A couple of months ago, while I was in Dallas on other business, members of the North Texas Skeptics told me about The Conspiracy Museum. Near the site of the JFK assassination, this museum looks at U.S. history a bit differently than most.
Most of the museum is dedicated to discussing "THE Conspiracy." But also, of interest to us in Central Illinois, were several walls on the Lincoln assassination.
Regarding Lincoln, they did at least get one thing right it was the first conspiracy that killed a president of the U.S. That, however, is not enough for the folks at The Conspiracy Museum.
Instead of just relying on the real conspiracy, other accusations are leveled as well. First and foremost is that John Wilkes Booth was not killed - it was somebody else. To this end, they have several affidavits from various people to the effect that Booth was not in the casket that supposedly carried him. One was from the last living pallbearer (who was rather old by this time), one from a guy in the army (again, many years later) and one from the son of somebody who was somehow related to the case. There is a full wall dedicated to Booth's escape and eventual killing (though they say it wasn't he who was killed). As his path is followed, mistakes in the chase are outlined and given as "evidence" that those in command wanted him to escape. After all, we know that the military never makes mistakes. Just ask the Chinese about their embassy.
But the museum can't quite figure out who is to blame. They implicate Vice President Andrew Johnson as possibly being part of it; but they implicate several others as well. Johnson is accused because he and Booth apparently once dated sisters, and Booth supposedly called on him at a hotel the day of the assassination. They don't explain, however, why one of the assassins of the (real) conspiracy was supposed to kill Johnson himself. Similar inconsistencies can be found throughout the Lincoln "exhibit."
Those inconsistencies also hold through the rest of the museum. Here is where "THE Conspiracy" is explained. To quote from their pamphlet:
"For one hundred and sixty years, the Federal Government was a close reflection of the founding fathers' vision. In 1940, America's mobilization for World War II precipitated an unprecedented third -- then a fourth presidential term. This affront to George Washington planted the seeds for the Military-Industrial Complex's control of the Executive Branch.
In 1960, the Central Intelligence Agency spawned by the cold war, changed the United States Foreign Policy from Peace to War by sabotaging its own spy operation in the downing of the U2 spy plane over Russia. Three years later, the CIE with the assistance of the Mafia and the FBI publicly murdered President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. This coup d'etat of the executive branch established the Professional War Machine (PWM), which even today controls the Presidency by political assassination."
Both the pamphlet and a large sign in the museum quote Sherlock Holmes: "Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." Unfortunately, their definition of "impossible" and general understanding of this quote is severely lacking.
The sign goes down the list of what is "impossible," claiming that it was impossible to inflict JFK's throat wound except from the grassy knoll; it was impossible to inflict Martin Luther King's fatal wound from the location of the accused assassin. It was impossible to inflict Robert Kennedy's fatal wound from Sirhan Sirhan's position; it was impossible for Ted Kennedy to have been driving the car in which Mary Jo Kopechne died; it was impossible for the USSR to shoot down Korean Air flight 007 over the Sea of Japan and find the first debris nine days later and 200 miles away from the crash site. In various places around the museum, they explain why all these things are "impossible," though none of them actually ever approach that level of evidence.
Even if, for a moment, we assume that they are right that any or all of these things were "impossible," they have not provided one shred of evidence to support the grand conspiracy theory of the military-industrial complex. They seem to be using the creationist model here if one is wrong, the other must be right. Creationists say that if they can disprove evolution, they must be right; this is simply untrue. The same holds here. Even if, for example, one could prove that Sirhan Sirhan didn't fire the shot that killed RFK, and that it came from the gun of a guard behind RFK, does that prove the conspiracy? No, of course not. Their grand conspiracy is not only "improbable," but unproven. There could be many other explanations that one needs to investigate before assuming an all-powerful conspiracy. For example, in the RFK case, even if we assume they are right about the origin of the bullet that killed him, would it make more sense to assume that the guard was a pawn in a great conspiracy, or that he fired in haste in the middle of a scary situation and accidentally hit RFK instead of Sirhan Sirhan? The museum never addresses this issue.
But back to "THE Conspiracy." According to the museum, the military-industrial complex went through all of this to keep war expenditures going more money for them. So when JFK started thinking about peace, he had to be removed. When MLK encouraged peace, he had to be eliminated. When RFK followed the same path as his brother, it was his turn. For some unexplained reason, they apparently got tired of killing the people who opposed them, and decided to try something new with Ted Kennedy. So they kidnapped Kopechne, ambushed Kennedy on the road, put her in the car and dumped it into the water, drowning her as a warning to him (and to ruin his chances of ever running for president). Since he now knew how powerful they were, he has kept quiet ever since then about them. Why didn't they just kill him instead? That is, of course, never explained.
"THE Conspiracy" also engineered the shoot-down of Korean Air's Flight 007 to foster anti-communist feelings in America. According to them, it wasn't shot down by a Soviet fighter, but by American stealth planes, because America was becoming too peaceful.
The evidence for all of these claims consists of hand-drawn posters and unbacked claims, often cluttered with errors in facts, grammar, and spelling. For example, there are diagrams "proving" the wounds involved in several assassinations were impossible. There is a statement that a guy recording sounds on an open mike three miles away during JFK's assassination proved that the shooter was on the grassy knoll. No explanation of how such an accurate triangulation was made with one microphone; no citations; just a statement that patrons are expected to take on faith.
There is very little "new" information at the museum. They apparently update situations by posting Internet notes on a couple cork bulletin boards. One web article noted some recent "discovery" that the CIA wanted the mob to kill Castro. The museum folks apparently thought this somehow linked to the JFK assassination. Amusingly, the banner ad on the printout asked: "Is your monitor on the fritz?" I'd have to say the answer to that is "yes" for these folks. I was somewhat surprised that there weren't any new claims regarding the recent death of JFK Jr. Certainly he can be weaved in there somewhere.
The final poster in the museum notes that "THE Conspiracy" is less powerful now, but still in control as shown by Clinton accepting the Warren Report. In other words, he accepted it not because it contained the facts and the proper conclusion, but because he was afraid he would be next otherwise.
But shortly after my visit, one politician stood up and told the world that he believed the military-industrial complex had killed JFK. Jesse "The One-Term Governor" Ventura essentially echoed the views of The Conspiracy Museum in his much-publicized Playboy interview, though those remarks were largely overshadowed in the media by his statements about religion, women, and overweight people. Since he dared talk publicly about "the truth," perhaps he will be next on the list for "THE Conspiracy" to take out.
Then again, if there were such a conspiracy, why would they allow the existence of this museum? If this is all true, they've shown no hint of reluctance at murdering people whenever it suited their needs, so why didn't they simply take out the museum's proprietor? Or arrange a gas leak and explosion at the museum itself? It would all be so simple if it were actually true.