Saturday, October 29, 2005

Satanic ritual abuse cases: McMartin witness apologizes

Via The Washington Monthly's blog, I see that one of the child witnesses in the McMartin Family Preschool case has apologized to the defendants in the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Kyle Zirpolo says he always knew he was lying, to please his parents and has some amazing details about his interrogation at a local clinic and the attitude taken by his mother. It seems that the situation was just what I imagined: a dysfunctional, stressed-out family eager to pin their troubles on an outside source: "We argued and fought all the time. My mother has always blamed anything negative on the idea that we went to that preschool and were molested." If you can't get to the LA Times piece (you might have to register), the Washington Monthly posting has a lot of the good stuff.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Night Students: Lecture outlines so far

You can find the outline for what have covered so far, plus a little beyond, here. (That's a pdf [Adobe Acrobat] file and differs slightly from exactly what I was using in class because I changed a couple of minor points in giving it to your class.) The "cut-outs" in the Usual Suspects section are available seperately:

Lecture outlines posted

I finally figured out a way to get the lecture outlines out of the Mac! The first and second JFK outlines, covering most of the past month, can be accessed through the page linked to the title above or individually through this message.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Politics in convenient thriller (or comic book) form

A recent posting by Mark Schmitt at the blog TPM Cafe, "Video Game Politics," very much echoes a couple of our course themes: the affinity between conspiracism and extremist politics, and the tendency of conspiratorial thinking to render history and politics in movie thriller terms. In recent years, this latter trend has been in particular notable on the right, with hated figures like Saddam Hussein and Hillary Clinton depicted as something close to supervillains in terms of their amazing abilities and evil plans.

Lest anyone think I am exaggerating this conservative tendency to think in cartoonish terms, check out the "World's 1st conservative comic book," Liberality for All, in which a cyborg Sean Hannity of the future leads a band of high-tech conservative revolutionaries against a despotic liberal government:
LIBERALITY FOR ALL #1 It is 2021, tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 It is up to an underground group of bio-mechanically enhanced conservatives led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North to thwart Ambassador Usama Bin Laden's plans to nuke New York City...And wake the world from an Orwellian nightmare of United Nations dominated ultra-liberalism.
I am not making this up, and it does not seem to be a joke. Read the preview.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Lecture outline -- JFK: History of the Conspiracy Theories

JFK: History of the Conspiracy Theories

I. Overview and Analysis

JFK’s death began a new era in conspiracy theory:
  • “Broadened the base” of c.t. beyond the anticommunist far right-wing
  • Fears shifted from outside subversion to evil & corruption of the whole system
The Aftermath: Clips from Four Days in November

The Politics of JFK Assassination Investigations
  • Dual role of media: Hyping the mystery & tragedy while accepting official explanations.
  • Despite Cold War & LHO beliefs, communists rarely blamed for JFK murder, with exception of useful kooks such as Prof. Revilo P. Oliver.
  • The political and academic establishment of the mid-60s was heavily committed to the “liberal consensus” and thus had every reason to suppress conspiracy beliefs.
  • Establishment fears of the “politics of unreason,” the radical right (John Birch Society), and possibility of an irrational public overreacting to news of a conspiracy: Seven Days in May.
Close relationship between the rise of 1960s radicalism & the rise of JFK c.t.’s.
  • Left-wing origin of most theories. Argument that LHO was U.S. spy or the victime of a frame-up, not Commie.
  • Rise of protest after JFK: The Berkeley “Free Speech Movement,” 1964.
  • Deep distrust of established institutions pervaded both JFK c.t.’s and 60s radicalism. Example of Carl Oglesby, SDS leader & conspiracy theorist.
  • Paranoia in 60s/70s counterculture: “Paul is Dead,” Easy Rider, Texas Chainsaw Massacre
II. How the Theorizing Began

The Manchester thesis: Crime and criminal did not balance.

Truly, obviously bizarre/mysterious aspects of the case:
  • Jack Ruby’s mob background & police connections
  • Ruby’s murder of Oswald, entry & escape
  • Oswald’s “patsy” claim, plus failure to record what he said
  • Oswald’s strange, contradictory background
  • Communist in the Marines at sensitive posts
  • Defection to and undefection from Soviet Union
  • Communist and anti-communist associations (Russian émigrés)
  • Spy-like behavior: Post office boxes and aliases
  • Too-perfect evidence trail (photos, mail-order rifle, sightings)
  • Logical flaws & factual errors in the Oswald impersonator scenario
Early reactions:
  • Polls showed that most of the public believed in some conspiracy from the beginning, at least that Oswald did not act alone.
  • Left was most influential in suspecting conspiracies, blamed the Right
  • Site of shooting in Dallas, a hotbed of right-wing activity, strongly suggested a right-wing plot.
  • Left-wing lawyer Mark Lane appointed himself Oswald’s defense attorney, raised problems with evidence immediately after the assassination (Dec. 1963)
  • First fully developed c.t.s came from European Left, who saw Dallas as a violent coup d’etat such as commonly happened in world history
  • First book: Joachim Joesten’s Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy?
  • Bertrand Russell and the “Who Killed Kennedy Committee?” Dreyfus affair comparison.
  • Left split over JFK conspiracy theories: I.F. Stone attacks “demonology.”
  • Soviets spread JFK c.t.’s through their official media
Lone Gunman theories as defense of “American exceptionalism”: US officials wanted to show that true political violence still could not happen here, that U.S. had its own tradition of assassination by deranged, paranoid loners.

III. The Warren Commission

Rushed, sloppy investigation caused more problems than it solved.

Warren Commission’s paternalism, emphasis on calming fears, quashing rumors & protecting “our institutions.”

Pressures due to 1964 election: Barry Goldwater won GOP nomination over liberal Nelson Rockefeller, challenged liberal consensus, offering “choice, not an echo.”

Members: Chief Justice Earl Warren, House leaders Hale Boggs & G. Ford, Senators R. Russell & J.S. Cooper, Chase Manhattan Pres. John McCloy, plus Allen Dulles (CIA director fired by JFK).

Problems with the investigation:
  • Non-cooperation of the CIA & FBI. Warren’s failure to press for more cooperation.
  • Members’ failure to attend meetings and generally political approach.
  • Set up as prosecution of Oswald, but Oswald was allowed no representation.
  • W.C. adopted “lone gunman” & “single bullet” theories despite contradictions in the evidence. Leads were not followed if they led to a possible c.t.
  • Mainstream media and public largely accepted the lone gunman theory, at first. Warren Commission seemed to be a success.
  • Warren Report (intro) & non-c.t. JFK books were among 1964 bestsellers.
  • Wide, quick public acceptance of the liberal martyr view of JFK.
  • Playing on idea of Kennedy as liberal martyr, President Johnson got major civil rights legislation passed & crushed Goldwater in the election.
IV. The Rise of the Buffs and the Fall of the Lone Gunman

The collapse of faith in the Warren Commission’s work
  • Tracked with the rise of political turmoil in 60s: urban race riots, antiwar protests, etc. As liberal consensus broke up, so did belief in the lone gunman theory.
  • Early emergence of independent critics & lay researchers, or “buffs”: Mark Lane (Rush to Judgment –1966 bestseller), Sylvia Meagher, Harold Weisberg, Josiah Thompson, David Lifton, & others. Buff investigations (and c.t. in general) as “people’s scholarship.”
  • Doubts about Warren Commission raised by mainstream media (Life) by 1966, encouraged by Edward Jay Epstein’s Inquest, a Cornell MA thesis.
Conspiracy theory in left-leaning pop culture: play Macbird! (1967), film Greetings (1968) – draft-dodging hippies as conspiracy theorists.

The Rise of the Zapruder Film
  • Jim Garrison’s prosecution of businessman Clay Shaw, 1967-69: failed, homophobic, corrupt & baseless, but legitimated buffs & caused wide distribution of Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of the assassination. The Perry Russo problem.
  • Film became centerpiece of a traveling roadshow that spread views of conspiracy buffs to local audiences, especially at colleges.
  • Zapruder film lent great power to “common sense” arguments of buffs, especially for a second shooter in front of JFK on the Grassy Knoll. One reason: apparent snap of head back and to the left.
  • Most “popular” conspirators at this time were typical left-wing/Cold War villains, but researchers focused on technical investigations rather than “who” or “why.”
V. The Conspiratorial Legacy of 1968

Factors that allowed JFK c.t.s to go mainstream: Fear, shock, loss of faith in American society & institutions.
  • Generally distrustful spirit of times combined with rising crime, social change, fear of both.
  • Rapid escalation of Vietnam War despite promises & protests, growing “credibility gap” over how truthfully public & Congress were informed about the war.
  • “Operation Chaos”: Johnson administration asked CIA to investigate possibility that anti-war movement was a foreign-controlled conspiracy. Answer was no.
MLK & RFK assassinations, April & June 1968, both at times and under circumstances that suggested more right-wing plots. King as he was turning to economic issues, RFK on day he won California primary seemingly enroute to sure victory in November. Left-leanings CTs undermined by:
  • Lack of real mystery surrounding James Earl Ray or Sirhan Sirhan.
  • Violence against conservative targets that followed (Wallace, Ford).
Vice President Hubert Humphrey was nominated by Democrats as demonstrators and police rioted, followed by mutual conspiracy theories & conspiracy trial of the “Chicago 7.”

VI. Conspiracy A Go-Go: The 1970s

The Post-Watergate Interregnum, 1974-78
  • 1974 elections as high point of liberal Democratic political power in recent history, artificial break from ongoing conservative trend.
  • 1975, “The Year of Intelligence”: CIA becomes major political issue as Church Committee and press exposed CIA as “rogue elephant on a rampage”: domestic surveillance (incl. wiretaps & mail opening), foreign coups (Chile) & assassination attempts, drug experiments.
  • Secrets first came out because of CIA & FBI involvement in Watergate, internal “Family Jewels” report arising from post-Helms shakeup.
  • Led to closer oversight of, & sharp, but often ineffective, restrictions on covert intelligence activities.
  • Rogue CIA idea led to CTs such as Christic Institute’s “Secret Team.”
National broadcast of the Zapruder film in 1975 by Geraldo Rivera.

House Select Committee on Assassinations (1978) – a new, conspiracy-minded investigation found little that was new.
  • At last minute, endorsed conspiracy in general, based on discredited audio evidence of a 4th shot.
  • Other evidence mostly supported W.C. conclusions, but the committee’s work led to wide acceptance of a JFK conspiracy.
The Conservative 80s: Reagan elected in 1980
  • Emergence of the Mafia theory, growing from work of G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel of the House Select Committee
  • Made Kennedys complicit in own death, took in anti-JFK CTs like Marilyn
  • Took left-wing politics out of JFK CTs.
  • New conservative-leaning CTs: “stab in the back” view of Vietnam, POWs & MIAs, renewal of Cold War
VII. The Oliver Stone Era

Oliver Stone’s hit film JFK (1991): used some of the dumbest c.t.s.; mixed fact & fiction; brought Vietnam, military-industrial complex motive to the fore.
  • Huge controversy over the film led to creation of the Assassination Records Review Board and the release of most remained assassination-related records, 1992-98. Not much there.
  • Media increasingly dismissed political conspiracy theories after the controversy over Stone’s JFK.
Oliver’s Fallacies -- a sampling
  • As seen already: a conspiracy too immense and the head snap
  • The “Magic Bullet” (CE 399)
  • Smoke on the Grassy Knoll
CT as Science Fiction
  • They Stole Kennedy’s Brain: David Lifton’s “body alteration” theory
  • Umbrella Man and the Darts of Death
Final thoughts: The return of American exceptionalism and the depoliticization of the JFK narrative.

(Pull-out screen)
Right-Wing Extremism after McCarthy

During the era of the “liberal consensus” & post-McCarthy backlash, Communist conspiracy fears kept up by new “radical right”:
  • John Birch Society, founded 1958, organized like CPUSA: no democracy, fronts, etc.
  • Strong in TX, FL, southern Calif.
  • The Politician promoted idea that Eisenhower was communist agent.
  • Today: Robert Welch U. & summer camp.
Extreme anticommunists considered mentally ill by 60s liberals, but respected by conservatives opposed to social changes (civil rights) & out to “win” Cold War.

Beginnings of modern conservative movement. Example: Barry Goldwater campaign 1964.

Very active in early 1960s: 1964 best-seller None Dare Call It Treason by John H. Stormer.

Long-term influence: Lingering fear of red-baiting helped push Johnson into the Vietnam War.

Lecture outline: JFK The Assassination in Context

JFK: The Assassination in Context

I. JFK and the Popular Imagination

The JFK assassination seen as one of history’s greatest and best-remembered events.

JFK as first celebrity president, last beloved president, inspiring intense feelings all over world.

Postwar popular culture & the origins of JFK’s lasting appeal
  • Youth
  • WWII veteran, hero of PT109
  • Young, idealized family man.
  • President as “sex symbol”
  • Media celebrity: Won first TV debates .
  • Camelot: Kennedys as royal family in era of American empire, associated
Kennedy’s political image: challenged voters and youth to service and sacrifice
  • Profiles in Courage
  • 1960 Campaign: New Frontier, “Getting this country moving again.”
  • Best-loved Kennedy programs: Peace Corps, moon program.
  • JFK’s image as a liberal crusader: civil rights.
  • Contrast with conservatives & failures who followed him as president
II. The Myth of St. Jack, Liberal Martyr

Conspiracy theories as stories with characters, plot, motivation. Role of liberal myth in JFK theories.

A part of 1960s culture: “Abraham, Martin, and John”; “He Was A Friend Of Mine”

C.t. of Oliver Stone & others:
JFK tried to end the Cold War, stop Vietnam. He threatened the “military-industrial complex” & was murdered for it by the CIA, FBI, military, munitions industry, Cuban exiles, oil men, Mafia, &/or LBJ.

Reasons to doubt the liberal martyr myth:
  • Concern for southern support, poor civil rights record.
  • JFK as Cold Warrior: friend of Joe McCarthy, campaigned as stronger anticommunist than Nixon in 1960, Inaugural Address, Bay of Pigs, firing of Allen Dulles, assassination attempts against Fidel Castro in cooperation with Mafia. “Blowback”?
  • JFK and Vietnam: destabilization of Laos, NSAM 263, CBS interview, overthrow of Diem, NSAM 273.
Argument that was JFK moving to end the Cold War:
  • American University speech, June 1963
  • Limited Test Ban Treaty took effect October 1963.
III. The Assassination

Pre-campaign trip to Dallas, TX, where JFK appeared to be very unpopular.

Motorcade route through Dealey Plaza.

Background of the Zapruder Film.

Lee Oswald, Young Communist, and not without reason

Day students: Reading for Oct. 25-27

We will be finishing up with JFK today, so please move on in your reading. The next topic to be covered in class will be witchcraft (we will come back to UFOs later), so please start Peter Charles Hoffer's The Devil's Disciples if you haven't already. Just in time for Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Local "Hell House"

A student alerted me to this Missourian story about a "hell house" at a Baptist church in Centralia. At least based on what this reporter saw, this would seem to be a greatly toned down and less paranoid affair than what we saw in the documentary Hell House. (Night students: This topic will come up in the Satanism section of the course that will be coming up soon.) Someone should go check it out.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Day students: Term paper assignment posted

For the day students, the details on the term paper assignment are finally available. I will be distributing these in class, but you can get now by clicking the title above or using the link at the left of the course home page. Please read the instructions carefully and follow them. I expect to be hearing from many of you soon. Ask general questions in the comment thread below.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Welcome MU in the Evening students

I wanted to welcome the students in History 2420-2, the evening version of the course that just started last night. I have posted your syllabus on the site, and you can also get a preview of your take-home final by looking at the day students' take-home midterm. Some of the questions may get tweaked a bit but that is basically what you will be dealing with. From now on, everyone should be paying close attention to which class a particular announcement is addressed, the day (2420-1, at 3:30PM) or the evening (2420-2, at 7:30PM). Anyone can post comments or questions on the general interest items.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Exorcism and Satanism in Italy

Some mixed signals at work in an article from the international edition of Newsweek. On the one hand, the article makes the Catholic Church look bad with an account of its continuing defense of the practice of exorcism in the face of scandals and the real story behind the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The tale concerned a young German epileptic:
Somehow, though, her parents convinced themselves that Satan had gotten hold of her soul. They called two local priests, who spent 10 months trying to exorcise the young woman's demons. To avoid interfering with the exorcism, the parents even halted her treatment for epilepsy. Michel finally died, in 1975, at the age of 23, withered and weakened to just 31 kilos from being denied food and water during the exorcism.
Several more recent cases of priests accidentally killing exorcism subjects are also included. Yet the article also contains this startling (and unattributed) statistic: "Interest in satanic worship has risen sharply across Europe recently; there are 5,000 Italians involved in 650 active satanic cults in operation in the country, more than double the number a decade ago." Does this mean Italian satanists are registering with the government? Presumably they are not the baby-killing type of satanists. This was a very strange passing remark to make, and one that makes me even more curious about Italy than I was already.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Levee bombing conspiracy theory gaining traction

It looks to me as though the Hurricane Katrina conspiracy theory that students alerted me to, contending that whites or the government blew up the New Orleans levees to intentionally flood black neighborhoods, is getting some traction on its way to permanent inclusion in the list of crims "They" have committed. The Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan apparently endorsed it on CNN last week, citing as his source a neo-Nazi radio host called Hal Turner (picture), who thought the bombing was great and claimed to have killed some New Orleans blacks himself during the flood. To me it's always a sign that a conspiracy theory has arrived when you get groups that hate each other both citing it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Reading for Oct. 11-13: JFK

We are still on JFK, obviously, so see the previously posted assignment. Please note that I just revamped the JFK document page with a more varied and interesting set of materials that also happens to relate more closely to the lectures. Please go look again if you already checked that page, and do it again in a few days in case I locate something else. I will also paste some of the links below.

Let me also urge students again to rent and watch Oliver Stone's JFK if you haven't already. I say this not because it contains much in the way of accurate facts, but it is a fantastic distillation of 3 decades worth of conspiracy theory in which you will see many of our course themes reflected. I will be glad to loan out my VHS copy as long as I can get it back by Monday.


  • Politics of the JFK Conspiracy Theories
  • Thursday, October 06, 2005

    JFK Assassination Music

    You have to love the Internet. Looking for the "P.T. 109" song this morning, I found a whole site devoted to JFK and assassination-related popular culture, including a lengthy list of songs about it. There's even a blues album on the subject that was recorded in 1964. Of the songs on the list that were new to me, I would have to recommend Ice Cube's "When Will They Shoot?," which combines a number of themes we have talked about in the course: "They killed JFK in '63/So what the fuck you think they'll do to me?"

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    Katrina blamed on "Satanic worship"

    From a New Orleans site called "BayouBuzz," and a link there to a CNN interview, I find the following:
    According to Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist, Billy Graham, “"There´s been Satanic worship in New Orleans. There´s been sexual perversion. God is going to use that storm to bring a revival. God has a plan. God has a purpose."
    And to think that the Grahams are generally regarded as pretty middle-of-the-road by conservative Christian standards. Read the rest by clicking the links above.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    Reading for the week of Oct. 4-6

    We are all about the mid-term and JFK this week, so continue with the relatively short set of readings announced last week. If you are really fired up about the Kennedy assassination, you might want to consider reading Gerald Posner's Case Closed. As I suggested in class today, renting Oliver Stone's JFK sometime in the next week or so would probably improve your understanding and enjoyment of the Kennedy material we will be going over.