Revisiting America's first loss of faith
A Secret Service veteran summons the ghosts of Dallas
The presidential bodyguard who claims to have recovered this “magic bullet” also says he was never interviewed by the Warren Commission.
When the Pew Research Center launched its National Election Survey in 1958, 60 million Americans cited daily papers as their primary source for news, three TV networks were chasing print media, and three-quarters of those polled trusted government to tell the truth. By 1964, that margin of faith had swelled to an all-time high of 77 percent, but a demographic shift was already underway. The pivot point was the bloody weekend of November 22, 1963, in Dallas.
Two days after President Kennedy was killed by a sniper, accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot dead before an audience of millions on live TV. CBS, which had planned to unveil its new instant replay technology during an upcoming Army-Navy game, pounced on the chaos triggered by Jack Ruby and replayed replayed replayed the ambush until viewers could see it in their dreams. And just like that, television eclipsed newspaper readership for the first time, and the “cool medium” never looked back.
When the Warren Commission completed its work in September 1964, 87 percent of America believed its conclusion that Oswald acted alone. In order to make the lone-gunman theory work, investigators bet the farm on what they called Exhibit #399. It was, and remains, a three centimeter-long, lead-core slug whose pinball trajectory was so dramatic – and the scuffs it incurred relative to the massive wounds it inflicted so negligibly disproportionate – it was dubbed the “magic bullet.”
The Commission’s schematics show #399 striking Kennedy from a 19-degree angle and nailing him in the back, nearly six inches below the top of his shirt collar. It ricochets up toward his throat and rips an exit hole at the tie knot. Then it dives downward again, on a forward trajectory that hits Texas Gov. John Connally, riding in the front seat, near his right armpit. It then shatters Connally’s fifth right-side rib. It exits just below his right nipple, smashes the radius of his right wrist, darts left, and comes to a stop after piercing his left thigh.
All told, #399 slices through JFK’s back brace, 15 layers of clothing from both victims, seven layers of skin, and 15 inches of muscle tissue. But analysts detect no traces of blood, human tissue or clothing threads on the bullet — and it isn’t extracted from Connally’s leg. According to official history, it falls from Connally’s gurney after the guv had been whisked into surgery, and is discovered by a Parkland Hospital employee.
For nearly six decades, ballistics experts parry over whether or not the bullet that generated seven entry-exit wounds could emerge without being hugely disfigured. The murder mystery will flourish in American pop culture, from the “X-Files” Lone Gunmen hacker geeks to Oliver Stone’s gloriously paranoid “JFK.” The Oscar-nominated conspiracy romp leaves audiences to contemplate scenes like a sketchy figure slipping a bullet onto a gurney, and historians attack the script for its factual infidelities. Nevertheless, the dramatization is so mesmerizing it spurs Congress to pass the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which requires all related documents to be released 25 years later.
Nearly 60 years after Dallas, media consolidation has dissolved into a storm of countless particles, digital platforms have rendered both print and television obsolete, nobody reads anymore, everybody has an online megaphone and, as of last year, just 19 percent of Americans trusted the government “most of the time.”
The reasons for that are too obvious and exhausting to revisit here, but something happened a week or two ago that dragged at least a few schoolkids who grew up realizing not even the president of the United States is safe into yet another question: What does it mean when a witness close enough to have gotten splashed by the impact gore in Dallas steps forward and confesses to actually being that sketchy figure who actually did slip that spent round onto the gurney?
In a surrealistic twist of history published by the NY Times, 88-year-old former Secret Service agent Paul Landis, who rode the running board of the car directly behind the stricken presidential limousine in Dealey Plaza, says he was the guy who located the loose bullet in a seam of the backseat cushion immediately after the motorcade arrived at the hospital. Landis said he pocketed the bullet and, amid the din of confusion, without telling anyone, placed #399 on Kennedy’s stretcher (not Connally’s) for the trauma team to find and study. Young, confused, maybe even fatigued from an all-nighter, he never mentioned any of this in his formal after-action report.
Protecting the party animals?
If Landis’ confession is a cynical attempt to peddle a memoir that goes on sale next month, at least there’s a logic at work. What’s illogical is the news that the Warren Commission and its vaunted scrupulousness never bothered to personally question Landis about what he saw. Ever. Landis presumes his supervisors ran interference to protect him and JFK’s entire security entourage from massive scrutiny had the inquest discovered (as Landis claims) they’d all stayed out “socializing” until 5 a.m. on the morning they left for Dallas.
Maybe it is just that simple. One hopes.
But imagine elected officials under constant pressure to resolve, beyond a reasonable doubt, a crime of incalculable magnitude amid the din of conspiracy theories, books, and footage initially withheld from the public. Imagine them becoming disillusioned enough to organize what becomes known as the House Select Committee on Assassinations. To justify their efforts, they might resort to language like this:
“(We) began to pursue this issue and uncovered a vast web of individuals and groups with ideas and stories to share. While these stories have varying levels of credibility, the sheer number and variety has led some in Congress to believe that the Executive Branch was concealing important information . . . Congress recognizes that these records . . . were likely concealed under the good faith goal of protecting national security. However, hiding that information from both Congress and the public at large is simply unacceptable.”
Except, this isn’t the language used to sanction the HSCA in 1976. This comes from a Senate press release in July signaling nonpartisan determination to weaponize next year’s National Defense Authorization Act with laws aimed at declassifying all protected federal UFO documents. If it survives, the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Disclosure Act of 2023 will force a raft of bureaucrats to formally defend their censorship decisions. Successful legislation would become the nation’s most consequential bid for government transparency since lawmakers passed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966.
The 100-year rule
Strange, then, perhaps, that the UAP Disclosure Act authors want to use the 31-year-old Assassination Records Collection Act as a model for getting those records into the public domain. Were there no better alternatives? Since 2017, when the ARCA matured and required all JFK records to be released, an equally determined executive branch has refused to fully comply. Presidents Trump and Biden have both caved to protests from the State Department, the Defense Department, the FBI and the CIA, which have been allowed to continue to withhold and redact.
Over the last 2½ years, the Biden admin has released more than 16,000 relevant documents, and the National Archives office reassures us that 99 percent of the Kennedy records have been declassified. But three months ago, the White House cited a “postponement clause” embedded in the ARCA law designed to “protect against an identifiable harm” to security agencies if the contested info is “of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
SecDef Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon isn’t sitting on any JFK papers at all, but that “material proposed for continued postponement includes intelligence sources and methods that are still in use; military defense and foreign relations; elements of active US war plans; and information protected under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.” Does anybody keep track of how many times the Atomic Energy Act has been employed to hoard state secrets, including UAP/UFO data?
In his written request for postponement, FBI director Christopher Wray cited the need to protect the names and SSNs of scores of “living confidential sources” from the original Kennedy investigation. Those whose fates could not be ascertained would continue to be protected by the “100 year rule,” in which they would be presumed dead only after they passed their 100th birthday, “or until December 15, 2042, whichever occurs first.”
Had he not decided to write a book, would former Secret Service agent Paul Landis qualify as a “living confidential source”? Amid the infinitely more complicated and byzantine fog of UFOs, one wonders how many aging Paul Landis-caliber witnesses have stories to tell; almost certainly, agencies with the most to hide would shield them all by invoking the 100-year rule. By proposing an ARCA model for records release, Congress proves it’s out of moves when it comes to checking the whims of the executive branch.
In the meantime, the fruit bats thriving in the Warren Commission’s original breach of trust are on the move.
Last year, the Public Religion Research Institute reported that 17 percent of Americans subscribe to the QAnon cult’s endless conspiracy mongering, up 3 percent since Trump’s defeat. Its disciples now believe not only that JFK and his son are still alive, but that they’re plotting to return Trump to the White House. In 2021, a hundred or so converged on Dealey Plaza to witness the resurrection(s).
QAnon’s newest prophet is an alleged 13-year-old girl named Tiny Teflon. She uses Telegram to teach “digital soldiers” how to use numerology to decode the truth behind current events, and she appears to be excited over the prospects for shaping the future. “I definitely think,” she said during a live chat in August, “I’m gonna have more kids involved in this.”
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