This week’s hot conspiracy theory centers around UFOs, JFK, CIA and a murderous plot to keep the “truth” from “the people.” Every element in this conspiratorial alphabet soup should sound familiar. No one even blinks at the underlying notion that JFK was not killed by lone wolf, Soviet sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald as per the Warren Commission’s official report. The arguments center on “who” and “why” rather than “if” someone other than Oswald was involved. A 2013 Gallup poll coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination found that 61% of Americans believe that others besides Oswald were involved.
The murder of JFK remains our most prominent, and perhaps most plausible conspiracy theory, but it is far from the only one. Virtually every major event — 9/11, school shootings, Moon landings, Mars exploration — draw fervent theories about false flags, nefarious machinations, disinformation, Illuminati, even reptilian overlords. Florida Atlantic University communications Prof. James Tracy was just fired for espousing the notion that the Obama administration staged the Sandy Hook school mass shooting to advance gun control. Tracy has also questioned the San Bernardino terrorist attack, the Boston Marathon bombings, and the Charleston massacre.
Why are so many of us prone to indulging, if not outright supporting, conspiracy theories that blatantly, willfully defy logic? Why do so many of us recoil from Occam’s Razor? Ultimately, this is about how the human mind works, and devising coherent and compelling stories whether or not they fit the facts on the ground is the mental equivalent of pareidolia, i.e., seeing or hearing patterns where none exist or are merely coincidental. We hear “words” in the white noise static of an EVP. We see a humanoid form in the mist of a cemetery. We see a monster in a floating tree trunk. We see a face in a Mars rock formation.
Pareidolia likely has an evolutionary basis in the advantage gained from infants recognizing faces of parents and familiars and responding warmly, generating a warm response back in kind. It was also extremely advantageous to be able to spot predators and enemies skulking in the bush before they could make one a snack or a trophy. So our brains are highly sensitive to anthropomorphic patterns, especially faces, and prone to seeing them even when the source is random because the downside of seeing false patterns is far less drastic than missing real patterns.
Conspiracy theorists also see patterns whether or not they actually exist because the ability to spot real plots, and yes, conspiracies confers far more advantage — not being killed, overthrown, manipulated, duped — than seeing false positives confers disadvantage. Plus, the human mind loves a story, a coherent tale that ties together loose ends and proves that human behavior has meaning, isn’t random, and is leading somewhere. It is extremely easy to be pulled into these narratives, to play “what-if,” to suspend disbelief, to take the plausibility of any given story out for a test run. And once you are on that test run, it can be difficult to pull out, especially if the story confirms already existing beliefs, predispositions, or prejudices.
Popular culture only reinforces these tendencies. TV shows like The X Files, Warehouse 13, The Librarians, Supernatural, Heroes, Agents of Shield, and many more assert that magic (or UFOs, monsters, witches, ghosts, superheroes, etc) are real and that the government is either ignorant, in cahoots, or actively deceiving the masses about such truths. Vastly popular film franchises like Mission Impossible, James Bond, Bourne, Avengers assert that governmental or quasi-governmental conspiracies are routine and we are fools to think otherwise.
UFOs JFK CIA and the Clintons
In a late-December interview with New Hampshire’s Conway Daily Sun, reporter Daymond Steer asked presidential candidate Hilary Clinton about her intentions regarding UFO disclosure were she to become president. “Yes, I’m going to get to the bottom of it,” said Clinton with “enthusiasm,” according to Steer. “I think we may have been [visited already]. We don’t know for sure.” Clinton also said she would like to look into Area 51. Her husband Bill Clinton told late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel in 2014 that he wouldn’t be surprised if Earth had been visited by aliens since so many planets may support life. “I just hope it’s not like ‘Independence Day,'” said the former president.
In response, “writer, teacher, Ufologist” Scott C. Waring, who has never seen a rock that doesn’t confirm an alien civilization, took to his pulpit on UFO Sightings Daily: “Presidential candidate Hillary [sic] Clinton doesn’t know it yet, but she does not have the power to release such information. CIA would kill her before she could, just like they did JFK. Yes, just a week before his death JFK wrote a memo to CIA to release all pertinent info to NASA, but…somehow he was killed before it ever happened. JFK wrote the memo to CIA on Nov 12, 1963, then on Nov 22, 1963 he was killed by the CIA. That’s how US politics work.”
The memo was released by the CIA in 2011 to author William Lester under a Freedom of Information Act request. In the memo Kennedy wrote to the head of the CIA ten days before he was murdered demanding access to top-secret UFO files and requesting a division of UFO sightings into “the knowns and unknowns” so that the authorities would be able to focus on the “unknowns” that were potential threats to national security and U.S.-Soviet relations. Kennedy’s particular concern was that the Soviets would mistake UFO sightings for U.S. spy planes and assume U.S. aggression.
The memo reads, “It would be very helpful if you would have the high threat cases reviewed with the purpose of identification of bona fide as opposed to classified CIA and USAF sources. It is important that we make a clear distinction between the knowns and unknowns in the event the Soviets try to mistake our extended cooperation as a cover for intelligence gathering of their defense and space programs… I would like you to arrange a program of data sharing with NASA where unknowns are a factor.”
Kennedy wrote an additional memo to the NASA administrator requesting cooperation between NASA and the Russians on “mutual outer space activities.” Four days after the November 12, 1963 memo Kennedy visited to NASA’s facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Then he was killed. Hmm.
The logical question is, why would the CIA go to the extraordinary lengths of murdering the standing U.S. president in cold blood because he was concerned the Soviets would mistake reports of UFO sightings for U.S. spy plane activity? Given the then-recent Cuban Missile Crisis, Gary Powers U2 affair, and extreme Cold War tensions, this was hardly an unreasonable concern and actually had little or nothing to do with the “truth” of UFOs. There is nothing to suggest Kennedy was going to “reveal” the reality of alien UFO activity even if he were provided it, nor that the CIA had such a large stake in preserving the secret that it would kill a president to preserve it. Wouldn’t such a revelation actually increase the legitimacy and power of an intelligence organization?
Conspiracy theories that Kennedy was killed by the Mafia, Cuban agents, even rogue elements of the CIA for reasons other than UFO revelation make a lot more sense and may even be true. After all, there ARE real conspiracies from time to time.