Biography of Mark Lane
Mark Lane is one of the best-known researchers of the JFK
assassination. He is also one of the most outspoken and controversial. He is a
New York defense lawyer with strong leftist leanings and a strong social
conscience, having involved himself in many causes over the years, such as the
unjust exclusion of Negroes and Puerto Ricans from the juries in New York,
the effects of widespread pretrial publicity upon the rights of the
defendants, and the mistreatment of
mentally retarded children in a New York State school. In 1959, helped found the
Reform Democratic Movement within the New York Democrat Party. In 1960, he was
elected to the New York Legislature, where he served for one term with the
support of Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, who was a Presidential
Candidate at the time. In the legislature, he worked to abolish capital
punishment, exposed a scandal in the construction of fallout shelters, and
worked with New York Mary Robert Wagner on its housing problem. Perhaps one of
the reasons he has been so interested in the assassination is that he managed
JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign in the New York City area.
After the JFK assassination, Lane founded the Citizens’ Committee of Inquiry in New York City, where he spoke virtually daily on the assassination (before the Warren Report had been issued). He discussed the assassination widely in Europe because he felt that practically the only way to inform the American people about the assassination was to speak about it over there. Those efforts brought him into contact with Bertrand Russell and his then aide, Ralph Schoenman. Lane’s influence on Russell led the latter to publish his famous (or infamous?) “16 Questions On The Assassination” in the U.S. in September 1964.
He volunteered to defend Lee Harvey Oswald before the Warren Commission, but they refused him. He was then retained in 1964 by Marguerite Oswald to defend her son's interests, and was the only witness to request an open hearing. These events made him persona non grata with the Commission. Later he worked with Jim Garrison in New Orleans on Clay Shaw case, which was featured in Oliver Stone’s famous movie JFK.
Lane has written widely on the assassination. His first book on the subject was Rush to Judgment, which appeared in the U.S. in August 1966, in Great Britain in September 1966 (in hardcover), and then in 1967 as the Paperback Penguin Edition in Britain. He then wrote A Citizen’s Dissent in 1968. He has two screenplays dealing with the assassination, Executive Action and Plausible Denial, the first of which became a movie. He has produced two documentary films on the assassination, Rush to Judgment and Two Men In Dallas. He has also written one play, The Trial Of James Earl Ray.
Mark Lane has also been active in trying to understand the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. He was James Earl Ray’s lawyer, then later wrote (with Dick Gregory) a book on that assassination, entitled Murder in Memphis).
Lane was also a lawyer for Jim Jones’s “People’s Temple” in Guyana. Regarding that relationship, Michael Benson noted in Who’s Who In The JFK Assassination that “Lane’s role in the uncovering of a JFK conspiracy is made more intriguing by the fact that Lane was a lawyer for Jim Jones’s People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, and managed to escape the bizarre community just before the massacre. According to researcher John Judge (Critique, Spring/Summer 1986), Jonestown was not a religious community at all, but rather a part of the CIA mind-control program known as MK/ULTRA”. Whew!
More recently, Lane has been a lawyer for the far-right Liberty Lobby, headed by Willis Carto. In 1985, he successfully defended that group’s publication The Spotlight. That case led to his writing the 1991 book Plausible Denial, which claims that the CIA killed Kennedy.
It seems that nearly everyone touched by Mark Lane comes away with a strong opinion of him. His supporters, especially those with him in the early years, swear by him. Other people feel, however, that he has focused too much on himself and distorted the evidence. (See, for example, Professor John Kaplan's detailed article The Assassins in The American Scholar of Spring 1967.) Perhaps the best characterization of this view of Lane was given by the inimitable Warren Hinckle in his classic 1974 book If You Have A Lemon, Make Lemonade, pages 209–210:
"The [JFK] assassination investigation seemed at times like a pageant staged by Busby Berkeley—if I had to cast the Carmen Miranda role, I would give it to Mark Lane. Lane was the New York lawyer and lecture artist who, before [Jim] Garrison, was chief honcho among the Warren Commission critics. He was one of those people to whom I took an instant and irrational dislike. (Another is the dreadful Al Lowenstein, that boy scout of reform politicians.) I am hard put to explain why; demurring to the laws of slander, I can only cop out to brute instinct. Were I a dog, I would have growled when Lane came around. ("Watch out for the guys who come in fast," Cookie Picetti once told me, meaning that the type of guy who comes through the front door in a hurry, talking a busy streak as he breezes up to the bar, is invariably going to borrow money or cash a check that will go to the moon and bounce back.) Perhaps it was Lane's speed that turned me off. He moved about the world at a roadrunner's pace, a commercially-minded crusader, developing President Kennedy's murder into a solid multi-media property. Lane produced a book, Rush to Judgment, which sold like a Bible beachball at a Baptist resort; a movie of the same name, which consisted largely of on the street interviews with witnesses who said Oswald went thisaway, not thataway; and a long-playing record on which, for the price of an LP, you could hear Lane's testimony to the Warren Commission—consisting, if my recollection is correct, of Lane telling the commission he knew something they didn't know, but couldn't tell them what it was.
"Lane's paranoia had a show-biz cloak-and-dagger frosting; while making his movie, he slunk around Dallas under an alias, as if that would fool those conspirators who had been smart enough to bump off the President and get away with it. Lane had a tendency to grab bits of evidence like a sea gull swooping down to snap up a fish, swallowing it whole without taking time to see if it was anything digestible. This procedure got Lane in trouble in 1970 when the Kennedy assassination business was experiencing a recession, and Lane decided to diversify into the fertile field of Vietnam atrocities. He wrote a book purporting to be based on interviews with American soldiers who admitted to various barbarisms and tortures; the gimmick was that the soldiers did not take refuge in anonymity, but allowed Lane to print their names. However, Neil Sheehan, ace war correspondent for the New York Times, revealed in a blitzing review of Lane's book, that the muckraker's report of an alleged Nazi working the Vietnam atrocity circuit on behalf of Uncle Sam—one of Lane's soldiers "confessed" that his father was a former blood-lust S.S. officer serving as a United States Army Colonel in Vietnam—was deficient in that the Nazi did not possess name, rank or serial number in the U.S. Army."
We feature here Lane's article "Oswald
Innocent? A Lawyer's Brief." that appeared in the National Guardian
of 19 December 1963, or just four weeks after the assassination. As far as I can
find, this is the first American reaction of a critical nature. It was an
enormously influential article, and set the stage for Lane's years of intense activity
regarding the case. Lane tells how the article came to be in the first chapter
of his 1968 book A Citizen's Dissent: Mark Lane Replies. It seems that The
New York Times had published on November 26th the text of Dallas District
Attorney Henry Wade's press conference of the 24th, shortly after Oswald's death
had been announced, in which Wade presented fifteen assertions concerning the
sole guilt of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lane began to study the charges and compare
them with what was then known about the case, and found many contradictions. He
rapidly produced a ten-thousand-word article (the equivalent of twenty
single-spaced pages) and started to shop it around. In his words, he offered it
"gratis, to almost every periodical in the United States," including The
Nation, Fact, The Reporter, Look, Life, the Saturday
Evening Post, The New Republic, and The Progressive.
Eventually James Aronson agreed to publish it in the leftist National
Guardian, where it occupied five tabloid-size pages. Lane states that so
many additional press runs were needed to keep the newsstands supplied that the Guardian
reprinted it as a special pamphlet. Other publishers reacted in mixed ways. The New
York Times published a long story on Lane's points, but to the best of
Lane's knowledge no other paper in the country touched it. Lanes notes that the
Guardian later reported that "Abroad the reaction was quite different. In
Rome the Lane brief was scheduled to be printed in full in Paese Sera,
the largest in the evening field, and in Liberation in Paris. Oggi,
an Italian magazine with a circulation of one million, sought permission to
reprint. The Japanese press and news agencies also were on top of the story.
Several Mexican papers picked it up, too."
This article and Lane's later speeches and publications raise an interesting conceptual question that has seldom been addressed. The background is that Lane built his JFK career on attacking the official explanation by alleging to show its many omissions and internal contradictions, particularly with respect to the existence of shots being fired from the "grassy knoll," whose name he first popularized. But to the best of my knowledge he has neither produced evidence for who the additional assassin(s) might have been (i.e., named names) nor endorsed anyone else's identifications. [In fact, although not germane to this argument, neither has anyone else made any names of assassins or sponsors stick.] The question is then whether one can seriously argue for the existence of additional assassins without being able to prove who they were. In other words, can you have conspiracy without having the conspirators? In the JFK case, I see only one way—when you have physical proof of shots from a second location. Lane, of course, had no such proof, even though he spoke of "physical traces." No one in the 36 subsequent years has had physical proof, either, or else we would not still be debating the question. Thus Lane was advancing an incomplete argument that was worth little or nothing. (The same can be said about all arguments since then that claim the reality of conspiracy without having conspirators.) The counterargument, I suppose, would be that Lane was acting in the legal sense by presenting a brief for the defense, in which he just needed to raise reasonable doubt. But that works only in courts of law, not in the outside world where arguments need to be complete. On balance, then, arguments about conspiracy that do not include conspirators are not to be taken seriously. When someone announces confidently that "conspiracy in the JFK assassination is historical fact," as people like George Michael Evica and Charles Drago have been doing for several years, their pronouncements are meaningless.