Author Bucks JFK Conspiracy Theorists

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Post cards of historic moments in the last days of the JFK presidency are seen the gift shop of the Sixth Floor Museum Dallas, Texas.
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
Oct. 27, 2013, 7:46 a.m.

On Nov. 23, 1963 — the day after a sniper perched in a sixth-story win­dow as­sas­sin­ated Pres­id­ent Kennedy — James “Scotty” Re­ston’s front-page story ap­peared in The New York Times on the epi­dem­ic of vi­ol­ence in the U.S.

“Amer­ica wept to­night, not alone for its dead young Pres­id­ent, but for it­self,” Re­ston opined. “The grief was gen­er­al, for some­how the worst in the na­tion had pre­vailed over the best. The in­dict­ment ex­ten­ded bey­ond the as­sas­sin, for something in the na­tion it­self, some strain of mad­ness and vi­ol­ence, had des­troyed the highest sym­bol of law and or­der.”

Fifty years later, Re­ston’s son has put for­ward a some­what dif­fer­ent nar­rat­ive, one in which JFK’s as­sas­sin­a­tion was neither a symp­tom of so­ci­et­al de­cay nor even a de­lib­er­ate act. In his latest book, The Ac­ci­dent­al Vic­tim, James Re­ston Jr. pos­its that Lee Har­vey Os­wald’s in­ten­ded tar­get was Texas Gov. John Con­nally, who was sit­ting in front of Kennedy in the pres­id­en­tial lim­ousine and was ser­i­ously wounded dur­ing the at­tack.

“There is no evid­ence any­where “¦ that Os­wald had any­thing against Pres­id­ent Kennedy,” Re­ston said on the phone Tues­day.

His ar­gu­ment is two­fold.

First, it ap­pears that Os­wald liked and re­spec­ted Kennedy. Os­wald’s wid­ow test­i­fied that she and her hus­band, who were ex­pect­ing their second child in the sum­mer of 1963, felt a cer­tain kin­ship with the pres­id­ent and first lady, who gave birth to a baby boy that Au­gust. (Patrick Kennedy, the couple’s young­est child, died two days later from res­pir­at­ory dis­tress syn­drome.)

“Ac­cord­ing to her testi­mony, she and Lee Har­vey Os­wald fol­lowed the preg­nancy of Jack­ie Kennedy with great in­terest be­cause they felt like they were in a par­al­lel situ­ation,” Re­ston said.

Second, Os­wald may have re­sen­ted Con­nally, who had brushed off a let­ter from Os­wald when Con­nally was sec­ret­ary of the Navy. After ex­it­ing the Mar­ine Corps in 1959, Os­wald re­nounced his Amer­ic­an cit­izen­ship and de­fec­ted to the So­viet Uni­on, start­ing a new life as a fact­ory work­er in Minsk. This promp­ted the U.S. mil­it­ary to ret­ro­act­ively down­grade his dis­charge status from hon­or­able to dis­hon­or­able. Os­wald com­plained to Con­nally that he was not gran­ted a hear­ing, and, three weeks later, Os­wald re­ceived a cam­paign en­vel­ope em­blazoned with Con­nally’s vis­age.

“Os­wald sits down and writes this very heart­felt, plaint­ive let­ter to the sec­ret­ary of the Navy,” Re­ston said. “A cam­paign en­vel­ope comes to him with a big pic­ture of Con­nally’s head in the middle of a Texas star. Con­nally, who was step­ping down to run for gov­ernor, said he would pass the prob­lem to his suc­cessor — a clas­sic bur­eau­crat­ic brush-off.

“It’s my view that the en­vel­ope im­me­di­ately came to per­son­al­ize the prob­lems that he was hav­ing with his dis­charge. That en­vel­ope gave a face to his frus­tra­tions.”

Re­ston’s ar­gu­ment, if ac­cep­ted by fel­low stu­dents of JFK, may stem the pro­lif­er­a­tion of con­spir­acy the­or­ies that have cap­tiv­ated the Amer­ic­an pub­lic. Ac­cord­ing to a 2003 ABC News poll, 70 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans be­lieve that Os­wald did not act alone.

Re­ston, 70, is a celebrity in his own right, hav­ing con­sul­ted on the 2008 film Frost/Nix­on, which is based on his ex­per­i­ence as an as­sist­ant to Dav­id Frost when Frost in­ter­viewed former Pres­id­ent Nix­on in 1977. In the film, which was dir­ec­ted by Ron Howard and nom­in­ated for five Academy Awards, act­or Sam Rock­well played Re­ston.

Born in 1941, Re­ston stud­ied philo­sophy at the Uni­versity of North Car­o­lina, where he played on the men’s varsity soc­cer team and holds the school’s single-game scor­ing re­cord (five goals against North Car­o­lina State Uni­versity). Re­ston has writ­ten 15 books and three plays, ac­cord­ing to his of­fi­cial bio­graphy, in­clud­ing a char­ac­ter-driv­en quin­tet on me­di­ev­al his­tory.

He lives in Chevy Chase, Md., with his wife and three chil­dren.

COR­REC­TION: A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this art­icle gave the wrong date for the as­sas­sin­a­tion.

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