Author Bucks JFK Conspiracy Theorists

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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