By John Judge (COPA)
On the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, now almost 50 years ago, an independent and feisty newspaperman, Penn Jones, Jr., editor of the Midlothian Mirror about 35 miles south of Dallas, came to hear JFK’s scheduled speech at the International Trade Mart building along Stemmons Freeway. Penn, and other reports were sitting at the lunch tables for the event when they got news that Kennedy had been shot in Dealey Plaza and was on his way to Parkland Hospital with serious wounds.
George Dealey was a conservative newspaper editor at the Dallas Morning News who had no love for President Kennedy. D.H. Byrd, of the rich and politically influential Byrd family of both Texas and Virginia, owned the Texas School Book Depository building at Dealey Plaza, where Lee Harvey Oswald worked. Byrd also despised John F. Kennedy. Years later he was reported to have removed the original window frame from the Sixth Floor of his building, the alleged window that was part of the “sniper’s nest” from which the fatal shots were supposedly fired by Oswald, and hung it in his hunting trophy room at home next to heads of deer and other trophies.
Penn Jones and other reporters rushed from the Trade Center and drove to Parkland Hospital, and later to the scene of the crime that day. Penn did his job as a journalist, taking pictures and asking questions. One of his photos caught the back of Jack Ruby going into Parkland Hospital when both JFK and Gov. John Connally were still in the building. Ruby was in many interesting locations on November 22, and was seen by one credible witness taking a rifle up the back of the Grassy Knoll in Dealey Plaza. Ruby had access to the Dallas police station and had many friends among the Dallas cops. He was present at public press conferences where Lee Harvey Oswald protested his innocence and claimed to be a “patsy”. When a Dallas police official stated to the press that Oswald was part of the Free Cuba Committee (an anti-Castro organization based in Miami, Florida), Jack Ruby spoke up to correct him, saying “It’s the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.” This from a man who the Warren Commission (set up by President Lyndon Johnson to study the crime) said did not know Lee Harvey Oswald and who was reportedly a disinterested a bar and striptease joint owner in Dallas. The next day Jack Ruby was able to be present during the transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald to another jail and he leapt out and fatally shot him.
Penn Jones began to collect evidence from the first day of events in Dallas that would later severely contradict the official version of events being reported in the Dallas Morning News, and across the country by press and electronic media, and also contradicted the final conclusions of the Warren Commission report, which blamed Oswald without trail of being the “lone assassin” of President Kennedy. The hard ballistics, forensic, medical and witness evidence revealed over the years and available to both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) fifteen years later, exonerates Oswald and points to multiple gunmen and a conspiracy to kill the President in Dallas. Penn’s investigation almost immediately centered on the untimely and violent deaths of witnesses and others who knew information that contradicted the official statements of the Dallas police and press. He would eventually collect information on nearly 175 suspicious witness deaths, continuing into the era of the House Select Committee.
Penn first wrote his articles in the small circulation Midlothian Mirror, but eventually collected them into a series of four books, Forgive My Grief, and his work was printed in Ramparts, the L.A. Free Press and The Rebel over the years.
In 1964, Penn Jones returned to the scene of the crime on November 22 at 12:30 pm and held a Moment of Silence to commemorate the death of a President he loved and to keep alive the need for a criminal investigation into the still unsolved assassination of JFK. He continued this tradition for many years, when only a handful of people would return annually to ask the question, “Who Really Killed President Kennedy?” and to speak truth to power. The established press, the national media and government bodies continued in the other direction, along with the FBI and CIA who were hiding documents, destroying and altering evidence, and giving instructions on how to discredit the critics of the official reports. To this day, the national media have their own annual tradition around the time of the assassination of presenting yet another “special investigative report” that tries to buttress the flawed conclusions of the Warren Commission and smear all evidence to the contrary as “conspiracy theory”.
I joined Penn Jones, Jr. out on the Grassy Knoll for his annual vigil starting in the early 1970s and have been there every year but one, when we visited the Kennedy family gravesite instead. By then, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had also been assassinated by a modus operandi and cover-up that was very similar to the assassination in 1963. The same agencies and the press and police played a similar role in hiding the truth and framing a pasty for each crime. Few people know that Robert Kennedy believed his brother was murdered by a political conspiracy and told close associates that he would reopen the investigation if he was able to be elected into the White House. Even fewer people know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was high on his list of possible running mates for the presidency in 1968. All these deaths served to kill public hope for social and political change and left the rising Military Industrial Intelligence Complex warned about by outgoing President Eisenhower in 1963, and a permanent war economy and Cold War and nuclear arsenal were left in place to grow, along with the power of the intelligence agencies and the national security and police state who were clearly suspect of playing a role in these murders.
In the intervening years a body of literature questioning the official conclusions of the Warren Commission, and the events themselves, led the vast majority of Americans to conclude that there was a conspiracy that went beyond Oswald, or in some cases one that framed Oswald and concealed the real killers. That majority has not really wavered to this day. A small group of researchers worked on the JFK case over those years, filing FOIA requests, digging into new evidence, interviewing witnesses the Commission ignored or misrepresented, giving lectures to the public, and calling for a new investigation. There was enough public pressure in that direction by the mid-1970s to convince Congress to create a Select Committee of the House to study the murders of both President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hobbled by political considerations and the loss of its original staff director, homicide prosecutor Richard Sprague, the HSCA failed to answer many questions about the forensic evidence and the guilt of the alleged assassins, but did end its probe in 1978, concluding that there had been a “probably conspiracy” which it instructed the Justice Department and FBI to investigate further. To date, those agencies have neither done an honest or thorough investigation of these murders, nor examined the evidence pointing to the role of J. Edgar Hoover, former FBI director in both the assassinations and the cover-up. The HSCA Chairman then ordered their extensive investigative files sealed from public view for 50 years, until 2028. President Johnson had also sealed the Warren Commission investigative files for 75 years in 1965, for potential release in 2035. Freedom of Information Act requests and legal suits succeeded in the getting several thousands of pages released from 1964-1994, but nowhere near the complete classified records on JFK alone.
In the 1980s, one of the people who came out annually for the Moment of Silence was a California labor organizer who had worked with Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Union. He would hold up a cardboard sign with the insignia of that group that had been splattered with the blood of Robert F. Kennedy in his presence on the night of the assassination at the Ambassador Hotel. He also knew what the country had lost with the death of the Kennedy brothers. The Dallas Morning News did not send reporters out to cover our annual events. I once suggested to Penn Jones that we few were like a small remaining flame for democracy and truth in a darkening world. Only a handful of people were out there on the Grassy Knoll until the 30th anniversary in 1993.
What changed everything was the release in 1991 of Oliver Stone’s film, JFK, based on a book, On The Trail of the Assassins by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who had tried to prosecute conspirators involved in killing Kennedy who had operated out of his city in the period before the assassination, and who knew Lee Harvey Oswald when he lived there briefly. Defeated in court, but adamant in his writings about the reality of the conspiracy he tried to unearth, which went to the top levels of the Pentagon and the CIA, Garrison had called at the end of the trial for release of the JFK assassination files in time for his young son to read them. Stone based the film very accurately on the official records released by the Warren Commission in 26 volumes of evidence and on the investigative work of many serious critics in the intervening years. Every line of dialogue in the film script was footnoted to a known source or witness. Stone presented Garrison’s legal case as it developed into his arguments at trial. At the end of the film, Stone had a short notice that the files remained sealed to that day.
The film introduced a whole new generation to the questions that remain about the murder of John F. Kennedy and made a plausible argument for motive, means and opportunity for enemies of the President in the government who conspired to stage a military coup to prevent his policies that aimed at peace instead of ongoing and even nuclear war with the Soviet Union, Vietnam and Cuba, and his support for domestic changes regarding racism, wealth and poverty, and international relations that would end the Cold War and promote the United States in a more positive role around the world. The trailer regarding the records generated hundreds of thousands of calls and letters to Congress calling for their release and gave momentum to the passage of the JFK Assassination Records Act in 1992, drafted and supported by the research community working on JFK’s assassination. The Committee for an Open Archives, formed in 1989 to promote legislation opening the records and the evidence to public scrutiny, had generated several earlier bills, which did not get out of committee. The Records Act was not really implemented until 1994, when an independent Records Review Board was created and began a four-year process of releasing over 4.5 million pages of classified records, and setting the machinery of review in motion that has resulted in a total of over 6 million pages released to date. More files remain buried and their release is being considered under the earlier and flawed provisions of the FOIA and in court actions. The HSCA files on Dr. King’s murder remain sealed until 2028, lacking legislation or a decision by the Clerk of the House.
In 1994, the Committee for an Open Archives proposed the creation of a national coalition and network of researchers and organizations representing our interests to effectively oversee the functions of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board and to continue serious research into the emerging documentary and scientific evidence in the major political assassinations of the 1960s and since. The Review Board was receptive to our expertise in the case and our input and worked effectively for release rather than postponement of records, and ended its work in 1998.
The new organization, the Coalition on Political Assassinations, continues to work for full release of classified files relating to our own history and holds annual conferences in Dallas, Texas on the best new evidence being released or discovered in these unsolved murders. We commemorate JFK’s speech ending the Cold War, seeking détente and calling for an end to the nuclear arms race and weapons testing on June 10, 1963, at the site on the campus of American University, Washington, DC at noon, by the memorial plaque. Every fifth year we have held conferences in Memphis and Los Angeles on the anniversary dates of the murders of Dr. King (April 4) and Robert F. Kennedy (June 6) in 1968. Next year will be the 45th anniversary of our deaths as well. COPA has also sponsored discussions on the assassination of Malcolm X in New York City over the recent years, some of them held in conjunction with the Dr. Betty Shabazz/Malcolm X Memorial Center at the site of the old Audubon Hotel in Harlem where he was killed on February 21, 1965. See www.politicalassassinations.
By the mid-1990’s, Penn Jones, Jr. was suffering from an advancing case of Alzheimer’s disease, which made it hard for him to continue the annual commemorations on the Grassy Knoll. He asked me to do them in his stead. The Moment of Silence has been held, with a legal permit, on the Grassy Knoll under the auspices of the Coalition on Political Assassinations to larger crowds over the years. There were close to 5,000 people there on the 40th anniversary and the City of Dallas made Dealey Plaza into a public historical site. Penn Jones and I were unable to get through a massive police blockade of the Grassy Knoll that year, and held our Moment of Silence on the south slope of the Plaza instead. The Sixth Floor Museum was created to preserve the Book Depository building and the alleged site of the assassin’s lair, but by doing so they promote the official “lone nut” version of events and fail to answer the questions of the critics in the case.
Literally millions of tourists visit the site each year and a lone critic, Robert Groden, sells videotapes and books relating to the conspiracy to kill the President based on the best photographic evidence and analysis. Groden was on the staff of the HSCA and handled their photographic analysis. He was responsible for the first nationally viewed showing of the famous Abraham Zapruder amateur film of the assassination, which clearly demonstrates more than one gunman hitting President Kennedy, a film sealed from public view for more than three decades. Groden has been illegally arrested by Dallas police dozens of times over the years for selling without a permit, winning his release each time without conviction when judges ruled no such permit exists for the park location. This harassment has led Groden to sue the City of Dallas for his civil and constitutional right to sell and distribute critical materials on the Grassy Knoll regarding the most famous assassination in world history at this point.
Anticipating ever larger crowds on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination on November 22, 2013, the Coalition has applied for a legal permit in advance over the last three years, only to be told no permit can be issued more than a year in advance. Despite that rule, the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department informed me this year that a permit has been issued to the Sixth Floor Museum and the City of Dallas for the use of Dealey Plaza for the entire week from November 19-24, for exclusive use of the area and that no other permit can be issued for our event. The Director of the Sixth Floor Museum, Jessica Langford, has stated in the Dallas Morning News that they have no event planned for the Plaza, but they wanted to be “proactive” in preventing “a circus atmosphere” and the presentation of “conspiracy theories” in 2013. They also know quite well how many will be there listening. At one point she was asked what sort of an event they want to hold and she told the DMN reporter that she was not sure, “maybe a Moment of Silence”. This direct and content-based refusal of permit for the use of a public and historical site violates the protections of the First Amendment for free speech and expression.
While our Moment of Silence events have always been dignified, holding banners calling for release of files or citing the open questions surrounding these murders, followed by myself and other researchers speaking to the crowds without public address system about the issues that remain to be resolved and the historical importance of the ongoing investigations, there have been over the years other events held without permit ranging from performance art, large puppets, music and speech that some may consider as “carnival” or “circus” atmosphere, they also are protected expressions of free speech. Our permit has never been exclusive, though we have asked those who come with sound systems to allow us a few moments of silence and speech each year at 12:30 pm. Some years we have been drowned out. But, if the Sixth Floor Museum and the Mayor’s office are allowed to control the content of the message that day to only include what I was told would be events “celebrating the life of John F. Kennedy” and not mentioning or questioning his death and the conspiracy and cover-up which have no statute of limitations in an unsolved crime, it will mark not a moment but an eternity of silence on the real issues of this historical tragedy and its implications today.
COPA continues to negotiate, as we were instructed to do by the Parks & Recreation Department, with the Sixth Floor Museum and the Mayor’s office by informing them of our intent to continue a 48-year tradition of our Moment of Silence and speaking truth to power on the Grassy Knoll on the day that marks the brutal assassination of a President and of hope for change in this country since. For several months we have had little or no response to our communications. We have been told clearly that we will not be issued a permit. For us, the permit was not to allow us free speech but only to permit coordination of events in a public space. I was told when I asked for an exclusive permit for a few hours so that our event would not be overwhelmed by a sound system, I was told by the Dallas Police liaison to the Parks Department that their right to interrupt me was “free speech” in his view. Those interfering had secured no permits when they did so over the years.
If this silence in regard to our right to free speech and to hold our commemorative event continues into 2013 then we may attempt legal action to secure our rights. However, given the history of harassment of critics in Dealey Plaza and the attempts by the national press, media and official bodies to suppress and discredit our message, I am making a call to all those concerned with having another point of view present, audible and visible on the Grassy Knoll, Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas at 12:30 pm on November 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the murder of President John F. Kennedy, which will solemnly celebrate his life, but also acknowledge that his life got him killed, to be there at the site and to Occupy the Grassy Knoll so that we can be heard. The press of the world is likely to be present along with thousands of Americans that day. If they do not allow a sound system then perhaps I will yell out “Mike Check!” to make myself heard to the crowd.
I am calling on the national network of Occupy groups to join us as well as the thousands of researchers, authors, critics and concerned citizens who know the truth about the Kennedy assassination, or at least suspect that the official version is wrong, to join us there. I am not calling for anyone to get arrested or confront or challenge the police present. I am and have always been non-violent and I follow in the steps of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in using only non-violent means to expose the truth.
If there is not enough democracy left in America to ask questions in public about the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, Malcolm X and others on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s murder at the scene of the crime and be heard by those who are coming that day with his assassination in mind, then those who killed him have won. I think the American people need to win back our democracy and restore our real history instead. This will not be done by ignoring the questions but by embracing them and calling for the full release of information and the serious criminal investigations that need to be done to resolve them and hold those responsible to task. I think this is worthy of an Occupy action and that it is in the spirit of all earlier actions by citizens to empower themselves to have a say in our own country’s future.
“The past is prologue” is the quote on the front of the National Archives building in Washington, DC. The future is just as important as the past and depends on knowing about it. George Orwell wrote, “Those who control the present control the past, and those who control the past control the future.” In any real democracy, shouldn’t that be the people themselves, not an elite few? Finally, Thomas Jefferson said, “There is no safe repository for the powers of a society except among the people themselves. If we find them unable to exercise their discretion in a wholesome fashion, the solution is not to take the power from them, but to inform their discretion.”
A CALL TO OCCUPY THE GRASSY KNOLL IN 2013
Please join us in reclaiming our own history and our own future on November 22, 2013 at the Grassy Knoll in Dealey Plaza at 12:30 pm so that we can inform the discretion of the American people and put the power back in our hands. Don’t let the forces that arrayed against President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X steal our hope one more time. Don’t contribute to perpetual silence on these murders but come to a Moment of Silence followed by free speaking of historical truth to the power of the 1% who do not want real democracy and freedom and who are afraid of the truth.
OCCUPY THE GRASSY KNOLL IN 2013