New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison's decision to arrest Clay Shaw on March 1, 1967, set off a chain of events that culminated in the only prosecution undertaken in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In the decades since Garrison captured headlines with this high-profile legal spectacle, historians, conspiracy advocates, and Hollywood directors alike have fixated on how a New Orleans–based assassination conspiracy might have worked. Cruising for Conspirators: How a New Orleans DA Prosecuted the Kennedy Assassination As a Sex Crime (UNC Press, 2021) settles the debate for good, conclusively showing that the Shaw prosecution was not based in fact but was a product of the criminal justice system's long-standing preoccupation with homosexuality.
Tapping into the public's willingness to take seriously conspiratorial explanations of the Kennedy assassination, Garrison drew on the copious files the New Orleans police had accumulated as they surveilled, harassed, and arrested increasingly large numbers of gay men in the early 1960s. He blended unfounded accusations with homophobia to produce a salacious story of a New Orleans-based scheme to assassinate JFK that would become a national phenomenon.
At once a dramatic courtroom narrative and a deeper meditation on the enduring power of homophobia, Cruising for Conspirators shows how the same dynamics that promoted Garrison's unjust prosecution continue to inform conspiratorial thinking to this day.
Alecia P. Long is the John L. Loos and Paul W. and Nancy Murrill Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History at Louisiana State University. Her other books include Louisiana: Our History, Our Home; Occupied Women: Gender, Military Occupation and the American Civil War, The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, and Respectability in New Orleans, 1865-1920.
She is the recipient of Ford Foundation Grant to sponsor the Listening to Louisiana Women oral history project; the LSU Rainmaker Award; The Julia Cherry Spruill Publication Prize; and the Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize for the outstanding doctoral dissertation in the Humanities, University of Delaware.
Morris Ardoin is author of STONE MOTEL – MEMOIRS OF A CAJUN BOY (2020, University Press of Mississippi), which was optioned for TV/Film development in 2021.
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