History is full of events which become surrounded in myth and controversy and become centres of conspiracy theories. One event which has produced more than any other in the 20th century (apart, perhaps, from Roswell and the aliens) is remembered today – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Even though a survey
carried out in 2017 found that two thirds of the American population believe
that the credited assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was not acting alone, many also
believe he was set up and didn’t even fire the bullets that killed the
president. Several people have been accused of being Oswald’s co-conspirator or
alternative assassin. Only one of them was ever put on trial, and that was a
gay man from New Orleans called Clay
Clay Shaw has been wronged
twice. First was his arrest and trial at the instigation of the homophobic
District Attorney Jim Garrison. Garrison was one of the many people who
considered the official investigation into the assassination that was published
by the Warren Commission in September 1964 was a whitewash and that there was a
conspiracy to hide the truth.
Highly ambitious and
ruthless Garrison seized on the possibility of a conspiracy to frame someone
for Kennedy’s death – someone he could put on trial, thereby claiming himself
to be a hero for uncovering the “truth”. To justify his own version of events
he invented a “homosexual thrill-kill” at the reason behind the assassination.
Cobbling together a theory
based on little or no evidence Garrison claimed Lee Harvey Oswald was a
bisexual acquaintance of a New Orleans pilot called David Ferrie. During his
investigations Garrison also came across the name Clay Bertrand, whom he
believed was a gay man in New Orleans. This led him to assume Clay Bertrand was
an alias used by Clay Shaw, a well-known businessman in New Orleans. This was
all Garrison needed to fabricate his gay thrill-kill theory and prosecute Clay
for Kennedy’s assassination.
Clay’s trial began in
1969. Garrison paraded a series of witnesses whose evidence contradicted each
other and it took less than an hour for the jury to acquit Clay Shaw of all
charges. However, the damage was already done.
Clay Shaw came from a
highly respected family and had received high honours for his war service,
including the French Croix de Guerre, the US Legion of Merit, and knighthoods
from both France and Belgium. He became an influential businessman in New Orleans.
Another two-year trial for
perjury he was alleged to have committed at his first trial, again fabricated
by Garrison, was eventually thrown out, though by now Clay had used his wealth
to pay for his defence. He died in 1974 of cancer. A plaque to his memory was
placed on one of the buildings in the French quarter of New Orleans that he had
helped to restore with his own money.
Just as his reputation
seemed to be restored Oliver Stone (an egotistical homophobe I’ve never l had a
high opinion of, I don’t care what anyone else thinks) produced the equally
homophobic film “JFK”. Clay Shaw was portrayed as a camp, effeminate gay man
who held regular sex slave parties. The truth is the opposite, except that he
was a gay man, but he was discreet and anything but camp. The devious legacy
Jim Garrison is alive and well in the person of Oliver Stone.
A year ago the “National
Enquirer” (the spiritual home of fake news) ran a front page headline declaring
“Proof! J. Edgar Hoover Ordered JFK Murder!” J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), another discreet gay man, was the head
of the FBI at the time of the assassination. The “National Enquirer” weren’t
the first to think the FBI and Hoover had some part in it, and nothing new was
actually presented. It just presented a conspiracy theory to attract attention
on the 54th anniversary.
In the 1960s being gay, or
even being accused of it, was often used to justify a witch-hunt in many political
scandals. The Kennedy assassination was no different. At various stages in its
history several suspects have been labelled as being gay, lesbian or bisexual
in order to create justification for them to be included in a conspiracy. Even
Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife were called bisexual perverts purely on the
fabricated links to the New Orleans gay subculture and Oswald’s wife leaving
him to live with a female friend.
There will be no end to
the publication of new and old conspiracies. One book published back in 1975
was called “Presumed Guilty: Lee Harvey Oswald in the Assassination of
President Kennedy”. It was written by a young gay man who had become fascinated
by the assassination since he was 14.
Roffman, the teenager
in question, bought all 26 volumes of the Warren Commission report and immersed
himself in the vast amount of official documents. “Presumed Guilty” was the
result of years of his research. It, too, questioned the findings of the Warren
Howard’s significance to
the canon of literature concerning the Kennedy assassination is that he was the
first gay man to publish a book on the subject. What he has done since is so
different that you’d never guess it was the same man.
At the time “Presumed
Guilty” was published Howard was a recently graduated law student. He went on to
work in the US Court of Appeals as a law clerk. From there he moved into the
world of media and film. And here’s where we make a spectacular leap from
President Kennedy that is worthy of inclusion in my “Around the World in 80
Gays” series. In 1980 Howard Roffman became the legal adviser to Lucasfilms. In
1986 he was appointed its Vice President of Licensing and later President of
Lucas Licensing. If you have bought any “Star Wars” merchandise since the 1990s
thank Howard Roffman. He relaunched the Star Wars merchandising franchise in
1991, effectively creating the modern mass merchandising techniques used by
every blockbuster film franchise ever since. Since the Kennedy assassination
Howard’s publishing efforts have gone into photographic books – predominantly
featuring naked men!
However much of Howard’s
“Presumed Guilty” book will be used to further develop the truth, myths and
conspiracies into what happened 55 years ago today one thing is certain. There
will always be someone who will write a new book, come up with a new conspiracy
theory, or finally debunk an old one. We may never know the truth, but let’s
hope that any new material, including any new motion picture, will avoid the
unjustifiable homophobia that surrounded so much of the original investigations.