My late father was a very energetic student of the JFK assassination. He didn’t live to see the upcoming 50th anniversary of that dreadful event, but he would have devoured every one of the books released in tune with it, particularly Roger Stone’s “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ,” which argues that Lyndon Baines Johnson was a prime mover behind the assassination plot. And Stone believes that wasn’t the first politically-motivated murder Johnson was involved with.
The Kennedy assassination was a definitive event, a moment when history clearly divides into “before” and “after” sections. Those born after it occurred have grown up with the world in which it happened. It’s a more cynical world that it used to be, and more sinister. Advances in media, security, and forensic technology leave the children of the new millennium puzzled that there could be any ambiguity about the broad-daylight murder of a President. Combined with the esteem their parents, and popular culture, hold for JFK, this makes the assassination an itch that our society can never quite scratch. Fifty years later, we’re still in shock.
My interest was piqued by a New York Post article referring to Stone’s planned book signing at the Dallas Barnes & Noble this month. The Post story began, “Only an insensitive huckster with a death wish would go to Dallas on November 22 – the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK – to accuse LBJ of the president’s murder.” Insensitivity and hucksterism are matters of opinion, but why should an author in the United States of America be portrayed as having a “death wish” for going to any city to promote his book?
I emailed Stone to ask him about that. He does think there could be trouble, which might be dismissed as more attention-grabbing self-promotion, except for that matter-of-fact assertion by an unfriendly reviewer that he’s got a “death wish” for going to Dallas. He clearly isn’t the only one who thinks his back might be in need of watching. “Texas is still LBJ country,” he told me. “My book will be very controversial. In 1992, Texas Ranger Clint Peoples said he would release results of an investigation that would show LBJ had JFK killed. Four days later he was dead in a mysterious ‘accident.’ I am definitely wearing a bullet proof vest in Dallas and Austin.” (He has another book signing scheduled for November 26 at Brave New World Books in Austin.)
Not surprisingly, he took exception to his characterization as an insensitive huckster. And, if it wasn’t already clear enough, he has a very low opinion of LBJ. “Huckster implies my conclusion that LBJ killed JFK is not correct,” he objected. “Insensitive to whom ? LBJ was a serial murderer as well as corrupt, ruthless, vicious, sadistic, cruel, crude, vindictive and usually drunk.”
Stone argues that his book shows Johnson “had means, motive, and opportunity to kill Kennedy.” He feels the motive is especially clear. “LBJ was facing political ruin and prison in the Bobby Baker and Billie Sol Estes scandal,” he explained. “He was involved in corruption of Biblical proportions. He knew he would be dropped from the 1964 ticket and prosecuted. He was a man staring into the abyss. He ordered murders as both a US Senator and Vice President to cover up both his corruption and the theft through fraud of his first Senate election. Murder was in his repertoire.”
I asked Stone how he would explain the relevance of his book to younger readers who barely remember Johnson, who was very consequential from a policy perspective, but didn’t leave a lasting cultural impression, as Kennedy did. That has always struck me as curious, because LBJ was quite colorful. It’s interesting to watch a movie in which he appears as a character – for example, “The Right Stuff” – in the company of younger viewers who don’t know anything about him. The general reaction is something along the lines of, “Oh my God, who was that guy?”
“The Government lies to us, then and now,” Stone replied. “The Government cannot be trusted to tell us truth. The truth must be learned. There is a Military-Industrial Complex. Their creed is power and money. They are not ideological. They are neither right-wing or left-wing. JFK was killed in a plot that included the CIA, the Mob, and Texas Oil. LBJ was the linchpin. America experienced a coup de etat on November 22, 1963.”
There is a huge amount of supporting material in “The Man Who Killed Kennedy,” as befits a book leveling such a heavy charge. Obviously, no one is going to put the Kennedy assassination to bed in a blog post, or with a single book. There was a lot going on during the Kennedy years. Perhaps one of the lessons to be drawn is that there is always a lot going on, and its significance is not always clear until the pages of history have been turned. People from both the Left and Right can agree that an era ended when Kennedy died, and the shape of things to come was powerfully altered. It’s no surprise that hard questions remain about who made those alterations, and why.