Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, talking last week about the worries some people harbor concerning the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination in Dealey Plaza, recalled his own recent visit to President Obama's second inaugural in Washington. When a pro-life person climbed a tree and attempted to disrupt the inaugural, Rawlings told me that people in the Dallas group exclaimed, "'That's what's going to happen, that's what's going to happen'" in Dealey Plaza in November.
When I repeated the mayor's anecdote to John Judge, head of the Coalition on Political Assassinations, one of the groups that will be banned from the plaza by police cordon that day, he laughed. "If you make us do it, yeah," Judge said. "I mean, that's the point. We don't normally climb up in a tree."
It's only four months from the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, and absolutely nothing has been resolved about access to Dealey Plaza on that day, virtually guaranteeing the kind of messy showdown City Hall fears most.
The plaza will be shut down for two weeks, a week on either side of November 22, with access and control granted to only one group, a private committee calling itself only "The 50th" because they don't even want the word "assassination" spoken. Is that crazy enough for you?
The people in charge of "The 50th" have set up a ticketing procedure by which exclusive access to the plaza that day will be granted. To get in, you must apply online months ahead of time for a ticket, a process requiring you to submit personal identification numbers such as Social Security, driver's license or passport so that you may be subjected to a background check.
And, remember: No matter what anybody tells you, this is not about the life and legacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, none of which happened here. It's not about the number 50, which is one more than 49 and one less than 51. It's about an assassination that is of interest mainly to people who believe the killing was a conspiracy unsolved to this day.
In other words, this whole thing is an event that will attract people who believe in, are experts on and think in terms of conspiracy. So what do we think happens when we try to bar conspiracy experts from maybe the biggest conspiracy event of the last half century and then go all dark on them and tough-tootsie and refuse to tell them why they are being barred? They will think the whole thing is a ... (hint: begins with letter after B, before D).
I started asking questions about the ticketing process some weeks ago, because I was getting complaints from people in the assassination-study community who were being barred from the online ticketing process for screwy reasons. Chris Pike, a freelance journalist well known to JFK researchers, is slated to speak at the 50th Anniversary Convention of COPA to be held in Dallas on November 22, the same day as the 50th thing.
Like many of the people who will attend the COPA convention here, Pike went online as soon as he could to apply for tickets to the event in Dealey Plaza. On all of the decade anniversaries since the assassination — the 10th, 20th, 30th and 40th — COPA has conducted somber moments of silence just after noon at Dealey Plaza to mark the moment when it happened. This year for the first time they are barred as a group from carrying out their ceremony, so members are understandably eager to win admission as individuals to a moment and place important to them for most of their lives.
When Pike tried to fill out the online form, the web page kept kicking him out, telling him his driver's license number was not current. He says it is current and he's had the same number for 20 years.
I had the same experience. I gave the web page a number and got rejected too. But because I have to re-type things all the time anyway, I kept trying, and eventually the page accepted the number I gave it as authentic. By the way, it was a fake number. I was just messing with it. Anyway, the answer is that the online ticketing system is not robust, to say the least. It does not look, sound or feel like anything law enforcement would do. More on that in a moment.
I asked Paula Blackmon, the mayor's chief of staff, to tell me who is running it. She wrote back, "Just to answer your specific question, DPD [Dallas Police Department] is doing the vetting of folks to the event."
I called the public information office of the police department and got a very puzzled response from an officer who said he would have to get back to me. Later, Frank Librio, the overall spokesman for the city, emailed me an official statement from an assistant chief saying, "Because of the high profile nature of the event and recent attacks in the nation we will be very security conscious. While we don't discuss specific security measures there is a need to identify attendees at the event for security related purposes."
Librio demanded that I correct earlier stories in which I had reported that the tickets would eventually be awarded in a lottery, insisting instead that I characterize the process as a "random computerized allocation process." And before I go on, allow me to attend to that bit of business:
Contrary to earlier reports here, the tickets will not be distributed by lottery. Instead they will be distributed according to an Irish Sweepstakes-type Publishers Clearinghouse-style Hot-Lotto-Powerball numbers-racket random computerized allocation process.
Now (deep breath), I should mention that after Blackmon told me the police department was handling the ticketing process and after the assistant chief gave me a statement referencing "recent attacks in the nation" and after Librio demanded that I stop calling it a lottery, Blackmon and I spoke again. This time around, she told me the ticketing process including the balky web page is being handled by "an ad agency." She did not have the name of the ad agency handy when we spoke, and before I could get it from her she left town on vacation.
Back to real easy questions. How do we suppose all of this is falling on the ears of the assassination community? Pike, the assassination researcher who couldn't get the web page to accept his driver's license number, told me he thought he had figured it out.
"For these crazy people, what it amounts to, and this is my speculation, Jim, they are using illegally obtained personal information through hacking email correspondence, by obtaining information from whatever public data has been out there for the Coalition on Political Assassinations, namely a list of speakers which they can trace and find out their email addresses, whatever, anything else they can get by hook or crook."
Didn't see that one coming, did we? And please don't let me give the impression I think the assassination scholars are kooks. Many of them are solid historians and investigative reporters who have unearthed intriguing questions and anomalies surrounding the assassination. If they tend to respond to the city's ham-fistedness in ways that reflect their own experience and expertise, well, frankly, so do I.
Ah, but for one thing! Damn it! Wouldn't you know somebody would spoil my fun! Dallas Police Chief David Brown heard that I was out beating the bushes, guessed that I was probably getting a bunch of nervous misstatements of fact that made no sense, and, even though I had not called him, he called me up and set me straight.
The ad agency is gathering names. That's all. The police department will vet the names, Brown said, but only to check them against major watch lists. He said pointedly that no one will be barred because of a connection to COPA or any other group of that sort.
"The only thing we would be checking is any type of nexus to terrorism or relation to terrorism like watch lists or anything that just kind of jumps out at you like a red flag." He explained he was calling me specifically because he knew that any failure to maintain total transparency on the process would invite accusations of conspiracy.
Yup. Damn it!
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The other rather plaintive call-back I got was from the mayor, who was an hour from leaving town on his own family vacation. I asked him why the 50th people couldn't do their event, go ahead and hog the plaza for the moment itself right after noon, fold their chairs, clear out and turn the place over to COPA or other groups who want access that day. He said he didn't know. "I'm assuming these people [COPA] will come in, be respectful, have their moment of silence and not run around, yell and stuff," he said.
When I went back to Judge with that, he cited multiple instances in which COPA has been formally notified by the city and county that it may not set foot in the plaza or on other city-owned property that day or a week prior or after. He said he assumed his group and others will wind up having to sue the city over free speech and freedom of assembly issues.
For a while, the Sixth Floor Museum was being shoved out front on this, made to act the bad guy at great damage to its reputation. They wriggled out of it somehow. Now the mayor and the police chief are holding the hot potato, staring down at it in their hands like dog owners who've just done a bad sanitary pickup.
And yet nothing gets done. Nothing works out. The people who should be in charge don't seem to be, inviting the spooky question: Who is? And the date draws nigh. Is it a date with destiny? Or stupidity? Do we know for sure there's a difference?