RFK: ‘Don’t close them. If they’re going to shoot, they’ll shoot.’

“Don’t close them. If they’re going to shoot, they’ll shoot.”

From Jules Witcover’s “85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy (p.147), regarding an incident on April 11, 1968:

Bill Barry came up and told Dutton … that local police had spotted a man with a rifle on a nearby rooftop. Dutton, not wanting to upset Kennedy, walked casually into the bedroom, went over to the window and drew the curtains. Kennedy, slipping on a clean shirt, looked up at once and said, “Don’t close them. If they’re going to shoot, they’ll shoot.”

21 thoughts on “RFK: ‘Don’t close them. If they’re going to shoot, they’ll shoot.’”

  1. Brian Skillman

    The more I have studied RFK, JFK, and the whole sixties it seems that RFK was going to reopen the investigation when he became president. I know LBJ hated RFK, and vice versa, and he didnt want Bobby to be president. I think the military industrial complex with the CIA and LBJ had RFK killed to stop him from being at the top and to make sure he didnt expose all of those who were responsible for taking out JFK. It still angers me that our country would kill the Kennedys because they wanted peace and wanted to change things for the better. I hope LBJ, Hoover, Dulles, and all the others rot in hell forever for the murders.

  2. I was going to quit. But I went back to that morning. My dad told me Bobby had been shot.

    It was a third punch in the stomach.

    Bobby had been shot.

  3. Baloney.The last thing RFK wanted was a public reopened investigation.For four and a half years during which the conspiracy industry took off he had every opportunity to push any new investigation. As Johnson’s first A.G. he had every resource to pursue it secretly; there is no evidence that he ever did. Edward M. Kennedy also had opportunities to pursue this, he never did. The one thing that RFK wanted to do was to protect the reputation of his brother. He knew that any serious investigation would cough up all of the sordid personal details of JFK that he had to clean up and cover for in addition to his duties as A.G. From a personal standpoint (and it might be somewhat unfair to mention) he also knew that anything that sullied JFK’s reputation and legacy would have an adverse effect on his own political career, which to be honest was driven by his status as political heir to JFK more than any legislative or executive record. The sad fact was that at the time of RFK’s murder the nomination was essentially already Humphrey’s.

    1. Disagree with your last sentence. RFK WAS building momentum in the spring of 1968. His new found anti-war stance was catching on and was in sharp contrast to Humphrey’s position on the war, which was LBJ’s.

      A lot of people — blacks, young voters, others — saw him as a ray of hope. To these people, he was in 1968 what Obama was to his supporters in 2008: hope and change.

      Humphrey did not have it sewn up by any means. Chicago was going to be turbulent no matter what.

    2. “The sad fact was that at the time of RFK’s murder the nomination was essentially already Humphrey’s.”

      God no. Robert Kennedy after winning California was the favorite for the Democratic nomination and the favorite for the presidency at that point. And as Jon says, he was the most dangerous man in American … to LBJ, Hoover, CIA, certain military guys.

      In April 1968, LBJ was secretly supporting his close friend Nelson Rockefeller for president; and LBJ with his 40% approval rating was going to get steamrolled by RFK forces at the Chicago convention.

  4. CIA director John McCone told Robert Kennedy that he thought two people were involved in the shooting. One of RFK’s first calls on the day of the JFK assassination was to McCone and he asked him were our people behind this?

    In May of 1968, Richard Lubic, an aide to Robert Kennedy, called William Turner and told him, “After he’s elected, Bobby’s going to go. He’s going to reopen the investigation.”

    According to RFK aide Frank Mankiewicz: Robert Kennedy just days before the California primary was asked if he would reopen the investigation into JFK’s death and RFK gave a simple one word answer: “Yes.” Mankiewicz says, “I remember that I was stunned by the answer. It was either like he was suddenly blurting out the truth, or it was a way to shut down the questioning – you know, ‘Yes, now let’s move on.’”

    1. Robert,

      Bobby had bad political instincts, IMO. He sent Walter Sheridan to monitor Garrison’s investigation. Sheridan undermined Garrison. An example of RFK’s hubris, how he thought he could play spy with the CIA.

      In retrospect, Bobby should have gone public on 11-22-63. He didn’t, IMO, because he was calculating his bets.

      On November 23, 1963, L.H. Oswald was the most dangerous man in the world to the power structure.

      On the day Bobby won the California primary, he became the most dangerous man in the world.

      1. Jonathan, totally agree. RFK should have gone public with his concerns, even if you did not fully know exactly who did it. But the problem is: RFK had a lot of Kennedy dirt he wanted to cover up – how LBJ had blackmailed his way onto the 1960 Demo ticket; how the Kennedys were in the process of destroying LBJ; the secret operations against Castro; perhaps the secret operations for reconciliation with Castro; not to mention sexual affairs of he and JFK.

        And the price of challenging LBJ, Hoover and Dulles would have meant the marginalization of RFK. Or “blood in the streets” as RFK remarked in December, 1963 about if people knew the truth.

        Here is Martin Schotz’ speech/essay on “the Waters of Knowledge vs. the Waters of Uncertainty: Mass Denial in the Assassination of President Kennedy”


        1. Robert,

          How do you assess Bobby Kennedy’s character?

          My take: He was a skilled opportunist. I’m dealing with the time period, which I remember like yesterday.

      2. Garrison undermined himself. All the people he had coming in and out of his office who had no real investigative abilities?
        Garrison was ready to charge a dead person (Robert Perrin) as one of the shooters until he was talked out of it shortly before he was to announce it in a press conference.
        Oswald in New Orleans was not investigated very well. The Jones print job was not picked up by Oswald. He had an accomplice. What did Garrison do when the person who picked up the print job was identified by Jones and an office worker? What did he do with this significant lead? Nothing, he was too busy making history.

  5. Never was a fan of Bobby’s.

    When he entered the race in 1968, it appeared (to this observer) he thought the pickens would be easy. LBJ had folded on March 31, and McCarthy wasn’t a strong contender.

    Always saw Bobby as a spoiled rich brat, unlike JFK, who displayed an easygoing maturity.

    In retrospect, I see his assassination as being tied to his brother’s. While in California, a college student shouted and asked him if he’d re-open the investigation of JFK’s death if he was elected presdident. Bobby, replying, suggested he might. He was dead not long after.

    1. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

      I disagree with your interpretation, but it is not surprising. Amazing how there is a diconnect between the Kennedy AassassinaS. Yes Bobby got called an A-hole at times and so did Pablo Picasso. He had a defensive attack dog aspect that was in some sense due to his upbringing with a father that encouraged hyper-competitiveness.

      So what .

      He changed as did the US between 63 and 68 and there is way, way too little analysis of how and why it was important — structurally, in terms of the history of the Democratic party, and not personally.

      McCarthy was a tactical sponge-implant to sop up the anti-war vote and then fold it back in . He was never intended to win. Psy op like Howard Dean and Jesse Jackson later on.

      RFK v. Too Clean for Gene had the biggest Class gap of any dem primaries in the Twentieth Century. Look at Indiana and California. RFK was brining in low income BOTH BLAKC AND WHITE. He was negating the Southern Strategy, in essence doing what our Democratic Media whores have told us was impossible to do and that is why Todays Corporate Dems had to move right, (or so we are told and told and told). They did not.

      The RFK assassination is the clearest and least popular. It does not surprise me as to why. It is the most dangerous for today’s corporate plutocrats. See the tied for most important book on earth In His Own Right by Joseph Palermo. http://www.amazon.com/His-Own-Right-Joseph-Palermo/dp/0231120699 http://www.amazon.com/His-Own-Right-Joseph-Palermo/dp/0231120699

    2. It appears you and I will never agree on anything. I saw JFK as a political pragmatist who accomplished very little during his 1,000 days. He got virtually nothing accomplished through congress. His heart was never truly into civil rights and he led the largest defense buildup in American history. RFK changed dramatically after his brothers death. I believed RFK truly cared about the direction of America.

      1. I was recalling my perceptions at the time. I found JFK much more likable than RFK but didn’t know much about either.

        In retrospect, I think your view is arguably correct. The idea that Bobby had changed didn’t resonate with me in 1968. I didn’t then really like the guy.

      2. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

        To compare these two individuals without contrasting the oceanic different political climates they faced is truly comparing apples and oranges.

        The conflict that JFK faced was inchoate within “”his”” administration, i.e. it was between himself and the National Security State.

        By 1968 that difference had grown into a truly post McCarthism SOCIAL cleavage, that was forcing the Democratic party to make a decision. They did, when they collaborated with the pro-war, regressives who emerged from Chicago. The true danger of an RFK who made it to Chicago was that he would be ILLUSTRATING the fork in the road at the time that the decision was being made. He would have one foot inside and one foot on the street. That was truly dangerous because the big wigs running the party– who later gave us rightists like Clinton and Obama– would be having their bluff called while they were making it, and while the situation was still in flux. That is why he needed to be shot before Chicago, from the point of view of our Political Class.

        1. The Democratic Party was facing a big choice in 1968; and you’re correct, it veered Right, the result being Clinton and Obama.

          Could not agree more that Bobby Kennedy was anathema to the old conservadems.

          I do not believe the conservadems, as a group, plotted to kill RFK. I do believe a consortium of comnservadems, CIA, and LAPD conspired to kill him.

          No doubt whatsoever the facts of his death were covered up by the LAPD. Noguchi’s autopsy report said the fatal wound was caused by a bullet fired from no more than several inches behind his right ear. Sirhan was tackled three feet to his front.

          1. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

            1) Realize that Police Chief Tom Reddin was the only officer of a major urban police department to change careers and become a big city TV anchor, when he moved right into anchor the KTLA news, without any journalism background.

            2) Now read the July front page story on Tom Reddin, Time Magazine. (Somewhere around third week of July, if I recall correctly) Still accessible online, but NOW you have to be a Time Subscriber. Not so a couple of years ago, when I posted the Time cover and story around. Notice the similarities in background between Many Ramirez, Hank Hernandez of Special Unit Senator on the one hand and also the guy that A. J. Languuth profiled in his 1978 book Hidden Terror.

            Anything seem odd as you read that story?

          2. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

            re Time Magazine , should have said July 1968, little more than a month after the assassination, when SUS was wrapping up its frame, as Professor Melanson showed with Klabor in their great book, Shadow Play.

            See what Watergate prosecutor Sam Dash and Gary Bellow, Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law, Harvard U. have to say about Shadow Play.

    3. Hello Jonathan,

      Your original impression of Robert Kennedy was shared by many of the chroniclers of those times. What’s striking to me is the extent to which many of those who got to know him were transformed by closer proximity.

      One of the best examples of what I’m describing is the experience of Village Voice reporter, Jack Newfield. The post-JFK story of Robert Kennedy, as told be someone who participated in that brief journey, has never been captured with greater depth or poignancy than within the pages of Newfield’s Robert Kennedy: A Memoir.


      It is an essential resource on a most uncommon man who had the potential to be a most uncommon president. They waited until he won California.

      1. Hi, Alan. Thanks for your message.

        In June 1968, I was a home, recuperating from the first year of law school and waiting to go to ROTC summer camp. There were two big political-type issues in my life then: the JFK assassination and the Viet Nam war.

        I held Bobby Kennedy in low regard as to both. For far too long he had backed the war in Cochin China. For far too long he had backed the Warren Report. I was cynical when it came to RFK.

        My reading about him over the years has changed my mind somewhat. I believe he sincerely wanted to help the downtrodden, but I continue to believe his view of the world was far narrower than JFK’s.

        I’ve no doubt on a personal level he could be charming, persuasive, compelling.

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