By Paul Kengor
President Trump recently authorized a mass declassification of documents relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. Among the material subsequently released, one document that instantly grabbed headlines was a December 1966 FBI memo reporting the reaction of Soviet and Communist Party USA officials to the Kennedy shooting. The document was headlined in (among other publications) the New York Post, which, in turn, was flagged at the top of the Drudge Report, which attracted a lot of readers. Old JFK conspiracy theorists picked up the torch and were off and running.
“The Soviet Union theorized that President Lyndon B. Johnson could have been behind JFK’s assassination,” began the New York Post, “and also learned Moscow could be blamed and attacked, according to documents in a major release of files related to Kennedy’s slaying.”
This sounds very intriguing, and very new. It isn’t new. And it also requires crucial historical context, especially as certain conspiracy theorists thump their chest in quasi-vindication. Here I’d like to offer that context before delving into the contents of the newly declassified FBI memo.
I provide the context in a book that was published in May. That book, “A Pope and a President,” focused on Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, and deals at length with the Soviet role in the shooting of John Paul II, but also deals with the Soviet disinformation campaign launched in response to the Kennedy assassination.
The Soviets were extremely cynical and extremely shrewd. In late November 1963, they immediately saw how the American left reacted to the Kennedy shooting. American liberals, hysterical then as they still are today, didn’t waste a minute blaming everything and everyone but Lee Harvey Oswald and his love of communism, the USSR, and Castro’s Cuba. Of course, those were the obvious motivations behind the bullet fired into the brain of America’s young president. And yet, true to everlasting form, liberals back then, in November 1963, attempted to blame the shooting on “right-wing hysteria,” on “conservatism,” on right-wing “hate.” They smeared the entire city of Dallas as a “City of Hate.” They fingered right-wing “extremism,” “paranoia,” “kooks,” gun violence, and an assorted list of bogeymen on the right. They even oddly hurled stones at the rightist, intensely anti-communist John Birch Society. This was an especially brazen charge given that Oswald in April 1963 had tried to assassinate Edwin Walker, a retired U.S. Army general who headed the Dallas chapter of the Birch Society; in fact, Oswald used the same rifle to shoot Kennedy.
Nonetheless, American liberals had their narrative, and it did not take long for them to run with it to besmirch their domestic political opponents.