After the premiere of The Smoking Gun on November 3, a documentary claiming that JFK’s death was an accident on behalf of a secret service agent, I went onto the SBS site to find an overwhelming majority of viewers were convinced by the evidence they had seen. However, I found various inconsistencies with the research, and did not find myself believing the conclusion that George Hickey, a secret service agent, had accidentally fired his weapon at Kennedy when trying to shoot back at Oswald in the Book Depository. McLaren’s (or, more specifically, Howard Donahue’s) research found that the secret service agents had indeed gone out drinking the night before, and were likely to be hungover. But it is difficult to believe that on a day when at least one person wanted Kennedy dead, that an agent manages to accidentally fire a weapon and the bullet just happens to enter the president. But this is a subjective argument. What isn’t subjective, however, is the year of Hickey’s death, which the documentary got wrong. The documentary states that Hickey died in 2005, but in actual fact, after a quick internet search, I found out that he had died in 2011. While seemingly innocuous, such an error with a significant historical fact seems to potentially undermine a number of elements of McLaren’s research.
What I found most surprising about the documentary was its lack of focus on the Oswald/Jack Ruby side of events. Prouty’s book and Stone’s film, if they are believed to be more accurate accounts of what occurred, focus more on the theory that a conspiracy was developed prior to the shooting. McLaren, however, argues that the cover-up came only after the secret service agents attempted to protect one of their own. This may indeed be true, but that the shot was accidental seems a little too coincidental.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, it was widely believed that Oswald was the lone shooter, and that Jack Ruby shot Oswald out of anger and loyalty to the president. Later investigations then speculated that in fact Ruby murdered Oswald to keep him quiet, since Oswald was heard saying, over and over, that he was a patsy and was set up as the fall guy. If McLaren’s theory is correct, then the motives of Ruby in killing Oswald are unknown, whether he was involved in a cover-up, or whether he simply believed Oswald to be the shooter. Whichever the case, more attention was paid to the theories of the trajectories and wounds. This new theory leads to a re-evaluation of the connection between Oswald, Ruby, and the secret service. For McLaren it seems there was no connection. Yet Fletcher Prouty, author of JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy (1992) argues that one of the most telling pieces of evidence that it was a prior cover-up, was the image taken of Oswald’s arrest. Oswald is seen with what looks like Dallas policemen, but Prouty identified, along with witnesses, that there were men dressed in Dallas Police uniforms, who were not actually members of the police. Prouty also argues that the police holding Oswald made little attempt to fight off Ruby. Going by McLaren’s theory, that after Oswald started shooting, Hickey stood up to shoot back and the car lurched, making him accidentally fire a bullet at Kennedy after taking the safety off, the consensus then becomes that McLaren does, therefore, somewhat support the lone gunman theory. If Hickey’s shot was an accident, then Oswald was, by extension, working alone, at least on that day.
And, most significantly, political motivations surrounding the Vietnam War seem too compelling to ignore. That the CIA were unhappy with Kennedy’s wish to remove soldiers from Vietnam, that the CIA were adamant about remaining in Vietnam, that the Vietnam War remains a a political wound in American ideology, suggests that a prior conspiracy to kill Kennedy is not too far-fetched. Indeed, thinking about the strict security in America even in the 60s, the only people to have the power to assassinate an American president would be those on the inside.
It is currently JFK season on SBS in Australia, with the premiere of JFK, a four-part biographic series. Part 1 aired on SBS on November 5, focusing on Kennedy’s early years, his family, his rise into politics and early health problems. The response page on SBS shows a few comments claiming to be equally unconvinced with the supposed evidence. Click here to view more information on the documentary and to see the comments.