Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas and Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the crime. Depending on whom you ask, however, that may be either all we really know about the assassination or all there is to know. No crime in American history has inspired as much debate—or as many books—as the events of November 22nd, 1963. Not all conspiracies are created equal; we asked twelve scholars of the crime of the century for the most unbelievable theories they’ve ever heard.

Vincent Bugliosi, author of Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

The secret service agent whose gun accidentally goes off and kills the president. Its just unbelievable. In the first place, no one heard his gun go off. There were nine other people in that limousine, and they didn’t hear a gun go off. You normally would, if you’re sitting one or two feet from someone and their gun goes off. The notion that he fell backward, and the gun went off and just happened to hit the president in the same place Oswald had been aiming at, but had happened to miss a second earlier. To show you how not credible these sorts of theories are, at one time or another, conspiracy theorists have accused 42 groups, 82 assassins, and 214 people by name of being involved in the assassination.

Priscilla Johnson McMillan, author of Marina and Lee: The Tormented Love and Fatal Obsession Behind Lee Harvey Oswald's Assassination of John F. Kennedy,

The most outrageous theory about the assassination would be any theory that says Lyndon Johnson had anything to do with it. This is a popular theory because one of maddening things about the Kennedy Assassination, what people cannot accept, is the disparity between the magnitude of the deed and the insignificance of the perpetrator.

Anthony Summers, author of Not in Your Lifetime: The Defining Book on the J.F.K. Assassination

One is spoiled for choice. The notion that a member of the President's Secret Service detail shot JFK by mistake rates high amongst theories that some take seriously. Then there is the proposal that an impostor lies buried in Oswald's grave. Ludicrous, yet it led to the body being exhumed. At the crazy extreme, I keep an initially sane-sounding letter that offered to prove Kennedy was merely "removed from office" and escaped by crouching down on the floor of the limousine. This rates high in my Loonies file. There is a very basic reason that almost 60% of the American people think there was a conspiracy. They are confronted by a great contradiction. The first official investigation, the Warren Commission, found that there was a lone gunman, Oswald, while the House Assassinations Committee concluded that there was "probably" a conspiracy. That aside, people have now had well over forty years of hearing conspiracy theories ranging from the credible to the deranged. Finally, for many people - and this is society's problem - the mysteries of the assassination have become grisly entertainment. To a great extent, blame the media for that.

Dean R. Owen, author of November 22, 1963: Reflections on the Life, Assassination, and Legacy of John F. Kennedy

The most outrageous conspiracy theories are that there was a “double” to Mr. Oswald and that the Warren Commission combined the biographies of two men into one, that Mr. Oswald was a CIA operative who had become a security risk, Mr. Oswald had been paid by a representative of Cuban leader Fidel Castro to assassinate the president. The culture of assassination conspiracies is fueled, in part, by the improbability that Lee Harvey Oswald, an odd, some might say disturbing, individual, could have acted alone. How is it that our 35th president was gunned down by a lone Communist armed with a $12 rifle and delusions of grandeur, in a city that, as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. characterizes in my book, was “a seething cauldron of right-wing depravity?”  The only person able to explain fully his reasons was himself killed two days later. 

Mark Fenster, author of Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture

I would put the entire genre of alien conspiracy theories in there. Most of them are focused on Kennedy's supposed knowledge of or interest in aliens and alien abduction. No doubt someone has alleged the reptilians did it. I prefer plausibility in my conspiracy narratives. At a certain level, many of them are plausible. There are enough anomalies and coincidences in the event and enough mysteries surrounding it, and that period in political history is so rich, that many of the earthly theories seem at least minimally believable. My preference for consuming CIA-based conspiracies is personal and not particularly rational, given that I'm not convinced that the CIA of that era has shown itself as an organization to be exceptionally competent at doing anything but ruining other countries and people's lives in openly secretive ways. Pulling off a JFK hit and keeping it secret this long would be the mark of an incredibly competent plot.

James Piereson, author of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism

I think the most outlandish is David Lifton’s theory—from his book  Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy—that Kennedy’s body was stolen between Dallas and Washington, and his wounds were altered to suggest he was shot from the back when in fact he was shot from the grassy knoll. That seems to be the wackiest I’ve encountered. Then there’s the one involving Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down in a U-S flight over the Soviet Union in the spring of 1960—when the U.S, was sending surveillance flights over the Soviet Union. Oswald served at an Air Force Base in Japan from 1958 to 1959 where flights like these were taking off. He was a radio operator there. He wasn’t given access to the U-2, but the enlisted men saw these planes taking off from the base. Powers, after he was shot down, was exchanged for a Soviet spy in 1962. He came back and wrote a book in which he claimed that Oswald gave the Soviet union the information they needed to shoot down the U-2—how high they fly, where to aim their surface to air missiles. That has never been authenticated and the CIA has always denied it. What are the chances this one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, was involved in the two most major incidents of the Cold War?

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