Washington — For decades after gunmen shot down his brothers, Sen. Edward Kennedy lived under constant assassination threats of his own, sometimes chillingly specific, as he became a target for extremist rage, previously private FBI documents disclosed Monday.
Five years after President John F. Kennedy was killed and shortly after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot, one letter warned that the third brother was next: “Ted Kennedy number three to be assassinated on Oct. 25, 1968. The Kennedy residence must be well protected on that date.”
Nearly two decades later, in 1985, the threats continued, this time including the Republican president as well as the liberal Democratic senator: “Brass tacks, I’m gonna kill Kennedy and (President Ronald) Reagan, and I really mean it.”
Releasing 2,352 pages from Kennedy’s FBI file, many of them concerning threats over the years, the agency said on its website: “These threats originated from multiple sources, including individuals, anonymous persons and members of radical groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, ‘Minutemen’ organizations and the National Socialist White People’s Party.”
Some of the threats prompted investigations, some resulted in warnings to Kennedy or local law enforcement authorities. There is no indication any attempts were carried out.
In 1977, the FBI even looked into allegations that Sirhan Sirhan — the man who assassinated Robert Kennedy — had attempted to hire a fellow prisoner to kill Edward Kennedy. The prisoner, who was housed next to Sirhan for 18 months, told the FBI he was offered $1 million and a car but declined.
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Robert Kennedy died on June 6, 1968, a day after he was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Their deaths cast a long shadow on the youngest brother’s life, and prompted fears he, too, would be targeted by an assassin’s bullet. Indeed, Kennedy wrote in his memoir “True Compass” that after his brothers were killed he was easily startled by loud sounds and would hit the deck whenever a car backfired.
He died last year at 77 after fighting brain cancer. Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, declined comment on the document release through a spokesman.
Most of the documents released Monday are about death threats and extortion attempts against the Massachusetts Democrat.
The release had been highly anticipated by historians, scholars and others interested in the life and long public career of one of America’s most prominent and powerful politicians.