City of Dallas negotiates deal with conspiracy theorists on Nov. 22 ceremony
By SCOTT K. PARKS and SCOTT GOLDSTEIN
14 November 2013 11:16 PM
The city of Dallas has negotiated an agreement with conspiracy theorists who say the official ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination violates their right to gather on the grassy knoll at Dealey Plaza for their own program.
John Judge, executive director of the Coalition on Political Assassinations, confirmed this week that his group will not file suit to gain access to the plaza on Nov. 22 and instead has agreed to stage its program in a parking lot near the JFK Memorial.
The disagreement centered on what should happen at Dealey at exactly 12:30 p.m., the moment Kennedy was fatally shot Nov. 22, 1963. Conspiracy buffs traditionally gather on the grassy knoll, a small plot of land that slopes upward from Elm Street, every Nov. 22 for a moment of silence and to express skepticism that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.
But this year, city leaders have planned an official program around the 12:30 p.m. moment that features orchestral music, glee club singers, speakers, a jet flyover and the moment of silence. Police will block off Dealey and usher 5,000 ticketed guests onto the plaza. They must pass through magnetometers set up at security checkpoints.
Judge and his group will conduct their ceremony in a parking lot at the southeast corner of Market and Main streets, a couple of blocks east of Dealey.
“What I get from all this is that they are not even concerned with our message, but they know the world press is coming, and they want to do an event that controls the message entirely,” Judge said.
Message to wear
It is not uncommon for city officials to accommodate dissenters and demonstrators during major events, said Mary Suhm, the former Dallas city manager and one of the official commemoration’s lead planners.
“We just wanted to work out some way that we could have this event for the citizens of Dallas and help them with their needs, too,” she said.
Judge said his group’s members will be wearing 50th anniversary T-shirts made for the event. The shirt features a Kennedy half dollar with a hole in the left side of the president’s head dripping blood onto his ear. The headline above that image says, “50 years in denial is enough.”
City officials offered to set up a Jumbotron screen in the parking lot so coalition members can watch the official ceremony, but Judge and his advisers rejected the offer.
“I don’t think we want their ceremony interrupting ours,” he said.
Long after the dignitaries and ticketed guests leave the plaza, coalition members plan to go to the grassy knoll for a moment of silence and listen to speeches decrying the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman conclusion.
Suhm said that at the coalition’s request, the city will post information on its website about the conspiracy theorists’ Dealey event, which is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and the blue-ribbon committee that planned the official ceremony have repeatedly hammered the words “solemn and dignified” to describe the tone they seek for Nov. 22 — more a celebration of life than a remembrance of death.
Some coalition members obtained tickets to the ceremony, and Judge said city officials have told them they can wear their hole-in-the-head shirts.
“If it’s not blocked off, our [ticketed] members also might be able to assemble on the grassy knoll at 12:30 for the moment of silence,” he said.
Promise of peace
Oliver “Buck” Revell was in charge of the Dallas FBI office in the early 1990s and works as a security consultant. Based on his experience, he said, the conspiracy theorists tend to be “harmless — just sort of a pain … but harmless.”
Still, Revell said officials ought to be prepared for some disruption at the official event.
“They’re liable to try and disrupt activities by standing up and shouting questions or shouting in response to some statement,” he said.
Suhm said Judge assured her that his group won’t cause any problems.
“I asked him directly, ‘You understand there’s going to be no disturbances within the event area,’” Suhm said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, we have no intention of doing that.’”