally (who was seated in front of him) both suffered a constellation of wounds on their bodies from what the official investigation claims was a single bullet fired by Oswald. For this to be possible, the bullet would have had to curve around in midair several times, in multiple directions.
Since this openly defies the laws of physics, there must have been another shooter on the grassy knoll, or maybe the limo driver did it, or perhaps it was space lasers from a Nazi base on the moon. In Stone’s film and elsewhere, you see it accompanied by a diagram like this:
Our guess? Connally had one of those shoulder magnets that were all the rage back then.
The Simple Misunderstanding:
JFK and Connally weren’t sitting like that.
The people who draw up these diagrams invariably put Connally at an equal height to and seated directly in front of Kennedy. That’s where they’d be sitting if they were two ordinary dudes riding in an ordinary sedan, but the problem is that this sedan happened to be carrying one ordinary dude and the president of the United States.
The people who are paid to arrange this kind of thing knew who the people in the crowd were really there to see, and it wasn’t Governor Connally. So to prevent Connally from blocking the view of the president, he was put in a little jump seat, which was both set off from and lower than Kennedy’s position. So they were actually sitting like this:
If you think that’s a convenient story trumpeted out to explain away the mysterious curving bullet, don’t just take our word for it. That diagram was drawn from a photograph taken from behind Kennedy (the photographer was “Betzner”) in which you can clearly see that Connally is either a hunchbacked dwarf or in a very strange sitting position:
Or else you can just look at a photograph of the inside of the car:
You’ll also notice that Kennedy and Connally weren’t sitting rigid and facing forward like robots, as the conspiracy theorists suggest, but were twisted in their seats and waving at the audience as though, like, they were at a parade of some kind. Rearrange their bodies that way, and the path of the bullet — Oswald’s bullet — goes straight through them. Just like it should.
#4. The Pearl Harbor Conspiracy Relies on a Terrible Understanding of Politics
Conspiracy theories didn’t begin with Kennedy. Look back through history and you’ll find that any time some disgruntled foreign agent ever committed an atrocity on American soil, there were people screaming “false flag!” — meaning the government intentionally staged the attack to drum up support for some kind of evil foreign policy, or, at the very least, intentionally let it happen for the same reason.
Take Pearl Harbor. After the Japanese air force launched a surprise attack on the American fleet in 1941, it became a widespread belief among conspiracy authors that President Roosevelt knew the attack was going to take place, but allowed it to go ahead. Why? Quite simply, he had a hard-on for war with Germany, but didn’t have the public support for it. Since Hitler had signed a pact with Japan, war with either of them meant war with both, and allowing everyone at Pearl Harbor to be murdered would give FDR all the public support he needed to enter the war. He could spank Hitler’s ass while still looking like the victim.
The Simple Misunderstanding:
The Tripartite Pact, the pact between Japan, Germany, and Italy, was a defensive alliance only. That means Hitler was under no obligation to attack the United States just because his idiot friends did.
Of course, Germany did declare war after Pearl Harbor, but it had nothing to do with the idea that Hitler’s hand was forced by some deal he had with Japan. Instead, he cited the Lend-Lease Act and American naval activity as his reasons. That’s because Roosevelt was already pissing Hitler off by ordering his destroyers to sink German submarines on sight while at the same time escorting boatloads of weapons and supplies to Hitler’s enemies.
It’s true that Roosevelt was pretty keen to enter the war against Germany … to the point where he actually didn’t want to go to war with Japan because a war in the Pacific would distract him from his German hate-boner.
And speaking of “false flag” attacks …
#3. The World Trade Center Did Not Collapse at “Free-Fall Speed”
Because it occurred in the Internet era, the 9/11 World Trade Center attack is the one historical event that has generated more conspiracy theories than the Kennedy assassination. There are tons of equally crazy variations of the theory, but they all come down to the curious way the towers fell.
Conspiracy theorists say the buildings fell at “free-fall speed,” meaning that they didn’t just slowly crumble away or tip over like you might expect, but that the whole damn things just fell down at once, like a house of cards. That, they say, proves that the towers were wired with explosives by the U.S. government. Why else would sturdy skyscrapers just collapse in a puff of smoke like that?
The Simple Misunderstanding:
When somebody tells you that the towers fell at “free-fall speed,” they’re more or less pulling that out of their ass. Or at least, they’re referencing some other conspiracy theorists who pulled it out of their ass. They’re not referencing any kind of scientific theory or measurement; they’re just timing the fall as they watch YouTube videos and declaring that it looks different from how it plays out in their imagination. In other words, they don’t actually know what they mean by “free fall” except that the buildings seem to be falling more quickly than they’d expect from the almost certainly zero controlled demolitions they’ve seen before.
Most of the video of the actual collapse is filmed in Cloverfield-style shaky-cam, but if you watch any of the still-camera footage, you can debunk the free-fall claim simply from the fact that there’s debris coming off the tower that’s falling faster than the tower is. We’ve known that objects free fall at the same speed ever since Galileo dropped some balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so that more or less puts the kibosh on the whole free-fall business.
Part of the problem is that the Twin Towers were basically big, featureless rectangles that made it look like the whole thing was falling at once. Conspiracy theorists like Rosie O’Donnell like to rattle off statistics like how the towers fell in nine seconds, which just happens to be free-fall speed. But nine seconds is more likely the amount of time that Rosie put into researching the issue, because if she’d actually timed the collapse, she would have found that the towers took about 15 and 22 seconds to collapse, well short of free-fall speed. But then, that’s why very few engineering graduates cite Rosie O’Donnell as a source.
As for why the buildings collapsed at all, that has to do with the way they were designed and their resulting inability to stand up to the horrific fires caused by the crashes. As for why the buildings weren’t designed to withstand this kind of attack, it’s because the world can only do so much to protect you from unthinkable horrors, and nothing will change that.
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An old story claims a long list of astonishing similarities between the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy.
Anyone with email has probably received a chain letter revealing a startling series of similarities between the assassinations of U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. But even before the days of email, the story had been around, being printed and reprinted, quoted and requoted, and it all seems to go back to a book published the year after Kennedy died. Author Jim Bishop’s book A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, published in 1964 but written mostly while Kennedy was still in office, included an appendix listing a number of strange parallels between the two distinguished Presidents.
We’re going to examine these parallels to see if they hold up, but in doing so we should keep in mind the larger question. Are these similarities in any way meaningful? Do numbers and the spelling of names hold any consequential significance? Let’s find out. Today’s version of what’s become quite the urban legend will read something like this:
The Lincoln-Kennedy myths are really intriguing when you hear them, but perhaps equally captivating when you hear the counter arguments. If I drop six pairs of dice, chances are that one pair will match. Taken by itself, that match is pretty cool. Four U.S. Presidents have been assassinated in office, which results in six possible pairings; between those six, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’d find one pairing with interesting coincidences. But that’s just where the counter arguments start to get interesting.
A lot of the similarities are about dates that are exactly 100 years apart. This is no great shock; as U.S. Presidential elections happen every four years, so there are only 25 elections in a century, and every President has at least one other President elected exactly a century before and/or after. But this century-centric nature of the Lincoln-Kennedy legend starts to fall apart very quickly when you look at what should be the most important dates: Lincoln and Kennedy died 98 years apart, not a century; and they were elected to the terms in which they died 96 years apart, not a century. Conveniently omitted from the chain email. But let’s look deeper.
My favorite disassembly of the Lincoln-Kennedy legend is the one on Snopes.com. Barbara Mikkelson, who does most of the research and reporting on Snopes, has always been most astonishingly thorough with the way she tracks down every last scrap of an urban legend, but she also applies a very keen skeptical eye to popular claims. The Lincoln-Kennedy legend is primarily a list of coincidences; and when taken away from the context of all the many non-coincidences that also characterized the two men, it seems amazing. She writes:
We’re supposed to be amazed at minor happenstances such as the two men’s being elected exactly one hundred years apart, but we’re supposed to think nothing of the numerous non-coincidences: Lincoln was born in 1809; Kennedy was born in 1917. Lincoln died in 1865; Kennedy died in 1963. Lincoln was 56 years old at the time of his death; Kennedy was 46 years old at the time of his death. No striking coincidences or convenient hundred-year differences in any of those facts. Even when we consider that, absent all other factors, the two men had a one in twelve chance of dying in the same month, we find no coincidence there: Lincoln was killed in April; Kennedy was killed in November.
Even advice columnist Ann Landers took on this question in 1995, and aptly pointed out that there are far more differences between the men than similarities …