Warren Commission Says Kennedy’s Assassin Oswald Acted Alone
One week after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, promised the stunned and grieving nation that the government would investigate the killing. Johnson established the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy on Nov. 29, 1963. The commission, informally known as the “Warren Commission” after its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren, spent ten months examining evidence and interviewing scores of witnesses before announcing its key finding: there was no conspiracy to kill the president—the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone.
The commission presented its final report, a massive 888-page document, to Johnson on Sept. 24, 1964. Three days later the report was made public, on Sept. 27, 1964—and has remained controversial ever since. To this day books, news articles and films are produced exploring the endless controversy: did Oswald act alone? Were there three shots or four? Was there another shooter on the grassy knoll? If there was a conspiracy, who was involved—Cuba? The Mafia? The KGB? The CIA? The FBI? Johnson himself?
The Warren Commission made several findings in its report. One of its conclusions least remembered by the public today is this: Dallas was not to blame for Kennedy’s assassination or Oswald’s subsequent murder (while in police custody) by Jack Ruby. Yes, back in 1963-64 the city of Dallas was suspected of somehow sharing responsibility for the killing, at least indirectly, because it fostered hatred for the president. As the report stated: “It has been suggested that one of the motivating influences operating on Lee Oswald was the atmosphere in the City of Dallas, especially an atmosphere of extreme opposition to President Kennedy…”
The Warren Commission examined right-wing extremism in Dallas and found it to be strong and prevalent. The report referred to Dallas’s “reputation of the twenties as ‘the Southwest hate capital of Dixie.’” There had been ugly confrontations when Johnson came to Dallas as a vice-presidential candidate during the 1960 campaign, and again when Adlai Stevenson came to the city in October 1963. Virulent right-wing leaders in Dallas gave lectures and speeches denouncing the Kennedy Administration. In the days before the presidential motorcade was to parade through Dallas, ads appeared in the city’s newspapers condemning Kennedy, as well as nasty editorials and letters to the editors.
Security officials were especially concerned about a handbill that was circulated and posted in Dallas on Nov. 21, 1963, the day before Kennedy appeared and was assassinated. Beneath two photographs of the president, one from the front and one in profile, was the bold headline: WANTED FOR TREASON. The handbill said: “This man is wanted for treasonous activities against the United States.” It then listed seven charges against Kennedy, including “betraying the Constitution,” “turning the sovereignty of the U.S. over to communist-controlled United Nations,” and giving “support and encouragement to the communist-inspired racial riots.”
The Warren Commission report was released to the public on a Sunday afternoon. The next day, it was front page news for newspapers all across the country. Like everywhere else, the report’s conclusion that Oswald acted alone was on the front page of the Dallas papers. In addition, the city’s leading paper carried two additional front page articles about the report that were of particular interest locally: the exoneration of Dallas.
These two copyrighted articles were published by the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) on the front page of its Sept. 28, 1964, issue:
Dallas: Extreme Opposition, but No Influence
Washington Bureau of The News
Washington—An “atmosphere of extreme opposition to President Kennedy” existed “in some parts of the Dallas community” before his assassination there Nov. 22, the Warren Commission said Sunday.
But, the commission said, it found no evidence that this anti-Kennedy feeling influenced Lee Harvey Oswald in his decision to kill the President.
The commission told President Johnson in its lengthy report:
“It has been suggested that one of the motivating influences operating on Lee Oswald was the atmosphere in the City of Dallas, especially an atmosphere of extreme opposition to President Kennedy that was present in some parts of Dallas…
“The commission has found no evidence that the extreme views expressed toward President Kennedy by some right-wing groups centered in Dallas or any other general atmosphere of hate or right-wing extremism which may have existed in Dallas had any connection with Oswald’s actions of Nov. 22.
“There is, of course, no way to judge what the effect of the general political ferment in the city might have been…”
The commission said that, although Oswald attended a meeting at which Edwin A. Walker spoke, it has found no credible evidence that Oswald associated with right-wing groups.
“Oswald’s writings and his reading habits indicate that he had an extreme dislike of the right wing, an attitude most clearly reflected by his attempt to shoot Gen. Walker,” the report stated.
Referring to the “atmosphere of extreme opposition to President Kennedy” present in some parts of Dallas, the commission said:
“Some of that feeling was expressed in the incident involving President Johnson (then a candidate for vice-president) during the 1960 campaign, in the treatment of Adlai Stevenson late in October 1963, and in the extreme anti-Kennedy newspaper advertisement and handbills that appeared in Dallas at the time of the President’s visit there.”
The commission said that, while there were “critical editorials and letters to the editors” in Dallas newspapers before the Kennedy visit, news stories reflected “the desire of Dallas officials to welcome the President with dignity and courtesy.”
The Oct. 24 incident in which Stevenson was jostled and spat upon outside Dallas Memorial Auditorium aroused “increased concern” about the Kennedy visit, the commission said.
“The local, national and international reaction to this incident evoked from the Dallas officials and newspapers strong condemnation of the demonstrators,” it noted. “Mayor Earle Cabell called on the city to redeem itself during President Kennedy’s visit. He asserted that Dallas has shed its reputation of the twenties as ‘the Southwest hate capital of Dixie.’”
On Nov. 17, the report pointed out, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce president referred to the city’s reputation for being “the friendliest town in America” and asserted that citizens would “greet the President with the warmth and pride that keep the Dallas spirit famous the world over.”
The report quoted a Dallas Republican leader as calling on Nov. 19 for a “civilized non-partisan” welcome for President Kennedy. The report said this Republican, whom it did not identify, stated at the time that “in many respects Dallas County has isolated itself from the main stream of life in the world in this decade.”
Then, the report continued, “another reaction to the impending visit—hostile to the President—came to a head shortly before his arrival.” It referred to the black-bordered ad which critics of President Kennedy placed in The Dallas News and to circulars which carried the words “Wanted for Treason” beneath pictures of the President.
The commission said the FBI office in Dallas and Dallas police told the Secret Service about the circulars. In addition, the commission said, the FBI gave the Secret Service “the name of a possibly dangerous individual in the Dallas area” and he was investigated.
The commission said a Secret Service agent obtained photos of Dallas residents who participated in the Stevenson incident.
“On Nov. 22 a Secret Service agent stood at the entrance of the Trade Mart, where the President was scheduled to speak, with copies of these photographs,” the report related. “Dallas detectives in the lobby of the Trade Mart and in the luncheon area also had copies of the photographs.
“A number of people who resembled some of those in the photographs were placed under surveillance at the Trade Mart.”
The commission said FBI Agent James P. Hosty knew that Oswald worked in the Texas School Book Depository building, but that Oswald was ignored while security officers concerned themselves with right-wingers.
It quoted Hosty as saying that he did not realize the Kennedy motorcade would pass the depository building and did not regard Oswald as a potential assassin.
When President Kennedy reached Dallas, the commission said, “large crowds of spectators gave the President a tremendous reception” as his motorcade moved through downtown streets.
“As the motorcade approached the intersection of Elm and Houston streets, there was general gratification in the presidential party about the enthusiastic reception,” the report related.
“Evaluating the political overtones, Kenneth O’Donnell (an assistant to the President) was especially pleased because it convinced him that the average Dallas resident was like other American citizens in respecting and admiring the President.
“Mrs. John Connally, elated by the reception, turned to President Kennedy and said, ‘Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.’ The President replied, ‘That is very obvious.’”
Seconds later Lee Harvey Oswald opened fire with a high-powered rifle, mortally wounding the President.
Dallas Agrees with Warren Probers
By Kent Biffle
County Democratic Chairman William Clark III lauded the Warren Commission Sunday for its bipartisan approach to the investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination and he predicted the report will have no real political impact.
He said he felt the results of the commission’s study could be used for no politically partisan purpose. “This was something akin to a tough foreign policy problem and politics were rightly avoided.”
Both Dist. Atty. Henry Wade and lawyer Joe Tonahill said Sunday they agreed with the commission’s observation that a fair trial for Lee Harvey Oswald, the President’s assassin, would have been difficult to obtain.
Tonahill, who represents Jack Ruby, the killer of Oswald, said, “The local law enforcement people went on television and told the world that they had enough evidence to send Oswald to the electric chair. I don’t see how he could have gotten a fair trial after that.”
Wade said it would have been better if no one had commented on evidence regarding Oswald. “All the evidence should have come from the witness stand,” said Wade.
“I say it should have been done that way. But when the President has been killed, you have some real problems. The press was yelling and screaming for information about the suspect, and there was some talk that maybe the police were beating him up.”
Tonahill of Jasper said statements by officials that there was sufficient evidence to send Oswald to the chair spurred on Ruby, now in county jail, convicted of murder and assessed the death penalty.
H. L. Hunt, Dallas oil multi-millionaire, called the commission’s report “a very honest finding.” He said, “President Kennedy was a friend of mine and I supported the Kennedy-Johnson ticket.”
Earle Cabell, mayor of Dallas at the time of the slaying, said, “I certainly wouldn’t take it on myself to criticize the findings of the commission, which findings were arrived at by a dedicated and capable group of men after an intensive investigation.
“I cannot refrain, however, from calling attention to the fact that Monday morning quarterbacking is always easier than calling the signals in the game on Saturday.
“Our police department was confronted with a situation such as has never been duplicated in world history and one which we hope will never repeat itself.”
In regard to the commission’s criticism of police for giving the press access to the arrested Oswald, Cabell said, “It’s my opinion that the Warren Commission members, knowing their philosophy and high character, would have been even more critical of Chief of Police Jesse Curry had he in any way attempted to enforce a blackout of news to the world public.”
The report pointed out that Oswald was not denied counsel. H. Louis Nichols, president of the Dallas County Bar Association at the time of the assassination, said Sunday that Oswald was, in fact, given special services by the association.
Nicholls recalled his trip to the city jail on Nov. 23, 1963, the day following the assassination, to determine whether Oswald was represented by a lawyer.
Nichols said he’d worried about whether the question might arise later as to whether Oswald was properly represented by counsel. Nichols said Police Chief Curry expressed worry over the same thing. The chief invited Nichols to speak to Oswald in his cell.
“This was the only time during the year I served as president of the bar that this kind of thing was done for a prisoner,” said Nichols. He went to Oswald’s cell and asked him if he wanted the bar association to provide him with a lawyer.
Oswald, according to Nichols, said he wanted to retain a New York lawyer named John Abt, who had represented clients charged with Communist activities. Oswald also asked for a lawyer affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, Nichols said.
Nichols said he told the prisoner that he knew no ACLU attorneys. He said Oswald declined his offer to provide an attorney through the bar association. He said Oswald told him, “Check with me next week and I’ll let you know if I want you to do anything.”
The former head of the Dallas bar said during his “2-to-3 minute” conversation with the prisoner, Oswald at no time complained of any mistreatment; neither did he contend that any of his rights were being violated.
The Rev. William A. Holmes, pastor of Northaven Methodist Church, who reported that some schoolchildren cheered in their classrooms when they heard the news that President Kennedy had been slain, said Sunday he has noted signs of moderation in Dallas.
The Rev. Mr. Holmes said he thoroughly agreed with the commission’s conclusions that right-wing sentiment in Dallas had nothing to do with Oswald’s motivation.
“Any conclusions other than that would be, I think, highly speculative. I see signs of moderation in the city; whether permanent or far-reaching, it is too soon to know.”
Dallas Mayor Erik Jonsson said, “What the world failed to understand was that when the President came to Dallas that day there was what has been aptly described as a tumultuous welcome.
“When President Kennedy was killed our feeling of shock was without regard to political party; we’d lost our President. The world didn’t understand that, I think.”
He said that while the report did criticize the Dallas police for Oswald’s death, it also pointed out the swift detection and apprehension of Oswald.
“The Warren Commission has done an exhaustive job, bringing out nothing very new but establishing details that I hadn’t seen before. I think this is good because people around the world should have these facts available. I hope that in time this will be The Book about the events and that its exoneration of Dallas will not be overlooked.”
U.S. Atty. Barefoot Sanders said, as a citizen of Dallas, he viewed it as a fine thing that the commission had cleared the city of charges of a “hate atmosphere.”
He said, “I think the commission deserves the thanks and the commendation of the American people for the manner in which it conducted the investigation.”
Robert B. Cullum, president of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, called the Warren investigation “a very objective job.” He said the reports bears out the things “that we believed to be true here in Dallas. It’s a fine thing,” he said, “to have all these doubts laid to rest by this exhaustive investigation.”
County Judge Lew Sterrett said the report, while containing no surprises, was “an extensive, exhaustive undertaking that seems to have found the right answers.”
He said he thought the report was worthwhile because “the people are entitled to all the facts and Dallas is entitled to have the record cleared.”
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