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BackStory with the American History Guys

November 22, 2013

On November 22, 1963, fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy was killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas-a tragedy that inspired multiple conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Why have alternative assassination theories proven so resilient over the years? And why do other conspiracy theories persist in public memory--whether about Roswell, the Moon Landing, or the shadowy world of the Illuminati? This episode of BackStory takes a look at conspiracy thinking throughout American history.

Grassy Knolls unearths a long tradition of American conspiracy thinking-stretching all the way back to the Founding. From a political party formed to combat the secretive power of Freemasons, to whispers of a "slave power" conspiracy in the 19th century, to an outcry over a criminal network fostering "white slavery" in the early 20th century, to an abundance of Communist conspiracies during the Cold War--Brian, Ed, Peter and their guests discover that while conspiracy theorists may sometimes be on the fringes of American society, conspiracy thinking has always been mainstream.

Guests include:

  • Jefferson Morley, journalist and founder of the website, on the conspiracy theories that still swirl around the Kennedy assassination.
  • Andrew Case, Lyman Briggs College, Michigan State University, on the supposed Communist conspiracy that lay behind the fluoridation of water in the mid-20th century.
  • Mara Keire, University of Oxford, on the "white slavery" panic of the early 20th century--and the criminal conspiracy that supposedly lay behind it.
  • Ron Formisano, University of Kentucky, on the perceived power of Freemasons in the early Republic, and the political backlash this inspired.
  • Jesse Walker, journalist and author of The United States of Paranoia (2013), on the "slave power conspiracy" of the 19th century and its alleged links to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

BackStory is a production of VFH Radio at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The weekly program is newscast compatible and there are no carriage fees. New episodes are uploaded to SubAuto/PRX and Content Depot on Friday afternoons.

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