Last December, Roberto Ponce, an editor at the Mexico City newsweekly Proceso, sent me four questions about the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding John Lennon's murder. A comprehensive Spanish-language Lennon biography,
Bendito Lennon, by Octavio Cavalli, had recently been published and the book gave credence to one of the theories. My answers to Ponce's questions ran as a column, titled "Sólo creo en una conspiración: la de Yoko Ono en mi contra" (I just believe in one conspiracy: Yoko Ono's against me), in a special Lennon section in their December 8, 2013 issue.
My blog posting yesterday, "Imagine Yoko Watching," about an upcoming Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals that I’ll be appearing in provoked a flurry of questions on Facebook about the conspiracy theories.
Here are Ponce's questions and my answers in the original English.
1) Octavio Cavalli, author of the biography Bendito Lennon, told me that one of his important sources of information about John Lennon’s murder is an article by Salvador Astucia, “José Joaquín Sanjeanis Perdomo: John Lennon’s true assassin?” In another one of his articles, Astucia has accused you, Mr. Robert Rosen, of being involved in the killing of John Lennon. What can you say about this?
I’m aware that Octavio Cavalli has thoroughly researched every aspect of John Lennon’s murder and for a variety of reasons doesn’t believe that Mark Chapman was the lone gunman. Among the issues Cavalli raises is the presence at the murder scene of Dakota doorman José Joaquín Sanjeanis Perdomo, a Cuban exile and former CIA agent, according to “Salvador Astucia,” which is the pseudonym of a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist. Astucia says, among other things too numerous to recount here, that I’m the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who gave the order to kill Lennon, after which, in order to disgrace his memory (as well as the entire antiwar movement), the CIA then paid me to write Nowhere Man
. He also says that I, along with another Jew, Edward Teller, the “Father of the H-bomb,” and Ronald Reagan, felt that Lennon had to die (and his memory besmirched) so America could go forward with its “Star Wars” missile-defense initiative.
The mere fact that Astucia is still alive is proof enough that his theories are absurd. Because if anything he said were true, a real spymaster would have silenced him 10 years ago, when he started posting this stuff online.
I don’t know if Astucia says these things because he believes them, or to provoke and to get attention. My inclination is to dismiss outright everything he or any other Holocaust denier says about anything. That Cavalli was able to find one shred of truth in Astucia’s insane ravings is a tribute to Cavalli’s tenaciousness, and his abilities as a researcher.
Though I must give Astucia full credit for my inclusion as number two, alongside J. D. Salinger and Stephen King, on a list titled “Top Three Conspiracy Theories Revolving Around the Death of John Lennon.”
And I’m sure that he’d be pleased to know that I briefly considered dedicating to him the novel I just finished writing, Bobby in Naziland
, about a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and early-60s, alongside Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans who’d fought the Nazis. That dedication would have read: “For ______, my Personal Nazi, who reminded me I was a Jew and taught me anew the meaning of anti-Semitism.”
2) What do you think of the conspiracy theories that accuse the CIA, FBI, various ex-presidents of the U.S., Operation 40, and even the Jewish people of being behind Lennon’s murder?
I don’t completely reject all conspiracy theories. I’ve had 50 years to think about JFK, and the official explanation still strikes me as less than satisfying. But I don’t think Lennon was the victim of a conspiracy. I think Chapman was a lone nut, and I think if Yoko Ono believed that Lennon’s murderer, or an accomplice to the murder was still at large, she’d have conducted a private investigation—for her own safety. She’s done nothing of the sort.
I think most conspiracy theories—Manchurian Candidates, for example—are based on scenarios so complex, they’d be nearly impossible to execute. My understanding of the psychology behind conspiracy theories is that certain people cannot accept the fact that horrendous events, like murder, can be totally random and can happen to anybody. So they need to invent fairy tales, impervious to rational evidence, that give them a sense of control and show that it can’t happen to them. That’s why Astucia is the only so-called “journalist” I’ve ever refused to speak to. Because no matter what I told him, he’d use it as further “proof” that I work for the CIA and that I did order Lennon’s murder.
There is, however, one Lennon-related conspiracy I am aware of: The unsuccessful attempt by Ono, the New York District Attorney’s office, and G. Barry Golson
, a former Playboy editor, to have me arrested on criminal conspiracy charges unless I signed a document forfeiting my First Amendment rights to write about Lennon’s diaries. The libelous article that Golson ran in the March 1984 Playboy is the root of all Lennon conspiracy theories about me. He took a comment from my diary (which Ono had given to him), about what I saw as Ono’s skillful exploitation of the Lennon legacy, and depicted that comment, “Dead Lennons=BIG $$$$$,” as my indictment of my own behavior, portraying me as a criminal conspirator drooling over Lennon’s corpse.
3) In your book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon you created an interesting profile of Mark Chapman’s mind. How has your vision of the killer changed since then? Why did he kill John Lennon? Did he commit the crime alone or maybe not?
My vision of Mark Chapman has not changed since I wrote Nowhere Man
. I still think he was a mentally unstable and possibly psychotic individual who acted alone and was motivated by envy and a desire to be famous, and believed that by shooting Lennon, whom he considered a hypocrite, he’d literally vanish into the pages of The Catcher in the Rye
and become The Catcher in the Rye for his generation. I await definitive proof that this is not the case.
4) After your experience with the Lennon diaries, what ideas would you suggest to the new generation of Latin American students about how they can be more effective in their work and lives?
In 1982, I was an obscure freelance writer who’d uncovered a story that was the equivalent of Rock ’n’ Roll Watergate. That’s why it took me 18 years to publish what I knew about Lennon’s diaries. In the eyes of the mainstream media, in any country, it’s simply unacceptable for an unknown journalist to come out of nowhere and break the story of the decade. Also, what I learned from the diaries went against the myth that Ono remains determined to perpetuate—that in his final years, John Lennon was a content, bread-baking househusband. That’s why she used all the political and media influence at her disposal to try and stop me. So, I’d say to any journalism students that it’s not enough to uncover a great story, especially one that goes against powerful people or institutions (as great stories often do). You must be prepared to fight for years, if not decades, to get your story out to a mass audience. I’d also say that anybody who’s considering investigating conspiracy theories should be aware that you’re walking into a swamp that you may never come out of. Or if you do make it out, you’ll emerge with a bag of half-answers, shadows, suspicions, and more questions than you took in there with you.