For a long time, I was open to the conspiracy theories about the killing. As a teenager, I probably read half a dozen books in this vein.
I attribute my early interest in conspiracy theories to my Seventh-Day Adventist upbringing, which is a form of conspiracy theory (the world is going to hunt down Adventists and persecute them). My dad specializes in apocalyptic and he attracted a swarm of nutters who subscribed to all sorts of crackpot ideas, including Holocaust denial.
Conspiracy theory appealed to my intellectual side. I wanted to feel smarter than everyone else and to understand how the world really worked. My dad is a gospel preacher and the Christian gospel is a form of gnosticism — that there is a special knowledge that will reveal life and bring eternal salvation.
When my parents and I moved to the Napa Valley from Australia in May of 1977, I spent most every day of that summer in the Pacific Union College library, eventually making my way through every issue of Time, Life, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated magazines. I was particularly fascinated by the Kennedy assassination and the photos published in Life magazine.
When I fell under the sway of Dennis Prager in 1988, and began my journey to Judaism in 1989, I decided that conspiracy theories are for losers.
So I’m watching today this ABC News special debunking JFK assassination conspiracy theories and I am struck by my many similarities to Lee Harvey Oswald.
I have some big dissimilarities as well. I have no criminal tendencies. I’ve never been arrested and I have never been tempted to cross the line to become a crook. I prize my peace too much. I’m too lazy to face the risks of doing bad. I also have no violent tendencies. I’ve done everything I could in my life to avoid physical confrontation. I have never initiated a fight. I’ve lost every fight I’ve been in. When I’ve been attacked, I’ve simply defended myself and never fought back.
Despite this, I feel like I understand Lee Harvey Oswald because I too am a loner narcissist who yearns for attention. I understand his need to feel important. Twice in my childhood, I set fires outside our home to try to feel important and to make the outside world as chaotic as my inner world.
I look similar to Lee Harvey Oswald and my mannerisms under pressure — arrogance mixed with courtesy and an ability to lie with a straight face — resemble Lee’s after his arrest on Nov. 22, 1963.
Lee’s brother Robert says: “He was a lonely boy needing attention but not getting it.” Ditto.
Lee’s father died just before his death. My mom died less than four years after I was born. Lee, in his own words, “had a far mean streak of independence brought on by neglect.” Ditto.
Lee’s family moved constantly. Ditto.
Lee was a poor student who read many books. Ditto.
Lee had no friends growing up. Sometimes he spent days riding the subways alone. I wasn’t quite that bad, but almost.
“By 16, he had dropped out of school and was calling himself a Marxist.” (ABC)
Robert: “He wanted the attention by being unique. If the rest of the world had been Marxist, he would’ve been American.” Ditto.
Lee joined the Marines at 17 to get away from his mother. I also sought to get away from my parents, not always by literally leaving home but by living my own life on my own terms.
Lee kept up his Marxism in the Marine, even though it turned other Marines against him. Throughout my life, I’ve done weird things that off turned those around me.
Robert: “When he was in the Marine Corps, he was going in the opposite direction from the rest of the troops. He wanted to be different from the crowd, stand out from the crowd. Whatever it took, he was willing to do it.” Ditto.
Nine days after being discharged at age 20, he was on his way to the Soviet Union, where he intended to defect.
Shortly after I turned 23, I began contemplating a conversion to Judaism and a defection from my Christian upbringing.
“Everything about him spelled loneliness,” says his biographer Priscilla McMillan. Ditto.
The Russians were skeptical of the would-be defector, just as the Jews were skeptical of my desire to convert.
“Six days after he got to Moscow, the Soviets told him they didn’t want him and told him to leave.” (ABC) Ditto for most of my attempts to convert to Judaism.
KGB agent: “To us, he looked like a misfit. An unhappy man. A man who did not know what to do. A man who was looking for something and he did not know what.”
I resemble that, but I developed a clearer idea of Judaism and where I could fit in it than Oswald developed about communism and his role therein.
“The Soviets under-estimated Oswald’s determination and his flair for the dramatic.” Ditto for me with the Jews.
“He was without education, without skills, but seething with ambition.” Ditto.
Minsk co-worker Volkmar: “He was so extremely fixed on making an impression with his life. Enormously ambitious, ambitious to achieve something beyond the normal.” Ditto.
Lee believed that when he returned to America, he would be greeted by curious reporters. He rehearsed his answers to their questions. Ditto. I often have fantasies about my news conferences as president.
ABC: “Back in America, Oswald was a man of no importance to anyone but himself. He found work demeaning… He had no deep connections to other people…” Ditto.
Acquaintance Ruth Paine: “He had these fantasies about who he was and what he could do and nobody was paying attention and feeling that he was important.” Ditto.
Acquaintance Michael Paine: “He’d been spending his life trying to be a revolutionary, trying to have an effect, trying to be important, make a mark on the world.” Ditto.