Lee Harvey Oswald Meets
by Paul Krassner (from Spin magazine, February 1989)
publisher of The Realist,
waxes prophetic on the death
of JFK, Jim Morrison, and
It's over now. The 25th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy was finally commemorated to death. No more scenes from the Zapruder film showing his brains being blown out. No more Jack Rubys in fedoras blowing the guts out of handcuffed Lee Harvey Oswalds in jerky slow motion. No more little John-John saluting his daddy's casket.
Gone is Dan Rather reeking with fake humility as he retells how he scooped the world on the news that the President was no longer alive. Gone is Jack Anderson trying to convince America that the same mobsters hired by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro would then be trusted by Fidel to do his bidding and kill Kennedy. Gone are the Connelly's quoting Jackie to Geraldo, "My God, what have they done to Jack? I've got his brains in my hand!"
And yet, there was something left out of it all, some kind of artificial line drawn, as though even if there were a conspiracy behind the killing, at least now we've come out and admitted it publicly, and that's what makes America great. But something was still missing, a void to be filled, somewhere out there between the cover-up and the disinformation, somewhere between our bread and our circuses...
In Las Vegas recently, at the first American Comedy Convention, standup comic Jordan Brady confided to the audience: "I'm only 24 years old, so when the Beatles first came on TV, I was just a fetus. And you remember what you were doing when Kennedy was shot? Well, I was developing eyelids."
It's important for those of us who lost a thick layer of innocence on November 22, 1963, to be aware that, for another whole generation it's already become ancient history. I was a newlywed at the time. My wife, Jeanne, had gone shopping for a TV set. Now she stood in the appliance section of a department store with a crowd of shocked consumers as they watched the news of the dead president simultaneously on several dozen screens of different sizes.
Only two days later, in the midst of mass mourning, the war in Vietnam would begin to escalate.
The day after the assassination I was scheduled to perform at a benefit for the Committee to Aid the Monroe Defendants (involving framed kidnap charges against civil rights activists) at the Young Socialist League. It was in a photo on the cover of Life magazine that Oswald would be shown holding a rolled-up copy of the YSL tabloid, The Militant, in one of his hands, a rifle in the other.
The invitations to this event promised: "Laugh with Paul Krassner...."
It wasn't easy.
Since this was a left-wing group which had at first assumed that the assassin was a right-winger, I simply started out by asking, "Aren't you sorry it turned out to be one of your nuts instead of one of theirs?"
With that opening line, I had acknowledged one assassin theory. It was ironic for me to be so naive since I was editing The Realist, which was supposed to be the hippest magazine in America. But equally ironic, I became convinced that there was a conspiracy behind the killing of John Kennedy based on the articles I began to publish by various researchers.
Ultimately, I concluded that it would have been impossible for Lee Harvey Oswald to act alone, that he was a "patsy"the term he used to describe himself to reportersfor an alliance of the Mafia end of the CIA spectrum and anti-Castro Cuban exiles.
My favorite conspiracy researcher was Mae Brussell. She had been a suburban homemaker with five kids when Kennedy was killed. Her seven-year-old daughter, Bonnie, was concerned about Lee Harvey Oswald. He had a black eye and he was saying, "I didn't do it. I haven't killed anybody. I don't know what this is all about." Bonnie decided to send him her teddy bear.
It was all wrapped up and ready to mail when she saw him murdered by Jack Ruby on TV that Saturday morning, and then over and over again throughout the day.
Mae Brussell had to wonder, "What kind of world are we bringing our children into?" That question inspired a project that would become a lifetime dedication. Indeed. assassination research was a spiritual path for Mae. It evolved into her Zen grid for political reality.
It started out as a hobby. But soon Mae Brussell was reading ten newspapers a day. She digested a few hundred books on espionage and assassination. This diet was supplemented with items sent to her by a network of conspiracy students known as Brussell Sprouts. Plus magazines, underground papers, unpublished manuscripts, court affidavits, documents from the National Archives, and FBI and CIA material obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
She purchased the Warren Commission Hearings. For eight years, she studied and cross-referenced the entire 26 volumes. She was overwhelmed by the difference between the evidence and the conclusion that there had been only a single assassin.
And then Mae began to study the history of Nazis coming to the United States after World War II, and the patterns of murder in the U.S. identical to those in Nazi Germany. It was as if an early Lenny Bruce biton how a show business booking agent, MCA, promoted Adolf Hitler as a dictatorhad actually been a satirical prophecy of how Richard Nixon would rise to power. The parallels were frightening.
"How much violence was there in Nazi Germany," she asked, "before the old Germany, the center of theater, opera, philosophy, poetry, psychology, medicine, the whole culturehow many incidents took place that were not coincidental before it was called fascism? What were the transitions? How many people? Was it when the first tailor disappeared? Or librarian? Or professor? Or when the first press was closed or the first song eliminated or the first poem? When the first poet mysteriously disappeared? Or when the first political science teacher was killed coming home on his bike? How many incidents happened there that were perfectly normal until people woke up and said, 'Hey, we're in a police state!'
"So that, instead of just researching the death of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Mary Jo Kopechne, the George Wallace shooting, I got involved in collecting articles about the murders of people in the Kennedy assassination. And I began paying attention to the deaths of judges, attorneys, labor leaders, musicians, actors, professors, civil rights leadersstudying what I considered to be untimely, suspicious deaths."
Her lists of musicians included Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Mama Cass Eliot, Jim Croce, Tim Buckley and some 30 other "fine musicians who have died under mysterious circumstances. Rock musicians had an ability to draw together youth at a time when protest meetings were being broken apart and the hippie, anti-war youth became too visible with their own, unique art form at Woodstock. The Senate Investigation's document that persons seeking 'racial harmony' and 'social protest' were defined as enemies of the state."
And there was comedian Freddy Prinze.
"He was an active Democrat," said Mae, "entertained by the President at the White House, a symbol for the Chicano. He had a deep concern about who killed Kennedy. He had a copy of the Abraham Zapruder film, and he kept playing it over and over. It's perfectly obvious that the government is lying, that Kennedy's head is going back. And here's this guy, Freddy Prinze, who every time somebody comes over, he shows the film and talks about it...
"The removal of Freddy Prinze means one less visual person from that stratum of society. Gone is the symbol for the Puerto Rican kids sitting on the steps in New York. There are no positive visual images of Chicanos on the screen. No encouragement for the young ones because this one's heavily doped and has blown his brains out."
In 1972, when the Watergate break-in occurred, Mae called me. She recognized names and methods of operations from her assassination research. She was able to trace the "burglars" back through nine years of conspiracy. I assigned her to write about it. In three weeks she gave me her article. While the mainstream press was still calling Watergate a "caper" and a "third-rate burglary" Mae's totally documented piece completely outlined the conspiracy behind the break-in, going all the way up to L. Patrick Gray and John Mitchell and Richard Nixon.
The typesetter wrote "Bravo!" on the manuscript, but the printer wanted $5,000 in cash in advance before he would print the issue. I didn't have the money. I left, not knowing how I would get it but irrationally confident that I would. When I got home, the phone was ringing, John Lennon and Yoke Ono were visiting San Francisco, and did I want to meet them for lunch?
At the time, the government was trying to deport Lennon before he could perform for protesters at the Republican convention that summer. I gave John and Yoko the galleys to read. It spoke for itself. They immediately took me to a bank and withdrew $5,000 cash. I could rationalize my ass off, but the timing was so exquisite that coincidence and mysticism became the same process for me.
I don't know as an objective fact that there was a conspiracy behind the deaths of three of our most socially active musiciansJohn Lennon, Bob Marley and Harry Chapinbut I feel it would be irresponsible not to consider the possibility.
In the summer of '72, Mae told me that the purpose of the assassinations was ultimately to get Ronald Reagan into office. Well, it happened, and the last time I talked to her, she said, "You know, more than half of the federal judges in this country were appointed by Reaganand we know he didn't make those choices himself. That's how it happened in Nazi Germanyit was all done legally."
Mae Brussell became a friend, and I'm sorry to say that she died at 66 of cancer on October 3rd, seven weeks before the 25th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, when she would likely have received a token of the honor and recognition she so richly deserved. At the time of her death, she was investigating satanic cults in the military.
She believed that Jack Ruby and Martha Mitchell had been injected with cancera tactic of the CIA uncovered in her researchand if Mae were alive today, she might well find a conspiracy behind her own death. Ah, but guess who's carrying on her work? Gary Hart! In the context of a book review for the Los Angeles Times, he writes:
"I think President Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. And I've particularly thought so since serving as a member of the Church Committee between 1975-76 when, among other things, we discovered CIA efforts to assassinate foreign leaders ...The Prime target, pursued with almost demented insistence for 'executive action,' was Fidel Castro.
"And the principal assets of these anti-Castro plots were three Mafia figures, Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli and Santo Trafficante, now all dead. Giancana died of 'lead poisoning' and Roselli was killed during the Church Committee's investigation.., anyone involved in the conspiracy by circumstance or who seeks the truth by choice gets eliminated, one way or the other...."
Is Hart implying that he, too, was the victim of a conspiracy? Or was Donna Rice actually a blessing in disguise? Could it be that, since he had to drop out of the presidential race because of his affair with her, now he's free to speak out? Or is it merely that the taboos have changed so much in those years from Marilyn Monroe to Donna Rice? Reporters certainly knew about John Kennedy's affair with Marilyn Monroe; there was just an unspoken argument that they wouldn't write about it.
But that taboo faded along with so many others. In the early 60s, Lenny Bruce got arrested for saying "cocksucker" in a nightclub. Two decades later, Meryl Streep got a laugh and an Academy Award for saying the same word (intending to say "seersucker") on the big screen in Sophie's Choice. If she hadn't gotten the Oscar, Jessica Lange was also a nominee for saying the same word (as a description of her profession) in Frances. And, more recently, Susan Sarandon's baseball groupie friend says that same ol' nasty word in Bull Durham. We've come a long way, baby-poo.
However, there was something else in Bull Durhama crucial scene where Kevin Costner lists all the things he believes in, and suddenly Susan Sarandon realizes that, gosh, he's really the man for her, all right. "I believe in long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days," he tells her. Pretty nice and mushy, huh? "I believe in the small of a woman's back." Well, who could argue with that? "I believe in the hanging curve." Why not? She got turned on by baseball, right? "I believe in that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone...."
Hey, what is this little speech supposed to bepropaganda, in the guise of romance?
What do long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days have to do with the single-assassin theory anyway? Is political conformity now supposed to be the mark of a sensual individual who thinks for himself? Has it become courageous to give up doubt? Are there invisible spin doctors busily at work?
Just the other day, on MTV's trivia quiz show, Remote Control, one of the questions was: "Who shot JFK and who was Chrissy in Three's Company?" The contestant got Lee Harvey Oswald but didn't know Suzanne Somers.
There are reasons to be cynical. I met a seven-year-old ghetto child who saw a photo in the paper of Michael Jackson in his special oxygenation chamber. "Aw," said the youngster, "he's just trying to freeze-dry his AIDS." That level of jaded media sophistication seemed like the ultimate loss of innocence.
Still, I'm optimistic. Recently, I was interviewed by a 16-year-old student about the underground press. In the course of our dialogue, I used the phrase "Cold War." He didn't have any idea what I was talking about. The Cold Warit sounds like a bunch of people sneezing at each other. But nevertheless, his generation does have a different starting point; he did know the meaning of glasnost. Truth.
So maybe some day, perhaps in Bull Durham II, Kevin Costner will say to Susan Sarandon, "I believe in carrying condoms with me at all times and I believe that the military-industrial complex took over the country on November 22, 1963." And maybe some day, perhaps on MTV's Remote Control, there will be a question, "Who was the patsy for the CIA in the JFK assassination and who shot the sheriff in She's the Sheriff?"
Yes, and maybe Lenny Bruce will return from the grave and hang around with Elvis Presley for a while. They could watch an old movie on TV, Punch Line, where a little girl at a family dinner with clerical guests starts off a joke with, "What did one cocksucker say to the other?" And then maybe later they'll watch President Bush on the news, instructing viewers to "Read Mein Kampf....."