There are more conspiracy theories associated with the murder of JFK than nearly any other topic. For Robert F. Kennedy, however, there are two significant arguments against the “official” line, which holds that Sirhan Sirhan shot RFK shortly after Kennedy won the Democrat Primary nomination in California.
The fifty year anniversary of the assassination was this year, and because of that the murder has received a resurgence of attention, as have the conspiracies.
The first of them is simple. It claims that Sirhan Sirhan was the shooter (which is a strong claim, as there were multiple witnesses, Sirhan admitted to having shot him, and bullets retrieved from the scene matched the gun Sirhan carried) but that he was hypnotized into doing so. That places the actual culpability for the crime on the hypnotist.
Whether this is plausible or not depends entirely on your faith in hypnotic suggestion. There are many cases of detailed hypnotic incidents, but overwhelmingly they are from the 1800s through 1960. Hypnotic suggestion was felt to be so powerful that people could be induced to perform detailed actions when a triggering stimuli was introduced. Movies and television shows had stories based on the premise and nearly every military and intelligence service researched the possibility.
Hypnosis and hypnotic suggestion has been researched and proven to be effective… within limits. The hypnotic or “trance” state is generated by most people on a regular basis. Daily experiences may be where a tired driver reaches their destination without a specific recall of the drive, or where a reader loses track of time while enjoying a book. These are not situations where the mind stops consciously functioning but rather where there is a degree of removal of analytical thought. Hypnotism and suggestions are occasionally useful in attempting to help people modify their behavior. The action is not akin to someone else taking control and directing action, but rather like a small reminder of the person’s desire to act in a specific way… a small voice saying, “you told me you wanted to stop smoking” just before someone reflexively goes to light their cigarette.
For Sirhan Sirhan to have been controlled to the level that the conspiracy theorists present, the degree of control available would need to be far beyond the levels currently able to be scientifically duplicated – after decades of work by highly funded intelligence services and militaries to produce such effects. The case to be made for such a program to be available, but remain secret, is undermined by the fact that drugs and physical discomfiture remain used by such agencies to procure information.
The other theory holds that there is a second gunman. This theory has been promoted by no less than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and is predicated on a few points:
- Some witnesses reported they may have heard more than 8 shots
- An audio expert, analyzing the only audio recording, has identified 13 distinct shots
- The coroner’s report indicates that some of the bullets entered RFK from behind, while Sirhan was in front of Kennedy.
Addressing these in order:
- The only witness to state that she absolutely heard more than 8 shots is Nina Rhodes-Hughes. While it is noteworthy to have a dissenting opinion, it is reasonable to ask whether one person offering conflicting testimony to all other witnesses may be mistaken – particularly when she has been given notoriety and appreciation for having the contrary opinion. Honest disagreements happen when it comes to witness testimony.
- The audio expert involved was interviewed by CNN:
Audio expert Philip Van Praag told CNN that his analysis establishes the Pruszynski recording as authentic and the 13 sounds electronically detected on the recording as gunshots.“The gunshots are established by virtue of my computer analysis of waveform patterns, which clearly distinguishes gunshots from other phenomena,” he said in an e-mail. “This would include phenomena that to human hearing are often perceived as exploding firecrackers, popping camera flashbulbs or bursting balloons.”However, Van Praag was using proprietary software that he had created; other audio experts have disputed his findings.
- The angle-of-entry argument is entirely predicated on the notion that Sirhan somehow missed Kennedy will all shots as he was firing at point-blank range, and a more experienced shooter was able to use the distraction as cover for delivering four expert shots in a crowded location without anyone detecting him. An alternate explanation would be that the body turned as Kennedy was falling, and Sirhan shot, or even that the press mis-identified facts the coroner provided about the entry point… a fairly common occurrence (forensicsmag.com)
There’s no validity to the first theory, unless you’re a believer in movie-style hypnotism. The second is just theoretically possible but highly implausible. None of that will prevent people from presenting both as certainties.