President Kennedy's brother Robert excited the world as a candidate for President 5 years after JFK's murder.
RFK, in turn, was murdered.
The assassin's name was Sirhan Sirhan, he was Palestinian.
It just so happened the assassin's father, Bishara, was a member in good standing as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
SO WHAT? So this:
This seemingly innocent fact would jolt Jehovah's Witnesses into a near panic. I know because I was there.
Here are the facts as I remember them.
The Jehovah's Witness, Bishara Sirhan unfortunately had a reputation in his neighborhood and community for being excitable, even volatile at times. Being a JW and being seen as fanatical did not help things.
Inevitably, newspaper reporters from around the world were sniffing out conspiracy theories to punch-up their headlines and sell newspapers.
"Who was this assassin with the weird name? Why did he do it?" They showed up at the assassin's dad's house.
Sirhan Sirhan’s father became emotional, of course. What could be worse for a JW than to bring reproach publicly?
“I am very, very sorry! I brought up my children as best as I could and to fear God. I am sorry for what happened."
Bishara had moved his family to the U.S. in the 1950’s, remaining 11 years before he split with his wife and returned to Jordan where he built his home.
This JW then began attracting negative attention.
In a public show of piety, he had inscribed on his wall in Arabic:
“Jehovah the High, you gave me happiness in the world. Give me eternal life. You are the only God and nobody shall be worshiped before you.”
In a mostly Islamic community - this did not fly well!
Neighbors made it clear to snooping reporters how they felt about the graffiti when they said they looked down on JW’s because they were too ”pro-Jewish.”
An odd complaint but not if you're Muslim :)
Photocopy of newspaper article: http://movies2.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0605.html
The result of those interviews first struck public attention on June 6, 1968, when a newspaper in Sarasota published the article.
In less than 24 hours, I heard about it in prison.
At the time, I was a Jehovah’s Witness serving an indeterminate sentence of possibly 6 years in the Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution close to Dallas, Texas.
At the age of 20, I was not yet legally an adult.
Adult sentence guidelines called for up to 5 years in prison for violation of the Universal Military Training and Service Act.
I was termed a "YOUTH" - a non-adult could get the “indeterminate” sentence of six months to six years depending on factors yet to be determined by parole hearings.
During the Vietnam War, Jehovah's Witnesses were urged by local congregation leaders to make ourselves targets of prosecution as conscientious objectors.
We were billboards and benign propagandists for the Most High God in our virtue-signaling.
Nerdy JW kids like me were questioned by the F.B.I., local draft-board officials, and eventually sentenced by
Federal judges to make an example of Witnesses. Why? It was the time of Student unrest on campuses and in the streets protesting the War, the President, the Military - and it infuriated Lyndon Johnson and his administration.
Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution where I was confined contained about 40 of JW's at one time along
with typical inmates of criminal convictions ranging from murder to bank robbery.
NOTE: We were then living under the shadow of a looming date of 1975. We expected the Great Tribulation at any moment.
The rumor connecting assassination of RFK with Jehovah’s Witnesses broke out like a wildfire all at once!
The impact on the 40 or so Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison was quiet panic. A fellow JW inmate named Sam explained the implications to me in no uncertain terms.
“This could be the beginning of the Great Tribulation,” he began. “The persecution wave will hit and we’re sitting ducks if the other prisoners decide to take revenge.”
I had a dim grasp of politics as many JW’s did.
What we learned as framed by Watchtower rhetoric inflamed the situation. The buzz was already in the air about 1975 being “The End of 6,000 years of Human Existence."
“Sam--let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why would anybody attack conscientious objectors who refuse to take up arms?”
Sam gave me a look of wonderment that I could be so naive.
“Jehovah’s people are despised . All folks need is one little excuse to blame us for something--like the son of a Jehovah’s Witness murdering President Kennedy’s brother!”
I thought about what he was saying. It sounded possible but over-reactive.
“Well--I don’t know. Isn’t Jehovah supposed to be protecting us?”
Sam made an exasperated face at me--like I was clueless.
“There are such things as martyrs, you know!”
Jehovah's Witnesses love rumors and gossip. This was part of the emotion. We had an inflated sense
of our position in relation to the Divine Plan, for sure.
Sunday June 9, 1968, the Washington Post printed an article moving things a step farther.
A reporter from the prestigious Washington Post was welcomed into Bashar Sirhan’s home overlooking the Dead Sea.
Cold beer was delivered.
The reporter asked the assassin’s father about his connection with the Jehovah’s Witness ‘sect’ (presumably from the eleven years spent in California).
This was only a few days after the first news article mentioning the JW’s.
This time, Bishara refused to talk about it directly and complained about his gossiping neighbors.
Finally, he shrugged away prying questions ‘with some irritation’ by saying, “These are confidential matters.”
(PDF copy of Washington Post article)
WATCHTOWER CRISIS CONTROL
These two publicized mentions of Jehovah’s Witnesses had created an effect.
Watchtower Society was ‘crisis prevention’ mode.
Do we have to wonder why?
Subscribers to the Watchtower magazine had immediately begun canceling subscriptions!
Subscriptions were obtained door to door in person, a laborious process at best. Each canceled subscription represented hundreds of man-hours of grunt work (called our ministry.)
A secret letter was sent to each city by the Watchtower headquarters with instructions not to show the contents of said letter to any outsiders.
The message was to be copied and passed from congregation to congregation.
Headquarters didn’t seem to know any details of any JW connection with the Sirhan family.
A vigorous denial was suggested unless anybody at the local level had contrary personal information.
The letter is dated a month after the news article appeared.
Photocopy of confidential letter:
Downtown Dallas, Texas, the scene of JFK's killing, was 22 minutes away from Seagoville prison.
It was only five years since the deadly deed set passions ablaze and we all felt the world change dramatically.
JFK’s assassination was the most sensational, world-stopping event in my lifetime ....until the Twin Towers fell 38 years later.
I was in High School on November 22, 1963, and one day later submitted to baptism and became officially a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses at assembly in Cleburne, Texas.
(Oddly during that religious assembly, not one word was spoken concerning the sensational murder the day before! It was all an oblivious, self-induced happy-happy New World Society talk and religious jabber.)
Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, every world event is proof positive of End Times signs and wonders!
Everything “proves” we were right!
Any minute now--the Great Tribulation and Armageddon will come and sweep everything awary.
We were “the only true religion.” We'd catch the brunt.
JW’s are indoctrinated to expect to be the bulls eye of Satan’s target when the End comes.
Such a badge of honor turned to horror having the words “Jehovah’s Witness” smeared in newspapers with a world-shaking assassination.
For us who were inside Federal prison and being so self-involved, self-centered, and special meant:
”This is it!”
THE END OF THE WORLD was beginning and we were trapped!
Oh the silly drama! Today I can laugh. Not so much back in '68.
Notably, Watchtower religion is still promoting the world’s GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sale.
At District conventions with huge audiences in attendance, the Watchtower presents slick video dramatizations about---guess what? The bunker mentality they are still promoting!
Any day now the Great Tribulation and Armageddon will come. Will they be ready?
Back to Sirhan Sirhan
On June 7 in Los Angeles, a News Dispatch:
In this more detailed news story, the Elders in Bishara’s community (whom he called ‘gossips’) provided news reporters with these tidbits of enlightenment:
“The elders of the community said the family became connected with Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘many years’ ago.
And it was that religious group which paid the way for the Sirhan family to go to the United States in 1957.
These notables said they believed Bishara still received money from the Jehovah’s Witnesses in addition to money sent by his other son."
"When asked, Sirhan claimed he lived off a ‘small pension’ and a bit of farming. The article explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been banned in Jordan in 1959, but had continued to operate secretly, particularly in the old Arab sector of Jerusalem."
"Los Angeles authorities reported that Sirhan had been admitted into the U.S. as a permanent resident who could remain indefinitely without applying for citizenship.”
A RELIGIOUS SEEKER and a lost soul
Irony abounds. Sirhan had been a seeker after many voices of Truth.
(He joined the Baptist church and was briefly a Seventh-day Adventist.
In 1966, two years before he would kill Kennedy, he turned to an occult organization called the
Ancient Mystical Order of the Rosicrucian. )
The Palestinian-born Sirhan is currently serving a life sentence for gunning down Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, shortly after he won the California Democratic presidential primary. Kennedy died the next day.
Sirhan was sentenced to death in 1969.
His sentence was commuted to life in prison after California banned the death penalty.
He has said that he had no recollection of the killing.
48 years after the fatal shooting, Sirhan Sirhan was denied parole for the 15th time.
He’ll go up again in 2021.
A day or two ago, Sirhan Sirhan was stabbed in prison. It made local news but of little interest internationally.
At the time of his arrest, Sirhan spoke of being “. . .opposed to Kennedy’s support of Israel.”
What are Jehovah’s Witness views on Zionism and Israel?
In 1946, during the time the horrors of the holocaust were emerging, the Watchtower made the following comments about Jews.
"Nothing in the modern return of Jews to Palestine and the setting up of the Israeli republic corresponds with the Bible prophecies concerning the restoration of Jehovah's name- people to his favor and organization … The remnant of spiritual Israelites, as Jehovah's Witnesses have proclaimed worldwide the establishment of God's kingdom in 1914" Let God Be True (1946) Second ed. pp.217-218
"There is no evidence in the Scriptures that the Jews as a people are meek. On the contrary, Jehovah's Witnesses only find it stated in the Bible that the Jews are "stiff-necked and hard-hearted", but when they call at their homes with the message of God's kingdom they witness the same characteristics. They seem to think that because they are Jews, and were once God's chosen people, they must ever remain that way." Consolation 1946 Jan 2 pp. 14,15
Historical note: Jehovah’s Witnesses had spent the previous 60 years as Pro-Zionists. Suddenly, a 180 degree shift appeared contrary to that stance.
[Watchtower 1955 May 15 p.296, and the "back to Palestine" movement that the Watchtower had promoted became labeled as a teaching of Satan:
"By the publication of Volume 2 of the book Vindication that year, Jehovah's witnesses came to see that such a "back to Palestine" movement was by the spirit of Jehovah's arch-foe, Satan, who has deceived the entire inhabited earth."] http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/zionism.php
THE ELEPHANT in the ROOM
Could Sirhan Sirhan in any way have been influenced by the writings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in some disturbing way, seeing in print the Zionists were backed by Satan?
We may never know, but it is a question I’ve heard discussed, of course.
The Watchtower’s reaction to the mention of Jehovah’s Witness connection to the RFK killing may have brought to mind this anti-Zionist propaganda they were responsible for spreading.
Did the collective leadership feel a sense of responsibility? Did their eagerness in trying to distance themselves indicate awareness of culpability, guilty conscience, or simply a desire to prevent the loss of subscribers?
Like I said, we may never know.
Conspiracy theories spring up easily like mushrooms after a spring rain and they are as difficult to snuff out as a forest fire.
My personal memory of those dark days in prison, in a decade of upheaval, in the thrall of a cult myself, unduly influenced of my my Kingdom Hall leaders is just how compliant I was.
If Jehovah said, "Frog", I was told it was my duty to respond by saying, "How high do I jump?"
I was privately counseled in detail by the Elders and admonished to LIE to authorities if asked "Were you influenced?"
You can research the term : Theocratic Warfare if you're interested.
All the above seemed so "alive" and "important" when I was twenty years old. Now it means nothing to anyone.
The main reasons I'm posting this are twofold.
1. Contemporary JW's are just as malleable to scare-mongering today with the bunker videos and talk of Great Tribulation being so near. I have the perspective of over half a century watching the treadmill of Watchtower fear-mongering propaganda. They have no shame.
2. Reading yesterday's news article about Sirhan's stabbing brought all this rushing back into my dreams. I was emotionally distraught but cool-headed at the time. So many pressures from outside had benumbed me, but other Brothers / fellow-inmates were sick at heart and their JW families worried sickened and frazzled.
The solution at the time was this: WORK EVEN HARDER on behalf of the Watchtower!
Yeah. It all comes down to that.
Fear still works.
It still makes me furious and it should make you furious too.