You may or may not believe the popular theory that a second gunman targeted John F. Kennedy behind the grassy knoll, but it's clear that another conspiracy has been brewing at Dealey Plaza. Robert Groden is the popular conspiracy-theorist author who brought the Zapruder film public in the '70s and testified at the Rockefeller Commission on the assassination. Now he spends weekends discussing his research and hawking his literature at the grassy knoll.
In his years doing that, he has received 81 tickets from city police for selling his magazines and books. Every one of those tickets was tossed by municipal judges, who found that Groden has every right to sell his merchandise at Dealey Plaza. Groden was never charged with a crime. The Dallas Police Department even arrested Groden and deprived him of his meds while in jail in 2010, but they still couldn't come up with charges that would stick.
Groden later filed lawsuits accusing the city of violating his civil rights and maliciously targeting him. The court proceedings and Jim Schutze's extensive reporting on Groden uncovered how the Sixth Floor Museum and the city encouraged the harassment of Groden. So why would a bunch of official people keep going after a JFK conspiracy theorist? The official Schutze theory was that the old people in power here are still ashamed over JFK's death and don't like how Groden attracts so much attention to it.
After JFK's 50th anniversary (the exclusive event where the organizers tried to keep away people with "extremist ties") things have been relatively quiet for Groden. Or they were quiet until recently, anyway. Now, Groden says, Dallas city code enforcers are telling him to move a giant sign he posts on the grassy knoll. The sign that he brings out each weekend when the weather is nice fittingly says "Grassy Knoll." It points people to the top, where Groden works at his table, still giving talks and selling literature.
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Groden refused to move the sign, so code enforcement wrote him a warning ticket on May 1. It says he is committing a "sign violation" classified as "other." Next to the "other" box, the officer's illegible handwriting lists some numbers and the word "banners." Watch out, people with banners.
Whether there is some banner-related safety code that Groden is violating is too boring to figure out. Dallas seems to be missing the much more practical point, which is that the guy who has been targeted with bogus tickets and now a code violation does a damn good job of drawing in tourists. On a recent Saturday, Groden's table had about two dozen people crowded around, attracting a bigger group than any other vendor in Dealey Plaza that I could see.
"That was the best tour here," I overheard one of the visitors say as I walked by. Groden also takes credit for painting the X's on Elm Street indicating where Kennedy was shot, which are also a popular tourist attraction, vendors say, and yet regularly get painted over. Maybe it's time for Dallas to stop going after the guy who seems to be keeping our tourists entertained, start embracing its capitalist tendencies and find a way to make money off the grassy knoll and the conspiracy theorists.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.