November 22, 2023, will mark the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Some people refer to Kennedy’s public murder in the streets of downtown Dallas, Texas in 1963 as the crime of the century.1 The official explanation of the crime is set forth in the 1964 Warren Commission Report (WCR). However, the WCR’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and there’s no evidence of having help has been deeply questioned over the years. Many alternative theories have been proposed and the official explanation is often referred to as the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories.
As a student of history and logic, I’ve long had an interest in the Kennedy assassination and in thinking of ways to test controversial conspiracy theories. Thus, I’ve written articles entitled “Thinking through Big Government Conspiracy Theories” and “Reasoning through JFK Assassination Theories” that are available for review.
Because I affirm and defend the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory conclusion, a reader of my second article wrote to me with a challenge. This challenge in some respects is the linchpin that holds together all conspiracy explanations concerning the assassination.
Here’s our brief exchange that I think illustrates the importance of thinking critically, especially about controversial topics. Christians are frequently confronted with conspiracy theories and the recent pandemic has led to more alleged government-oriented plots. Some conspiracies prove true but I hope this exchange can serve as a model for how to think through them.
I’m so disappointed that you are also involved in the conspiracy! You can make amends by explaining to us Jack Ruby’s motive for shooting Oswald. Thanks.
No conspiracy here. I just try to apply logic and common sense. Have you read the one-volume Warren Commission Report? I ask because the report discusses Jack Ruby and his motives. It’s online and convenient for anyone to study (Warren Commission Report).
I was joking about your potential involvement in a conspiracy, of course, although I still think a conspiracy is likely. I have not read the full report but have read much about it over the years.
To me, my family, my school, and my town, John F. Kennedy was a hero and I still remember the exact moment I heard of his death. I think it was the first time I saw my mother cry. Many, many people were in deep sorrow over the assassination and mystified as to why and how it occurred, but to kill the assassin before he could get in court defies all logic and common sense. No one who was heartbroken over the president’s death, as Jack Ruby claimed as his motive, would silence the assassin.
Only those wanting a cover-up would kill the only known source of information about this great American tragedy. For what it’s worth, that is what I and many others consider to be a true application of common sense.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
I didn’t know whether you were joking or not because conspiracy-oriented people have said such things to me in the past and they meant it.
I encourage you to read the one-volume WCR fully because it reflects the public record. Many people who hold to a conspiracy have never taken the time to read the report. To me, you can’t have a reasonable view of what happened without reviewing the public record (which involves reviewing both the WCR conclusion and the supporting evidence). And that is especially true in light of the false things said by many conspiracy-oriented writers over the decades.
It’s clear that Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby were both deeply troubled people. No one with common sense would choose either one to carry out a professional hit. But like the many school shooters who are also deeply disturbed, Oswald and Ruby were sufficiently capable of pulling a trigger given the right opportunity.
Ruby offered at least a couple of motives. He said he shot Oswald because he wanted the world to know that Jews had guts and thus he would be viewed as a hero. He also said he killed Oswald to prevent Jacqueline Kennedy from having to return to Dallas for a trial. Ruby’s rabbi said that Ruby insisted vehemently that he didn’t know Oswald and that he (Ruby) acted alone in killing the president’s assassin.2
The WCR reveals that Oswald was scheduled to be transferred to the Dallas County jail at 10 AM on Sunday, November 24, 1963, two days after the president’s assassination. Ruby slept in that morning and arrived in the Dallas jail just moments before he shot Oswald at 11:21 AM. Minutes before, he had been at the Western Union office and sent money to one of his nightclub employees. The order was stamped at 11:17 AM. The Western Union office was directly across the street from the jail and Ruby had waited in line to carry out the transaction. He even left his dog in his parked car. This doesn’t sound like the carefully laid plans of a professional contract killer. Being nosy and a hanger-on type, Ruby fortuitously stumbled upon the opportunity to get close to Oswald and shot him out of compulsion, anger, and the desire to be viewed as a hero.
Also, if Oswald had to be silenced to keep from revealing a conspiracy, then so did Ruby as well as anyone who would kill Ruby and so on. Thus, the causal reasoning of needing to eliminate the assassin in order to maintain the conspiracy isn’t as cogent as it initially sounds.
Sometimes extraordinary events in history take place by a series of happenstances. But human beings often gravitate toward conspiracy theories even without good evidence because conspiracies tend to help balance things out. A grand conspiracy would help us balance the dissonance of how someone as inconsequential as Oswald could murder the most consequential man on the planet.
As a student of history and a logic instructor, I think the WCR provides the best explanation of what happened in Dallas on November 22–24, 1963. My family had a similar reaction to yours regarding the assassination. It was a dark day in American and world history.
For Christians, truth is sacred. To quote journalist and JFK assassination researcher Max Holland: “Truth is very stubborn. It repels false answers and attracts further corroboration.”3 To find the truth we sometimes have to be willing to dig for it, and that might involve questioning the popular consensus.
Conspiracy theories may prove true or false. But they must be legitimately questioned to find out. For a list of five critical questions to ask about conspiracy theories, see my article “Logically Questioning Strange Ideas and Controversial Theories.”
- For the government investigation that concluded that President Kennedy had probably been killed by a conspiracy, see the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA: 1976–1979).
- For perhaps the most reasonable conspiracy perspective, see Bill Rockwood, “Interview: G. Robert Blakey,” Frontline (PBS), November 19, 2013. As the chief counsel for the HSCA, G. Robert Blakey is probably the most qualified specialist who affirms a conspiracy. See his book The Plot to Kill the President: Organized Crime Assassinated J. F. K—The Definitive Story.
- For a recent book by one of the original JFK assassination researchers who affirms a conspiracy, see Josiah Thompson, Last Second in Dallas.
- For a defense of the lone gunman theory, see Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK.
- For another work supporting the lone gunman theory, see Larry M. Sturdivan, The JFK Myths: A Scientific Investigation of the Kennedy Assassination.
- For the most extensive defense of the lone gunman theory in a single volume, see Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
- In thinking about logic and the Christian worldview, see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.
1. The turbulent twentieth century of course involved two world wars and the Holocaust (the systematic extermination of the Jewish people of Europe by the Nazis). So how can Kennedy’s assassination be considered the crime of the century? The Holocaust may be considered a war crime whereas Kennedy’s murder was a private crime that happened on a public street at 12:30 PM, 11/22/1963.
2. See Peter Jennings Reporting: The Kennedy Assassination—Beyond Conspiracy (2003)3. Max Holland, “The Zapruder Film Reconsidered,” YouTube, December 11, 2015.
3. Max Holland, “The Zapruder Film Reconsidered,” YouTube, December 11, 2015.