You still hear people argue that the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center was an “inside job,” planned and orchestrated by George W. Bush and company. They say it was staged to provide the U.S. with grounds for launching a full-scale invasion of Iraq.
The three most common reasons given for our wanting to invade Iraq are (1) to provide additional security for Israel, (2) to gain control of Iraqi oil, and (3) to pay back Saddam Hussein for trying to kill Bush’s dad. Fair enough. But the problem with conspiracy theories, especially big, ambitious capers like this one, is that they tend to raise more questions than they answer. They ignore the reasonable and obvious, and go for the sensational.
For example, if the goal were to get American approval for the invasion of Iraq, why didn’t the masterminds behind the plot make certain the perpetrators had Iraqi identities? Believe me, if my friends and I had planned this deal, making sure these guys had Iraqi IDs would have been our first order of business. As we all know, the perps who brought down the towers were Saudis. It’s a simple criticism, but it speaks volumes.
Polls show that the majority of Americans still believe the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy, the Warren Report was unreliable, and Lee Harvey Oswald couldn’t have acted alone. But when people tell me it was impossible for someone like Oswald—a confused, 24-year old ex-marine who’d failed at everything he’d ever tried—to pull off something as complicated as the assassination of a U.S. president, I direct their attention to one John Warnock Hinckley.
On March 30, 1981 (seventeen years after the Kennedy assassination, with presidential security now much improved), Hinckley, a timid, 25-year old former mental patient, casually walked up to Ronald Reagan in broad daylight on a busy Washington D.C. street (with him surrounded by Secret Service agents), and fired six shots at point-blank range, one hitting Reagan in the chest, missing his heart by an inch. So much for the theory that presidential assassinations have to be “complicated.”
Just consider what would have happened if Hinckley had then turned the gun on himself, leaving us with no clue as to why he did it (remember his obsession with actress Jodie Foster?). We can only imagine the conspiracy theories that would’ve proliferated as a result. Indeed, Geraldo Rivera would still be on TV today. And pity the fool bold enough to have suggested that this Hinckley dude was just some nutcase who had acted alone, because that explanation would’ve been dismissed out of hand.
Hard as it is to beat a murder rap by pleading non compos mentis, Hinckley did it. The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Think about that. Even though it’s been proven to us that a crazy person, a clinically insane man, can walk up to a U.S. president and shoot him in the chest, we still can’t bring ourselves to accept the notion that Oswald acted alone.
Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence, both circumstantial and conclusive, that implicated Oswald, we still insist Kennedy’s murder can only be explained by appealing to a wildly bizarre, shadowy conspiracy that involved everyone from the Cubans, to the CIA, to the Mafia, to Lyndon Johnson himself. With that array of sinister characters it’s no wonder Mark Lane wrote a book, and Oliver Stone made a movie.
I’m not suggesting I’m smarter or know more than other people. Far from it. All I’m saying is that we don’t always need a proportionately grandiose theory to explain a grandiose act. Sometimes big things get done by obscure people. If Timothy McVeigh hadn’t been caught we’d still be looking for the guys who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City. And it’s a good bet their profile would be “radical Arab Jihadist,” and not “white, 26-year old, homegrown ex-Army.”
DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org