Thursday, October 4, 2018

Book Review: I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak

Canadian Fred Litwin, a marketing professional who worked nine years for the Intel Corporation, has written a book on the JFK assassination with a catchy title-I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak. This concise, entertaining and well written volume will be of interest to conspiracy skeptics and open-minded newcomers to the case. It may even be of interest to long-time conspiracy buffs who actually read it. Litwin previously authored a book called Conservative Confidential: Inside the Fabulous Blue Tent, which is about his journey from anti-nuclear activist to Conservative party campaigner. His JFK book describes an analogous trek from conspiracy believer to “lone nutter.”

Litwin begins by documenting the missteps of the early critics of the Warren Commission. An important point made by Litwin, one that he returns to frequently, is that these early critics (and subsequent generations) often consisted of individuals on the political left. They included Bertrand Russell, Raymond Marcus, Sylvia Meagher, Vincent Salandria, Thomas Buchanan and of course Mark Lane. Litwin notes that “… you weren’t a proper leftist if you didn’t understand the “right-wing” plot to take over America and the huge coverup.” To illustrate the critic’s mindset, Litwin quotes Marcus who thought that If people became aware of the “fraud” of the Warren Report, “they’ll start to demand other answers. Maybe they’ll ask about the Rosenbergs, Hiss, the whole Cold War. Maybe we can get clean and whole. But if this stays down, there’s no hope.” However, while Litwin is critical of conspiracy theorists on the left, he notes that President Trump promoted the discredited story that Ted Cruz’s father was one of the men who handed out pro-Castro leaflets in front of the Trade Mart in New Orleans at the behest of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Litwin begins his coverage of the investigation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison early in the book and later devotes an entire chapter (titled Jim Garrison’s Excellent Homosexual Adventure) to the “Jolly Green Giant.” Garrison’s theories did indeed revolve around homosexuals at first, but as Litwin points out, eventually mushroomed to include “Minutemen, CIA agents, oil millionaires, Dallas policemen, munitions exporters, “the Dallas Establishment,” reactionaries, White Russians and certain elements of the invisible Nazi substructure.” Reading Litwin’s concise chronology of Garrison’s farce reminds one of the myriad absurd aspects of his investigation. These would be laughable except for the fact that the investigation destroyed the life of an innocent man-New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw. Garrison charged Shaw with conspiring to assassinate JFK, but Shaw was properly exonerated. The New York Times called Garrison’s prosecution of Shaw “One of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of modern jurisprudence.” Garrison was ultimately barred from further legal action against Shaw by a court injunction.

Litwin’s uses his personal journey from conspiracist to lone assassin advocate to drive his narrative and begins in this regard with the 1975 airing of the Zapruder film on Geraldo Rivera’s Good Night America. Rivera appeared with Robert Groden, Dick Gregory and Ralph Schoenman. Litwin, and millions of TV viewers, were impressed by the fact that the film showed JFK moving “back and to the left” which seemed to indicate a shot from the grassy knoll. But as Litwin shows, a close analysis of the evidence proves a shot from behind. Litwin goes on to refute claims by Gregory and Schoenman while outlining the extreme leftist views of both men. Litwin also provides some interesting background on Schoenman, who was Bertrand Russell’s personal secretary before they had a falling out.

Speaking of Schoenman, he turns up again in Litwin’s chapter on Oliver Stone and JFK the movie. It seems that Schoenman wrote Garrison in 1971 suggesting that “… we take the offensive. Let’s get out a book, hard and fast, which nails the case against Shaw that we couldn’t get into the courts … let’s put THEM on the defensive by blowing the Shaw case sky high with a muck-raking book that closes in on the company [CIA] even closer.” The eventual result of this strategy was Garrison’s book On the Trail of the Assassins, which was the basis for Stone’s film. Litwin argues that in Stone’s upside-down world, Garrison became the hero and Shaw the villain rather than a victim of an unjust prosecution. He goes on to document elements of the film that are complete fantasy, but which millions of movie fans accepted as fact. Litwin also discusses the homophobic aspects of the film and provides historical context for his analysis.

Returning to Litwin’s personal narrative, following a period of relative inactivity he resumed his JFK research upon seeing Stone’s film in 1991. He subscribed to journals and had his own articles published and even lectured on the subject himself. Two powerful influences for Litwin during this period were the HSCA volumes, which largely agreed with the WC findings, and the writings of noted researcher Paul Hoch. HSCA findings that impressed Litwin included the authentication of the autopsy photos and x-rays, the forensic pathology panel, the photographic panel, the study of “earwitnesses”, the handwriting and fingerprint analysis, the Mannlicher-Carcano firing tests and the firearms panel. Hoch, who Litwin describes as “not your run-of-the-mill conspiracy freak,” wrote in his newsletter “My model is that there were many coverups, probably many independent ones … One possibility-ironically- is that Oswald did it alone but so many people had things to cover up [unrelated to any assassination plot] that the reaction of the government made it look like the assassination resulted from a conspiracy.”

Litwin devotes a chapter to the JFK documentaries from producer Brian McKenna that appeared over the years on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s acclaimed series The Fifth Estate. Litwin carefully documents the abuses of McKenna, which date back to 1977. McKenna revealed his bias toward conspiracy theories during his acceptance speech upon receiving the JFK Lancer Pioneer award in Dallas. McKenna said that a “sophisticated coup plotted by the US military and CIA with support from Hoover’s FBI and Kennedy’s bodyguards” was to blame for the killing. McKenna also fingered the Mafia, HL Hunt and LBJ as conspirators, all perennial conspiracy favorites.

A persistent rallying cry of the conspiracy theorists has been to “release the documents.” As of 2018, approximately 99 percent of the documents have been released, depending on whose tally you use. Litwin shows that withholding documents is something routinely done by governments worldwide although it often makes little sense. He provides several examples of documents that theorists were suspicious of, but ultimately proved to be innocuous. In the same chapter, Litwin presents evidence that the conspiracy theorists may have been influenced by a disinformation campaign run by the Soviet Union designed to promote the “CIA did it” angle. Litwin also shows that conspiracy guru Mark Lane received at least $2000 from the KGB.

Fred Litwin has written an entertaining and informative book that explains why he changed his mind about a JFK conspiracy. The book does not discuss every issue of interest to JFK assassination students (impossible since there are hundreds) over the course of its modest 272 pages. Nor will it change many minds among the current generation of theorists, who are motivated by a na├»ve view that the world, had Kennedy lived, would have been very different. Under this belief, the Vietnam War, Watergate and any number of other national maladies would have been avoided by the continuation of the Camelot regime, a view that Litwin argues credibly against. These theorists simply choose to ignore the voluminous evidence developed by the Warren Commission and enhanced by the HSCA, or they say it is falsified, planted or otherwise misinterpreted. These same individuals scour the millions of available documents for bits of information that when viewed through the lens of their own bias results in confirmation of whatever pet theory they support. Most of these people will not read Litwin’s book, but they will criticize it. However, those open minded enough to give it a chance will be entertained and, in the process, learn something from a guy who has been there.

For more information see: Conspiracy


  1. Replies
    1. Would you care to be more specific?

    2. Agreed, James. No one who has responsibly, dispassionately and comprehensively examined the evidence in the JFK murder case--certainly at this late date!!--can still "swallow" the absurd and dishonest "Lone, crazed assassin" scenario. This book (and the review) clearly have nothing to offer anyone interested in the truth. NOTHING more than baloney propaganda.

  2. Thanks Tracy. I think I'll order a copy.


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