Battle of the JFK Jr. Conspiracy Theories
By Kenn Thomas
The news of JFK Jr.'s demise came to me while I was in Seattle, Washington lecturing on the JFK assassination. A friend commented that the Kennedy family had made a great sacrifice for the sake of publicizing my talk. He apologized later for the grim joke, but it had already served as a reminder that this lecture would have to be more sensitive than the last several. The lecture looks coldly at the Zapruder film, describing as objectively as possible mysterious aspects like the Umbrella man and his radio-controller companion, the direction of the shots, even the significance of the dying president's flailing arms. From repeated practice, the lecture puts distance between these details and the emotional reaction that accompanies such a graphic presentation of a brutal murder and also from its personal context for many Americans. That became less possible on the weekend that JFK Jr. had suffered an early and brutal end like his father. The news would re-ignite passions about the assassination and, as it turned out, the crowd was especially attentive and alert. Many questions were asked about the possibility of conspiracy in the death of JFK's son.
By then, of course, several competing theories had arisen, and my friend's tasteless joke became tame by comparison. The first to reach me, courtesy of Jim Martin of Flatland Magazine, was that the Kennedy family had suffered a curse of water. John, Jr.'s plane had crashed into water, just as Joseph Kennedy, Jr. died in a flight over water during World War II. John Kennedy's PT 109 was on the water; Ted Kennedy drove off bridge into water at Chappaquiddick. (JFK Jr's flight took off from Caldwell, NJ, whose only significant alum was Chappaquiddick's Mary Jo Kopechne) That JFK Jr.'s death came on the 30th anniversary of Chappaquiddick, of course, escaped little notice; neither did the anniversary of the downing of Flight 800. The "water theory" started silly and got worse, eventually betraying a partisan bias. It also held that Michael Kennedy's fatal skiing accident involved snow, a form of frozen water, and concluded that the Democrats will soon propose legislation banning water.
The theory to take seriously, however, argued that John F. Kennedy, Jr. had plans to run for the senate seat in New York and threatened the campaign of either Hilary Clinton or Rudolph Guiliani In the first scenario, the death of John Kennedy Jr. becomes the latest in a long line of deaths connected to the Clinton administration, an anomalous list that has circulated among conspiracy theorists for many years. Reported marriage tension between the Clintons in the wake of the Lewinsky affair, however, casts that theory in doubt. The second view, the Guiliani theory, holds that the plane crash was sabotage by mafia elements. Mobsters loyal to the New York mayor blew up the plane.
The idea that this tragedy was an outgrowth of conspiracy politics first emerged in an online newsletter produced by someone named Ru Mills. It was seconded and distributed through mainstream news services by radio host Sean Morton, who noted that Hilary Clinton was "the person who would most benefit from JFK, Jr.'s death." It was not limited to the conspiracy rumor mill, however. Before long Matt Lauer, host of NBC's Today show, was discussing the possibility of a Senate run for John Jr. with a George Magazine executive.
John Jr. himself could not have avoided conspiracy theories by virtue of the fact that his father's death was so steeped in them. In fact, he devoted an issue of George Magazine to the topic. His writers even interviewed me, in my role as publisher of the conspiracy magazine Steamshovel Press, and several other conspiracy writers for a feature that the magazine never published. Instead, its "conspiracy theory" issue included warmed-over rumors about the death of rap star Tupac Shakur. That George eventually shied away from publishing interviews with writers of substance on the issue of conspiracy has been seen as symptomatic of the magazine's lightweight intellectual quality. The same quality found in its publisher, JFK Jr., has helped squash other conspiracy rumors.
One noted researcher, Robert Sterling of the Konformist web site, felt that the death involved no conspiracy "compelled by one simple fact that just can't be ignored: John F. Kennedy, Jr. was a pea-brained moron." Sterling called the late Kennedy a "dim-witted pretty boy" whose "career in politics may have been already out of the question" because he "had already risen to his level of certifiable incompetence by being the Editor-in-Chief of the atrocious George Magazine." This would, of course, eliminate the theory that JFK Jr. was killed for his political ambitions.
The argument did not differ much from those put forward by Rush Limbaugh and other columnists of the right. Limbaugh, in fact, even attacked the media spin put on the famous photo of the young John John saluting his father's funeral precession. The vitriolic radio host suggested that it was less a spontaneous act than a conspiracy by Jaqueline Kennedy to create a photo opportunity, for the Democrats or for her family.
Conspiracy theories are often dismissed as injecting too much intelligence into random events. Those rejections more often than not fail to stand up to the rigors of historical review. And, of course, being a pea-brain does not exempt anyone from also being the victim of a conspiracy. Most observers agree also that it also rarely exempts anyone from running for public office.
After the inevitable question, "Did John F. Kennedy, Jr. lose control of his plane because he was distracted by an unidentified flying object?", the JFK Jr. theories took more of a turn toward science-fiction. Noting that Kennedy was an inexperienced pilot, one researcher argued that he nevertheless had intimate knowledge of the area and was making an easy flight in a very reliable craft. According to the argument, the only other thing which could realistically bring down the plane would be hostile fire, perhaps from an ultra-top-secret particle beam weapons system at a subterranean base at Montauk, near where JFK Jr. crashed. Montauk has a reputation among some readers of paranormal literature as the place where the U.S.S. Etheridge was moved through time in something called The Philadelphia Experiment. Perhaps the most bizarre conclusion reached about JFK Jr. was that he flew the plane through the Montauk time vortex in an attempt to change history and "make the assassination attempt against his father in 1963 succeed , burdened as he was by that shadow of celebrity." The web site making this clain promised further updates as the space-time continuum resettled.
Conspiracy elements of this tragic event no doubt exist. Thirty years of study of the JFK assassination has demonstrated nothing else if it has not shown the involvement of a conspiracy, even several interlocking conspiracies involving transglobal connections that still exist. In Seattle, I explained that the question of "who killed Kennedy" is really only the first of many questions that the notorious assassination poses, answers and still leaves issues of importance relevant to contemporary politics. One person in attendance at my lecture asked, "How many Kennedys need to die early and under unusual circumstances before people begin to understand that the very powerful Kennedy family has equally powerful forces that conspire against it?" It was a good question and I am left wondering along with the questioner what real shape the JFK Jr. disaster will take. The news needs to emerge, however, before a serious analysis of its conspiracy elements can be made.
Kenn Thomas publishes Steamshovel Press, a magazine devoted to conspiracy and parapolitics. It is available for $28 for a four-issue subscription (overseas; $22 in the US), from POB 23715, St. Louis, MO 63121. Thomas' new book, Maury Island UFO, examines a 1947 UFO case involving witnesses who were subpoenaed by Jim Garrison as part of his investigation of the JFK assassination in 1968. Thomas' previous book, The Octopus, details the existence of an international power cabal of that name. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Steamshovel Press is found on the web at www.umsl.edu/~skthoma.
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