Once you get into the JFK assassination there's no getting out. It becomes a compulsion. It is beginning to seriously hinder my work. I spend probably 3-4 hours a day trawling the Internet, from conspiracists to debunkers and back again, across the whole wild, wooly spectrum of theories and anti-theories, left-wing plots, right-wing plots, internal coups and foreign acts of war, or the almost-plausible lone gunman scenario. To paraphrase Master Phil, it's like playing fantasy football with geopolitics.
The problem is there's no way to verify the credibility of anything within this twisted melange. Conspiracists often use pseudonyms and decry anyone who disagress with them as CIA stooges. The case-closed acolytes meanwhile, appear so detached and trusting of official explanations that they simply ignore glaring discrepancies. After all, there is a long and hideous history of CIA and extra-governmental acts of disruption, distortion, sabotage and murder. This is the government of Iran-Contra, Watergate and the Gulf of Tonkin. Is it so implausible to think that there are men capable of and comfortable with eliminating their own Commander in Chief?
I have noticed that the lone-gunman buffs always have the more sophisticated and organized web pages. Their sites neatly parallel their point of view: clean and clear, logically hermetic, wrapped up tight into a perfect little bundle. Scanning the JFK sites on the web offers a glimpse at the extreme psyche of the Internet. Conspiracy proponent's sites are chaotic hodgepodges of text and images, sprawling on and on with an endless barrage of names and dates, minor characters and shadowy spies, obssessively cataloging every last detail, from the mundane to the explosive, in a style befitting a high-schooler's HTML project from 1995.
Most of the conspiracists look crazy, just based on their designs. But there's something untrustworthy about the slickness of the debunkers. Their sites play like advertisements, aiming to persuade through a mix of production values and condescension (i.e. any idiot can see that Oswald acted alone and anyone who says otherwise is a nut or a moron - you're not a nut or a moron? are you??). I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where the phone company creates a second area code and makes a promotional video to convince the Springfieldianites the change is necessary: the talking rotary phone says the even monkeys can remember nine digits and asks, "You're not stupider than a monkey are you?" to which Chief Wiggum replies, "Well, how big of a monkey?"
The point is, I think there's something to be gleaned from the conspiracy debate about the way we choose to interpret history. There are parallel interpretations that have been racing each other since November 22, 1963 - one that looks at events and sees hidden machinations and shadow governments, and another that takes on faith the events as they appear to play out, or at least favors human egotism and error over premeditated conspiracy.
As for me, too many examples of shady goings-on have come to light the last thirty years to accept the no-conspiracy line of thought. The CIA in particular has reached an apex of visibility, with discussions about it's well-known "extraordinary rendition" policies and secret overseas prisons being discussed in full daylight. I do feel that there is little likelihood that "the truth" will ever be uncovered. What fascinates me are the little details, the human elements, that have been overlooked in favor of more grandiose readings of history.
For instance: Lee Harvey Oswald made 4 phone calls while in police custody, one the night of the assassination and three in quick succession the following afternoon. No police records were kept of the numbers dialed, so we'll never know who he called but don't you wish you could? Who would he call? What did he say?? How about the fact that the three acts Jack Ruby accomplished on the morning of November 24 consisted of wiring $25 to one of his show girls, walking his dog, and murdering Oswald?
The most fascinating thing about the JFK assassination is it's window into human history, and the way little people become part of huge historical events.