Plans for the 50th anniversary of the murder of President John F. Kennedy at Dealey Plaza in Dallas just got weirder by one whole magnitude. Yesterday Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings unveiled a process that will make security much tighter for the ceremony next November than security would be for a speech by a living president.
This is about a dead president. He won't be there. He's dead. He has been dead for half a century. That's what the ceremony is about.
The plan announced by Rawlings requires people who want to attend the event to apply for tickets months in advance so an entity which the city so far has refused to name can vet them for "extremist ties." I'm pretty sure the unnamed entity doing the vetting is a public relations company, which should pretty much tell you what's really going on here.
But wait. We still need to deal with the weird factor first before diving into details. Mr. Mayor, this is for you. Who are you protecting? Who is it who requires all of this crazy background checking and cop presence? What are we trying to make up for here? It looks like Dallas is trying to show it's not going to allow the assassination to happen again.
First of all, it can't happen again. He's dead. I already said that, didn't I? Sorry. But I'm getting weirded out by this for some reason I can't quite put my finger on yet.
Take a second with me. The accusation of history is not that Dallas allowed it to happen. The accusation is that Dallas did it. If we really want to correct the record somehow, the best way would be not to shoot any more presidents.
Go ahead, dismiss the accusation as unfair and crazy and based on nothing. I won't even argue that with you. But you can only make that argument insofar as the accusation is conspiratorial. You'd be right: Nobody has ever proved anybody in Dallas was in on a conspiracy.
The more powerful and unsettling accusation is that Dallas did it, because Dallas leaders in the early '60s fostered and fomented an atmosphere of political extremism that had to produce a Lee Harvey Oswald sooner or later. The late Stanley Marcus made that argument to me personally in an interview for a book.
So all of this vetting and the fences and the storm troopers and stern warnings and background checks by a PR company. What do you think that looks like, Mr. Mayor? In fact, forget what it looks like. What do you think it is? It's exactly the same kind of weird, parochial, off-the-charts, intolerant extremism that produced the assassination in the first place.
Is that what's got me so weirded out? Somehow, by some hook or crook, in a series of events and behaviors that simply defy reason, you are doing exactly what you want to avoid. You are doing it again.
Yes. You are doing it again. Dallas is displaying the same kind of intolerant jack-boot authoritarian intolerance that it did a half century ago when it was a petri dish for the infection called Lee Harvey Oswald. And, believe me, none of the world press you are so damned worried about will miss that story.
You have been quoted saying that no tickets will go to people deemed by your PR company to have "extremist ties." That's you. None of you, not you Mr. Mayor, not any of your special committee members, none of you should get tickets by this metric, because your whole approach to this event -- a public gathering in a public place to observe and talk about public history -- is extremist to the nth degree. If you want to screen the crowd for pressure-cooker bombs -- you invoked the Boston Marathon -- do it. Do it that day, at the event. I suspect you'll have to do it anyway. Listen, there is a deep historical record here to show what you really want to do. This is content-based suppression of free speech to keep assassination conspiracy theorists away from the international press you think will show up for the 50th.
Why do you think you have the right to do that? This isn't your event. It doesn't belong to you. It belongs to the public. But you don't believe that, do you? You guys handed out press materials yesterday amounting to five pages of information. I counted six times in those five pages when you said the event will be "paid for by private donations."
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You said it six times in five pages. Paid for. What the hell do you think that means? You think you bought it? You think you own the event because of your money? That's obscene, and it's obscene in exactly the same way the atmosphere here was obscene 50 years ago.
Go ahead and surround Dealey Plaza with literal or figurative concertina wire. As I have said here before, it will be a marvelous example of people playing to their own stereotype. Count on lots of street theater. You are making this a much better story for those visiting reporters by making it a much worse one for yourselves.
Oh, I know why it's spooking me so much. Decades ago I covered a story where they dug up Lee Harvey to see if he was really Lee Harvey. They took him to the Dallas County Medical Examiners Office, where the examiner found that he was Lee Harvey. But in the process they brought the stiff back through Dealey Plaza in a coffin in the world's most bizarre motorcade, of which my own vehicle was a part.
You're not thinking ... you wouldn't ... no, you can't even be considering ,,, OMG! Somebody! Call Arlington National Cemetery! Tell them to post extra guards!