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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Kennedy assasination and the First Amendment

On this 48th anniversary of the Kennedy assasination, Errol Morris has produced a short (about six minutes, naturally) film (sorry, it can't be embedded) about "The Umbrella Man," the man standing in Dealey Plaza under an open umbrella as the motorcade approached and the shots rang out. Morris interviews Josiah "Link" Thompson, the author of Six Seconds in Dallas, regarded (among non conspiracy theorists) as the definitive book on the Zapruder film. The Umbrella Man has become the key to many a conspiracy theory over the years, since it was a beautiful day and no one in Dallas was wearing a raincoat or holding an umbrella. One theory posited that The Umbrella Man was the real assassin and the umbrella contained a rocket launcher designed to shoot something into JFK's throat.

It turns out that Umbrella Man was Louie Steven Witt, who came forward to testify before Congress in 1978. Witt's story: He was holding the umbrella to protest Joseph Kennedy's conduct as U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James in appeasing Hitlerfrom 1938-39 and the umbrella is a reference to Neville Chamberlain (famously associated with carrying an umbrella).

Thompson says in the film that conspiracy theories thrive on the idea that, if some fact seems strange, it only can have a sinister explanation. The problem, he argues, is that we simply cannot conceive of the unlimited possible explanations for some fact, all of which are non-sinister. Throw in the unlimited possible expressive meanings of an act and this gets pretty complicated.

Of course, in our current environment, the Secret Service would decide the lone umbrella is suspicious and an immediate threat and would haul him and the umbrella away from the scene, expressive purpose be damned.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 23, 2011 at 09:06 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


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Only sort of.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 23, 2011 11:01:24 AM

Is the last paragraph said in jest?

Posted by: Joe | Nov 23, 2011 10:24:32 AM

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