The modern master of the conspiracy theory meets the Kennedy assassination.
That’s essentially the scenario as President Donald Trump, who built his political career fanning the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US and has made sport of creating new ones, took the opportunity to green-light part of a trove of previously classified documents related to the JFK assassination – while citing national security to keep many of them secret, at least on a temporary basis.
Trump has relished releasing the documents, teasing it on Twitter and in comments to reporters, although the opportunity came to him courtesy of a law enacted 25 years ago in 1992, after the release of fellow conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone’s movie about the assassination.
His surprise decision late Thursday to accede to mysterious government agency requests and keep a few of the documents secret will only add fuel to the fire.
Trump even added to Kennedy conspiracy canon when, during the 2016 campaign, he pushed the scurrilous idea that rival Ted Cruz’s father had been photographed with Lee Harvey Oswald. There’s no evidence to support that report, which came from the Trump-friendly National Enquirer. In case you needed that to be stated.
The Kennedy assassination theories are legion – read about some of them here – and it is, in many ways, the greatest conspiracy theory in US history that Oswald had help. Every responsible examination has come to the conclusion he did not.
The release of documents isn’t expected to shatter those conclusions. Nor is it likely to convince Americans. A Gallup survey in 2013 found that 61% didn’t think Oswald acted alone. If the many reviews and millions of pages of already public documents haven’t put the conspiracy theories to rest, neither will this. It’s not clear what Trump’s thoughts are on the Kennedy assassination.
It bears mentioning that Trump has started, pushed and profited from a number of non-Kennedy conspiracy theories during his career.
Here are some of those, just as a refresher and without re-litigating any of them, in no particular order:
1. Barack Obama was not born in the US
Trump was, in many ways, Birther No. 1. Long after it was shown Obama was born in Hawaii, Trump wouldn’t admit that was true. He finally did, but turned the spectacle of his comeuppance, in September 2016, into a marketing event for his new hotel and a jibe at Hillary Clinton. None of the other theories Trump has fanned have ended with anything close to this type of finality. But it bears mentioning that if conspiracy theories were to judged on their efficiency, this is Trump’s piece de resistance. Back in September of 2015, 20% of Americans doubted Obama was born in the US, 29% of Americans (and 43% of Republicans) thought he was a Muslim.
2. 3 million illegal votes cost him a popular victory
This is not true and there’s no evidence to support it, but Trump has repeated the claim over and over. He even, as President, appointed a commission to investigate the idea. Their work is ongoing, apparently, but we haven’t seen anything to suggest a widespread voter fraud conspiracy.
3. Barack Obama bugged him
Trump started this one on Twitter as the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia heated up. He alleged that the former President had wire-tapped Trump Tower in New York. While some of his campaign staffers may have been under FBI surveillance, there’s no evidence that Obama was personally involved or that Trump himself was wiretapped.
4. Ted Cruz’s father was in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald
See above. Trump repeated this after Cruz declined to endorse him during the Republican National Convention. The two seem to have mended fences, somewhat, but the effects of Trump’s claim linger. Cruz was asked about the release of the JFK documents this week. “They should be public,” he told TMZ.
5. The deep state is out to get him
This is a broader and more sinister idea, arguably, than any of the others. And it has pervaded his administration, pushed most by his former chief strategist Steve Bannon. The idea is that there is an ingrained secret subculture of government apparatchiks bent on the destruction of his presidency. Related: What is a deep state?
6. The media is full of fake news
Since he won the election, Trump has been on an all-out campaign to delegitimize the news media as “fake” and all trying to make him look bad. He’s turned it into a hashtag, a joke, an accusation, an applause line and more.
There are more, for sure. His claims about Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11. You could put some of his claims about Hillary Clinton into the conspiracy theory bin, as well.