Talk marks 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Bolton - posted Fri., Nov. 22, 2013
Bolton resident Michael Thornton shared his longstanding interest in the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy at a talk held Nov. 5 at the Bentley Memorial Library. Photo by Brenda Sullivan.
Bolton resident Michael Thornton shared his longstanding interest in the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy at a talk held Nov. 5 at the Bentley Memorial Library. Photo by Brenda Sullivan.

Fifty years after U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot dead while riding in a motorcade through Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas, theories and questions about what happened that day are still a topic of passionate debate.

Was the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald – himself assassinated as he was led through a hallway full of reporters and others on his way to the county jail – really the "puppet" of the CIA? The mafia? The communists?

Could a single, so-called "pristine" bullet really have killed the president and then traveled through the body of another passenger, Texas Gov. John Connally?

According to the now-famous 1964 Warren Commission Report, the answer to the first question would be ‘no’ and to the second, ‘yes.’ But the commission’s conclusions continue to be scrutinized to this day.

Literally thousands of books have been written about this horrific event in American history, and the theories they support or refute are at the forefront of discussions as the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death approaches, on Nov. 22. One such discussion, led by Bolton resident Michael Thornton, was held at the Bentley Memorial Library on the afternoon of Nov. 5.

Thornton told the group that he’s not an "expert" on the subject, but has a longstanding interest in the debate over JFK’s assassination. Anyone in search of the truth can become overwhelmed, he said. "There are very few people who’ve read all the material – there’s just too much – and the government has held back information that won’t be released until 2025," he said.

The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act was passed by Congress in 1992 and created the Assassination Records Review Board that decided which records were to be released and which to be withheld in the interest of national security, and when those records would become public.

Because there’s so much material from which to speculate – including the much-cited Zapruder film footage taken by a bystander – theorists tend to specialize, Thornton said.

Some books, such as those written by David Lifton, focus on the medical evidence from the two autopsies of Kennedy’s body. For example, some theorists claim the markings indicating the bullet wounds from the Dallas examination of the president’s body were changed in the subsequent "official" examination in Bethesda, Maryland.

"These wounds are among the most prominent aspects of the assassination conspiracy theorists’ dispute," Thornton said.

Some theorists focus on ballistics – the gun that may or may not have been used, whether or not Oswald had the skill to hit his target, and even how many shots were actually fired and from what direction. There’s apparently evidence that a hole in the windshield was made by a bullet originating from in front of the car – contrary to the claim that all shots were fired from behind – a discrepancy the commission explained away as a defect in the windshield glass, Thornton said.

Thornton said he doesn’t support a particular theory. "My point of view is subject to change," he said – but he also believes some research presented by conspiracy theorists raise valid questions.

Thornton pointed out that even the Warren Commission Report acknowledged unusual activities related to the assassination – such as the CIA’s failure to share information with the Secret Service it had previously collected about Lee Harvey Oswald, and bringing Oswald through an area open to the public as he was being transferred.

Reading from a summary from the Warren Commission Report he handed out to the group, Thornton noted the commission also admits it couldn’t pinpoint Oswald’s motivation: "The Commission could not make any definitive determination of Oswald’s motives. It has endeavored to isolate factors which contributed to his character that might have influenced his decision to assassinate President Kennedy."

One of the better compilations of the various conspiracy theories, he said, is "Crossfire, the Plot that Killed Kennedy," by Jim Marrs – which has been updated for the 50th anniversary. This book is among a collection on JFK at the Bentley Library created for library patrons to explore this month.

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