Michael Parenti on conspiracy theories and the left wing paranoia about them

I could not have said it better myself.

(An oldie but a goodie from Parenti. Some things never change, it seems… but that won’t stop anyone from trying. Reposting at the suggestion of user ‘cburn’. -rep.)

From Dirty Truths by Michael Parenti (1996, City Lights Books) (Pages 172 – 191)

THE JFK ASSASSINATION II: CONSPIRACY PHOBIA ON THE LEFT

Almost as an article of faith, some individuals believe that conspiracies are either kooky fantasies or unimportant aberrations. To be sure, wacko conspiracy theories do exist. There are people who believe that the United States has been invaded by a secret United Nations army equipped with black helicopters, or that the country is secretly controlled by Jews or gays or feminists or black nationalists or communists or extraterrestrial aliens. But it does not logically follow that all conspiracies are imaginary.

Conspiracy is a legitimate concept in law: the collusion of two or more people pursuing illegal means to effect some illegal or immoral end. People go to jail for committing conspiratorial acts. Conspiracies are a matter of public record, and some are of real political significance. The Watergate break-in was a conspiracy, as was the Watergate cover-up, which led to Nixon’s downfall. Iran-contra was a conspiracy of immense scope, much of it still uncovered. The savings and loan scandal was described by the Justice Department as “a thousand conspiracies of fraud, theft, and bribery,” the greatest financial crime in history.

Conspiracy or Coincidence?

Often the term “conspiracy” is applied dismissively whenever one suggests that people who occupy positions of political and economic power are consciously dedicated to advancing their elite interests. Even when they openly profess their designs, there are those who deny that intent is involved. In 1994, the officers of the Federal Reserve announced they would pursue monetary policies designed to maintain a high level of unemployment in order to safeguard against “overheating” the economy. Like any creditor class, they preferred a deflationary course. When an acquaintance of mine mentioned this to friends, he was greeted skeptically, “Do you think the Fed bankers are deliberately trying to keep people unemployed?” In fact, not only did he think it, it was announced on the financial pages of the press. Still, his friends assumed he was imagining a conspiracy because he ascribed self-interested collusion to powerful people.

At a World Affairs Council meeting in San Francisco, I remarked to a participant that U.S. leaders were pushing hard for the reinstatement of capitalism in the former communist countries. He said, “Do you really think they carry it to that level of conscious intent?” I pointed out it was not a conjecture on my part. They have repeatedly announced their commitment to seeing that “free-market reforms” are introduced in Eastern Europe. Their economic aid is channeled almost exclusively into the private sector. The same policy holds for the monies intended for other countries. Thus, as of the end of 1995, “more than $4.5 million U.S. aid to Haiti has been put on hold because the Aristide government has failed to make progress on a program to privatize state-owned companies” (New York Times 11/25/95).

Those who suffer from conspiracy phobia are fond of saying: “Do you actually think there’s a group of people sitting around in a room plotting things?” For some reason that image is assumed to be so patently absurd as to invite only disclaimers. But where else would people of power get together – on park benches or carousels? Indeed, they meet in rooms: corporate boardrooms, Pentagon command rooms, at the Bohemian Grove, in the choice dining rooms at the best restaurants, resorts, hotels, and estates, in the many conference rooms at the White House, the NSA, the CIA, or wherever. And, yes, they consciously plot – though they call it “planning” and “strategizing” – and they do so in great secrecy, often resisting all efforts at public disclosure. No one confabulates and plans more than political and corporate elites and their hired specialists. To make the world safe for those who own it, politically active elements of the owning class have created a national security state that expends billions of dollars and enlists the efforts of vast numbers of people.

Yet there are individuals who ask with patronising, incredulous smiles, do you really think that the people at the top have secret agendas, are aware of their larger interests, and talk to each other about them? To which I respond, why would they not? This is not to say that every corporate and political elite is actively dedicated to working for the higher circles of power and property. Nor are they infallible or always correct in their assessments and tactics or always immediately aware of how their interests are being affected by new situations. But they are more attuned and more capable of advancing their vast interests than most other social groups.

The alternative is to believe that the powerful and the privileged are somnambulists, who move about oblivious to questions of power and privilege; that they always tell us the truth and have nothing to hide even when they hide so much; that although most of us ordinary people might consciously try to pursue our own interests, wealthy elites do not; that when those at the top employ force and violence around the world it is only for the laudable reasons they profess; that when they arm, train, and finance covert actions in numerous countries, and then fail to acknowledge their role in such deeds, it is because of oversight or forgetfulness or perhaps modesty; and that it is merely a coincidence how the policies of the national security state so consistently serve the interests of the transnational corporations and the capital-accumulation system throughout the world.

Kennedy and the Left Critics

In the winter of 1991-92 Oliver Stone’s film JFK revived popular interest in the question of President John Kennedy’s assassination. As noted in part I of this article, the mainstream media launched a protracted barrage of invective against the movie. Conservatives and liberals closed ranks to tell the public there was no conspiracy to murder the president for such things do not happen in the United States.

Unfortunately, some writers normally identified as on the Left have rejected any suggestion that conspiracy occurred. While the rightists and centrists were concerned about preserving the legitimacy of existing institutions and keeping people from seeing the gangster nature of the state, the leftists had different concerns, though it was not always clear what these were.

Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, and others challenge the notion that Kennedy was assassinated for intending to withdraw from Vietnam or for threatening to undo the CIA or end the cold war. Such things could not have led to his downfall, they argue, because Kennedy was a cold warrior, pro-CIA, and wanted a military withdrawal from Vietnam only with victory. Chomsky claims that the change of administration that came with JFK’s assassination had no appreciable effect on policy. In fact, the massive ground war ordered by Johnson and the saturation bombings of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos ordered by Nixon represented a dramatic departure from Kennedy’s policy. On some occasions, Chomsky says he refuses to speculate: “As for what JFK might have done [had he lived], I have nothing to say.” Other times he goes on to speculate that Kennedy would not have “reacted differently to changing situations than his close advisers” and “would have persisted in his commitment to strengthen and enhance the status of the CIA” (Z Magazine, 10/92 and 1/93).

The evidence we have indicates that Kennedy observed Cambodian neutrality and negotiated a cease-fire and a coalition government in Laos, which the CIA refused to honor. We also know that the surviving Kennedy, Robert, broke with the Johnson administration over Vietnam and publicly stated that his brother’s administration had committed serious mistakes. Robert moved with the tide of opinion, evolving into a Senate dove and then a peace candidate for the presidency, before he too was murdered. The two brothers worked closely together and were usually of like mind. While this does not provide reason enough to conclude that John Kennedy would have undergone a transition comparable to Robert’s, it still might give us pause before asserting that JFK was destined to follow in the direction taken by the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

In the midst of this controversy, Chomsky wrote a whole book arguing that JFK had no intention of withdrawing from Vietnam without victory. Actually, Kennedy said different things at different times, sometimes maintaining that we could not simply abandon Vietnam, other times that it ultimately would be up to the Vietnamese to fight their own war.1

One of Kennedy’s closest aides, Kenneth O’Donnell, wrote that the president planned to withdraw from Vietnam after the 1964 elections. According to Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty, who headed military support for the clandestine operations of the CIA, Kennedy dictated “the rich parts” of NSAM 263, calling for the withdrawal not only of all U.S. troops but all Americans, meaning CIA officers and agents too. Prouty reflects that the president thereby signed “his own death warrant.” The Army newspaper Stars and Stripes ran a headline: “President Says – All Americans Out by 1965.” According to Prouty: “The Pentagon was outraged. JFK was a curse word in the corridors.”

Concentrating on the question of withdrawal, Chomsky says nothing about the president’s unwillingness to escalate into a ground war. On that crucial point all Chomsky offers is a speculation ascribed to Roger Hilsman that Kennedy might well have introduced U.S. ground troops in South Vietnam. In fact, the same Hilsman, who served as Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, the officer responsible for Vietnam, noted in a long letter to the New York Times (1/20/92) that in 1963 “President Kennedy was determined not to let Vietnam become an American war – that is, he was determined not to send U.S. combat troops (as opposed to advisers) to fight in Vietnam nor to bomb North Vietnam.” Other Kennedy aides such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and General Maxwell Taylor made the same point. Taylor said, “The last thing he [Kennedy] wanted was to put in our ground forces . . . I don’t recall anyone who was strongly against [the recommendation], except one man and that was the President.” Kennedy opposed the kind of escalation embarked upon soon after his death by Lyndon Johnson, who increased U.S. troops in Vietnam from 17,000 to approximately 250,000 and committed them to an all-out ground war.

Kennedy and the CIA

Chomsky argues that the CIA would have had no grounds for wanting to kill JFK, because he was a dedicated counterinsurgent cold warrior. Chomsky arrives at this conclusion by assuming that the CIA had the same reading of events in 1963 that he has today. But entrenched power elites are notorious for not seeing the world the way left analysts do. To accept Chomsky’s assumptions we would need a different body of data from that which he and others offer, data that focuses not on the Kennedy administration’s interventionist pronouncements and policies but on the more private sentiments that festered in intelligence circles and related places in 1963.

To offer a parallel: We might be of the opinion that the New Deal did relatively little for working people and that Franklin Roosevelt actually was a tool of the very interests he publicly denounced as “economic royalists.” From this we might conclude that the plutocrats had much reason to support FDR’s attempts to save big business from itself. But most plutocrats dammed “that man in the White House” as a class traitor. To determine why, you would have to look at how they perceived the New Deal in those days, not at how we think it should be evaluated today.

In fact, President Kennedy was not someone the CIA could tolerate, and the feeling was mutual. JFK told one of his top officials that he wanted “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds” (New York Times, 4/25/66). He closed the armed CIA camps that were readying for a second Bay of Pigs invasion and took a number of other steps designed to bring the Agency under control. He fired its most powerful and insubordinate leaders, Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Charles Cabell, and Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell. He tried to reduce its powers and jurisdiction and set strict limits as to its future actions, and he appointed a high-level committee to investigate the CIA’s past misdeeds.

In 1963, CIA officials, Pentagon brass, anti-Castro Cuban émigrés, and assorted other right-wingers, including FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, hated JFK and did not believe he could be trusted with the nation’s future. They referred to him as “that delinquent in the White House.” Roger Craig records the comments of numerous Dallas police officers who wanted to see Kennedy done away with. Several years ago, on a San Francisco talk show on station KGO, I heard a listener call in as follows: “this is the first time I’m saying this. I worked for Army intelligence. In 1963 I was in Japan, and the accepted word around then was that Kennedy would be killed because he was messing with the intelligence community. When word came of his death, all I could hear was delighted comments like ‘We got the bastard’.”

In his book First Hand Knowledge, CIA operative Robert Morrow noted the hatred felt by CIA officers regarding Kennedy’s “betrayal” in not sending the U.S. military into the Bay of Pigs fiasco. One high-level CIA Cuban émigré, Eladio del Valle, told Morrow less than two weeks before the assassination: “I found out about it last night. Kennedy’s going to get it in Dallas.”2 Morrow also notes that CIA director Richard Helms, “knew that someone in the Agency was involved” in the Kennedy assassination, “either directly or indirectly, in the act itself – someone who would be in a high and sensitive position . . . Helms did cover up any CIA involvement in the presidential assassination.”

Several years after JFK’s murder, President Johnson told White House aide Marvin Watson that he “was convinced that there was a plot in connection with the assassination” and that the CIA had something to do with it (Washington Post, 12/13/77). And Robert Kennedy repeatedly made known his suspicions that the CIA had a hand in the murder of his brother.

JFK’s enemies in the CIA, the Pentagon, and elsewhere fixed on his refusal to provide air coverage for the Bay of Pigs, his unwillingness to go into Indochina with massive ground forces, his no-invasion guarantee to Krushchev on Cuba, his overtures for a rapprochement with Castro and professed willingness to tolerate countries with different economic systems in the Western hemisphere, his atmospheric-test-ban treaty with Moscow, his American University speech calling for reexamination of U.S. cold war attitudes toward the Soviet Union, his antitrust suit against General Electric, his curtailing of the oil-depletion allowance, his fight with U.S. Steel over price increases, his challenge to the Federal Reserve Board’s multibillion-dollar monopoly control of the nation’s currency,3 his warm reception at labor conventions, and his call for racial equality. These things may not have been enough for some on the Left but they were far too much for many on the Right.

Left Confusions and the Warren Commission

Erwin Knoll, erstwhile editor of the Progressive, was anther left critic who expressed hostility toward the conspiracy thesis and Oliver Stone’s movie in particular. Knoll admitted he had no idea who killed Kennedy, but this did not keep him from asserting that Stone’s JFK was “manipulative” and provided false answers. If Knoll had no idea who killed Kennedy, how could he conclude that the film was false?

Knoll said Stone’s movie was “a melange of fact and fiction” (Progressive, 3/92). To be sure, some of the dramatization was fictionalized – but regarding the core events relating to Clay Shaw’s perjury, eyewitness reports at Dealey Plaza, the behavior of U.S. law officers, and other suspicious happenings, the movie remained faithful to the facts unearthed by serious investigators.

In a show of flexibility, Knoll allows that “the Warren Commission did a hasty, slipshod job” of investigation. Here too he only reveals his ignorance. In fact, the Commission sat for fifty-one long sessions over a period of several months, much longer than most major investigations. It compiled twenty-six volumes of testimony and evidence. It had the investigative resources of the FBI and CIA at its disposal, along with its own professional team. Far from being hasty and slipshod, it painstakingly crafted theories that moved toward a foreordained conclusion. From the beginning, it asked only a limited set of questions that seemed to assume Oswald’s guilt as the lone assassin.

The Warren Commission set up six investigative panels to look into such things as Oswald’s background, his activities in past years and on the day of the assassination, Jack Ruby’s background, and his activities on the day he killed Oswald. As Mark Lane notes, there was a crying need for a seventh panel, one that would try to discover who killed President Kennedy. The commission never saw the need for that undertaking, having already made up its mind.

While supposedly dedicated to bringing the truth to light, the Warren Commission operated in secrecy. The minutes of its meetings were classified top secret, and hundred of thousands of documents and other evidence were sealed for seventy-five years. The Commission failed to call witnesses who heard and saw people shooting from behind the fence on the grassy knoll. It falsely recorded the testimony of certain witnesses, as they were to complain later on, and reinterpreted the testimony of others. All this took careful effort. A “hasty and slipshod” investigation would show some randomness in its errors. But the Commission’s distortions consistently moved in the same direction in pursuit of a prefigured hypothesis.

Erwin Knoll talks disparagingly of the gullible U.S. public and says he “despises” Oliver Stone for playing on that gullibility. In fact, the U.S. public has been anything but gullible. It has not swallowed the official explanation the way some of the left critics have. Surveys show that 78 percent of the public say they believe there was a conspiracy. Both Cockburn in the Nation and Chomsky in Z Magazine dismiss this finding by noting that over 70 percent of the people also believe in miracles. But the fact that people might be wrong about one thing does not mean they are wrong about everything. Chomsky and Cockburn are themselves evidence of that.

In any case, the comparison is between two opposite things. Chomsky and Cockburn are comparing the public’s gullibility about miracles with its unwillingness to be gullible about the official line that has been fed to them for thirty years. If anyone is gullible it is Alexander Cockburn who devoted extra column space in the Nation to support the Warren Commission’s tattered theory about a magic bullet that could hit both Kennedy and Connolley while changing direction in mid-air and remaining in pristine condition.

Chomsky says that it is a “curious fact that no trace of the wide-ranging conspiracy appears in the internal record, and nothing has leaked” and “credible direct evidence is lacking” (Z Magazine, 1/93, and letter to me, 12/15/92). But why would participants in a conspiracy of this magnitude risk everything by maintaining an “internal record” (whatever that is) about the actual murder? Why would they risk their lives by going public? Many of the participants would know only a small part of the picture. But all of them would have a keen sense of the immensely powerful and sinister forces they would be up against were they to become too talkative. In fact, a good number of those who agreed to cooperate with investigators met untimely deaths. Finally, what credible direct evidence was ever offered to prove that Oswald was the assassin?

Chomsky is able to maintain his criticism that no credible evidence has come to light only by remaining determinedly unacquainted with the mountain of evidence that has been uncovered. There has even been a decision in a U.S. court of law, Hunt vs. Liberty Lobby, in which a jury found that President Kennedy had indeed been murdered by a conspiracy involving, in part, CIA operatives E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis, and FBI informant Jack Ruby.4

Nixon advisor H.R. Haldeman admits in his memoir: “After Kennedy was killed, the CIA launched a fantastic coverup.” And “In a chilling parallel to their coverup at Watergate, the CIA literally erased any connection between Kennedy’s assassination and the CIA.”

Indeed, if there was no conspiracy, why so much secrecy and so much cover-up? If Oswald did it, what is there to hide and why do the CIA and FBI still resist a full undoctored disclosure of the hundreds of thousands of pertinent documents? Would they not be eager to reveal everything and thereby put to rest doubts about Oswald’s guilt and suspicions about their own culpability?

The remarkable thing about Erwin Knoll, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, and others on the Left who attack the Kennedy conspiracy findings is they remain invincibly ignorant of the critical investigations that have been carried out. I have repeatedly pointed this out in exchanges with them and they never deny it. They have not read any of the many studies by independent researchers who implicate the CIA in a conspiracy to kill the president and in the even more protracted and extensive conspiracy to cover up the murder. But this does not prevent them from dismissing the conspiracy charge in the most general and unsubstantiated terms.

Let’s Hear It for Structuralism

When pressed on the matter, left critics like Cockburn and Chomsky allow that some conspiracies do exist but they usually are of minor importance, a distraction from the real problems of institutional and structural power. A structural analysis, as I understand it, maintains that events are determined by the larger configurations of power and interest and not by the whims of happenstance or the connivance of a few incidental political actors. There is no denying that larger structural trends impose limits on policy and exert strong pressures on leaders. But this does not mean that all important policy is predetermined. Short of betraying fundamental class interests, different leaders can pursue different courses, the effects of which are not inconsequential to the lives of millions of people. Thus, it was not foreordained that the B-52 carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos conducted by Nixon would have happened if Kennedy, or even Johnson or Humphrey, had been president. If left critics think these things make no difference in the long run, they better not tell that to the millions of Indochinese who grieve for their lost ones and for their own shattered lives.

It is an either-or world for those on the Left who harbor an aversion for any kind of conspiracy investigation: either you are a structuralist in your approach to politics or a “conspiracist” who reduces historical developments to the machinations of secret cabals, thereby causing us to lose sight of the larger systemic forces. As Chomsky notes: “However unpleasant and difficult it may be, there is no escape from the need to confront the reality of institutions and the policies and actions they largely shape.” (Z Magazine, 10/92).

I trust that one of the institutions he has in mind is the CIA. In most of its operations, the CIA is by definition a conspiracy, using covert actions and secret plans, many of which are of the most unsavory kind. What are covert operations if not conspiracies? At the same time, the CIA is an institution, a structural part of the national security state. In sum, the agency is an institutionalized conspiracy.

As I pointed out in published exchanges with Cockburn and Chomsky (neither of whom responded to the argument), conspiracy and structure are not mutually exclusive dynamics. A structural analysis that a priori rules out conspiracy runs the risk of not looking at the whole picture. Conspiracies are a component of the national security political system, not deviations from it. Ruling elites use both conspiratorial covert actions and overtly legitimating procedures at home and abroad. They finance everything from electoral campaigns and publishing houses to mobsters and death squads. They utilize every conceivable stratagem, including killing one of their own if they perceive him to be a barrier to their larger agenda of making the world safe for those who own it.

The conspiracy findings in regard to the JFK assassination, which the movie JFK brought before a mass audience, made many people realize what kind of a gangster state we have in this country and what it does around the world. In investigating the JFK conspiracy, researchers are not looking for an “escape” from something “unpleasant and difficult,” as Chomsky would have it, rather they are raising grave questions about the nature of state power in what is supposed to be a democracy.

A structuralist position should not discount the role of human agency in history. Institutions are not self-generating reified forces. The “great continuities of corporate and class interest” (Cockburn’s phrase) are not disembodied things that just happen of their own accord. Neither empires nor national security institutions come into existence in a fit of absent-mindedness. They are actualized not only by broad conditional causes but by the conscious efforts of live people. Evidence for this can be found in the very existence of a national security state whose conscious function is to recreate the conditions of politico-economic hegemony.

Having spent much of my life writing books that utilize a structuralist approach, I find it ironic to hear about the importance of structuralism from those who themselves do little or no structural analysis of the U.S. political system and show little theoretical grasp of the structural approach. Aside from a few Marxist journals, one finds little systemic or structural analysis in left periodicals including ones that carry Chomsky and Cockburn. Most of these publications focus on particular issues and events – most of which usually are of far lesser magnitude than the Kennedy assassination.

Left publications have given much attention to conspiracies such as Watergate, the FBI Cointelpro, Iran-Contra, Iraq-gate, CIA drugs-for-guns trade, BCCI, and savings-and-loans scandals. It is never explained why these conspiracies are important while the FJK assassination is not. Chip Berlet repeatedly denounces conspiracy investigations while himself spending a good deal of time investigating Lyndon LaRouche’s fraudulent financial dealings, conspiracies for which LaRouche went to prison. Berlet never explains why the LaRouche conspiracy is a subject worthy of investigation but not the JFK conspiracy.

G. William Domhoff points out: “If ‘conspiracy’ means that these [ruling class] men are aware of their interests, know each other personally, meet together privately and off the record, and try to hammer out a consensus on how to anticipate and react to events and issues, then there is some conspiring that goes on in CFR [the Council for Foreign Relations], not to mention the Committee for Economic Development, the Business Council, the National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency.” After providing this useful description of institutional conspiracy, Domhoff then conjures up a caricature that often clouds the issue: “We all have a tremendous tendency to want to get caught up in believing that there’s some secret evil cause for all of the obvious ills of the world.” Conspiracy theories “encourage a belief that if we get rid of a few bad people, everything will be well in the world.”

To this simplistic notion Peter Dale Scott responds: “I believe that a true understanding of the Kennedy assassination will lead not to a few bad people but to the institutional and parapolitical arrangements which constitute the way we are systematically governed.” In sum, national security state conspiracies are components of our political structure, not deviations from it.

Why Care About JFK?

The left critics argue that people who are concerned about the JFK assassination are romanticizing Kennedy and squandering valuable energy. Chomsky claims that the Nazi-like appeals of rightist propagandists have a counterpart on the Left: “It’s the conspiracy business. Hang around California, for example, and the left has just been torn to shreds because they see CIA conspiracies . . . secret governments [behind] the Kennedy assassination. This kind of stuff has just wiped out a large part of the left” (Against the Current 56, 1993). Chomsky offers no evidence to support this bizarre statement.

The left critics fear that people will be distracted or misled into thinking well of Kennedy. Cockburn argues that Kennedy was nothing more than a servant of the corporate class, so who cares how he was killed (Nation 3/9/92 and 5/18/92). The left critics’ hatred of Kennedy clouds their judgment about the politcal significance of his murder. They mistake the low political value of the victim with the high political importance of the assassination, its implications for democracy, and the way it exposes the gangster nature of the state.

In 1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus was a conservative militarist. Clemenceau once conjectured that if the man’s name had not been Dreyfus, he would have been an anti-Dreyfusard. Does that mean that the political struggle waged around l’affaire Dreyfus was a waste of time? The issue quickly became larger than Dreyfus, drawn between Right and Left, between those who stood with the army and the anti-Semites and those who stood with the republic and justice.

Likewise Benigno Aquino, a member of the privileged class in the Philippines, promised no great structural changes, being even more conservative than Kennedy. Does this mean the Filipino people should have dismissed the conspiracy that led to his assassination as an event of no great moment, an internal ruling-class affair? Instead, they used it as ammunition to expose the hated Marcos regime.

Archbishop Romero of El Salvador was a member of the Salvadoran aristocracy. He could not have risen to the top of the church hierarchy otherwise. But after he began voicing critical remarks about the war and concerned comments about the poor, he was assassinated. If he had not been murdered, I doubt that Salvadoran history would have been much different. Does this mean that solidarity groups in this country and El Salvador should not have tried to make his murder an issue that revealed the homicidal gangster nature of the Salvadoran state? (I posed these questions to Chomsky in an exchange in Z Magazine, but in his response, he did not address them.)

Instead of seizing the opportunity, some left writers condescendingly ascribe a host of emotional needs to those who are concerned about the assassination cover-up. According to Max Holland, a scribe who seems to be on special assignment to repudiate the JFK conspiracy: “The nation is gripped by a myth . . . divorced from reality,” and “Americans refuse to accept their own history.” In Z Magazine (10/92) Chomsky argued that “at times of general malaise and social breakdown, it is not uncommon for millenarian movements to arise.” He saw two such movements in 1992: the response to Ross Perot and what he called the “Kennedy revival” or “Camelot revival.” Though recognizing that the audiences differ, he lumps them together as “the JFK-Perot enthusiasms.” Public interest in the JFK assassination, he says, stems from a “Camelot yearning” and the “yearning for a lost Messiah.”

I, for one, witnessed evidence of a Perot movement involving millions of people but I saw no evidence of a Kennedy revival, certainly no millenarian longing for Camelot or a “lost Messiah.” However, there has been a revived interest in the Kennedy assassination, which is something else. Throughout the debate, Chomsky repeatedly assumes that those who have been troubled about the assassination must be admirers of Kennedy. In fact, some are, but many are not. Kennedy was killed in 1963; people who today are in their teens, twenties, thirties, and forties – most Americans – were not old enough to have developed a political attachment to him.

The left critics psychologize about our illusions, our false dreams, our longings for Messiahs and father figures, or inability to face unpleasant realities the way they can. They deliver patronizing admonitions about our “conspiracy captivation” and “Camelot yearnings.” They urge us not to escape into fantasy. They are the cognoscenti who guide us and out-left us on the JFK assassination, a subject about which they know next to nothing and whose significance they have been unable to grasp. Having never read the investigative literature, they dismiss the investigators as irrelevant or irrational. To cloak their own position with intellectual respectability, they fall back on an unpracticed structuralism.

It is neither “Kennedy worship” nor “Camelot yearnings” that motivates our inquiry, but a desire to fight back against manipulative and malignant institutions so that we might begin to develop a system of accountable rule worthy of the name democracy.

1 Kennedy’s intent to withdraw is documented in the Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers (“Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964,” vol. 2, pp. 160-200). It refers to “the Accelerated Model Plan . . .. for a rapid phase out of the bulk of U.S. military personnel” and notes that the administration was “serious about limiting the U.S. commitment and throwing the burden onto the South Vietnamese themselves.” But “all the planning for phase-out . . . was either ignored or caught up in the new thinking of January to March 1964″ (p. 163) – the new thinking that came after JFK was killed and Johnson became president.

2 Del Valle’s name came up the day after JFK’s assassination when Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade announced at a press conference that Oswald was a member of del Valle’s anti-communist “Free Cuba Committee.” Wade was quickly contradicted from the audience by Jack Ruby, who claimed that Oswald was a member of the leftish Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Del Valle, who was one of several people that New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison sought out in connection with the JFK assassination, was killed the same day that Dave Ferrie, another suspect met a suspicious death. When found in Miami, del Valle’s body showed evidence of having been tortured, bludgeoned, and shot.

3 The bankers of the Federal Reserve System print paper money, then lend it to the government at an interest. Kennedy signed an executive order issuing over $4 billion in currency notes through the U.S. Treasury, thus bypassing the Fed’s bankers and the hundreds of millions of dollars in interest that would normally be paid out to them. These “United States Notes” were quickly withdrawn after JFK’s assassination.

4 See Mark Lane, Plausible Denial; Was the CIA Involved in the Assassination of JFK? (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1991). For testimony of another participant see Robert Morrow: First Hand Knowledge: How I Participated in the CIA-Mafia Murder of President Kennedy (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1992).

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9 thoughts on “Michael Parenti on conspiracy theories and the left wing paranoia about them

  1. I remember well the JFK assasination and where I was at the “Bad News” moment-It had always held A particular interest for me, as much as the fear that we all at that time shared during the Cuban Missile Crises..I can recall, at our home in Anchorage, AK., my older sister calling me and my 3 brothers outside to the front lawn to watch the Nike missile sites on top of the Chugach range above Ft. Richardson as A dooms day sign, that if the missiles launched it was curtains…A true tale of terror with the recent movie “On the Beach” playing in my mind the whole time..The Alaskan Earthquake came along the following spring of the CMC and while at A swampy Alaskan paper route address, being thrown about and trying to stand I can remember focusing on one terrible thought on the Chugach Horizon-A mushroom cloud…
    Because of these indelible experiences and having A truly GREAT leader like JFK, I can only thank my lucky stars….

      • I was particularly disappointed in Noam Chompski-I know for sure he is the last person to be labeled “Intellectually Lazy” and I really think he knows better…It just doesn’t match up…
        The only thing that I can come up with is the danger for A man in his position, after all there are still snakes in the Bushes….Which gives me ‘ as always, great respect for Mr. Parenti !!!

  2. BTW- I find it disturbing that all of this investigative work on such A vitally important, the most important Historical American coupe-de-etat, has such A small handful of comments-
    This is A terrible injustice to Mr. Parenti….

  3. We lost A truly great leader here-But as long as highly intelligent, prolific scholars like Michael Parenti walk the Earth the Evil doers will not remain invisible and time won’t allow them to be forgotten….

  4. Just read Parenti’s article on the nature of conspiracy and am in accord with his analysis. My only objection was that he did not differentiate from those of us on the Left that understand BOTH the structural framework AND the often conspiratorial methodology of the ruling class. he speaks often of “the left” as if it were monolithic. We see the same type of response re: 9/11. We understand “conspiracy” very well in these contexts, but also remember that “theory” is a rational attempt to create a coherent explanation from diverse set of facts and evidences. This is what scientists do, as in the theory of relativity.

    • I hope I read your comment and understand your comment properly. I think of myself as coming from the left of the left/right paradigm. I also have concluded that the left/right paradigm is no longer valid for me.

      While theorising and debating about the connections between sets of facts and evidences is a valid part of scientific recourse, the issue of course is that in the context of Conspiracy Theory it is used as a denigrating term. In the 9/11 movement there are plenty of people engaging in “theorising” but for the sake of bringing the 9/11 issue to a wider audience most of us will limit ourselves to the collapse of Building 7 and the many unanswered questions that remain

      • Granted, those who promote the government’s fable, and those who refuse to look deeply into use the the issue use the phrase “conspiracy theory” in derogatory, and frankly, dishonest manner. Yes, Building 7 remains the huge enigma they have to ignore and is the strongest evidence against their weak “theory.” However, there is so much more to the story, like the residue of nano-thermite found in the rubble, it being one of the most highly sophisticated types of explosive extant……………………

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