“This is content based denial of free speech in a public park and at a designated historic site. Dealey Plaza belongs to history and to the American people, especially on the 50th anniversary.”
— John Judge, executive director of the Coalition on Political Assassinations
DALLAS – In Part One of this series of reports on the JFK 50th Anniversary, I covered a two-year battle between the City of Dallas and Kennedy assassination researchers/activists over a fundamental question. Who had the right to use Dealey Plaza on November 22: the people, or the elite? (The elite won that war, of course, but not without some significant losses in the court of public opinion.)
The battle was fought in the press, in the courtroom, and today it was going to be fought in the streets of Dallas.
All the mutual distrust and tension between these opposing forces had come to a boil, despite what appeared on the surface to be an uneasy truce made a week before the November 22 ceremonies. The City of Dallas only made these last-minute concessions to avoid what would have no doubt been an embarrassing and costly lawsuit threatened by the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA).
“Half of my members wanted to go to court, and half wanted to take the mayor’s offer.” said COPA executive director John Judge. Ultimately, Judge chose the most peaceful and diplomatic solution, in keeping with the legacy of President Kennedy.
Even if you’re not a JFK Truther; even if you honestly think that Lee Harvey Oswald was a disgruntled ex-Marine-turned-Commie with a grudge against Kennedy and an incredibly magic bullet in his old broken-down gun, you gotta wonder. What is it about the JFK conspiracy theorists that cause the establishment so much consternation, anyway? Why is the City of Dallas – and indeed the government of these United States – so hellbent on shutting them up? Why has the mainstream media demonized and marginalized Kennedy assassination scholars for five decades?
Who are these people, and why are they so dangerous? Let’s meet some of them, shall we?
Robert Groden is the top dog of JFK conspiracy researchers in Dallas. To some, he’s a hero; to others a charlatan. To city officials and the Sixth Floor Museum honchos, he’s a Really Big Pain in the Ass. In their occult secret society rituals these powerful men most likely burn his effigy and stick pins in a voodoo doll while chanting Groden’s name. More than anything, they’d love to see him take a nice, long, relaxing permanent vacation in someplace like oh, Siberia, for example.
Groden achieved national prominence in 1975 when he fought a legal war to obtain – and eventually air – the Zapruder film on national TV. It was the first time the public had ever seen the film. He later worked as a forensic photographic expert to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 and was a consultant on the 1991 Oliver Stone film, JFK.
For many decades, Groden has been an unofficial sort of tour guide to Dealey Plaza, talking with curious visitors and selling his self-published books, magazines, and videos about the JFK murder. Apparently the Sixth Floor Museum didn’t appreciate the competition, and asserted their perceived right to be the only dispenser of information in Dealey Plaza. So they started calling the cops on Groden, often.
After having him ticketed, arrested, and/or jailed an astonishing 81 times for exercising his right to free speech, Groden filed a federal lawsuit against the city this year and won. Nonetheless, Groden was still excluded from all city-sponsored “official” ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary and banished from Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22 (his birthday, ironically).
The Coalition on Political Assassinations, which has gathered on the grassy knoll in some form or fashion every Nov. 22 since 1964, was also banned from the site this year by the city of Dallas.
“They know the world press is coming and they want to do an event that controls the message entirely,” COPA director Judge said. “They want us to be invisible to the press and the crowds.”
Although COPA backed down from their threatened civil rights lawsuit over access to the plaza, they did manage to gain some important concessions from the city. COPA was allowed to hold their annual moment of silence at 12:30 p.m. (the moment the president was shot) outside Dealey Plaza. Dallas officials also agreed to re-open the park to them at 2:30 p.m., after the official ceremony had ended. In return, COPA agreed they would be good little boys and girls.
A handful of COPA members, however, managed to obtain tickets to the city-sponsored official ceremonies in Dealey Plaza. Positioning themselves in front of the news cameras, COPA protesters said not a word to disrupt the proceedings but instead silently pointed to the grassy knoll. They all wore t-shirts bearing the late president’s image with the words “50 years in denial is enough.”
Most of the assassination researchers (they hate the term “conspiracy theorists”) I spoke to that day still harbored hurt feelings and bitterness over their exclusion from Dealey Plaza, understandably.
“The 50th anniversary will really be one of the last opportunities to really get this out into the public domain,” said James DiEugenio, co-founder of the Citizens for Truth About the Kennedy Assassination.
“I really and truly believe that the Kennedy assassination was quite epochal; it had reverberations down to present day,” he says. “What has happened over time is that cynicism and skepticism have seeped down into the public at large. It has caused a lot of serious problems about peoples’ belief in government and has splintered our society.”
Over at the nearby Adolphus hotel, about 400 assassination researchers from around the country had gathered for the annual convention of their group, JFK Lancer. This year’s convention was a biggie; featuring the most eminent of JFK scholars lecturing on everything from how the late Ted Sorensen Saved the World (Really!) to the allegedly sinister connection betwixt presidential patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, Jack Ruby, and his defense lawyer Melvin Belli.
Dick Russell gave an outstanding presentation about Richard Case Nagell (the man who knew too much?); Kennedy family friend Joan Mellen conducted a focus group on the Jim Garrison case against Clay Shaw, and Russ Baker brought to light new information that wasn’t included in his original “Family of Secrets” book about the Bush dynasty – including startling evidence pointing to George H.W. Bush’s alleged involvement in the Kennedy assassination.
JFK Conspiracy theories aren’t just for left-wingers anymore. Oh, no sir. After 50 years, this is no longer a partisan issue. When even Dick Morris comes to the same conclusion as Mark Lane — that Kennedy was murdered by a conspiratorial cabal, it’s time to put personal politics aside and face the facts of the case with an open mind.
Out in the streets, conservative radio talk show host Alex Jones and his army of followers marched up to the barricades surrounding Dealey Plaza. For Dallas native Jones – who was born at Parkland hospital (where JFK and Oswald both died) – the Kennedy assassination is intensely personal.
About 200 of Alex’s “infowarriors” turned out in the brutal cold and sleet to take part in the march, which was also broadcast live on his GCN Network radio show. More than a million viewers watched on Ustream while Alex confronted a thick line of Dallas police. The cops remained stoic as protesters demanded entry to the public park. “Let us in! Let us in! Let us in!” they chanted.
The public was finally allowed access to Dealey Plaza around 1:30 p.m. Police corralled them into an area behind the first perimeter of barricades. People were still not allowed into the main area of the plaza, cordoned off behind a second line of barricades.
With freezing rain beginning to fall more heavily, Alex Jones and his followers marched to Houston and Commerce streets on the edge of Dealey Plaza shouting “no more lies!” and “hell no, we won’t go!” They stood firm at the barricades but did not attempt to breach them.
About 15 minutes later, Dallas County sheriff’s deputies began to shove those in the crowd east along Commerce, away from Dealey Plaza, to an area behind the historic Old Red Courthouse. Some demonstrators were manhandled or knocked to the ground.
Members of the media (including your humble correspondent) were caught up in the crush as about 30 deputies shoved the protesters back, saying they were too close to a homeland security command unit.
Carmen Castro, spokeswoman for Sheriff Lupe Valdez, said the protesters had to be moved because they were starting to crowd “not only private citizens who were attempting to pay their respects but also equipment that was in place for the event.”
According to Castro, deputies repeatedly told the demonstrators to move and to “cease their disorderly conduct,” which, she said, included “using profanity and obscenities.”
They were forcibly moved back when they refused to obey, she said. Deputies did not use any chemicals or weapons, and no one was injured, she said. There were no arrests.
During the confrontation about 15-20 Sheriff’s deputies attacked Alex Jones directly. One officer punched him in the stomach. This same group of officers followed the crowd out of the plaza, taunting and trying to provoke the peaceful protesters into violence.
Alpha male Alex challenged them live on the air, screaming “You want to fight? Take off your badge! Take off your uniform, punk! I’ll take you in a bare-knuckles fight if you’re a real man! Come on!”
“My God,” Alex said afterward. “They literally wanted to attack us. They let us into the plaza like we agreed, and then they did that to us. This is the most mentally ill, dumb thing I’ve ever seen in my life. They let us in, and then assaulted peaceful protesters. We just saw a Dallas police riot.”
* The confrontation between police and protesters can be viewed on Alex Jones’ website, along with his complete on-air live broadcast from Dealey Plaza.