MExwell Taylor KennedyKennedy, one of the nine surviving children of the late Robert F. Kennedy, was at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, with a group of his relatives and siblings last August when the California Parole Board Hearings unexpectedly recommended the release of the man who assassinated his father Sarhan. Sarhan.
“We are devastated,” Maxwell told me yesterday. “I was shocked, so terrified, emotional.”
For Maxwell and most of his siblings, the weeks that followed were confusing and motivating. Christopher Kennedy, one of the senator’s surviving sons, also used words like “stunned, shocked, exhausted, frustrated, angry, depressed, agitated, energetic” to describe his feelings for me. “All my life, I’ve never uttered words killer or Assassination or Sarhan or Ambassador Hotel [the place where his father was shot]That changed in August, he said. “I’ve said it hundreds of times since then.”
Yesterday afternoon, most of the surviving children of RFK were finally out when California Governor Gavin Newsom, who called the former attorney general, senator from New York, and anti-war presidential candidate of 1968 his political hero, announced he had exercised his power to reverse the decision. The board of directors ruled and denied Sarhan’s conditional release. in a Los Angeles Times In an opinion piece explaining his decision, Newsom highlighted Sarhan’s role as a “powerful symbol of political violence” and his refusal to “accept responsibility for crimes.”
The prospect of Sarhan’s parole has always been deeply emotional and distressing for most of the surviving children of RF Kennedy. However, the real problem Newsom faced had less to do with what parole would mean for the family than it might for the country.
The United States now faces a bleak trend in which violence, threats and intimidation rooted in former President Donald Trump’s political movement is escalating in communities across the country. Concern is growing that law enforcement officials are failing to combat this fire with a clear message of results. As Newsom understood, this might seem a very strange time to release the country’s most notorious political killer.
The debate over Sirhan’s fate links two distinct eras of American political violence – and stands as an ominous reminder that the now spiraling spiral of violence, if not curbed, could cost society a higher price than it has yet.
BOren in Jerusalem, Sirhan He moved with his Palestinian Christian family to the United States in the late 1950s, most of whom lived in Pasadena, California. Kennedy was shot and killed on June 5, 1968, just as Kennedy was leaving the rally to celebrate his victory in the California primary, the climax of the Democratic nomination process.
The murder of RF Kennedy—following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. a few weeks ago, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy’s brother less than five years ago—was another milestone in the recent period when the United States witnessed a continuing wave of politically motivated violence.
Attacks on civil rights leaders and workers by racist white southerners were a bloody constant, particularly in the early years of the 1960s, but continued despite King’s assassination in April 1968. Later, in the 1970s, the locus of violence shifted to the left, with extremist groups such as Weather Underground (named after the lyrical Bob Dylan) and the Sempione Liberation Army (the ragtag faction that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst) pursue sporadic attacks designed to inspire a widespread uprising against capitalism and the political system. A study by the RAND Corporation in 1980 counted nearly 600 incidents over the past decade across the United States considered a form of domestic terrorism, with bombings as the most common tactic.
Sarhan did not quite fit into this local political spectrum. (On the occasions Sarhan admitted to shooting Kennedy, he said he did so because of the senator’s support for Israel, particularly his support for sending fighter jets to the Jewish state.) But Sarhan reflected and reinforced the growing sense at the time among a group of disaffected Americans that violence was an effective and justified means to advance political goals, however vaguely defined.
This corrosive idea is clearly spreading again, this time mostly to the right. In multiple polls, a majority of Republicans agreed with the feeling that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” The events of the past two years have made it clear that for many on the right, these are not just impromptu opinions casually expressed in a poll. The most dramatic example, of course, was the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021. But threats have permeated the political process in a way unseen since the 1960s, and are likely to spread more widely than they did then. (Hours before Newsom announced Sarhan was denied parole, Stuart Rhodes, leader of the far-right militia, the Oaths of War, was charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the rebellion.)
Reuters recently recorded more than 800 threats of violence from Trump supporters against election officials in 12 states. And it wasn’t just Democrats who were targeted: Several elected Republicans who criticized Trump or voted to impeach him have reported being intimidated. Threats have also multiplied, again mostly from the right, against public health officials, school board members and municipal officials over concealment, closures and other policies related to the control of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among these target groups, frustration is growing at the lack of prosecutions arising from these threats. As Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic Secretary of State for Michigan, who had a crowd of protesters descending on her home during the struggle to certify Trump’s defeat in December 2020, told me recently, “What I fear is that given the lack of accountability and consequences for those who have been making these threats In all its forms, they will only escalate.”
All this served as the inescapable backdrop to Newsom’s decision.
Over the years, Newsom noted, Sarhan has given very different accounts of the murder. At his trial in 1969, he confessed to his actions, and rose in court at one point (not under oath) to declare, “I killed Kennedy on purpose, with premeditation, with 20 years of hatred”—a reference to the longevity of Arab rule. – The Israeli conflict. But often, at his parole hearings, he said he had no recollection of what happened, that he was drunk that night, or that Kennedy supporters who struggled with him backstage were responsible for all the shots fired after his first one. . (Besides RFK, five more people were shot.) One of the psychiatrists who examined Sarhan during his parole hearing in 2001 quoted him as saying, “I doubt I committed this crime.” Most recently, at his 2016 parole hearing, Sarhan testified that he only remembered being there and “supposedly fired with a pistol.”
From 1983 through 2016, the Parole Board denied Sarhan’s first 15 freedom petitions. But last August, a two-person board recommended parole. (At that hearing, Sarhan said he had little memory for the evening, but admitted he “must have brought a gun to the hotel.) It should be noted that this was the first hearing in which the Los Angeles County District Attorney did not argue to keep him in prison. The new county director general, George Gascon, who is part of a wave of left-wing prosecutors seeking to rethink criminal justice laws, has introduced a blanket policy of non-interference with parole hearings.
The parole recommendation divided the surviving Kennedy children, though not evenly. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who had become a notorious opponent of the vaccine, supported parole, as did his brother Douglas Kennedy. Both appeared at the parole hearing to support Sarhan’s plea.
But six of the seven surviving children strongly disagreed with the recommendation. (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former deputy governor of Maryland, has not expressed her view.) However, none of them were present at the August session. When asked why, Christopher said, “To tell you the truth, getting an email saying ‘Sarhan’… in the subject line is annoying to all of us. It just pisses you off your game; it spoils your day. You can’t stop thinking about it.. And we have developed strategies to tune into these words, that language.”
This instinct, Christopher said, combined with poor communication with a family friend who acts as their attorney monitoring the process, left most children unaware until the last minute that the parole board might act this past August. “I was shocked by the fact that Douglas and Bobby were participating in that hearing, and I was stunned by the decision of the parole board,” he told me.
Once the council delivered its verdict, Christopher and the other brothers opposed to parole were quick to present their case to Newsom, who had the last word. Two appeared in CBS Sunday Morning; Two more have written opinion articles on the The New York Times And Los Angeles Times opposing the decision. (Maxwell, the former Philadelphia attorney general who wrote Los Angeles Times opinion, was highly critical of Gascon’s decision not to appear.) Several siblings provided victim-effect statements to Newsom which were, as Christopher described them, “detailed and horrific to review. They are stark pieces of scripture as any of us have likely encountered.”
Maxwell told me that releasing Sarhan now would send a message that “puts public officials at risk and…endangers our entire democracy.” Think of all the issues, said Maxwell, that his father, and King, in this regard, made in the political system, and how different the history of the country might be because the murderers silenced their voices. “If one person is allowed to prevent all of that from being discussed, as opposed to 50 years in [prison], then what do we say? He said. “You literally put people at risk…Public policy should never allow it.” When too many Americans are “willing to take the risks of imprisonment…to harm people who do not agree with their ideas,” there was a danger In noting that 50 years is enough punishment to assassinate a national political leader.“A lot, a lot of people are doing this trade.”