SocraticGadfly: A new JFK conspiracy theory and book (updated)

September 12, 2023

A new JFK conspiracy theory and book (updated)

Secret Service agent Paul Landis, releasing a book eight years after he first decided to talk to ONE person, former Secret Service director Lewis Merletti about allegedly finding an "extra" bullet from the JFK assassination, has sparked Vanity Fair's James Robenalt into conspiracy theory.

There's many problems, to expand on what I said on Twitter.

First, the framing. "Camelot" didn't exist; if you accept that premise, you're less likely to believe in conspiracy theorists.

Second, Ockham's Razor. The idea that Landis wouldn't have had said SOMETHING to some other SS agent and then have them play "telephone" and say something before 2015? Let alone something of this leaking, not from Landis necessarily, but from Parkland engineer Derrell Tomlinson or someone else. And, in reality, contra Robenalt, claims about Tomlinson are full of problems, per Fred Litwin. In addition, the issue of whether that bullet was CS 399 or not, and what Tomlinson identified as such, leads conspiracy theorists to trip over their own untied shoelaces.

In addition, the idea that Landis' memory, self-admittedly PTSD-influenced, would still be pristine 51 years later when he finally decided to talk to Merletti? Questionable. As is the idea of how such a bullet would be the real "pristine" or "magic" bullet (I see what I did there) and stay in place on the top of the back seat of the Kennedy limo while hauling ass to Parkland. As is the idea of how it would "jump" from Kennedy's stretcher to Connelly's (I see what I did with that), that's not explained.

Related? We have ethical problems. The Cleveland paper reports Robenalt helped write the book; not spelled out in Vanity Fair.

And, per Peter Baker at the NYT, given Landis' PTSD, an even bigger problem:

James Robenalt, a Cleveland lawyer and author of several books of history, has deeply researched the assassination and helped Mr. Landis process his memories.

I smell a conspiracy theory rat, or to be more polite, if not a full believer, then a "fellow traveler." Robenalt does call himself Landis' "confidant" at Vanity Fair, but says nothing more — despite the NYT story being linked. (Frankly, that comes off as a pro forma linking, once VF heard the NYT was doing a piece.)

And, the ethics problems aren't entirely Robenalt's. They're Vanity Fair's, too.

Beyond that, per the NYT, I'm with Posner on this, on the memory issues, even if they weren't "processed":

Gerald Posner, author of “Case Closed,” a 1993 book that concluded that Oswald indeed killed Kennedy on his own, said he was dubious. While he did not question Mr. Landis’s sincerity, Mr. Posner said the story did not add up. 
“People’s memories generally do not improve over time, and it is a flashing warning sign to me, about skepticism I have over his story, that on some very important details of the assassination, including the number of shots, his memory has gotten better instead of worse,” he said. 
“Even assuming that he is accurately describing what happened with the bullet,” Mr. Posner added, “it might mean nothing more than we now know that the bullet that came out of Governor Connally did so in the limousine, not on a stretcher in Parkland where it was found.”

Posner has MUCH more at his Substack. Additional details there that lead me to further question this book.

One, Landis HAS BEEN interviewed before, more than once, and Robenalt never mentions that in the Vanity Fair piece.

Two, per what Landis told the NYT, he has weird theories about how bullets can operate, even for conspiracy theorists.

Three, he notes Landis gets the "two gurneys" idea wrong, along with the timeline of when JFK's body was being removed from Parkland and more. He also notes that, as he said in "Case Closed," that Kennedy's and Connolly's stretchers were never side-by-side in Parkland. He notes that Tomlinson bumped into one of two gurneys, either Connolly's or one next to it that was NOT JFK's.

Four, Posner speculates that is looking for his slice of fame. One thing I think Posner is missing is that Robenalt might be looking for HIS slice of fame.

Five, Posner has more, elsewhere on his Substack, in an interview with Michael Smerconish. He talks about "a kernel of truth" but rejects the "embellishments."

He also tells Smerconish that he heart Clint Hill interviewed by NBC. Hill said there are "inconsistencies and problems ... contradictions" in the book.

Posner also adds, in a reply to another commenter, this:

author Gerald Posner Sep 10 Author Hi Laura, I was thinking about your dad and how utterly horrified he would have been to think that a Secret Service agent might have found a bullet in the presidential limo, and that instead of immediately notifying his superiors, he put it in his pocket and then later left in on an empty gurney at Parkland Texas has a new law as of Sept 1 that eliminates the statute of limitations for tampering with evidence in a murder case. It’s meant to help resolve decades old cold cases. I don’t think Landis is aware of that law.

I'm sure neither Landis nor Robenalt is aware of that.

What else is there to say?

Third (on main thread numbering) other details? Per "Case Closed," it is not "conjecture" that people were hit by concrete fragments. It's reality. So is the idea that the it was the first bullet that missed, from Oswald rushing his first shot. With that, there's plenty of time for Oswald, trained at Marine "marksman" level, to have fired as he did, "pristine-Landis" bullet aside. (Robenalt's claim that Oswald couldn't have fired as fast as he did itself seems to be aside from Landis' extra bullet claim and is just wrong.)

Fourth, referencing the autopsy as though it were pristine, yet wrong? No. Everybody knows it was botched and rushed because it was done at Bethesda at Bobby's insistence.

Fifth, living in the Metromess most of the 2000s, as in 2000-aughts. I've been all around Dealey Plaza. I've been up to the museum. I've been to Dealey Plaza on a Nov. 22 and seen representatives of different conspiracy theories trying to evangelize each other. That's how I know this would not have been THAT hard of shooting for Oswald, the man who had previously almost killed Gen. Walker. 

Sixth, to another angle on Ockham's Razor? If you believe Oswald was one of the shooters, why would an outside conspirator use him, unstable as he was, with another shooter? And, Lee certainly didn't start a conspiracy himself.

To me, it sounds as if "processing memories" might involve exploitation. Robenalt has not been on my JFK conspiracy theory radar screen, but I'll have to google more.

Robenalt sounds a bit more sketchy, gullible, or something, on one other big issue, per his Wiki page, namely this:

Together with John W. Dean, President Richard Nixon's White House Counsel, Robenalt created a continuing education program on the national level called "The Watergate CLE."[3] This continuing legal education program, which was launched in Chicago in June 2011, has Robenalt teaching legal ethics and the representation of an organization under new Model Rules 1.13 and 1.6. John Dean plays the role of a fact witness while Watergate is used as a case study.

I personally think John Dean's ethics and honesty vis a vis Watergate smell like three-day-old dead mackerel on a sidewalk. And I speak from previous experience reading Dean write about Watergate. (I will add that it is possible an older Robenalt eventually repented of younger-age gullibility about Dean.)

And, related to that, Posner did say "kernel of truth," but he was focused on Landis, not Robenalt. I'll keep the header as I have it, from what I said about Robenalt quite possibly seeking new fame as well.

Update: The Dallas Observer has a decent weigh-in.

Overall? I stand by the title. Landis may not be an active conspiracy theorist, but per Posner, he has mentioned people running around the grassy knoll. That, added to this, leaves him open to the charge, at a minimum, even if that's not his primary motivation.

And Robenalt seems ethically sketchy overall, even if I can't find anything in his past to nail him down as a conspiracy theorist.

But, re-reading Peter Baker's piece, he sure walks, talks and quacks like a conspiracy theory duck. And, on journalistic ethics? There's a failure by Baker to push him more on what he meant by "processing" Landis' memories and other things.

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