Morley says, "My sense is that the city wants to control this thing very tightly, and they don't want anybody to talk about causes of Kennedy's death. I think that's crazy when you're commemorating Kennedy's death in the place where he was killed."
Dallas officials have offered to let them watch from a Jumbotron in a nearby park and come to Dealey Plaza a few hours after the ceremony ends. But both he and Conway say the city has stalled so much in finalizing discussions with them that there's no real way to plan their own commemoration on the grassy knoll.
"They put together a group of people who are like the city fathers and mothers—who do symphonies and ballets—and said, 'Let's just put together a beautiful program, and we don't have to talk about the assassination,' like it's just a coincidence that they're there," Conway says. "It's just the weirdest thing. It's like if you went to a funeral but no one talked about the person who was dead."
From 11/22 to 9/11
To explain why, after 50 years, the assassination researchers still devote their lives and reputations to what happened to JFK is to them at once obvious and unanswerable. "This is so hard to explain in a sound bite," Oliver Stone told National Journal. "It's so important because Kennedy was the last peace-seeking president we really had, and the country became much more conservative after that. The last 50 years we've gone far to the right."
They are by now a large community, a fractious, infighting family, with founders like Harold Weisberg, a Maryland chicken farmer, and Mary Ferrell, a Dallas legal secretary who became one of the movement's most respected researchers. Belief in a conspiracy brought families together and kept them apart: Pamela McElwain-Brown met her future husband on one of the early assassination message boards; another researcher named David Lifton never married out of a self-professed recognition that he'd always be more interested in the president's dead body than a wife's living one. Some, like Stuart Wexler, inherited their interest from parents and grandparents. "This is going to sound cheesy and self-righteous," Wexler says, "but there is to me a sense of justice in setting historical record straight and maybe getting some literal procedural justice in this case; that I really think is important."
To understand why this fight matters so much to the researchers, consider their strange cultural predicament: Even though large majorities of the public agree with them, the people who after all these years devote time and effort to figuring out what really happened that day in Dealey Plaza are regarded as a little bit crazy by the anti-conspiracy writers, the media—and sometimes by each other.
A 2009 CBS poll found that 74 percent of Americans believe the government hid the truth about what happened to Kennedy; an Associated Press poll earlier this year put the number suspecting a conspiracy closer to 59 percent. But, according to the CBS poll, 77 percent of Americans believe they'll never know what really happened to the 35th president. Oliver Stone's movie reignited intense public interest in the debate and led to the passage of the JFK Records Act, which mandated the release of all government documents relating to the assassination of Kennedy by 2017. It also sparked a serious backlash against the conspiracy theorists. Case Closed, Gerald Posner's 640-page book debunking the conspiracy theories, won critical acclaim and sold more than 100,000 hardcover copies. When The New York Times reviewed Vincent Bugliosi's 1,648-page tome Reclaiming History, writer Bryan Burrough wrote, "Bugliosi is refreshing because he doesn't just pick apart the conspiracy theorists. He ridicules them, and by name.… What Bugliosi has done is a public service; these people should be ridiculed, even shunned. It's time we marginalized Kennedy conspiracy theorists the way we've marginalized smokers; next time one of your coworkers starts in about Oswald and the CIA, make him stand in the rain with the other outcasts."