You all know my position on conspiracy theorists: they are smart (often brilliant) people who get lost in details in the name of a broad but predetermined narrative. I admire the fact that they don’t just accept the official story, but they very often get trapped into the “conspiracy” story and stop looking at all the data. It’s easy to do because there is a conspiracy theory industry that is determined to push a particular line by avoiding all information that pushes against the conspiracy theory.
Yesterday, I found out that one of my friends is, for lack of a better term, a conspiracy theorist. I hate to apply that moniker, because he is a very interesting and intelligent guy who is more than that. But included in the individual he is lies a conspiracy theorist. It came up regarding the assassination of John Kennedy. It never occurred to me that he might think that Oswald was not the lone gunman. To me, an honest appraisal of the information makes that conclusion undeniable. But he clearly had a lot of reserves of old and misleading information. He started talking about the 1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations report which concluded that there had been some kind of loose conspiracy of individuals who wanted to kill the president. But, of course, he framed it as a CIA plot, which is not mentioned in the report at all.
That’s the thing about talking to people who believe conspiracy theories: there is no getting to the truth. Conspiracy theories start with some ill-defined narrative: Oswald didn’t kill Kennedy. After that, there isn’t an argument. Instead, there is just a long string of of facts. For a very long time, one would hear about the “magic bullet” that hit Kennedy as well as John Connally. Finally, it seems that Dale Myers’ 1993 animation of this bullet has put this to rest. At least to a large extent.
One would think that after all the arguments about the “magic bullet” and how important it was to the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory, people would have packed it in after Myers introduced his animation into evidence in the court of public opinion. But no. The conspiracy believers went onto other things that don’t “add up.” It’s sad. It doesn’t matter how many bit of “evidence” are corrected, there will always be more for the conspiracy theorists to jump to.
What makes it all that much worse is that, as I’ve said, conspiracy theorists tend to be smart people with agile minds. And there is a very big conspiracy that they studiously avoid: the conspiracy of the rich and powerful to maintain their wealth and privilege. When Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California, there was an actual conspiracy against him. Archer Daniels Midland was part of an actual conspiracy to manipulate prices. But I have no doubt that the power elites who want to illegally increase prices and restrict democracy love the fact that many of our smartest people spend their time focused on who shot JFK rather than why government policy has spent the last four decades funneling money from the poor to the rich.
Notice how the “magic-bullet theory” shown above does not serve to discredit the single-bullet theory so much as it serves as a metaphor for the logic of conspiracy theories.