LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, by Phillip F. Nelson

Five stars (of five)

Nelson taps into two areas of great curiosity to me that, combined, have piqued my interest with this book; JFK assassination conspiracies and biography of Lyndon Johnson. Nelson has taken on the monumental task of making the significant argument that Johnson was the puppet-master in the assassination of his predecessor, John F Kennedy. A theory usually reserved for Third World banana republics, the former Eastern Bloc, or Putin’s Russia, Nelson tries to pull the argument into the mainstream that a second-in-command would purposely set plans in motion to slay a nation’s leader, in this case that of the Free World. Nelson posits that Johnson’s hatred towards JFK, means of acting without direct implication, and obsession with power, all played central roles making him complicit in the assassination. Not only making these arguments, Nelson also creates a lengthy and detailed theory to show how all evidence points to Johnson. With a dedicated narrative and through the use of countless documents and interviews, Nelson presents the reader with a stunning biographical piece on Johnson and substantiated proof that the Crime of the Century could be solved, without a doubt.

Nelson weaves the theme of hatred towards JFK, and the Kennedys in general,throughout his tome. While no angel himself, Johnson always looked down on the cavorting and reckless affairs that JFK engaged in while in the White House, as well as his weak stances internationally and on the domestic agenda. Nelson outlines the ire between the two men on countless occasions, including friction over Kennedy sending Johnson to Vietnam while the dispute was still on a slow boil, to which the latter outrightly refused (even in his subservient role as vice-president). The hatred was also fuelled by Johnson’s relationship with a number of other Kennedy haters, mentioned below, which created an oft strained relationship between the two. Nelson explores Kennedy’s apparent decision to drop Johnson from the ticket in ’64, which would have dashed hopes of Johnson’s ascendancy to the White House. Nelson leaves little doubt that Johnson sought to remove the man who caused him so much disgust by any means necessary. Nelson leaves no doubt that Johnson had enough vile sentiment in his encounters with Kennedy to want him dead.

Johnson’s political and personal connections spanned not only across decades, but also political and cultural groups. As Nelson illustrates, Johnson worked closely and regularly with J. Edgar Hoover, another mortal enemy of the Kennedy clan. That connection fostered further ties to mafia men angered that Bobby Kennedy was trying to round them up, CIA officials livid that JFK hung them out to dry during the Bay of Pigs, and ultra-conservative individuals irate that Kennedy remained soft on Communism. Johnson was also not divorced from murder in his past either, having apparently ordered the death of a handful of men who may have been involved in sullying his family’s name. Nelson pulls no punches and offers countless examples of how dirty and duplicitous Johnson was throughout his political life, with the goal of taking his lame-duck role as vice-president and catapulting himself into the Oval Office, where he could live out his childhood dream, as president of the United States. With this broad and varied cross-section of associates, it is no stretch that Johnson had the means at hand to order or at least bring about the slaying of JFK and keep his hands clear of any direct blame.

While he grew up in the depths of despair and as poor as could be imagined, Johnson’s eye never strayed from his goal of being president of the United States, imbibing on the power he could generate as he travelled the long journey to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He took no prisoners in his ascendency, eliminating all obstacles while fine-tuning is political prowess. Johnson would lie, cheat, steal, kill, and even double-cross people to attain his goals. As is mentioned in the tome, Johnson stood as the most powerful man in Congress –Majority Leader in the Senate– and exerted his power at every turn. Why, then, would he agree to such a subservient role as vice-president? Nelson argues that the only reason he’d agree is because he felt sure he could rise to the role of president early on, not having to wait the requisite eight years for JFK to complete his two terms. Nelson further illustrates that Johnson was always working to put his ultimate plan in action and tweaked it on a regular basis. When faced with lawlessness from the testimony of a former aide, Johnson did all he could to squash and erase evidence, or spin things to fit his master plan. Drunk on power and with an eye on the prize, Johnson crafted and enacted the Crime of the Century, all to obtain an otherwise insurmountable obstacle of becoming president of the United States. 

Nelson’s narrative is not only believable, but also lays out the story so succinctly that he reader cannot help but connect the dots and make the inevitable conclusions. This is not a book based on a crackpot theory of the phases of the moon or misinterpretation of a memorandum, but a set of key evidence that, in all but one or two instances, was previously presented by historians or researchers. The reader can gather all these breadcrumbs and create the master theory, which leaves little doubt that Johnson was implicit in the assassination and had his cronies cover it up on numerous levels, turning evidence presented to the public into a collection of deception to steer guilt away from the obvious culprits. Nelson convincing style gathers the reader around the cauldron of facts and suppositions, creating a thoroughly captivating final product whose fortitude makes its dismissal implausible.

Having been a fan of Robert A. Caro’s ongoing biography  of Johnson, I can attest to many of the stories Nelson raises, having heard them before by the prize-winning biographer. Nelson touches on so many angles with such clarity and supported by so much evidence that it is hard for the reader not to want to believe what’s presented. Nelson’s writing style is as captivating as Caro’s, with just as much attention to detail and yet filled with so much to depict Johnson as a negative character. The reader needs to take this into account, as the inherent bias is by no means sheltered in this tome, nor does Nelson hide his angle, as the title suggests.

Kudos, Mr. Nelson for such a powerful book that makes poignant and well-grounded arguments behind Johnson’s role in the assassination. While it has been over half a century, I will say you’ve opened up new angles to this mystery and might have stumbled upon a possible solution.