Conspiracy Thinking and the John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Assassinations

By Mel Ayton

Mel Ayton is the author of The JFK Assassination : Dispelling The Myths (Woodfield Publishing 2002) and Questions Of Controversy: The Kennedy Brothers (University of Sunderland Press 2001). His latest book, A Racial Crime – James Earl Ray And The Murder Of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, was published in the United States by ArcheBooks in February 2005. In 2003 he acted as the historical adviser for the BBC’s television documentary, The Kennedy Dynasty, broadcast in November of that year and has written articles for David Horowitz’s Frontpage Magazine, History Ireland, Crime Magazine and the History News Network. In 2006 he was interviewed about his latest book, The Forgotten Terrorist- Sirhan Sirhan and the Murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, for the NBC television documentary ‘Conspiracy: Mind Control’.’The Forgotten Terrorist’ will be published by Potomac Books in 2007.

“The deceit of history, whether it occurs in the context of Holocaust denial or in an effort to rewrite the story of Dr King’s death, is a dangerous impulse for which those committed to reasoned debate and truth cannot sit still.”

The Washington Post (12.12.99).

A child dies from some unexplained illness; fisherman sail off never to return; random violence takes the life of an innocent bystander. And always behind these tragic events lies the question – Why? But there is a rational answer to such purported mysteries and it lies in the nature of the human mind which needs to bring order out of chaos; to seek truth where there is no truth. We must invent it because that too is the nature of the human condition. Believing in conspiracies and rejecting coincidences is more comforting than facing up to the fact that some things just happen.

Most conspiracy theorists see little merit in simplicity – to them it suggests feeble-mindedness. They often see the world as a black and white entity; enemies are clearly defined and there is a total absence of trust in any individual who works for the government. Conspiracy advocates were primed from the start. 60s America was awash with anti-war and anti-government sentiment and the media had been inundated with speculation about the JFK assassination. Given the mind-set of the public during this period it was inevitable Americans would link the RFK and MLK assassinations to suspicions about the JFK murder. As time passed these concerns grew into a popular view that not everything had been explained by the government.

During the past four decades American citizens were presented with a constant stream of books, television documentaries and op-ed newspaper accounts which seemed to suggest that the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK had hidden histories; histories that would reveal secret agendas and powerful dark forces that controlled American society. When logical answers were provided to explain some of the anomalies that existed in the assassinations, conspiracy advocates fanned the flames by finding patterns and connections where none existed or connected some parts of the story to speculation about hidden plotters and sinister forces who tried to hide the truth.

Most conspiracy theorists see little merit in simplicity – to them it suggests feeble-mindedness. They often see the world as a black and white entity; enemies are clearly defined and there is a total absence of trust in any individual who works for the government.

Post-Watergate America became intensely susceptible to conspiracy arguments. Many Americans began to wonder why these murders had happened at all. And because of the chaos and turmoil which followed the shootings it had always been extremely difficult to reconstruct the event in order to make sense of what happened. The assassinations were also criminal acts involving famous people therefore the cases demanded the closest scrutiny by investigative bodies. The amount of evidence in these cases was therefore voluminous. A less than perfect explanation for the assassinations was inevitable. As a result, the conspiracy-minded were always able to uncover one discrepancy after another from the thousands of pages of documented evidence. Thousands of people followed the case and were able, through their collective consciousness, to select many pieces of the murder case puzzles to construct numerous arguments rebutting the official conclusions. As William Buckley wrote, “If O.J. (Simpson) was found not guilty, why can’t everybody be found not guilty?”

The American public also came to believe that conspiracy theories were far more coherent than reality because they leave no room for mistakes, ambiguities and failures which are a prevalent feature in any human system. Allard Lowenstein, one of the first leading proponents of a conspiracy in the murder of Robert Kennedy, echoed these sentiments when he said, “Robert Kennedy’s death, like the president’s (JFK), was mourned as an extension of the evils of senseless violence…a whimsical fate inconveniently interfering in the workings of democracy. What is odd is not that some people thought it was all random, but that so many intelligent people refused to believe that it might be anything else. Nothing can measure more graphically how limited was the general understanding of what is possible in America.”

Some answers about the assassinations were never found, many mistakes were made by investigators and there were unrealistic expectations that the public would be presented with ‘perfect’ criminal cases with orderly, pristine and conclusive evidence.

For example, in the chaos of those crucial moments, many Lorraine Motel, Dealey Plaza and Ambassador Hotel eyewitnesses gave conflicting stories as to what occurred during the shootings. The LAPD did not secure the crime scene very well. The Dallas Police were less than competent in not only securing the physical evidence in the case but also in providing sufficient protection for Lee Harvey Oswald. The area around the MLK murder scene was not secured by Memphis Police in the moments after the shooting.

However, instead of concluding that all bureaucracies are fraught with imperfect methods, conspiracy advocates pointed the finger of suspicion at unknown ‘conspirators’ and accused the LAPD, the Dallas Police, the Memphis Police and the FBI of deliberate cover-ups.

Reconstructing the JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations was like fitting jigsaw pieces together. Some fell into place immediately whilst others did not fit quite exactly. There were bad joints here and there in much the same way that eyewitnesses have faulty memories. Human beings are programmed to see patterns and conspiracies and this tendency increases when we see danger. The notion goes back to primitive man who learned to spot danger signs in a bush and thus became programmed to avoid dangerous animals. It was not unusual for ‘witnesses’ to see ‘second shooters’ in Dealey Plaza, the area around the Lorraine Motel and the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. In the chaos and confusion that resulted when Oswald, Sirhan and Ray fired their weapons some observers reacted by trying to impose some sense of order. It was like a shooter firing his pistol and then drawing a target around the bullet hole. We give it meaning because it does mean something – but only to us.

It would therefore be surprising had no witnesses come forward to relate the existence of ‘second shooters’. If a stream of bullets were ricocheting off Elm Street and bouncing off ceiling tiles in the Ambassador pantry – if the echoes of the shots were reverberating throughout - it would have been a natural inclination, in the periods following the shootings and before the shock of the events had worn off, to believe more than one gunman had been present at each event. In the cases of JFK, RFK and MLK the only ‘credible’ witnesses to ‘second shooters’ were later discovered to be not credible at all, but only after researchers spent years investigating their claims.

The truths about ‘eyewitness’ testimony in the midst of chaos and turmoil was first recognised by the United States Army. Many of their reports about battles, based on combat experienced veterans, have shown that it is extraordinarily difficult to make sense out of a battle until the following day when soldiers have had a chance to experience a good night’s sleep. Information from ‘shell-shocked’ soldiers immediately after combat, the Army discovered, was notoriously poor. Following an intensely traumatic event the information may still be in the brain but it has not been processed in such a manner that it can be retrieved. Many ‘witnesses’ in the JFK, RFK and MLK murders who gave reports about the shooting immediately after the event later formulated better ‘pictures’ of what occurred in subsequent interviews.

Human beings are programmed to see patterns and conspiracies and this tendency increases when we see danger. The notion goes back to primitive man who learned to spot danger signs in a bush and thus became programmed to avoid dangerous animals.

Other witnesses discovered their memories of events connected with the assassinations were not as reliable as they initially thought. Some came forward to give detailed information about Sirhan Sirhan’s activities in the weeks and months preceding the RFK assassination and of how Sirhan had been accompanied by unidentified accomplices. When asked to state their stories were based on ‘positive identification’ many balked. Some witnesses like gun salesman, Larry Arnot, were eventually given polygraph tests which showed their stories were suspect and not believable. Arnot failed his test and admitted he could not remember selling Sirhan bullets at a time the young Arab visited the gunshop where he worked. Arnot eventually realised he had confused the Sirhan sale with another after the gunshop owner’s wife mentioned to him that Sirhan had been in the shop with others. Mrs Herrick, too, withdrew her story after she said she could not be sure. Mrs Herrick’s polygraph test revealed she could not honestly remember the alleged incident.

In the JFK case Beverly Oliver was typical of how some witnesses promoted themselves through interviews with gullible conspiracy researchers. Oliver’s claims that she had seen Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald and David Ferrie in Ruby’s nightclub were investigated by others and found to be bogus. She also claimed to have filmed the assassination using a camera that had not been manufactured in 1963.This information did not prevent numerous conspiracy writers from using her tall tales. Similarly, MLK conspiracy author William Pepper believed in the conspiracy claims made by Memphis restaurant owner Loyd Jowers even after numerous Jowers family relatives and friends came forward to tell the Memphis District Attorney Jowers had been lying and had invented his stories to ‘make some money’. Furthermore, many writers cling on to these witness stories for without them their conspiracy scenarios would collapse.

Conspiracy theorists seized upon numerous anomalies in the investigative reports of the assassinations – they expected all the pieces would fit together exactly, witnesses would give truthful stories and all the evidence collected without any mistakes having been made. Above all, investigations into political assassinations which go beyond the brief of a simple murder, requires informed judgements about the way Police Departments and American government investigative agencies work and also the ability to comprehend complex reports about ballistics, forensic pathology and crime scenes. But the public cannot form such judgements. They can glimpse only fragments of the covert picture – and since the world of conspiracy is essentially one of duplicity, carefully selecting evidence and relying on the testimonies of known liars and conmen, they have no way of knowing who is telling the truth or who or what to believe. Furthermore, how can the government ‘disprove’ the FBI and the CIA had been involved in the JFK, MLK and RFK assassinations when the public did not believe any claims the agencies made? The outcome has been a lethal open season of claim and counter-claim, in which partial out-of-context or otherwise misleadingly presented portions of ‘facts’ have been put before a bemused public which is in no position to judge their veracity. Thus a majority of the ‘American public’ are led into believing there had been conspiratorial involvement in the three assassinations.

In this alternatively constructed world conspiracy advocates claim they are the only people who can be judged to be reliable sources - ‘lone assassin’ proponents, they allege, are ‘tools’ of the government. But as the conspiracists probe deeper into the complexities of the cases they also connect together pieces of the puzzle that don’t necessarily need to fit or are the result of mere chance. Conspiracy advocates also fail to apply logical and rational answers to many of their conclusions about what really happened. Because the LAPD had made a number of mistakes in the collection and handling of the physical evidence in the RFK shooting and had difficulties in reconstructing the crime (due to the chaotic circumstances of the shooting) it was automatically assumed there were sinister reasons for the anomalies in the collection of the physical evidence – someone had been ‘covering up’. But, as Police Chief Daryl Gates reasoned, conspiracy advocates seek the least plausible explanation. As Gates reasoned, “In my mind, only one question remains unanswered…That is, how could you possibly get the police, the FBI, the Secret Service, prosecutors, courts and special commissions ALL to engage in this cover-up conspiracy?” (Chief, p. 153)

The way the LAPD had mishandled particular pieces of evidence was not at all unusual. Expert forensic scientist Michael Baden, who was called in to examine the JFK assassination medical because of any sinister motive, Baden insisted, simply because people wanted to collect memorabilia. As Baden explained, “Memorabilia of the famous have a way of vanishing into doctors’ private collections. This is what happened to Einstein’s brain. In the 1950’s, Martin Luther King was treated at Harlem Hospital for a stab wound in the chest. In 1978, when we tried to get his medical records and X rays for the House Assassinations Committee (HSCA), they were missing. The administrator had put them in a safe, but somehow they had disappeared . . . . [Missing evidence] …happens all the time; people take x-rays, brain tissue, microscopic slides – almost anything – as collectibles.” (Michael M.D. Baden and Marion Roach, Dead Reckoning, p. 227)

JFK, RFK and MLK conspiracy advocates began with the premise that conspirators would organise the assassinations in a certain way. Yet the most basic examination of their ‘assassination scenarios’ can only leave the reader with the conclusion that the purported ‘conspiracy plans’ were altogether ridiculous. For example, why would sophisticated conspirators have allowed a ‘hypnotised Sirhan’ to outspokenly utter contempt for Robert Kennedy when the young Palestinian visited the Ambassador Hotel on June 2nd and June 4th? If they had the resources to hypnotise Sirhan to murder then they would surely have been able to make sure the assassin did not act in a way which would bring attention to himself. Behaving in this way is not the modus operandi for conspirators needing to act ‘secretively’. Had Ambassador Hotel witnesses Cordero and Rabago, amongst others, told police about Sirhan’s hatred for Kennedy Sirhan would likely have been detained and searched, thus putting the conspiracy in jeopardy.

Furthermore, it would be entirely irrational had conspirators risked their enterprise by enlisting a ‘patsy’ who owned an illegal weapon and who could have been arrested at any time in the weeks leading up to the shooting. Had Sirhan been challenged at the police shooting range he visited on the day of the assassination and asked to show documentation for the weapon the whole conspiracy would have collapsed. And, of course, conspirators could never have been certain they would have been able to avoid being photographed by the dozens of television reporters and photo-journalists. Although photographers failed to catch Sirhan on film firing his gun the possibility of capturing a second assassin on film would always have been a problem.

JFK, RFK and MLK conspiracy advocates began with the premise that conspirators would organise the assassinations in a certain way. Yet the most basic examination of their ‘assassination scenarios’ can only leave the reader with the conclusion that the purported ‘conspiracy plans’ were altogether ridiculous.

In the case of Ray, it would have been simply too risky to employ an escaped convict to commit the murder of a famous public figure which would decisively bring all leading law enforcement agencies into play. And, as FBI, DEA and AFT agents and local police departments know too well - in the 1960’s hired killers with no direct links to any criminal or extremist group could be bought for as little as $3000. Furthermore, if Ray had indeed been aided by co-conspirators they would have spirited him away and placed him in hiding as soon as the murder had been carried out.They would not have allowed him to be exposed so many times during his months on the run. Conspirators would not have put themselves in jeopardy by allowing Ray the opportunity to identify fellow conspirators. And, if Ray had been an unwilling patsy, conspirators could not have been certain that Ray would flee the scene of the crime. Under these circumstances had Ray stayed put the whole conspiracy would have collapsed. As HSCA Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey said when questioned about the possibility that conspirators were behind James Earl Ray, “The fact that Ray is still alive is one of the best arguments against the existence of any sophisticated conspiracy. If the mob, government, or anything like that had been involved, Ray would not have lived for very long after King was murdered.”

These were no sophisticated murders, as conspiracy advocates maintain. JFK was riding in an open limousine and his motorcade route had been well-publicized. King was an easy target for any killer bent on eliminating the Civil Rights leader and so was RFK. They did not have armed bodyguards; they frequently walked in the midst of crowds; and their travel arrangements were well known in advance.

Conspiracy advocates also expose themselves to central weaknesses in their ‘scenarios’. Why would the government, for example, employ so many people in the ‘conspiracies’ when the risk of ‘leakage’ would have been so much greater. Had President Johnson wanted to eliminate King all that was required was for him to request the CIA Director to arrange a ‘contract’ and that would have been the end of it. The government could also have destroyed King by simply arranging for all the ‘scandal-filled’ surveillance tapes of the Civil Rights leader to be released and then ‘hire’ a journalist to publicize them. This would not have been all that unusual. In the 1960s the CIA enlisted the assistance of journalists and student groups to promote the government’s policies.

In the case of RFK his elimination by the CIA did not require an elaborate plot involving hypnotized assassins and the corruption of the LAPD and FBI. At any point in such a sophisticated conspiracy a government ‘insider’ could have given the game away. Such a purported government agent would have been endowed with far more credibility than the fantasists quoted by conspiracy writers.

Conspiracy theorists did not simply use non-linear logic to argue their theses. They also cleverly misinterpreted statements made by witnesses in order to create an aura of suspicion. Lisa Pease, for example, quoted Ambassador Hotel witness Rosy Grier - “Well, first of all, we were up on the stage, and they said they was [sic] going off to the right of the stage, and at the last minute…Bill Barry decided to change and go a different direction. . . .” However, Wayne Rogers, Fred Dutton and Bill Barry, close aides or friends of the Kennedy family, organised the change in RFK’s route through the hotel. It is preposterous to claim they had a hand in the alleged ‘conspiracy’.

As the decades passed conspiracy advocates began to insist that Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray had not fired any of the fatal shots at all. To ‘prove’ their claims they managed to bring doubt on the numerous pieces of circumstantial evidence which pointed the finger of guilt at the true assassins.

For example, conspiracy writers have attempted to ‘prove’ James Earl Ray was innocent of killing Martin Luther King by enlisting bogus ‘experts’ to cast doubt on the provenance of the assassin’s rifle. They also invented scenarios in which Ray had been led step by step into the ‘conspiracy’ unaware he was being used as a ‘patsy’. Yet the evidence proving his guilt is overwhelming. Every decision and every action taken by James Earl Ray in the year leading up to the assassination was taken by Ray. No credible evidence exists that would indicate he was used as a ‘patsy’ or was instructed to participate in the crime. Ray researched the rifle, the ammunition and the telescopic sight. Ray bought the Mustang, had it serviced, rented the rooms on his journeys, made his own telephone calls, bought his own clothes and had them laundered. Ray was identified as the person who rented Room 5b of the South Main Street rooming house and he was also identified as the lodger who left the rooming house following the shooting. Ray’s fingerprints proved that he owned the bundle that was dropped in the doorway of Canipe’s Amusement store shortly after the shooting. The bundle contained the rifle used to shoot King. Ray had expressed hatred for African-Americans; he was responsible for robberies before and following the assassination and he also applied for his false passport, picked up his passport photographs and collected his travel documents. Incontrovertible and overwhelming evidence exists to prove these facts.

The evidence for James Earl Ray’s guilt is clear. He was an avowed racist who expressed his opinions on racial matters numerous times in the years preceding the assassination. His selection of lawyers underscored the racial motive for the crime. He told fellow inmates he was looking for the ‘big score’, aware that his burglaries, bank robberies and petty crimes had amounted to little. During his time spent in the Missouri State Penitentiary Ray had associated with known racist groups, was known to harbor ideas about a ‘bounty’ on King’s head and evidently believed he could beat any murder case brought against him if he could kill King in the Deep South.

However, the assassin fed the public his own conspiracy line taking every opportunity to build a smokescreen which allowed critics of the government to speculate that the case against Ray was flimsy. Mistakes in the investigation, particularly the rushed autopsy by Dr Jerry Francisco, and the FBI’s failure to pursue many leads promoted the idea that the government may have had a hand in King’s death. Critics pounced, using mistakes in the investigation to spin tales of an elaborate plot involving the police, the military, the FBI, the Mafia and the CIA. However, the Memphis Police Department and the FBI made fewer mistakes in the King case than in a typical murder case. In most criminal investigations even routine techniques like dusting for fingerprints are frequently overlooked. Moreover, there are very real limits regarding the extent of full investigation and forensics and ballistics testing that can be performed in a case. If the American public demanded 100% certitude in order to convict very few cases would ever come to trial.

Conspiracy advocates similarly claim that anomalies in the RFK murder investigation pointed to Sirhan having been used as a ‘patsy’; he was set up to take the blame for the murder of RFK. They allege he had fired blanks and the real killer, security guard Thane Eugene Cesar, who had been standing behind RFK, fired the fatal bullet. However, their thesis is logically flawed. Why would conspirators have Sirhan firing blanks when they could have done a more thorough job by having him fire real bullets? If there had been a conspiracy to kill Robert Kennedy the conspirators would have wanted to draw as little suspicion to themselves as possible. To that end, having multiple assassins in a crowded room, along with a visible assassin who was shooting blanks, would simply increase the chances that someone would suspect sinister forces at work. And how would the ‘team of assassins’ have had foreknowledge of RFK’s route to the Colonial Room? Conspiracy advocates can only fall back on the theory that either someone in Kennedy’s retinue had planned the route with the conspirators or multiple teams of assassins had been stationed at various vantage points in the hotel.

In order for the conspiracy writers to make their ‘patsy’ arguments plausible they had to rid Sirhan of a motive for the crime. Philosophers reason that any belief can be argued if enough assumptions are present and pertinent facts are forgotten. This is the modus operandi of conspiracy promoters who argued that Sirhan had no motive for killing Kennedy. Philip Melanson’s and William Klaber’s books are typical examples of how this was accomplished. To prove the assassin did not have a political motive they selected portions of testimony and evidence from police files, and ignored statements made by the many people who knew Sirhan throughout his life. According to Melanson and Klaber, Sirhan had said he heard on the radio that Kennedy had promised to send jet bombers to Israel, “…but (RFK’s) statements there (at the Zionist club in Beverly Hills) were anything but inflammatory. He spoke mostly about a negotiated settlement between Israel and her Arab neighbours.” Klaber and Melanson imply that Sirhan did not have any political motive in killing Kennedy as the Senator spoke mostly of peace and only mentioned arms aid in the context of a Soviet build-up in the Middle East. This was important because conspiracy advocates needed to show that a motiveless Sirhan was more likely to have been a pawn in the hands of others. Yet there is a wealth of evidence to show that Sirhan, from a young age, had been fascinated with radical Arab nationalism, left-wing politics and assassination.

There was always an inevitability in the linking of the assassinations to alleged ‘conspirators’. America is obsessed with conspiracy theories and a large proportion of the population believe there are conspiratorial answers to everything from the JFK assassination to the sightings of alien spacecraft. This has occurred because there is a general psychological tendency for people to think that a major or significant event must have been caused by something similarly major, significant or powerful. As historian Henry Steele Commager observed in the late 1960s, “There has come in recent years something that might be called a conspiracy psychology: a feeling that great events can’t be explained by ordinary processes. We are on the road to a paranoid explanation of things. The conspiracy theory, the conspiracy mentality, will not accept ordinary evidence…there’s some psychological requirement that forces them to reject the ordinary and find refuge in the extraordinary.”

An article in the American Journal of Psychology explains this phenomena as, “Humans naturally respond[ing] to events or situations which have had an emotional impact upon them by trying to make sense of those events, typically in values-laden spiritual, moral or political terms, though occasionally in scientific terms. Events which resist such interpretation—for example, because they are, in fact, senseless—can provoke the inquirer to have recourse to ever more extreme speculations, until one is reached that is capable of offering the inquirer the required emotional satisfaction. Once cognized, confirmation bias and avoidance of cognitive dissonance may reinforce the belief. In a context where conspiracy theory has become popular within a social group, communal reinforcement may equally play a part. As sociological historian Holger Herwig found in studying German explanations of World War I: ‘Those events that are most important are hardest to understand, because they attract the greatest attention from mythmakers and charlatans’.” Dr Patrick Leman of the Royal Holloway University of London also conducted research into the phenomenon. Leman said that conspiracy theories flower because people feel distanced from institutions of power so are more likely to distrust official accounts. Furthermore, he observed, the rise of the internet allows new theories to spread quickly and widely. (The Economist, 9.7.2004)

The idea that the American government covered up the truth about the three assassinations has gained powerful political currency in the United States. Conspiracy theories have been given respectability by the electronic and print media and the most powerful arbiter of cultural consensus - Hollywood. The level of debate is not enhanced when Hollywood celebrities, many of whom do not know their way around the vast volumes of evidence, side with the conspiracy theorists. Actor Mike Farrell joined with others in calling for a re-investigation of King’s murder, putting his name to a press release which stated: “There are buried truths in our history which continue to insist themselves back into light, perhaps because they hold within them the nearly dead embers of what we were once intended to be as a nation.”

In the late 1990’s Oliver Stone, whose 1991 movie, JFK, convinced millions of people that a conspiracy was responsible for the death of President Kennedy, told reporters he wanted to make a movie about King’s assassination. Stone said, “Johnson was a bastard, man. The King thing may have come from the top. I think it had to. Because I don’t think military people, who I believe are involved, would do something of that nature unless they had a hierarchical OK.”

More unsettling has been the response of African-Americans to the official government investigations of the King murder. The conspiracy idea amongst African-Americans is traceable to dynamics rather than the merits of the case against James Earl Ray. From the start African-Americans believed that King was the victim of the white establishment. Statements by Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King’s aides fueled this idea. The Memphis prosecutors had contacted Coretta King for her approval of the plea bargain they had worked out with Ray’s lawyers, to which she agreed. However, after Ray had been sentenced to a 99 year term in prison Coretta King released a statement calling on the government to do all it could to find anyone who may have conspired with Ray. She did not believe that Ray had acted alone.

The majority of African-Americans, according to polls taken over the past 30 years have indicated a strong belief that the state may have conspired to kill King. This, of course, is entirely consistent with the role African-Americans have played in the short history of the United States. African-American distrust in the state has historical roots centered around their existence as second class citizens for most of the past 300 years. African-Americans were victims of a government who, for the most part, conspired to ‘keep them in their place’.

Conspiracy ideas emerged to explain why African-Americans could still not attain social and economic equality in spite of new legislation. Because the existing order did not make African-Americans truly equal with white Americans, theories flourished which sought to lay the blame on powerful forces outside the democratic/political structure. From the idea that the United States government MUST have had a hand in the deaths of black leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King theories spread that perhaps other sinister plots against African-American communities existed. African-American leaders across America began to promote these sinister ideas, including the notion that African-Americans were being used as medical guinea pigs, the US government was behind the AIDS epidemic and African-American communities were being deliberately sabotaged. Jesse Jackson, for example, endorsed the idea that the CIA had conspired to flood African-American communities with crack cocaine in order to suppress the African-American population. His allegations were supported by polls which stated that 60% of African-Americans believed that it was possible that crack cocaine had been deliberately introduced into their communities by the CIA.

However, despite the repeated allegations that the murders of John F Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr were the results of conspiracies, a residue of optimism remains. As Daniel Pipes observed, “I am more optimistic, trusting the stability of a mature democracy and noting that Americans have survived previous conspiracist bouts without much damage. But nonsensical, ugly, and pernicious ideas do not fail of their own accord; they need to be fought against and rendered marginal. The task starts with recognizing that they exist, then arguing against them.”