By Sebastian Moronta, Staff Writer
On Thursday, October 26, the Trump Administration complied with the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which mandated the collection and release of all documents related to the assassination of the 35th President upon the 25th anniversary of the law’s enactment.
2,891 documents were released to the public and the contents have revealed several previously unknown details about the assassination, as well as the administration as a whole. There is still a portion of the collection that has yet to be released, and will not be released until the President and U.S. intelligence agencies come to an agreement on their release and the effect on national security.
President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald, former Marine-turned-Marxist who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959.Numerous investigations into the event have concluded the shooter worked alone, including those conducted by the FBI, Secret Service, Dallas Police Department, and the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy established by Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. Each of these investigations are extremely comprehensive, but have done little to assuage one of the most vile and destructive unintended consequences of our democracy: conspiracy theorists.
For what seems like every mildly grey area, there is a particular crowd of people determined to believe the most outlandish theories of widespread corruption and insidious intentions, almost always in government.
These theories gain much more traction than they used to, now that the internet allows for these individuals to exchange their ideas quickly and anonymously.
The most well-known conspiracy theories surround some of the biggest national events in American history, including the 9/11 attacks, the Watergate scandal, and of course, the Kennedy assassination. According to several polls conducted in the decades since Kennedy’s death, as many as 81 percent of Americans once believed that the shooter did not work alone. Some believe he was coerced by the Soviets, while others think it was a plot by the U.S. government, possibly orchestrated by his successor. The documents revealed last Thursday have done little to calm these theorists. As described in one of the files, the FBI was closely tracking Oswald long before the assassination, including to Mexico City where he reportedly spoke broken Russian to KGB, the Russian and former Soviet Union security agency, weeks before the assassination. This meeting wasn’t recorded and according to intelligence officers, does not signify proof of collusion with the Soviets.
As previously stated, not all of the documents in the collection have been released. Among those withheld are documents that make references to people who are still alive, which is one reason why they are still kept secret. Other files remain sealed at the request of intelligence officers, who believe the release of some of these documents constitutes a threat to national security.
Until every document goes public, and possibly not even then, people will believe anything other than the accepted account of the event, so long as there is room to speculate. And that speculation can have dangerous consequences, as Comet Ping Pong, a restaurant in D.C., learned when a man fired three rounds from a semi-automatic rifle inside the venue while self-investigating a suspected child-sex trafficking ring that a conspiracy theory placed in the restaurant’s basement.The theory, referred to as “Pizzagate”, originated in online forums, where commenters fabricated a conspiracy by members of the Democratic Party, including 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which claimed that members held and sold child sex-slaves.
The theory was debunked by the police and several news organizations, and the shooter was sentenced to four years in prison.
Conspiracy theories are a clear and direct threat to public safety as evidenced by the shooting at Comet Ping Pong. Even though no one was injured, it’s not unreasonable to assume that something like that could happen again in which someone will be. But the real threat conspiracy theories and their proponents pose is how quickly they can erode trust in our country’s institutions. Our government is far from free of inefficiency, misconduct and corruption, but they still exist to serve us and our country. Fewer and fewer have faith in our institutions to work for us instead of against us, and conspiracy theories of this nature are partly to blame.
Surrounding oneself with ill-conceived hoaxes about how Osama Bin Laden was never actually killed, or that Bush had something to do with 9/11, makes it impossible to recognize the passion and ferocity with which our service members work for us every day.
In an age where more information than ever before is available at our fingertips, we need to be more cautious about what we believe, and take greater care in making sure the sources we cite are credible. Without it, we’re doomed to convince ourselves of whatever will finally ruin us.