JFK Assassination Theorists

"One can almost hear the sad spirit of John F. Kennedy whispering from Dealey Plaza," Marrs concludes. "Et tu, Lyndon?"

Obviously, toying with that theme alone would have assured Stone plenty of attention, but what really upset his critics was his decision to use Jim Garrison as his hero. The Garrison case, for all its fame at the time, has faded from most people's memories by now, and those needing an objective refresher course have no choice but to actually read pro- and anti-Garrison texts from the past. See On the Trail of the Assassins and, of course, JFK for the pro-Garrison view. The anti-G shelf consists of contemporary accounts of the investigation (Edward Jay Epstein's Counterplot, 1969) and trial (American Grotesque, by novelist/playwright James Kirkwood, 1970). Be warned, however. The pro- and anti-books are full of competing - often mutually exclusive - "facts," so the more you read, the more bewildered you'll become. To cite one representative example, consider the dramatic moment, late in the 1969 trial of Clay Shaw, when Shaw's lawyers stunned the courtroom by calling him to testify in his own defense.

According to Kirkwood, Garrison - who left most of the daily prosecution to his assistant, James Alcock - was not in court when that happened: "I suddenly glanced toward the prosecution table; Jim Garrison was still missing. It had never occurred to me that the district attorney would default when it came time to hear the man he'd held captive for two years reply to him.... It was incredible that he was missing."

In Garrison's recollection, he, too, was stunned. Only difference: "I was seated...at the prosecutors' table and was just lighting up my pipe when I heard [defense attorney] Irvin Dymond call `Clay Shaw.' The pipe slipped from my mouth. I have never been more astonished."

Now, why was Shaw indicted? It all has to do with the long, strange summer of 1963, which Lee Harvey Oswald spent in New Orleans passing out "Fair Play for Cuba" leaflets on street corners. In Counterplot Garrison tells Epstein that this pro-Castro stance was merely a pose. Oswald was working out of an office building, 544 Camp Street, which housed a motley crew of right wingers and anti-Castro exiles. One dark figure was the late Guy Banister, a former FBI agent who had drifted far to the right - according to Anthony Summers he was a Bircher, a Minuteman, a member of Louisiana's Committee on Un-American Activities, and he produced a racist publication called Louisiana Intelligence Digest. He ran a detective agency that employed the services of the aforementioned David Ferrie. The whole setup, many researchers have said, was a front for anti-Castro activities.

Epstein, paraphrasing an interview with Garrison, sums up Garrison's theory like so: Oswald "had in fact been part of an anti-Castro assassination team trained by David Ferrie. Ferrie, in turn, was in some important way - he never explained how - personally involved with Clay Shaw. When a plan to shoot Castro was aborted because Oswald could not obtain a visa to visit Cuba, the assassination team turned its attention to President Kennedy." Early on, Garrison insisted that the CIA was tangled up in JFK's death, and during a famous January 31, 1968, Tonight Show appearance (arranged at the urging of the leading celebrity JFK buff of the day - yes, Mort Sahl), Garrison told Johnny that "the Central Intelligence Agency was deeply involved in the assassination." Shaw, he believed, was a CIA operative.

During the Shaw trial, which commenced in 1969, Garrison produced witnesses who claimed to have seen and heard Shaw with alleged conspirators. One star witness, for example, was Perry Raymond Russo, a young insurance agent who told a story about being at a party where Shaw (using the alias Clay Bertrand) and David Ferrie discussed the conspiracy to murder the president. Here, again, there are competing realities. According to Kirkwood, Russo's unconvincing testimony came thanks to very suggestive hypnotic coaxing by Dr. Esmond Fatter, who put Russo under at Garrison's request. "Let your mind go completely blank, Perry," Fatter instructed him at one point. "It is very vivid - now notice the picture on the [imaginary TV] screen - there will be Bertrand, Ferrie, and Oswald and they are going to discuss a very important matter and there is another man and girl there and they are talking about assassinating somebody. Look at it and describe it to me." As Garrison tells it, Russo was a stellar witness and the defense never laid a glove on him. As the jury saw it, the witnesses weren't convincing. Shaw was acquitted in about an hour.

Of the more recent anti-Garrison diatribes, George Lardner's was mainly a recap of Garrison's past atrocities and a harsh critique of JFK's script. The one in the November 1991 Esquire by Robert Sam Anson, author of a 1975 buff book - They've Killed the President - is the most compelling. Anson calls the Garrison investigation a "paranoid charade" and quotes Stone in a long, drunken ramble that indicates this experience has made him go slightly batty: "You call yourselves journalists? You're caricatures of journalism!... You have becme George Orwell's creation! You could be a Russian working for Stalin in Pravda in 1955. You are liars! You just invent history! You should go back to school and learn honesty! That's where it starts! Honesty!"

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