Back in the mid-1970s, a certain loopy fringe of American college students was enthralled with a nutball sci-fi novel called "The Eye in the Pyramid."
Among the book's many dotty characters was a sinister professional hit man named Harry Coin. On Nov. 22, 1963, Coin, hired by a mysterious group of conspirators to kill President Kennedy, arrives in Dallas to set up his sniper's nest on a highway overpass.
But as he awaits Kennedy's motorcade, he's astonished to see another gunman in the Texas School Book Depository a block away. And wait — there's a guy with a rifle on the grassy knoll just below, one in the Dal-Tex building across the street, and, a bit farther, yet another atop the Dallas County Records Building. "Great God Almighty!" cries out the frustrated Coin. "How the (bleep) many of us are there here?"
I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling a little bit like Harry Coin these days. The JFK Assassination Conspiracy Cult has never been small, and as the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death approaches, it's hitting warp speed.
In a History Channel documentary ( "JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide") that airs on Nov. 22, Vincent Bugliosi — the former Manson Family prosecutor and author of "Reclaim History," an encyclopedic study of the assassination — says he has counted up 42 different conspiracy theories involving 82 assassins and 214 accomplices.
Practically anybody or any institution can be tossed into the pot of suspects these days. The Vatican did it! (I'm sure there are all kinds of reasons why Pope Paul VI would have wanted to kill the first Catholic president of the United States. Just give me a few years to think of one.) The Federal Reserve did it! (Take that, you damned Keynesians!)
The CIA did it because Kennedy was going to end the Vietnam War and cost the military-industrial complex a lot of potential profits! (No word yet on why the CIA didn't kill President Eisenhower a decade earlier for ending the Korean war. Maybe its profit margins were smaller?)
The Vietnam War theory is a good example of how conspiracy-itis is immune from either evidence or rational argument. Kennedy was elected president as a militant Cold War hawk who pledged an America that would "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe" in the fight against communism.
Just three weeks before his assassination, Kennedy's administration helped to instigate a coup in South Vietnam in hope of installing a government that would press the war against the communist North more aggressively. The idea that he was killed because he was soft on communism is preposterous. Even more outrageous is the belief that a lifelong Marxist like Lee Harvey Oswald would be the trigger man in a plot supposedly aimed at making America more anti-communist.
What's been largely lost in all the conspiracy hoo-hah over motives is that the forensic evidence tying Oswald to the assassination is mountainous and indisputable. The murder weapon was purchased by Oswald through the mail with an order-form filled out in his handwriting and his wife took photos of Oswald posing with it months before the assassination. It bore his palm print and was found in a room in the building in which he worked. (The only employee missing when cops sealed the building off a few minutes after Kennedy was shot: Oswald.)