Ed Sanders was cofounder (with Tuli Kupferberg) of the proto-punk anarcho-poet band the Fugs on the Lower East Side in 1964, and proprietor of the Peace Eye Bookstore. He also founded the literary journal Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts. In the course of a 57-year career, Sanders has been remarkably prolific. His book The Family, about Charles Manson, appeared in 1971. Based on his manifesto, Investigative Poetry—recently republished by Spuyten Duyvil Press—he has composed numerous book-length poems, including the nine-volume America: A History in Verse. The Fugs still exist, and are preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival in 2019. Sanders's new book, the "graphic history" Broken Glory: The Final Years of Robert F. Kennedy—a verse history illustrated by Rick Veithch—suggests that Sirhan Sirhan was not Kennedy's assassin, but the victim of an elaborate plot involving government-sanctioned hypnosis.
I met with Sanders in his cottage on a mountain overlooking Woodstock: a large room piled with books, CDs, papers—and, on a prominent table, that day's New York Times. We spoke as three parakeets and a parrotlet squawked commentary to our conversation.
Two key decisions to make in a book like Broken Glory: Where to begin it and where to end it.
I begin with the death of Robert's brother, because it was the assassination of John Kennedy that was a primal fuel for Robert Kennedy's decision to run for president. That may have been a factor in causing his enemies to bump him off, because he told a lot of friends that if he were elected president he'd open up an investigation of his brother and bring those who killed him to justice.
And the ending?
I end it with the cover-up beginning, right after Robert F. Kennedy was shot. The coroner, Thomas Noguchi, did meticulous tests during and after the autopsy, and found that the bullet that killed Kennedy was shot no more than one inch behind his right ear. Sirhan was never less than three to five feet from Kennedy. The assassin was right behind Kennedy, crouched down, firing at an upward angle. He fired three bullets that entered RFK from close behind him. And I provide information in my book that the powers that prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan switched the bullet. Noguchi initialed each bullet fragment, and the bullet at the trial doesn't match Noguchi's markings.
There was a Polish journalist named Stanislaw Pruszynski who covered the assassination for a Montréal paper and was taping right during the shooting. His tape lurked in the Robert Kennedy archive in California for many years, `til it was discovered by a CNN reporter. They did a digital study of this tape and found that there were 13 shots fired in the kitchen pantry at the Ambassador Hotel. And Sirhan's .22 pistol only shot eight slugs.
And you suggest that Sirhan Sirhan was hypnotized by government agents.
The government, the Army, the CIA spent many, many millions of dollars from the late `40s up through '72 on "robo-washing"—unwitting hypnosis of individuals to make them commit crimes against their will. And all those files were ordered destroyed by [CIA Director] Richard Helms when Nixon fired him, in late 1972. But there have been wonderful hearings by governmental agencies into MK-Ultra and ARTICHOKE. You know, they had strange names. The most recent was called "Often-Chickwit."
The main argument for Sirhan being hypnotized is that he himself doesn't remember shooting Kennedy, and doesn't have a very compelling reason for the assassination.
The authorities prevented anybody from hypnotizing Sirhan to retrieve his memories. But, finally around 2010, a Harvard psychiatrist named Dr. Daniel Brown, working for Sirhan's defense, hypnotized and interviewed Sirhan for 60 hours over a two-year period. Sirhan finally came forth with his memories, how he was led by a woman wearing a polka-dot dress to the kitchen where Kennedy walked after giving his speech. There were thousands of people dancing and partying, celebrating; the Ambassador Hotel was utterly packed with revelers, because Kennedy had just won a powerful victory—178 delegates from California. Kennedy was brought to the kitchen, where Sirhan was sitting with the woman in the polka-dot dress, and, all of a sudden, she began to pinch him. She whirled him around and pointed at the door just as Robert Kennedy entered. She said: "Look! Look! Look!" And Sirhan left her and went toward him and started firing. At that same time, according to three witnesses, the second gunman shot a weapon on the other side of Kennedy. In a poignant moment, a 17-year-old employee of the hotel named Juan Romero went down to the floor with Kennedy, cradled him in his arms, and told him, "It'll be okay." Then he wrapped a crucifix and rosary beads around Kennedy's hand.
As I understand it, you're saying that these cold-blooded killers who shot Robert F. Kennedy didn't want to be detected, so they found a patsy, a slightly disoriented, lonely guy, for the public to blame. Is that right?
Yeah, that's pretty much it. American history was twisted and contorted by Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. The war in Vietnam would have ended four years before it did, and 20,000 American youth would not have been killed in Vietnam, and probably hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. And the drive toward a national healthcare system would have probably occurred. There would have been an easing of racial antagonisms in the United States. Kennedy had been through fire as attorney general overseeing the era of the Freedom Rides and the early marches for civil rights. America would have assumed a more benign, friendly outreach to the universe. But now there are 500 bases of American troops throughout the world, and we're involved in Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, and throughout the Middle East. Robert Kennedy would not have been able to end all that, but he would have been an ameliorating force for the good of American history.
Do you ever think: "Maybe I'm wrong, and Sirhan Sirhan was the lone assassin"?
Of course you do, when you begin something. I commenced my book on the Manson Family because I thought they might be innocent. Then I quickly found out that they were very, very guilty. But I no longer think Sirhan Sirhan was the lone assassin.
Can you discuss Investigative Poetry?
When I wrote my book on Manson, the first draft I wrote in poetry form, with line breaks, in verse clusters, and then I had a typist turn it into squared-off columns. Later, I began writing poetry based on research, and in 1975 I wrote a manifesto called Investigative Poetry, whose principle was that poets should again assume responsibility for the writing of history. The ancient poems such as the Iliad and the Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid were the six o'clock news of their day, which people appreciated as the true histories of events.
Speaking of the six o'clock news, what do you think of Donald Trump?
Trump is Ronald Reagan times 10. We got past Reagan's wars in Central America, and we'll get past the Trumpageddon.