New Orleans will throw a party for just about anything.
But this weekend, a group of conspiracy theorists will gather in the area to throw a birthday party in honor of the last man believed to have assassinated an American president: Lee Harvey Oswald.
Multiple investigations have come and gone since that tragic day in November 1963, and for the most part, they have concluded one thing — that Oswald, who earlier attempted to defect to the Soviet Union, acted alone when he fired three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository in Dallas, fatally striking President John F. Kennedy and wounding Texas Gov. John Connally.
Oswald didn’t get much of a chance to defend himself. He was fatally shot two days later as he was being transported to a maximum-security facility.
Uncertainty around the events in Dealey Plaza, as well as those around Oswald’s death, has for years fueled speculation that the public has never gotten the full story of Kennedy’s assassination. And even though most of the official accounts call the lone-gunman theory the most plausible, a dedicated group of professional historians and amateur history buffs has long held that Oswald was, as he claimed at the time, a “patsy” for darker, more malevolent forces.
That view is behind a weekend conference kicking off Friday titled “Oswald’s Summer of Secrets: New Orleans and the JFK Assassination.” The conference will consider Oswald’s time living in New Orleans — especially summer 1963 — and will begin with a walking tour led by Oswald’s former girlfriend, Judyth Vary Baker.
The weekend will end with a 76th birthday party for the alleged assassin on Sunday night.
The conference is being organized by Kris Millegan, a book publisher who has recruited a number of Kennedy and Oswald conspiracy theorists and authors to speak at the conference, the first of what Millegan hopes will become an annual event.
“Everyone thinks, ‘This is a vile, creepy man who killed our president,’ ” Millegan said Thursday. “But he didn’t do it. He was a patsy.”
Oswald, according to Millegan, was a U.S. intelligence operative who was set up to be framed and killed as part of a coup d’etat orchestrated by several secret societies.
“When you look at the totality of the evidence, Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t kill the president,” he said.
Jim Marrs will offer a Friday night talk arguing that Oswald never even fired a gun on Nov. 22, 1963, according to the conference’s website.
Other talks will discuss the time Oswald — or “Lee,” as he is referred to in the titles of many of the talks — spent in New Orleans, his relationship with Baker, who is a speaker, and Kennedy’s relationship with his successor, Lyndon Johnson. And, of course, more than one session is devoted to the later investigation by then-New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, a main feature of the Oliver Stone film “JFK.”
Although some of the tours will happen in and around New Orleans, the conference is being held at a hotel in Kenner.
The grand finale will be the birthday party, held at River Shack on River Road in Metairie. It’s the fifth such celebration organized by Millegan and featuring Baker. Earlier ones were held in Toronto, on the West Coast and, last year, in New Orleans.
A picture on the conference website shows a cake from the 2014 celebration. The cake has white and brown icing and features a photo of the shackled Oswald raising his fist in what many have called a Communist salute. Written on the cake is one word: “Lee.”
Millegan said he hopes the conference and party will draw more people to his cause.
“I am hoping to convince new people,” he said. “We are looking to have discussion.”
But his ultimate aim is even higher.
“I want my country back,” he said. “I hope the government will reopen the case.”
New Orleans Advocate contributor Katy Reckdahl contributed to this report.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.