When you ask a Russian of my generation or older about conspiracy theories, Kirov is the name that wanders into his mind as readily as the name Kennedy springs to yours. Thirty years and an ocean separate these deaths, whose aim, in both cases, was not so much the elimination of a political rival as an act of terror directed against the population at large. From the assassination of Kirov in 1934, Stalin moved on to the famous show trials of the 1930’s. I shall not presume to decide for my American readers what public spectacles their own ruling elite has moved on to since 1963. All I want is to drop a few hints in the direction of a general typology of state terror.
The assassination of JFK and the absurd explanations that came in its wake were part and parcel of the same ritual murder.
The point was not to hide the fact that the President was not killed by a crazed loner, and yet leave the general population no alternative except to say that this was indeed the case. The object of the exercise is less the demonstration of plausibility for a given story and more the show of muscle that is above such vulgar issues as plausibility, opportunity, or even motive. All we need to do is to say that burial at sea is a Muslim custom, and our citizens will repeat this absurd fabrication without so much as a reference to Wikipedia.
It may be that Bin Laden was a bad man. Certainly, as a man, Kirov...