JFK: Debunking Scott Aaronson’s “Twenty Reasons to Believe Oswald Acted Alone”

29 Apr

JFK: Debunking Scott Aaronson’s “Twenty Reasons to Believe Oswald Acted Alone”

Richard Charnin
April 30, 2014

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I came across this blog post by Scott Aaronson: Twenty Reasons to Believe Oswald Acted Alone.

I replied with a brief one paragraph comment which was not posted. This is a response to each of the twenty reasons.

Aaronson is a 33 year old quantum physicist who readily admits he is unfamiliar with the evidence and is new to the JFK assassination. But it is the detailed factual evidence which proves a conspiracy. Aaronson states opinions which rehash the standard disinformation playbook of myths contrived to frame truth seeking researchers as conspiracy theory (CT) buffs. His lack of knowledge of relevant historical events prior and subsequent to the assassination is apparent. One can only conclude that he has been brainwashed by a complicit corporate media and academia which has covered up the assassination evidence for fifty years.

Why would someone so disciplined in the scientific method fail to do his homework? He notes that his heroes Carl Sagan and Bertrand Russell were conspiracy believers. It may be that for the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Scott felt compelled to write something quickly – without getting into the wealth of inconvenient details and facts. But the devil is in the details.

Aaronson states: I also started dipping, for the first time in my life, into a tiny fraction of the vast literature about the JFK assassination. The trigger (so to speak) for me was this article by David Talbot, the founder of
I figured, if the founder of Salon is a JFK conspiracy buff—if, for crying out loud, my skeptical heroes Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan were both JFK conspiracy buffs—then maybe it’s at least worth familiarizing myself with the basic facts and arguments.

But another reason is that I’m skeptical that anyone actually comes to believe the JFK conspiracy hypothesis because they don’t see how the second bullet came in at the appropriate angle to pass through JFK’s neck and shoulder and then hit Governor Connally.

RC: JFK was hit in the back 5.5 inches below the collar by a bullet on a downward trajectory which did not exit. I am more than skeptical – actually dumbfounded- that anyone actually believes the Single Bullet Theory. There are three possibilities: the believer is a) unfamiliar with the evidence, b) familiar with the evidence but is dumb as rocks, or c) a JFK disinformationist.

Scott is surely unaware of Gerald Ford’s moving the back wound up to conform to the Magic Bullet’s bogus point of entry:

Update: Philip Stahl is an astronomer, mathematician and physicist who posts as “Copernicus”. I sent him a link to this post. He closes the book on Aaronson with a series of devastating articles.

Aaronson never considered the following facts and analysis before claiming to believe the Warren Commission report that Oswald was the “lone nut” assassin.

1) To believe that Oswald killed JFK you must believe the following:

2) 16 mindblowing facts about who killed JFK:

3) 20 questions and answers on the JFK Calc spreadsheet:

This is a summary of Aaronson’s twenty reasons followed by my comments.

1. Conspiracy Buff Psychology
Conspiracy theorizing represents a known bug in the human nervous system. Given that, I think our prior should be overwhelmingly against anything that even looks like a conspiracy theory.

RC: History has taught us just the opposite. People conspire all the time.

2. Ruby: Genesis of Conspiracy thinking
The shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby created the perfect conditions for conspiracy theorizing to fester.

RC: So, wouldn’t that be a normal, rational response. To permanently silence the patsy? And Ruby himself confirmed it was a conspiracy multiple times.

3. Historical Lone Nuts
Other high-profile assassinations to which we might compare this one—for example, those of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, RFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Yitzchak Rabin…—appear to have been the work of “lone nuts,” or at most “conspiracies” of small numbers of lowlifes. So why not this one?

RC: You don’t know that they were killed by “lone nuts”. Did it ever occur to you that the targets were all liberals who wanted change? JFK was a liberal who wanted to change things.

4. LHO the psychopath
Oswald seems to have perfectly fit the profile of a psychopathic killer (see, for example, Case Closed by Gerald Posner).

RC: You should know what people who knew Oswald had to say. Quite the opposite of the Posner propaganda piece. Here are some things you don’t know about Oswald.

5. No evidence of others
A half-century of investigation has failed to link any individual besides Oswald to the crime. Conspiracy theorists love to throw around large, complicated entities like the CIA or the Mafia as potential “conspirators”—but in the rare cases when they’ve tried to go further, and implicate an actual human being other than Oswald or Ruby (or distant power figures like LBJ), the results have been pathetic and tragic.

RC: Oswald never had a trial. Even Posner admits he would never have been convicted as there is no evidence that he was on the 6th floor of the TSBD at 12:30. The Altgens6 photo is strong evidence that he was on the first floor watching the motorcade. Conspirators included Clay Shaw, Jack Ruby, David Ferrie, Hunt and the Cubans, et al. You call the Shaw trial “pathetic and tragic”, but even though he was acquitted, the jurors said that they were convinced it was a conspiracy. Shaw was a contract CIA agent who lied at his trial. CIA Director Helms admitted Shaw was a CIA operative in 1979. David Ferrie was murdered shortly after he was named as a witness. Garrison’s case was sabotaged.

There were at least 78 material witness deaths that were officially ruled unnatural and at least forty other suspicious heart attacks and sudden cancers.

6. Gen. Walker shooting
Oswald had previously tried to assassinate General Walker—a fact that was confirmed by his widow Marina Oswald, but that, incredibly, is barely even discussed in the reams of conspiracy literature.

RC: LHO did not shoot Walker. There is no evidence of that. Marina was forced to say it to protect her kids; she claimed it was not true years later.
There are many problems with the case against Oswald.

7. The Tippit canard
There’s clear evidence that Oswald murdered Officer Tippit an hour after shooting JFK—a fact that seems perfectly consistent with the state of mind of someone who’d just murdered the President, but that, again, seems to get remarkably little discussion in the conspiracy literature.

RC: LHO did not shoot Tippit. It was physically impossible.  LHO was seen standing at a bus stop near his rooming house at 1:04pm. According to 10 witnesses, Tippit was shot at 1:06. The Warren Commission ignored  all witness testimony. The WC claimed Tippit was shot at 1:15. They had to do this to give Oswald enough time to get to the scene. It was impossible for Oswald to travel one mile in two minutes. The world’s fastest milers need just under 4 minutes.  The bullets recovered  were from an automatic and did not match Oswald’s revolver. Eyewitnesses saw two shooters. Let’s end this crap.

8. Oswald a violent, pathological liar
Besides being a violent nut, Oswald was also a known pathological liar. He lied on his employment applications, he lied about having established a thriving New Orleans branch of Fair Play for Cuba, he lied and lied and lied.

RC: Thriving branch? That’s a joke. Oswald was working for Guy Banister (FBI) to distribute leaflets to stage a fake altercation. Oswald was CIA and an FBI informer.

9. Oswald attitude in custody
According to police accounts, Oswald acted snide and proud of himself after being taken into custody.

RC: That is untrue. When will you provide specifics? See the testimony of Detective Will Fritz. Oswald could not reveal his ties to the FBI and CIA. He was calm, cool and asked for legal representation.

10. Conspiracy Theories are wildly inconsistent
Almost all JFK conspiracy theories must be false, simply because they’re mutually inconsistent.

RC: Cite the theories and the inconsistencies. Can you provide specifics? Yes, some theories are false, created by disinformationists to confuse the public (such as the REELZ “Smoking Gun” fiasco).

11. Witnesses are unreliable
The case for Oswald as lone assassin seems to become stronger, the more you focus on the physical evidence and stuff that happened right around the time and place of the event. To an astonishing degree, the case for a conspiracy seems to rely on verbal testimony years or decades afterward—often by people who are known confabulators, who were nowhere near Dealey Plaza at the time, who have financial or revenge reasons to invent stories, and who “remembered” seeing Oswald and Ruby with CIA agents, etc. only under drugs or hypnosis. This is precisely the pattern we would expect if conspiracy theorizing reflected the reality of the human nervous system rather than the reality of the assassination.

RC: There were 200 witnesses in Dealey Plaza. Over 90 said they heard shots from the Grassy Knoll; about 45 at the TSBD. Were they all liars or mistaken? Were they inventing stories? What about the Parkland doctors who all said the throat wound was one of entrance and the head wound an exit? You are sadly misinformed about one-sided witness testimony which indicates at least one addition shooter at the Grassy Knoll. Why do you avoid specifics?

12. Assassination motive
If the conspiracy is so powerful, why didn’t it do something more impressive than just assassinate JFK? Why didn’t it rig the election to prevent JFK from becoming President in the first place?

RC: JFK had many enemies: Big Oil, Military Industrial Establishment, anti-Castro Cubans, mobsters, Joint Chiefs. The public execution gave a message to all future presidents.

13. Who hired the shooters?
Pretty much all the conspiracy writers I encountered exude total, 100% confidence, not only in the existence of additional shooters, but in the guilt of their favored villains (they might profess ignorance, but then in the very next sentence they’d talk about how JFK’s murder was “a triumph for the national security establishment”).

RC: 100% confidence is justified by ballistic, video, acoustic and eyewitness evidence which all point to at least one more shooter behind the picket fence at the Grassy Knoll.

14. Too big to cover up, someone would have talked
Every conspiracy theory I’ve encountered seems to require “uncontrolled growth” in size and complexity: that is, the numbers of additional shooters, alterations of medical records, murders of inconvenient witnesses, coverups, coverups of the coverups, etc. that need to be postulated all seem to multiply without bound.

RC: That’s because the evidence, which you are apparently unaware of, is overwhelming. Why do you ignore this evidence? There were over 100 material witness unnatural deaths. The probability is ZERO.

15. JFK the conservative
JFK was not a liberal Messiah. He moved slowly on civil rights for fear of a conservative backlash, invested heavily in building nukes, signed off on the botched plans to kill Fidel Castro, and helped lay the groundwork for the US’s later involvement in Vietnam. Yes, it’s possible that he would’ve made wiser decisions about Vietnam than LBJ ended up making; that’s part of what makes his assassination (like RFK’s later assassination) a tragedy. But many conspiracy theorists’ view of JFK as an implacable enemy of the military-industrial complex is preposterous.

RC: Yes, JFK moved slowly on civil rights, but then in 1962 he ordered integration at the Univ. of Alabama and gave the first great presidential speech for black equality. He did not seek to kill Castro; he was negotiating for peaceful coexistence with Castro and Khruschev behind the scenes. The CIA and the military were determined to force the issue, even after JFK ordered the anti-Castro camps shut down. He signed a memorandum to pull out of Vietnam by 1965 and the Test Ban Treaty with the Russians in 1963.

16. LBJ the liberal
By the same token, LBJ was not exactly a right-wing conspirator’s dream candidate. He was, if anything, more aggressive on poverty and civil rights than JFK was. And even if he did end up being better for certain military contractors, that’s not something that would’ve been easy to predict in 1963, when the US’s involvement in Vietnam had barely started.

RC: LBJ was NOT a liberal; he was forced to appear as one to placate the left and carry on JFK’s initiative on civil rights. LBJ gave the military the Vietnam War they wanted by staging the bogus Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. He kept the oil depletion allowance for his Texas buddies.

17. Conspiracy buffs have a nervous system disorder
Lots of politically-powerful figures have gone on the record as believers in a conspiracy, including John Kerry, numerous members of Congress, and even frequently-accused conspirator LBJ himself. Some people would say that this lends credibility to the conspiracy cause. To me, however, it indicates just the opposite: that there’s no secret cabal running the world, and that those in power are just as prone to bugs in the human nervous system as anyone else is.

RC: What a ridiculous statement! Its just the opposite. So your heroes Sagan and Bertrand Russell suffered this disorder? Where is your logic? If anything, coincidence theorists like yourself suffer from massive propaganda disorientation. To believe everything the government claims is a severe attention disorder.

18. The intelligence agency incompetence canard
As far as I can tell, the conspiracy theorists are absolutely correct that JFK’s security in Dallas was unbelievably poor; that the Warren Commission was as interested in reassuring the nation and preventing a war with the USSR or Cuba as it was in reaching the truth (the fact that it did reach the truth is almost incidental); and that agencies like the CIA and FBI kept records related to the assassination classified for way longer than there was any legitimate reason to (though note that most records finally were declassified in the 1990s, and they provided zero evidence for any conspiracy). As you might guess, I ascribe all of these things to bureaucratic incompetence rather than to conspiratorial ultra-competence. But once again, these government screwups help us understand how so many intelligent people could come to believe in a conspiracy even in the total absence of one.

RC: It’s always incompetence, never venality. Sorry, the agencies are not incompetent. Total absence of a conspiracy? You ignore or are ignorant of the totality of evidence which proves a conspiracy.

19. Psychological need to call it a conspiracy
In the context of the time, the belief that JFK was killed by a conspiracy filled a particular need: namely, the need to believe that the confusing, turbulent events of the 1960s had an understandable guiding motive behind them, and that a great man like JFK could only be brought down by an equally-great evil, rather than by a chronically-unemployed loser who happened to see on a map that JFK’s motorcade would be passing by his workplace.

RC: Oh, really? We need a conspiracy to satisfy our need for excitement? Wrong. We need to learn the truth. You believe that only a Lone Nut would want to bring down JFK or RFK, or MLK, or John Lennon, or JFK,Jr, or Wellstone, or Gandhi, etc. It’s never a conspiracy. That is very naive. Newsflash! We live in a world of conspiracies. It makes the world go round.

20. Can’t Connect the Dots
At its core, every conspiracy argument seems to be built out of “holes”: “the details that don’t add up in the official account,” “the questions that haven’t been answered,” etc. What I’ve never found is a truly coherent alternative scenario: just one “hole” after another. This pattern is the single most important red flag for me, because it suggests that the JFK conspiracy theorists view themselves as basically defense attorneys: people who only need to sow enough doubts, rather than establish the reality of what happened. Crucially, creationism, 9/11 trutherism, and every other elaborate-yet-totally-wrong intellectual edifice I’ve ever encountered has operated on precisely the same “defense attorney principle”: “if we can just raise enough doubts about the other side’s case, we win!” But that’s a terrible approach to knowledge, once you’ve seen firsthand how a skilled arguer can raise unlimited doubts even about the nonexistence of a monster under your bed. Such arguers are hoping, of course, that you’ll find their monster hypothesis so much more fun, exciting, and ironically comforting than the “random sounds in the night hypothesis,” that it won’t even occur to you to demand they show you their monster.

You avoid any and all analysis of the evidence. You make pompous claims which have no basis in fact and just perpetuate myths while admitting ignorance of the facts and evidence of the assassination. You employ Warren Commission apologist propaganda and parrot lies that have been promoted by the corporate media – who refuse to consider, much less debate, the evidence. Hear no evil; see no evil.


Posted by on April 29, 2014 in JFK


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2 responses to “JFK: Debunking Scott Aaronson’s “Twenty Reasons to Believe Oswald Acted Alone”

  1. Al Tavers

    March 10, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    He said, “…then maybe it’s at least worth familiarizing myself with the basic facts and arguments.”

    I can’t even believe I’m seeing this! Uh… yeah… it’s always a good idea to know what you’re talking about, before you present to the entire internet world that your criticisms are valid – ostensibly because you’re learned on the subject.

  2. Makalu

    August 30, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Why 20 reasons? Is it because that’s the number of fingers and toes we have.
    Is there any correlation between quantum physicist Aronson and his 20 fingers and toes and his claim of 20 reasons why Oswald was the lone assassin of President Kennedy?
    I’m going to use one of my toes and ask a question. If Oswald was the sole shooter, then who made the shots that, hit the President in the back, hit the freeway sign, hit the curb, hit the windshield of the limo, hit the President in his throat, and of coourse, the infamous head shot. Since there were only 3 empty shells found in the “shooters’ nest”, then who did the rest of the shooting and where are those empty shells? Oswald’s Mannlicker Carcano rifle held 6 bullets. Since he made six shots, as listed, and the rifle had one round still in the chamber and another round in the cartridge carrier, then where is t the other weapon and, perhaps, the other shooter?


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