John F. Kennedy was assassinated on this day in 1963. The upcoming fiftieth anniversary has prompted another wave of conspiracy books, bolstering claims that the assassination is the single most studied secular event in human history and giving further indication that “the assassination was never fully digested by the generation that lived through it” (James Piereson, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism).
But the JFK assassination has no generational boundaries, says Jonathan Kay in Among the Truthers (2011), and it has helped to spawn “the flourishing and variegated conspiracist subcultures of later decades.” Kay’s book takes us on a “Journey into the Growing Conspiracist Underground of 9/11 Truthers, Birthers, Armageddonites, Vaccine Hysterics, Hollywood Know-Nothings and Internet Addicts.” The JFK assassination, being “a sort of universal hinge point for conspiracy theorists everywhere,” is a long and early stop on this trip, but Kay explores a handful of other factors that have collectively ripped a hole in “the fabric of consensual American reality.” For example, “the intellectual balkanization created by the World Wide Web”:
For the first time in history, ordinary people now can spread their opinions, no matter how hateful or eccentric, without them first gaining the approval of editors, publishers, broadcasters, or paying consumers. At the Web’s birth in the mid-1990s, it was imagined that these new information technologies would usher in an Enlightenment dreamworld of mutual understanding and rationalism. Instead, the opposite has happened: Rather than bring different groups into common discussion, they instead propelled radicals into their own paranoid echo chambers.
A much older conspiracy theory is tied to this day in 1307, when Pope Clement V drove the Knights Templar underground by ordering Europe’s Christian monarchs to arrest all members of the organization. The coincidental, November 22nd date — coincidental except for one popular video game, which describes Lee Harvey Oswald as a “Templar-trained sleeper” — may give a boost to another recent book, The Skeptic’s Guide to Conspiracies: From the Knights Templar to the JFK Assassination.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.