By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
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At first blush, you might think Tink Thompson and Jim Fetzer ought to be pals. Their shared contempt for the Warren Commission and otherwise similar life trajectories seem to provide grounds for friendship. They didn't. Thompson—like Fetzer, a former philosophy professor—rose to prominence in 1967 when he wrote Six Seconds in Dallas, one of the first Kennedy conspiracy books and to this day an influential tome among JFK researchers. Relying on frame-by-frame analysis of the Zapruder film, Thompson posited that there were at least three shooters at Dealey Plaza. Over the decades, Thompson, now a private detective, has participated in countless JFK conferences. It was at one such gathering in the early '90s that he met Jim Fetzer. Evidently, it was not especially memorable. "We spent some time one night talking about the academic world," Thompson recalls vaguely. "He seemed quite personable and genial."
After that first encounter, Fetzer stayed in touch with Thompson. Sometimes, Thompson says, Fetzer would share theories that—even in the world of assassination buffs—seemed off the wall. "The first thing he sent me was a rather confusing claim that William Greer, the driver of the presidential limousine, could be seen in the Zapruder film turning around 180 degrees, holding up a chrome colored revolver, and shooting the president in the head," Thompson remembers. "At that point, I knew I was dealing with someone with diminished experience in these matters." Despite what Tink Thompson thought of the professor from UMD, Fetzer soon established himself as a ubiquitous presence in the JFK world. He participated in the chat boards and attended conferences, sometimes serving as a moderator or organizer. Over the years, Thompson's disdain for Fetzer swelled.
In the highly contentious world of assassination research, Thompson says, Fetzer's bombastic approach and unconventional theories rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But the animosity between Fetzer and Thompson seems to have been largely driven by Fetzer's assertion that Thompson had been bamboozled by the Zapruder film—in Fetzer's words, "a phony strip of celluloid." No one likes being called a sucker, but in conspiracy circles, where the sum of one's endeavors is to uncover truths that all the suckers out there failed to see, it possesses a special bite.
After one nasty dust-up with Thompson, Fetzer found himself denounced in a written statement by a group of prominent JFK researchers. They called Fetzer's attacks "biased, prejudicial, counterproductive, and, finally, useless" and insisted that he apologize. The apology, says Thompson, never came. The last time he saw Fetzer was at a JFK conference in Dallas in 1998. Fetzer announced that he could prove that the Zapruder film was a fake and Thompson was itching to take him down. After he and a colleague had made their presentations, Thompson says, Fetzer stepped to the podium to present his arguments. There was supposed to be a question-and-answer session but, according to Thompson, instead Fetzer simply filibustered. "I remember him very red in the face trying to tell a Richard Pryor joke when the sponsor of the conference turned off the power to the microphone," Thompson recalls gleefully. "I think that's the last time I saw Fetzer, yapping into a dead mic." (For his part, Fetzer recalls the incident a little differently, though he does acknowledge having his power shut down for "taking too long to tell the joke, 'Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?'")
While they didn't meet again in the flesh, Thompson continued to spar with Fetzer on internet discussion forums. The brawling hasn't all been confined to JFK. Thompson is scornful of everything about Fetzer. His rhetorical approach. His emphasis on credentials and résumés. Even his philosophic writings. "They're dreck," Thompson says of Fetzer's numerous papers and books. "The usual sort of eminently forgettable pap which second-rate academics pump out for publication lists so deans, who never read anything, will say, 'Let's hire this guy.'" But Thompson says he is motivated mainly by Fetzer's periodic accusations that Thompson might be a spook. "When he said that, it really pissed me off," Thompson says. "So I figured, 'I'm not going to let this blowhard wander around the world and do this. I'm going to take a shot at him every chance I get.'" He has lived up to the vow. When Fetzer writes or edits a new book, Thompson can almost always be counted on to show up at Amazon.com with some vitriol.
For his part, Fetzer says he still suspects that Thompson is "working on the other side." "He's got a role to play, I'm telling you. He's got a role to play," Fetzer whispers when Thompson's name comes up in conversation. "If he's not an agent of disinformation, he's certainly acting as if he were." It's too bad, he adds, because he once admired Six Seconds in Dallas. Heck, he once admired Thompson. You can still hear it in his voice. "I thought it was a wonderful book," Fetzer says. "He was a philosopher. He was an instant hero, which is why it's so ironic that years and year later, he becomes my principal assailant."