Wednesday, 25 May 2016


My obit of the JFK assassination critic Mark Lane was posted on the Guardian online back on 17 May; I somehow missed it at the time. I may have missed its appearance in the paper paper too. You can link to the story here.

It's a fairly straight forward catalogue Lane's peripatetic career; I had to avoid getting too deeply into the minutiae of either the JFK or MLK assassinations, and dipping into the constant back and forth before critics of the official line (I did mention Calvin Trillin's New Yorker piece about what he dubbed 'assassination buffs', in which Lane was central, as an early attempt to trivialize critics). The first big books about the assassination were those published by Lane, Harold Weisberg (the Whitewash series, basically self-published, apart from Oswald In New Orleans, after the original paperback, while successful, disappeared), Josiah Thompson (Six Seconds In Dallas), and Sylvia Meagher's indispensible Accessories After The Fact, which catalogued the deliberately random presentation of evidence in the Warren Report. They were also dubbed 'critics' because they were criticising the Report itself, and one of the biggest problems is that the Warren Report is so shoddy, the evidence it presents so dishonest, that it has always obscured and made more difficult efforts to find a 'solution' to the JFK assassination, something I doubt will ever be done.

In my original copy I also mentioned how Lane and Jane Fonda were eventually marginalised by the leadership of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, because their publicity-seeking became self-defeating; the VVAW got more traction from its actual vets, including leader Donald Duncan, whose obituary had appeared in the New York Times only shortly before Lane's, but who had actually died in 2009. (The story behind that is fascinating, and told in the Times here).

What I really should have made clearer was the way in which, as I said, Lane's career might been seen as a metaphor for what I called the 'chaotic web' around the assassination. This was reflected in my original copy for the graf about E. Howard Hunt:

Typifying the fun-house mirror world of conspiracy, Lane's most unlikely client was The Liberty Lobby, a far-right group whose magazine The Spotlight published an article by CIA whistle-blower Victor Marchetti claiming E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate burglar, had been in Dallas when Kennedy was shot. Hunt had often been mis-indentified as one of the three men in the infamous Dallas 'tramps' photograph. In 1981 Hunt sued for libel, and Lane was brought in for the 1985 appeal hearing, where he produced witnesses who claimed Hunt was in Dallas and won the case, though some jurors apparently voted against Hunt on the grounds his reputation couldn't be defamed. Ironically, after Hunt's death in 2007, his son claimed his father had excised information about his involvement in the assassination from his own memoir, and in a death-bed confession implicated himself and a number of other CIA operatives. Researchers clashed on whether this could be taken at face-value or was just a final bit of disinformation from Hunt on the Agency's behalf. On the back of the trial, however, Lane published Plausible Denial (1991), positing CIA involvement in the assassination. 

If someone brought signed confessions or documentary evidence about the men who shot JFK, half the research community would argue with the other half over its validity, and there is a good case to be made that some of the work presented over the years has indeed been disinformation.
I have written before that establishment writers posit a strange double-standard for those who believe JFK was not killed by a lone crazed assassin. We have mountains of evidence of government conspiracies, to kill, to wage war, to steal, to spy, to lie and to cover up, yet establishment writers always take the official version at face value, and turn the accusation of 'conspiracy theorist' on those who don't. Although the burden of proof should always remain with authority, the way the game works is if you posit, however reasonably and with whatever evidence, anything that might be dubbed a conspiracy, you are then expected by the guardians of the official version to defend every whacko out there--you are assumed to believe with David Icke that the Royal Family are lizards from outer space.

You could look at Lane's winding up with Jim Jones and the People's Temple as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, of the researcher looking for a conspiracy. Lane claimed to have heard shots from the scene of the mass suicides; as far as I'm aware that was never confirmed by evidence (though people were shot in other locations). I think in the end my approach to Lane's life was the best way to recognise the importance of much of his work, and to take it at face value, as it deserved to be taken.

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