Ted Kennedy got lots of death threats, FBI files show

McClatchy NewspapersJune 14, 2010 

WASHINGTON — For decades after his brothers John and Robert were assassinated, Sen. Edward Kennedy received many threats that he would meet the same fate, according to FBI documents released Monday.

More than 2,000 pages of partially redacted documents from 1961 to 1985 show that Kennedy, the veteran Massachusetts Democrat who died from brain cancer last year, received death threats from individuals and organizations including the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialist White People's Party and "Minutemen" groups.

The documents suggest that Kennedy was under constant threat. About four months after Robert Kennedy was killed in June 1968, the FBI's Seattle office wrote an "urgent" memo to headquarters.

It discussed two anonymous letters. One predicted "assassination of Kennedy number three within twenty-four hours of the day October twentyfifth nineteensixtyeight (sic). All Kennedy residents are in danger on that day." The other warned that "the Kennedy residence must be well protected on that date."

In 1977, an inmate who'd been incarcerated next to Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, for 18 months said that Sirhan had offered him $1 million and a car "in exchange for killing Sen. (Edward) Kennedy." The inmate declined, the file said.

Threats persisted well after Kennedy faded from the presidential spotlight. In 1985, the Secret Service received a letter from someone in Wayne, Mich., saying, "Look, I'll kill (President Ronald) Reagan and Kennedy yet, now I mean this...."

The FBI analysis concluded that "the author is merely ventilating her frustrations and projecting her inadequacies. Her intention is to shock in order to gain attention."

Kennedy endured the shooting deaths of two older brothers, President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on June 6, 1968. Kennedy's eldest brother, Joe, had died in a 1944 plane explosion during World War II.

"If three of my brothers had died violently, I'd be concerned about my safety, too," said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Some documents deal with potential threats to Kennedy's reputation.

A 1962 bureau memo recalled how his father, Joseph Kennedy, had been concerned eight years earlier that columnist Drew Pearson "was going to write a story about his son 'Teddy' in that 'Teddy' had not been permitted to go to school at Fort Holabird, Md., while in the U.S. Army because of an adverse FBI report which linked him to a group of 'pinkos."'

The FBI found no such investigation, and "Mr. Kennedy was advised of that fact."

The FBI also looked into a rumor that "elements of the Mafia wanted to attack" the character of Edward and Robert, as well as their brother-in-law, the actor Peter Lawford, "by working through associates of Frank Sinatra to compromise them at a New York party."

On its website, the FBI calls the rumor "convoluted. ... The FBI did not consider the rumor solid and no other mention of it appears in the file, suggesting that the informant did not supply any corroboration to the story."

The files contain little new on Kennedy's 1969 car accident on Chappaquiddick Island off of Martha's Vineyard — little more than 77 pages of newspaper clippings detailing how Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, died after Kennedy's car veered off a bridge into the water.

Kennedy, then 37, swam to safety, leaving Kopechne in the overturned car, and didn't report the accident for 10 hours. He later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and got a suspended sentence plus probation.

In his memoir "True Compass," published last year, Kennedy wrote that he'd made "terrible decisions" at Chappaquiddick and was haunted by guilt about them the rest of his life.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

End of an era: America says goodbye to Edward Kennedy

Ted Kennedy dies at 77, last of brothers who remade politics

Emotional opening in Denver as Kennedy passes the torch

For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service