Whenever I read an interesting book, I promote it on my Instagram and try to get an interview from the author for my blog.
I read the book On the Trail of Delusion some weeks ago, and was lucky enough to score an interview with its author, Mr. Fred Litwin. During the interview, we discuss the JFK assassination, the Jim Garrison “investigation” (LOL) into the murder, and the 1991 Oliver Stone film JFK.
Thank you, Mr. Litwin, for taking the time to speak with ForenSeek!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Montreal, Canada and received an MBA from Queens University at Kingston, Ontario in 1980. I worked for a while on Bay Street and took a year off in 1983-84 to travel. I took the trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Beijing and I spent two months backpacking in China. I then spent six months in Israel. Upon returning to Canada, I found a job in New York City and I lived there for six years. I worked on Wall Street and then in the computer industry. The company I was working for was sold to Intel and I worked for Intel in the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. I returned to Canada in 2000 and started NorthernBlues Music, a cutting-edge blues label. I then started the Free Thinking Film Society to showcase films of liberty, freedom and democracy in Ottawa. In 2015, I published my first book, Conservative Confidential: Inside the Fabulous Blue Tent. Two books on the JFK assassination followed.
‘How did you become interested in the JFK assassination?
I was 18 years old and became hooked when I saw the Zapruder Film on the Geraldo Rivera Show in 1975. Kennedy’s head snap bothered me, and I wanted to find out why it didn’t seem to bother the Warren Commission. I went to the college library and read Rush to Judgment, and I went to used bookshops and bought books like Edward Jay Epstein’s Inquest. But these books were from 1966 and I wanted to catch up to 1975. So, I went to the library and I used the Periodical Index to read articles in Time and Newsweek and the New York Times Index to catch up. Then I learnt that the autopsy x-rays and photos were examined by Dr. Lattimer and Dr. Wecht in 1972. I wrote both of them and they both sent me packages of their articles. Both doctors agreed that the shots came from behind. And so, if the backwards movement didn’t bother Cyril Wecht, who was a prominent forensic pathologist, then why should it bother me? So, I stopped believing the head shot came from the front.
What does the term “JFK assassination” refer to?
It refers to the events of November 22, 1963, when President John Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, Texas during a motorcade.
You started out as a believer in conspiracy theories. Tell us more about this!
I was quite lucky in this period. As indicated above, I stopped believing that a shot came from the front quite early on. But I still didn’t buy the single bullet theory and so I did believe there was a conspiracy. One of my close friends convinced me that a large conspiracy would have been impossible. It’s hard to keep such a secret. So, I thought that if there was a conspiracy it would have been somewhat small with very few people involved. That kept me away from the loonier conspiracy nonsense.
What was your journey to “non-belief” like?
I was living in the UK in 1991. I discovered that there were two JFK groups and I became involved with them. A few people in these groups were hard-core conspiracy people and I started to push back, particularly on the head shot. One of the members gave me a bunch of Paul Hoch’s newsletter, Echoes of Conspiracy. There were three statements in there that made a huge impression on me. Here is my paraphrasing:
1. While there might not have been a conspiracy, there were many cover-ups – by the FBI, the CIA and Secret Service. They all had things to hide. Perhaps all that covering-up made it look like a conspiracy.
2. The HSCA did a lot of scientific tests – not perfectly – but any one of those tests could have sunk a single shooter, and yet none of the tests supported more than one gunman.
3. The single bullet theory, despite is well-known flaws, might be the single best reconstruction we have and it should be taken seriously.
Right about that time, the Third Decade newsletter had an ad for a CD-ROM of the complete HSCA volumes. I bought a copy, and I was impressed by the amount of scientific testing they performed. I then wrote my first paper on the assassination – “A Conspiracy Too Big” which you can find on the John McAdams website.
I was well on my way to non-belief. I decided I had to read Gerald Posner’s Cased Closed. I bought a copy, and it sat on my coffee table for several days, I didn’t have the courage to read it. One day I picked it up, and I read the chapter on the medical evidence. I agreed with everything in it, and I realized that perhaps there was no conspiracy. And then everything seemed to make a lot more sense.
How did you become interested in the Garrison affair?
When my book, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak, came out, it was greatly criticized by James DiEugenio. I had a chapter on Garrison in that book, and a chapter on Oliver Stone. He actually refused to read my book – he only read my Garrison chapter because it was on the John McAdams website. DiEugenio was upset that I had not commented on the supposed wealth of new material released by the ARRB. He was partly right – I had used the Garrison grand jury transcripts which were released by the ARRB, but I had not gone through the Garrison papers myself. At just about the same time, I learned that all of Garrison’s files had been digitized by the National Archives and were available online. And so, I started to go through that material. It was eye-opening. I kept on finding crazy memos, and I started to collect them. After about thirty I realized that the Garrison story was much worse than I ever imagined. He was totally crazy and you can see it in the various memos that were part of his papers. I then also started visiting the Library and Archives Canada to look at the papers of Louis Bloomfield, who was a lawyer who represented investors in Permindex/CMC. I found hundreds of letters relating to Permindex and it was quite clear that Permindex was not a CIA front but just a failed attempt at building a world trade center. And that was when I realized I had enough material for a new book.
Who was Jim Garrison?
Jim Garrison was the District Attorney of New Orleans in the 1960s. He decided to re-investigate the JFK assassination in late 1966 and in March 1967 he charged businessman Clay Shaw with conspiracy to kill JFK. He was a very smart and charismatic man, but unfortunately prone to conspiracy theories.
What was Garrison’s theory?
He never had a coherent theory. At first, he thought it might have revolved around Guy Banister. But then he quickly moved to believing it was a homosexual conspiracy. And then it was the CIA, the military industrial complex, rich Texans, and just about everybody he could think of.
Two of the key figures in Garrison’s bizarre theorizing were two men named Clay Shaw and David Ferrie. Who were these two men? Why did they appear on Garrison’s radar?
David Ferrie was a pilot for Eastern Airlines in the early 1960s. He was involved with the anti-Castro movement in New Orleans. He was fired from Eastern because of his homosexual affairs with underage boys. He spent a lot of time trying to get his job back but he was unsuccessful. He ended up working for G. Wray Gill, an attorney who also did some work for Carlos Marcello. On November 22, 1963 Ferrie was in court with Marcello and the case ended in the afternoon (Marcello won). Ferrie then went with two young friends that evening on a drive to Houston, and then Galveston. One of his friends, Al Beauboeuf, was a champion roller skater and he wanted to try ice skating. There were no ice rinks in New Orleans and so they went to Houston. Ferrie also had some business to conduct for Gill on the way back.
A former felon and drunk, Jack Martin, knew Ferrie and had a grudge. He found out about Ferrie’s trip to Houston, and his suspicions were aroused when he learned that Oswald had been in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) when he was a teenager in New Orleans. David Ferrie had been a CAP leader. He concocted a variety of stories about Ferrie (that he knew Oswald, etc.) and started calling people in New Orleans. One of the first persons he called was Herman Kohlman who worked in the DAs office.
When Ferrie returned from ice skating, he was picked up for questioning and then released when his whereabouts were confirmed.
Clay Shaw was a businessman who founded the International Trade Mart. He was a respected member of New Orleans society and he had been noted for his restorations of homes in the French Quarter. He was also a WWII hero. He had retired in 1965 to spend his time writing plays and restoring properties. He had his life ruined by Jim Garrison.
Homophobia appears to have played a role in Garrison’s “research”. Can you elaborate on this a little bit?
There was a lot of homophobia in the case. When a few of the suspects turned out to be gay, Garrison devised a theory that a homosexual conspiracy was behind the assassination. He told this to a number of journalists in the early days of the investigation (Hugh Aynesworth, James Phelan, Merriman Smith, Lawrence Schiller, and Jack Anderson). There was quite a bit of intimidation of the homosexual community as well – who were at risk from just living their lives. Homosexuality was illegal and gay people made easy targets to turn into informants. There were rumors that Garrison was running a homosexual shakedown racket – and that rumor came from somebody in the Louisiana Attorney General’s office. All throughout the investigation, Garrison took an interest in homosexuality, and there are many memos that discuss the sexuality of a variety of people.
What ultimately happened with the Garrison case? How did it all end?
Clay Shaw acquitted by the jury in just about 50 minutes. It would have been faster, but many jurors had to go to the bathroom. A few days later, Garrison charged Shaw with two counts of perjury. It took another two years of fighting before Judge Christenberry threw out the charges. Shaw then had to go back to work, and he sold his house. He then sued Garrison for $5 million in damages but he died of cancer in 1974. Unfortunately, the suit was not allowed to proceed because Shaw had no heirs, which was a requirement under Louisiana law.
Oliver Stone released the film JFK in 1991. The film glorifies Garrison as a hero, and proposes a super-complex, bizarre conspiracy theory to explain the assassination. To what extent do you think the film has shaped public consciousness about the JFK murder?
I think the film JFK did a lot of damage in making the American public believe that insidious forces were at work in the JFK assassination and elsewhere. The film exhibits extreme paranoia, and nothing good can ever come from that. I don’t think that a lot of people believed everything in the film, but an awful lot of people thought that there was something amiss in the assassination, even if they weren’t quite sure what.
Stone is currently working on a documentary on JFK, based on the book Destiny Betrayed. What are your thoughts on the book?
I initially thought that Oliver Stone’s new documentary was based on James DiEugenio’s book, Destiny Betrayed – largely because it initially had the same name. However, it is actually based more on his book, The JFK Assassination. This documentary presents a post-modern view of the assassination – all of the evidence is tainted, or could not be used in a trial of Oswald (as if that was relevant), and that some of the evidence was also planted or altered. By rejecting most of the hard, physical evidence, it then makes possible an elaborate conspiracy which is actually quite unworkable and totally ridiculous. Once the film comes out, a lot of us will be spending time debunking the film.
Speaking of books, you yourself have written two excellent books on JFK. Tell us about them!
My first book is I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak. It goes over my journey from an eighteen-year-old who believed in a conspiracy to finally accepting that Oswald was the lone gunman. The book is not really about the JFK assassination per se, but is about conspiracy thinking.
My second book, On the Trail of Delusion – Jim Garrison: The Great Accuser follows in its footsteps. It is about Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone and examines what happens when a District Attorney goes down the conspiracy rabbit hole.
How long did it take you to write your most recent book, On the Trail of Delusion? What was the process of researching it like?
All told it took about a year and a half. I decided that I had to go to every archive in the United States that had primary Garrison documents. I went to Dallas, Washington, New Orleans, Boston, Waco, and the National Archives in Maryland (three times). I photographed thousands of pages of documents. This allowed me to rely upon primary documents rather than secondary sources. I also included a lot of documents in my book, and a lot of links to documents in my notes section.
Did you manage to dig up any “revelations” about the Garrison case that have been previously unknown?
I dug up a lot of revelations. Every archive had tidbits to use. For instance, in the George Lardner archive at the Library of Congress, he has a note from a conversation he had with Monk Zelden, Dean Andrews’ attorney. Zelden bumped into Jim Garrison at the New Orleans Athletic Club, and he noticed that Garrison had the architectural drawings of the Dallas sewer system. This was a good anecdote to tack on to my section on Garrison’s belief that a shot came from the sewer. In the files of Elmer Gertz (lawyer for Gordon Novel), also at the Library of Congress, there were many letters to Novel asking for money. In one letter Gertz wrote to Edward Wegmann, attorney for Clay Shaw, he said that anything Novel says must be taken with a grain of salt. Also, in the Gertz papers, were memos from Eric Norden, who interviewed Garrison for Playboy Magazine, with information from Garrison that could not be printed. I have published these memos on my blog.
I also saw material in a few archives material with which I must keep confidential – material which supported my thesis – but which I felt uncomfortable with making public. I faced an ethical decision about some of this material and it was a very tough decision.
What are you currently up to?
I am about to start writing my third book in my trilogy. It is going to be a history of conspiracy thinking in the JFK assassination. Again, it won’t be about the JFK assassination per se, but a history of the way people thought about the assassination. I will be traveling to a variety of archives across the United States for more primary material, starting in September.
Where can people keep up with you?
Anybody can keep up with me on my blog at www.onthetrailofdelusion.com I post daily, and people can send me email if they want. I answer all sane emails.
Anything you’d like to add that I forgot to ask about?
I am very saddened by the anger of many people on the conspiracy side. I have a file full of insults from Facebook. The first time I was accused of working for the CIA was when I was nineteen – a student living in Canada. It now happens regularly. Some people just cannot believe that someone doesn’t believe in conspiracy. I also find it preposterous that all the JFK conferences do not allow disparate voices to present. A real conference, interested in the study of the assassination, would have asked me to present on my Garrison book. Needless to say, that has not happened. This speaks to the vacuousness of these conferences.
And, finally, my regular questions:
Your top 3 albums?
As you might know, I am blues fan, and I am the founder and owner of NorthernBlues Music, a cutting-edge blues label. Here are my 3 favorite albums of all time:
– Albert King, Blues Power: A live tour de force. I never get tired of Albert King and this album captures his electric energy.
– The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken: This was a triple album in its day, and the NGDB brought in the best stars from country music. The results of the collaboration is terrific. Add fantastic sound quality, and you have a must-have album.
– Watermelon Slim, The Wheel Man: This is one of my artists. Watermelon Slim is a Vietnam war veteran who plays lap slide guitar and harmonica. His original lyrics are amazing, and this album won Album of the Year at the Blues Music Awards in 2008.
Your top 3 films?
– Charade with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Charade is a musical comedy thriller, and it succeeds on all three genres. The dialogue is amazing, the story is terrific, and the chemistry between Grant and Hepburn is something to behold.
– Winter Kills with a star-studded cast including Elizabeth Taylor. This film is a fictional account of the JFK assassination, and just check out the stars. A really fun story that takes conspiracy to a whole new level.
– Cabaret with Liza Minelli. I never get tired of this film. The music is great, and the story is important and meaningful. The scenes in the club are amazing, and Peter York is scrumptious.
Your top 3 books?
– George Orwell, 1984: I read this when I was twelve. One of the most important books ever written.
– The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck: Amazing history and an excellent story. I was really moved by the book, and it reinforced my then belief in socialism.
– The Destruction of the European Jews, by Raul Hilberg: In my teens, I avoided books about the holocaust. I wanted to look forward. But I finally read Hilberg’s book, and it really opened my eyes to what happened in the Holocaust.