City Hall's Kennedy Conspiracy

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And they say Dallas has no focal point, no Central Park or Trafalgar Square. On this bright jewel of a Saturday in early April 2011, Dealey Plaza at the western entrance to downtown is the city's beating heart.

President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jackie, Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie are parked at the fatal X on Elm Street in that famous 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine. At the meticulous direction of a National Geographic film crew working on a new conspiracy theory, the actors move their heads ever so slightly this way and that, just a tick at a time. They look like robots on the blink.

An intense burr-cut man in his 20s is up on a boom lift in front of the famous Sniper's Nest in the former School Book Depository Building, clicking off silent rifle shots with a replica of that famous 6.5 mm Carcano-type Model 91/38 rifle. About 50 tourists have gathered on the sidewalks to watch.

On that famous grassy knoll above this freeze-framed diorama of national horror, 40 to 50 frail, elderly African-American Shriners—all bedecked in medals and wearing tall, wonderfully multicolored fezzes—are attempting to assemble for a group photo. Apparently the slope is tricky for them. A kind of generalized group-doddering is going on with much stumbling and elbow-grabbing. Every time the impatient photographer barks another order, the Shriners clutch each other as if on the deck of a storm-tossed ship.

Behind the Shriners in the famous pergola, a smaller group who describe themselves as "hip-hop positive" are assembling a large array of sound equipment. All obviously American, they explain a little disconcertingly that they are here in Dealey Plaza today to serve the cause of Syrian freedom.

Floating between the assassination car, the hip-hop positive Syrian freedom group and the storm-tossed Shriners, half a dozen clowns in full makeup and frizzy-haired regalia have appeared. Their affiliation is unclear.

But that's not the point.

In a makeshift outdoor store at the far end of the pergola, Kennedy assassination author and conspiracist Robert Groden, who worked on the staff of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 and still owns a copy of the famous Zapruder film, is convinced that the hip-hop positive people with their gigantic sound system—whom he has encountered before and finds very obnoxious—have no genuine connection with Syrian freedom at all. He insists their "damn Libyan blast rap" is in fact part of a city of Dallas conspiracy to shut down his store and thereby silence critics of the famous Warren Commission.

The wonderful thing is, his theory is not entirely implausible.

The city of Dallas has engaged in cyclical campaigns of law enforcement aimed at making Groden get out of Dealey Plaza. Groden says he has been ticketed 81 times and jailed twice in 12 years.

"Every single time, without exception, the judges have thrown it out of court," he says.

The most recent arrest and jailing, last June, resulted in a full-blown trial with legal briefs and arguments, after which a municipal judge—a city of Dallas employee—threw out the city's case against Groden, ruling he broke no law by selling his wares in Dealey Plaza. After that, Groden filed a federal civil rights suit against the city.

VIDEO: Robert Groden's Presentation at Dealey Plaza 4/23/2011

City Manager Mary Suhm declined to discuss the city's campaign against Groden, citing advice from the city attorney. She would only say generally that Dealey Plaza is still a place of pain for people of a certain age in Dallas.

"I think until my generation passes on," Suhm says, "we will always get that pain." She compares it to the effect Vietnam memorials have on those who were alive during the war, versus those born since. "I think it's a very similar thing," she says.

But then Dallas also is known for being easily embarrassed. That was clearly the case in March of last year when Erykah Badu stripped naked in Dealey Plaza for a music video. Responding to city council outrage, Dallas police, who had not witnessed the act, charged her retroactively with disorderly conduct.

It was in fact after the Badu Dealey Plaza nakedness crisis that police began cracking down on Groden, which he sees as part of a larger conspiracy to crack down on all of the vendors in Dealey Plaza, including a sun-burned handful who wander the grass selling souvenir assassination newspapers from canvas shoulder bags.

Groden says the city hopes to take him out, because he's "the most respectable" of the vendors in Dealey Plaza—an author and known expert, not just a guy with a shoulder bag.

"If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone," Groden told Unfair Park, the Dallas Observer news blog, after his arrest a year ago. Dallas Deputy Police Chief Vince Golbeck gave credence to Groden's conspiracy theory when he told Unfair Park that the shoulder-bag vendors were cursing and spitting on tourists, which Golbeck said was "not the image we want portrayed."

But if the shoulder-bag vendors were an image problem for the police, why did they arrest Groden? At 65, a bit heavier and rounder at the shoulder than he was in his bearded '60s days, Groden looks every bit the venerable author he is. His books include High Treason, a New York Times nonfiction best seller in 1992; The Killing of a President, published in 1993 by Viking with a foreword by Oliver Stone; and The Search for Lee Harvey Oswald in 1995.

There is sometimes a fine line with Groden. He is easier to dismiss and kookier-sounding when he alleges that the hip-hop positive Syrian freedom people are "the city's latest conspiracy to run me off." He is more difficult to shrug off when he talks about his real work and a chapter many Americans have forgotten or never knew.

VIDEO: 45 Seconds at Dealey Plaza

People who know about the Kennedy assassination may also know of the Warren Commission, a special investigative body convened a week after the assassination. It sat for a year and issued an 888-page report concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy, acting alone, not as part of a conspiracy.

But how many people remember the select committee report? The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations, convened 14 years later, found the Warren Report in error and issued a report saying Kennedy's death was the result of concerted actions by multiple conspirators.

Groden, now 65, served as one of many photographic consultants to the select committee. Over the years he has had more to do than any other individual with bringing to the public eye one of the select committee's more important pieces of evidence—the full-length Zapruder film, originally shot in black and white but colorized later.

The late Abraham Zapruder, then a 58-year-old owner of a dress company, ignored the chaos around him when shots rang out on that awful day. He kept his famous spring-wound Model 414 PD Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series camera zoomed in tight on the death car for the entire ride. The existence and importance of the film were discovered within half an hour of President Kennedy's shooting.

Dallas author and historian Darwin Payne was a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald on that day. He ran four city blocks from the paper to Dealey Plaza, arriving 15 minutes after the shots. "I found a couple women who said, 'Our boss took pictures with a moving picture camera,'" Payne remembers now. "I asked them to take me to him."

Zapruder's company was on an upper floor of the Dal-Tex Building a block east on Elm Street. "There he was, grief-stricken in his office," Payne says. "I stayed up there maybe an hour."

In spite of entreaties from Payne and even a call from Payne's publisher, Jim Chambers, Zapruder would not relinquish the film for even a minute. Payne's reporter's notebook is in a Plexiglas case in the Old Red Museum downtown. His self-taught reporter's shorthand is still broad and breathless on the page.

He quotes Zapruder: "I got film. I saw it hit him in head. They were going so fast. (Illegible) 1st shot he (illegible) over and grabbed. 2nd two shots hit him in head. It opened up. Couldn't be alive. She was beside him. After last shot she crawled over back of car."

Three words scrawled on that page are the reason for everything—why almost a half-century after the crime Groden still sits at a table at the end of the pergola on the grassy knoll selling wares that include gross autopsy photos of Kennedy's exploded head. The words are why the canvas shoulder-bag guys still sell newspapers, why National Geographic is here on a brilliant Saturday morning re-enacting the Zapruder film frame by frame by frame and why Dallas still can't fight its way out of a conspiratorial wet paper bag.

"It opened up."

Kennedy's head opened up. In horrifying detail the Zapruder film shows Kennedy's head exploding as he is hurled backward in the famous 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine, as if shot from the grassy knoll ahead of the car, not hurled forward as if shot from the sixth-floor sniper's nest window behind the car.

According to Groden the bullet that blew up Kennedy's head was a fourth shot, not fired by Oswald but fired by someone a few feet from where he sits today on the Grassy Knoll. On this Saturday a fluctuating crowd of half a dozen to two dozen tourists gather at his table, some chatting quietly with him while he autographs DVDs and copies of a magazine titled JFK: the case for conspiracy, which spells out what he says is the evidence to be found in the Zapruder film.

Groden's speech bears traces of his upbringing in a nice part of Queens, New York. On the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Groden was at home celebrating his 18th birthday by playing hooky from Forest Hills High School, where Simon and Garfunkel had attended a few years ahead of him.

His sister, also at home that day, rushed into the room and shouted that the president had been shot in Dallas. For the next three days Groden remained mesmerized, glued to the tube following every moment of the grim live coverage of Kennedy's death, then Oswald's murder by Jack Ruby. Groden remembers those days as the point when his own life became deeply and personally bonded to the life of JFK.

"Since it was my birthday, there was this weird strange connection of sorts at some weird level. When the president's death was announced it was as if the world had switched the lights off.

"We watched, and we watched, and we watched. I had no idea how it would affect my whole life. I started saving and collecting everything I could on the assassination."

Before the assassination, Groden was already compulsively fascinated with what he calls "questions of history, unsolved crimes, things of that nature." There was the story of Jack the Ripper, an unidentified serial killer in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888, or the brutal unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles in 1947 in a case dubbed "The Black Dahlia" by the press. But from November 22, 1963, to today, exposing Kennedy's real killers has been the single and consuming purpose of Groden's life.

In 1967 just after the eternal flame and other architectural features of the JFK grave site were completed in Arlington National Cemetery, Groden, then 21 and just back from an unhappy tour in Germany as a GI, stood for hours in a snaking line at Arlington to gain his own private moment before the sepulchre.

"I made a promise to President Kennedy at his graveside that day that I would do everything in my power to try to find the truth, no matter how long it took and no matter what it cost me. And I have kept my word to him."

And speaking of weird connections: After Groden's military service he returned to New York City where he became a technician in a motion picture processing lab that offered special expertise in blowing up 8 millimeter home movie film to 35 millimeter suitable for theatrical distribution. In 1969 Groden says the company did a massive job for the makers of the film Woodstock, which came out in 1970. Because of that work, he says the company won a bid to do the same kind of blow-up of the Zapruder film for LIFE magazine, which had acquired a copy. Groden worked on the Zapruder project.

"And let's just say," Groden just says with a sly nod, "an extra copy was made."

He kept it. But he says he sat on his pirated copy for four years. "The Zapruder film, when you see it, you realize the president was shot from the front, the exact opposite of what the Warren Commission was trying to tell everybody. I realized that what I knew was potentially extremely dangerous to myself and anyone else I may have shown it to. So I kept very quiet about it from 1969 to 1973."

There was also the fact that the film did not belong to him. LIFE had paid Zapruder for the rights. Groden's copy was pirated. He says now he kept a copy and held it secretly for years in the interest of history.

Convinced that LIFE was going to sit on the film forever, Groden says he presented it in 1973 to a national symposium of Kennedy assassination researchers at Georgetown University. It was, he claims, the first time anyone outside the Warren Commission saw the full film. In a description that still feels just barely inappropriate for the subject matter even these many years later, Groden says, "It was the incredible hit of the entire symposium."

But if Zapruder was the hit of the symposium, Groden was the star, and his star kept rising in the coming years. In 1978 he was called to Washington to consult with the House Select Committee on Assassinations. By the late 1980s he was perhaps the premier technical consultant for investigative documentary films about JFK, doing work for Oliver Stone on his feature film JFK, shot in Dallas with Kevin Costner and released in 1991.

During those years Groden lived with his wife, whom he married in 1973, in a small town near Philadelphia. He returned alone to Dallas in 1995, leaving his wife at home in the East. Groden speaks warmly of his wife and describes their long-distance separation as painful. He says he ekes out a modest living selling his wares at Dealey Plaza.

But he hints of darker reasons for his decision to return to Dallas: "Within a very short period of time a lot of people here in the Dallas area who were working on my side of the case started to die. We lost about a dozen of them in about 18 months.

"The other side was winning by default. They had the Sixth Floor Museum that was lying to everybody who walked in the door, and still does. My wife and I felt there needed to be a voice of reason here."

Enter the final conspirator—The Sixth Floor Museum.

Since its opening in 1989, the Kennedy assassination museum on the sixth floor of what is now the Dallas County Administration Building has received general praise from visitors and writers. Soon after its initial launch, author and Dallas native Lawrence Wright told The Independent, a British newspaper: "Dallas has struggled clumsily and slowly to heal itself. Before the museum opened, people had nowhere to unload their feelings. Going to The Sixth Floor was a cathartic moment for me and I'm sure it's the same for others. It's a form of worship, really."

The museum is now a mainstay of city tourism, attracting more than 325,000 paying visitors a year, according to its website. It maintains a busy bookstore and curio shop on the first floor of the Administration Building, all extremely tasteful, with no miniature Carcanos or Lee Harvey bobbleheads on sale.

Across the street on the first floor of the building where Abraham Zapruder's company had its offices, The Sixth Floor has spawned a satellite operation that is perhaps unintentionally the city's oddest coffee shop—a place where one can sip a cappuccino at a chic white table while segments of the Zapruder film flicker by in an endless loop on a blank wall. It's a jarring juxtaposition, even though the head shot is tastefully edited out of the film.

Groden and the canvas-shoulder-bag men are convinced that the cyclical police mobilizations against them have been inspired by complaints from the Sixth Floor. Standing in a slice of shade on the plaza, Fred Browning, a weathered veteran of the assassination newspaper vending trade, thinks it's a matter of snobbishness and style. He says the Sixth Floor Museum people look down on him, literally and figuratively.

"When they put that store in over there," he says, jabbing a thumb at the assassination latte place, "that's when they really got everybody on us."

But Browning and his fellow vendors look like a pretty tidy lot. The newspapers Browning sells are nicely printed, bagged in plastic, not really lurid at all, and instead, quite informative—not a bad buy for five bucks.

None of that is an accident, according to Ken Holmes, a Dallas native, local history buff and tour guide operator who publishes the most popular of the Dealey Plaza newspapers and wholesales them to the shoulder bags.

Seated at his desk in a home office in Oak Cliff where he also runs Bonnie and Clyde tours, Holmes says he puts out a good Kennedy product. "It's very well done," he says of his newspaper. "It's really not a conspiratorial thing. It's got one little page on theories. The rest of it is all factual. It's just a tourist thing. It's got a map in there."

He said he and the other publishers of Dealey Plaza memento newspapers have been successful in weeding out the crackhead vendors who were showing up occasionally on the plaza a few years ago offering to conduct tours.

But he thinks the Sixth Floor may sic the cops on the good vendors anyway. "Believe me, I love The Sixth Floor," Holmes says. "I know them, and they're friends, but I think they've complained, and that may have stirred some stuff up."

Groden says there is no doubt the museum is behind the efforts to run him off. He says museum security officials routinely have accompanied police in the past when police have arrived to ticket or arrest him.

The Observer made repeated requests over a period of weeks for comment from Sixth Floor Museum director Nicola Longford, who declined to be interviewed. Longford ultimately did respond with an emailed letter in which she declined to discuss the role of the museum in the prosecution of Groden.

"Concerning the city of Dallas and activities in Dealey Plaza, we are not party to the matters you have referenced, and it would thus be improper for us to comment," Longford wrote.

Some of Groden's gripe with the museum is clearly commercial. One does not find any of Groden's books on sale in the museum gift shop or at the latte place across the street, and that does not please him. But one does not find any conspiracy theory books at all—not even Case Closed, the 1993 Gerald Posner book shooting down all of the conspiracy theories—in the museum's two bookstores.

For Longford, it's all a question of taste. In her email to the Observer, she wrote that it was the museum's "mission to present presidential history within the context of contemporary culture" and to "offer tasteful reflections on the life and legacy of President Kennedy, as well as presidential, local and American history."

For Groden, it's not about taste. He says the Sixth Floor Museum is a partisan promoter of the Warren Commission and its finding that there was no conspiracy. He says the Sixth Floor wants him banished from Dealey Plaza because he champions the finding of the select committee—that Kennedy was shot from the Grassy Knoll as part of a conspiracy.

A tour of the museum exhibits doesn't exactly confirm Groden's accusation—the museum does make mention of the select committee finding—but a tour doesn't refute Groden, either. He is correct in stating that the overwhelming thrust of the museum's presentation endorses the Warren Commission.

A visitor who stops to carefully read the text panels might come to a line in a long text that says scientific experts working for the select committee found a "95 percent probability of the third shot coming from behind the fence at the grassy knoll." But the same text concludes, "These acoustical analyses were questioned in 1988 after testing by the FBI and discarded in 1992 by the National Academy of Science and the Justice Department."

It's true that later researchers came to conclusions refuting the conclusions of the team that had worked for the select committee. Other researchers have conducted peer reviews upholding the committee's conclusions. For a museum that prides itself on objectivity, The Sixth Floor does give short shrift to a major finding by an important official body in a very controversial matter.

And then you have what the city has done to Groden. In the past the police ticketed him repeatedly, and then the city sometimes failed to prosecute any of the tickets—just forgot about them. But last summer they hit harder. On June 13 Dallas police hauled Groden to a patrol car waiting at the curb in Dealey Plaza.

"I was thrown in the back of a police car very unceremoniously with handcuffs," he says. "I was forced to sit on the handcuffs even though I had damaged my wrists severely in a car accident some years ago."

For a soft-spoken author in his mid-60s with health problems, it was rough. He wound up spending nine hours in the county jail, even though his lawyer raced to the jail and posted his bond immediately.

There are respected authorities in the Kennedy assassination field who do not respect Groden, viewing him as a hack and an exploiter. But even some of his harshest critics think the city has been heavy-handed and stupid in dealing with him. Author and reporter Hugh Aynesworth argues that the city's clumsiness with Groden has only served to make Groden more important than he should be.

As assassination experts go, they don't get more authoritative than Aynesworth, who was with the motorcade that day. On a recent evening at Sevy's, a wood-paneled power bar on Preston Road, Aynesworth recalls it, mainly to point out that the moment itself was chaos. "You hear shots ring out, and you don't count how many seconds there are between them."

In a separate conversation on the telephone, Aynesworth talks about Groden: "He's a nice enough guy," he says. "He's just a complete kook, and he's not honest.

"I've run across him over the years, and he's always friendly, and I'm friendly, but he's a damn fool, and he's wrong. He, like others, are making a living out of this."

But Aynesworth says the city and museum, by hounding Groden, unwittingly lend Groden a kind of credibility.

"I would never try to stop him from selling those crummy little sheets," he says. "There's freedom of speech in this country." He says of the ticketing and arrest: "That's making something out of it that makes it more important than it is."

Of course, getting tossed in jail is important to anybody, because it's getting tossed in jail. When Groden got out, he struck back. He went to municipal court to fight the tickets, and he filed a federal lawsuit for damages from the city, arguing that the city was violating his civil rights with its endless campaign of police harassment.

He says the civil suit—"on hold" while his attorneys attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate with the city—is now "back on."

In his brief in Groden's defense on the tickets, lawyer Bradley Kizzia painted the city's actions against his client as brutally absurd. First, he argued, the city had charged Broden with selling magazines under an ordinance that specifically allows selling magazines. Then realizing the mistake, Kizzia said, the city changed the charge against Groden to a violation of a different ordinance prohibiting sale of merchandise in a city park without a permit.

Two problems: Dealey Plaza is not a city park. And the city doesn't offer any permits for selling merchandise in parks anyway.

In an order last December 16, Municipal Court Judge Carrie Chavez recited Kizzia's arguments point for point, agreeing with all of them and agreeing with none of the city's arguments. She ruled, "Therefore the court grants the defendant motion to quash, and this case is hereby dismissed."

The city appealed and since has steadfastly refused to return to Groden his bond money or books, magazines, a table and other equipment seized at the time of his arrest. Kizzia says the city has offered to give Groden his property if he will sign an affidavit admitting his guilt, even though the charges against him have been dismissed by a judge.

Kizzia thinks the city feels boxed in by Groden's federal lawsuit. "In the past if you look at what has happened over the years, when they have started up these campaigns of harassment against him periodically, they ticketed him and then just dropped it. They didn't prosecute it.

"On none of the prior occasions when those tickets were dismissed did they appeal. But this occasion is different. I think because Robert filed his civil action against them, now they have decided, 'Oh, well, we've got to fight this tooth and nail.'"

But Kizzia wonders why the city ever got into a tooth-and-nail situation with Groden in the first place. "What is the city's compelling interest in trying to keep Robert from doing what he's done for 15 years to the harm of nobody and to the benefit of many?"

And for that answer, we must return to Dealey Plaza.

In 1967 one of the most famous American authors of the time and a Kennedy confidant, William Manchester, published a book called Death of a President, in which he pointed directly to the Dealey family, owners of The Dallas Morning News, in assigning blame for the assassination. More specifically, he pointed to the statue of George Bannerman ("G.B.") Dealey that rises above the Dealey Memorial at the top of the hill on the downtown end of Dealey Plaza.

"But if you really want a proper perspective of the Dealey Memorial," Manchester wrote, "the northeast window on the sixth floor of the warehouse is incomparable."

It's a little obscure, but the dots Manchester was trying to connect were Dealey family...Morning News...Oswald...famous Carcano. He based the accusation on editorials and columns in the News that had fanned the flames of right-wing extremism in Dallas before Kennedy's visit and death.

Sitting on a bench behind the School Book Depository on the day of the National Geographic re-enactment, Jerry Dealey, an insurance salesman, assassination expert, JFK tour guide and a great-grandson of one of G.B. Dealey's brothers, says Manchester was off a couple of notches. When Manchester figuratively looked down on the memorial from the sixth floor, he had the wrong Dealey in his literary gun sights.

The right Dealey, the one Manchester probably meant to go after, was Ted, who was editor of the News at the time of the assassination. Jerry Dealey says the guy depicted in the statue, Old G.B., who lived from 1859 to 1946, was actually kind of a pinko: "G.B. Dealey was much more liberal and more left-wing," he says.

"He was very pro-Russian. He almost bankrupted the company in the '20s, because he fought against the Ku Klux Klan...When he died in '46, his son Ted took over, and Ted was a stinker. He went the opposite direction, very right-wing."


After the Kennedy assassination, Dallas was called "City of Hate" by people around the world who hated it for what happened in Dealey Plaza. And as City Manager Suhm says, Dallas still owns that pain.

That does not mean, however, that Dallas owns Dealey Plaza. Conover Hunt, a museum and historical consultant in Virginia who was one of a handful of experts and activists who designed the Sixth Floor Museum before it opened, says Dealey Plaza belongs to the world.

"Dealey Plaza doesn't really belong to Dallas," she says. "It belongs to everyone. And not necessarily just the American people."

The city's pain, shame and chagrin were much more tangible in the late 1980s when the museum was being planned. From the very beginning one mission of the museum, Hunt says, was to expiate those terrible feelings in the only way possible—by bringing them back to daylight and handing the event itself back to history.

"There will always be in any of our tragic historic sites where major history was made," she says, "a sense of collective ownership. It's neutral ground.

"People will go there, they'll go to Gettysburg, they'll go to Mount Vernon, to the Washington Monument, to these battlefields, the good history and the bad, and they will ponder the meaning of life, the meaning of government, and they will talk about it.

"These places are like debate parks," Hunt says, "where you can engage in the discussion and feel the power of history under your feet."

Debate park is a great term for what's going on at Dealey Plaza during this long day of the National Geographic re-enactment. An older man in an orange vest hired to do crowd control for the film crew has forgotten his duties for the moment: He is pounding the ample breast of a tourist woman with his forefinger, telling her in an authoritative voice, "I believe that he was perfectly capable of making that shot."

That would be Oswald.

And isn't it wonderful for an ordinary man to believe such an extraordinary thing with such authority? Whether he has any idea what's he's talking about, it's still a marvel to see a citizen so wired to the history of the place.

Jackie Kennedy, who is actually Angela Martin, an actress from Fort Worth and a dead ringer, is pausing a few feet away in the shade of a tree after making a quick run into the famous School Book Depository Building. "They have a little bathroom for us in there," she says.

She was glad to get out of the car and take a break from being shot at by the burr-head on the boom lift. "It's just a little creepy sitting out there in the car," she says with a very demurely Jackie-like smile.

In the crowd watching the re-enactment from the School Book Depository side of Elm Street, Eric Cannon, who moved to Dallas from Cincinnati three years ago, says he came down to Dealey Plaza this morning looking for something to do—his first visit.

"I did find the vendors somewhat of a resource as far as pointing things out," he says, "giving us some information as to what we're looking at. I like the way Dallas has not tried to change this area, but they let progress continue."

Across the way, three rockers in town for an appearance the night before at Poor David's Pub are making mildly snide observations about the elderly black Shriners, who are still doddering on the hill, their fezzes tipping this way and that like windblown blossoms.

"Are they part of the re-enactment?" jokes Bobby Long, from England.

Eric Graf, from Phoenix, adopts a conspiratorial tone and wonders aloud, "Were they here on the original day?"

With some time to kill on a Saturday morning they have wandered down from their nearby hotel. Graf has been here before. He hasn't run into any shoulder-bag guys today. Asked if he was offended by them on earlier visits, he says he actually sort of misses them. "Personally I find them part of the experience."

Long offers, "Also, there's free speech."

What the rockers really like, they agree, is that the place itself is still raw and anxiously unsettled, making it more real and exciting.

And for that, even though they don't know it, the rockers can thank official Dallas, the cops, the museum, the people who want to have Groden arrested, who want to run off the shoulder bags and offer only "tasteful reflections." In a marvelous joke of unintended consequences, their efforts have helped make Dealey Plaza what it is on this brilliant Saturday—a black hole of conspiracy drawing every possible plot to its breast with such a powerful suck that finally nothing, not even light itself, can escape.

Speaking of which, before we leave Dealey Plaza some effort should be made to resolve the mystery of the hip-hop positive Syrian Freedom Group. Are they what they appear to be?

They do not look even remotely Syrian. Groden, of course, believes that they are agents of the Sixth Floor, sent here to drive him crazy and run off all his customers with their "damn Libyan rap music."

Knowing what we know, it's not out of the realm. Not this realm.

A lady who will identify herself only as Aubry is in the process of packing up the huge sound system in the pergola near Groden. She says the police have informed her that she can't operate the sound system while the re-enactment is going on. Under grueling interrogation by the Observer, she shrugs and admits she is not really all that into Syrian freedom. She was just hired to run the sound system for "the Syrian guy."

The Syrian guy.

She doesn't know his name. She jabs a thumb toward the statue of G.B. Dealey on the other side of the plaza.

Gathered at the foot of the statue are several men who could be Syrian. Clue: They are accompanied by multiple women in head scarves. One man in a suit seems to be a leader. He volunteers readily that he is for Syrian freedom.

Asked whether he is actually in league with the hip-hop positive people to drive Groden mad by playing loud Libyan rap music, he laughs out loud, but with a foreign-sounding laugh. "Oh, no, no!" He says he's paying the hip-hop people to set up and operate the sound system for his rally. "They probably are testing the sound system, so maybe they turned on some hip-hop. I don't know."

He says if and when the Syrian freedom demonstration ever gets off the ground, presumably after the re-enactment, the operators of the sound system will be provided with a CD of Syrian music, as they were when this same demonstration took place the previous weekend.

At first he is willing to give his name. "Ghassan," he says, helpfully spelling his first name for a reporter. But then he balks at giving a last name. "Just put a G as a last name and leave it like that," he says.

We totally forgot the clowns.

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