Can't Handle the Truth

The JFK Conspiracy Shows Us What's Dumb About Today's Fake News

Even of the most out-there JFK theories have more substance to them than the garbage your uncle posts on Facebook these days.
October 28, 2017, 2:07pm
Image by Lia Kantrowitz

The release of nearly 3,000 classified documents related to the JFK assassination raises many questions, mainly: Jesus christ, after all these years, is there really anything left to learn about the JFK assassination? Really? Can we, once and for all, just dump the so-called JFK conspiracy into a big wooden box marked "Fake News"?

Actually, no.

I don't say that because I believe Oswald was a patsy in the president's assassination, but there's still quite a lot of unexamined and important history there, and it merits close scrutiny. So far, no one has dug anything out of the pile of files that comes anywhere close to a smoking gun that implicates, say, Lyndon Johnson in the murder, as Republican strategist Roger Stone has fantasized. Nor—so far—has anything emerged that vindicates the many authors of who claim the mastermind was a nefarious cabal that included Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, the Soviets, the Roswell aliens, or all of the above.


Instead, the documents paint a picture of a disorganized and paranoid American security apparatus. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, wrote in a now-declassified memo (one that's sure to get the truthers fired up), that he wanted some kind of information released to the public "so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin." He obviously meant he was worried about the rise of conspiracy theories, but Hoover was also a crazed authoritarian who was struggling to maintain some semblance of order and clarity at a tumultuous time. And the larger world was worried about instability as well, with the Soviet Union fearing there might be reprisals if they were blamed, we now know. Essentially, these documents are showing us a little more about what was going on behind the scenes as the government said "show's over, nothing to see here." If you believe in your heart of hearts that Oswald was framed, these documents will bolster your certainty about that belief, even if they offer zero proof.

But viewing the official JFK story with skepticism is still a healthy habit, because there was sketchy stuff going on. We as a country deserve to know what was going on, for instance, in that odd chapter in the story where the CIA may have been in Mexico City to track and apparently impersonate Lee Harvey Oswald as he talked to a KGB associate in the months leading up the presidential assassination. Regardless of whether this skullduggery points to the CIA attempting to plant ideas in Oswald's mind or something, it's a good example of deep-state shit the public has an interest in knowing, and interest in the JFK assassination helped put it in the spotlight.


A healthy level of paranoid theorizing helps illuminate the dark machinery that people with way too much power use to maintain that power. But you won't find much illuminating about the recent crop of conspiracies, which are often built out of pure delusion by people with at best a Reddit account and no idea what they're talking about, and at worst no moral compass and a whole lot of bad faith.

Here's a sampling of what this week's idiotic internet theorizing looked like:

400 scientific papers from this year say there's no such thing as global warming

Previously in this column, I pointed to a viral Breitbart article by climate change denier James Delingpole that was popular enough to attract more than 10,000 comments. Basically, Delingpole said that 58 new papers prove that climate change is a myth, but the claims he was making were easily falsified by asking the people who wrote the papers if they agreed with him.

He did the exact same thing again this week, only this time it was 400 papers. Basically, he reheated another blogger's compendium of all scientific papers from 2017 that in any way complicate the idea that greenhouse gases cause climate change, taking the most useful sentences out of context—though not misquoting them—and then, in his headline, leaping to the conclusion that he just disproved the idea of a scientific consensus on global warming.

Snopes took great pains to dissect what Delingpole was up to (or really, what his paper-souring benefactor at the blog No Tricks Zone was up to). Strategies included pulling quotes from disreputable journals and at least one paper that was deliberately excluding climate change from its data in order to study other phenomena. Other papers simply acknowledge that other causes of warming exist in combination with greenhouse gases.


But Delingpole, whose personal motto is that he's "right about everything" isn't paid to understand the actual relationships between the words and data in papers and observable phenomena. He's paid to drive traffic to Breitbart, and he's good at that.

Recently killed soldier La David Johnson was a defector

Freedumjunkshun, a site reportedly run by Christopher Blair, a notoriously shameless troll who writes unfunny "satire" designed to trick Trump supporters into sharing it on Facebook, wrote the ugliest piece of fake garbage I've ever seen this week. It was about La David Johnson, one of the four US soldiers recently killed in Niger, whose death became a political football when Donald Trump opened a totally unnecessary can of worms about phone calls to gold star families.

Freedumjunkshun's sidesplitting piece of "satire" about Johnson seems to have been deleted, but archived it. The headline is "BREAKING: Black Soldier Killed In Niger Was A Deserter" and the article alleges that "Mr. Johnson wasn't the perfect soldier that his mother wants us to believe," citing a Breitbart article that doesn't exist.

According to Snopes, Major Audricia Harris at the Pentagon gave the following statement: "At no point since the Niger attack has DOD ever considered Sgt. La David Johnson anything less than an honorable soldier who sacrificed his life for our country."

Antifa is about to start a civil war

Ever since August, there's been a drumbeat steadily building for a while about some kind of civil war between the definitely-not-Nazis of America's heavily-armed right wing, and the Nazi-punching antifa on the left that would supposedly start on November 4. It's almost time for the big day to not arrive!

This all stems from a post by Paul Joseph Watson, the Robin to Alex Jones's Batman. Titled "Civil War: Alt-left Plans Anti-trump Riots in Major Cities on November 4," it asserts that a polemic by an activist named Andy Zee on a blog called constitutes a plan by "Alt-left agitators" to "stage mass riots in major cities on November 4 during which they hope to instigate a 'civil war' that will lead to the 'regime change' of the Trump administration."


According to Michael Hayden of Newsweek, Alex Jones himself ran with the topic a few weeks later, saying, "We have a flood of antifa saying that they're preparing with weapons, knives and guns to kill conservatives, patriots and white people en masse," on his popular internet TV show.

The right-wing response to Infowars' reporting has been alarmingly intense. J.J. McNab, a journalist specializing in anti-government extremism, tweeted that she hasn't "seen this level of 'I'm going to kill people' rhetoric in a long time."

Incidentally, the initial post on was made in conjunction with a planned group of coordinated anti-facism protest events in multiple cities that are expressly nonviolent.

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