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Radicalized Jehovah's Witnesses?

Jack Ryan

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(A personal memoir)

John F. Kennedy's brother, Robert (Bobby) was assassinated in 1968 shortly after he won the California Democratic presidential primary. Kennedy died the next day.

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship was convicted for the assassination.

Bishara Sirhan, the father of RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan, was a Jehovah’s Witness. At least, the Elders and notables in his neighborhood had given this information to newspaper reporters at the time of Robert Kennedy’s murder. Bishara was living 20 miles northeast of Jerusalem in Israeli-occupied Jordan at the time. Bishara spoke fluent English. He had a reputation for being excitable, even volatile at times.
Sirhan Sirhan’s father told reporters:

“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 and 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.”

When interviewed, his neighbors said they looked down on Jehovah’s Witnesses because they were too” pro-Jewish.”

(We will see later, this NOT the case. . .)
Photocopy of newspaper article:

This was reported June 6, 1968, when the newspaper in Sarasota published the article.

In less than 24 hours, I heard about it.
At the time, I was a Jehovah’s Witness serving a sentence of possibly 6 years in the Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution. This was during the Vietnam War and JW’s were conscientious objectors.
The impact on the 40 or so Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison was mild panic. At least, that’s how I would characterize it. Brother Sam Salemi, a fellow JW inmate, explained the implications to me in no uncertain terms.

“This could be the beginning of the Great Tribulation,” he began. “The persecution could begin and we’re sitting ducks if the other prisoners decide to take revenge.”

I listened quizzically. I had a dim grasp of politics having grown up in a Blue Dog Democrat household. (They’d vote for any Democrat over any Republican, even if that Democrat were a Blue Dog. Don’t ask me--it’s a crazy Southern expression.)

“Hang fire a minute, Sam--let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why would anybody attack conscientious objectors who refuse to take up arms to kill and blame them?”

Sam gave me a look of wonderment that I could be so naive.

“We JW’s are despised already because we act like we’re more righteous than everybody else. All people need is one little excuse--like the son of a Jehovah’s Witness murdering President Kennedy’s brother!”

I thought about what he was saying, but I didn’t feel anything inside amounting to panic or even worry. It just sounded too far-fetched.

“Well--I don’t know why I should be upset. You’re the only one who’s said anything so far. Besides, isn’t Jehovah supposed to be protecting us?”

Sam blinked and made a thoughtful face for a moment.

“In theory, yes. But here we are in prison and there are such things as martyrs, you know!”
I had to laugh. Soon Sam laughed as well.

“We’ll wait and see. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Sunday, June 9, 1968, Washington Post article:

A reporter from the prestigious Washington Post was welcomed into Bashar Sirhan’s home overlooking the Dead Sea as 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)

http://jfk.hood.edu/Collection/Weisberg Subject Index Files/K Disk/Kennedy Robert F Assassination Clips/Item 111.pdf


These two publicized mentions of Jehovah’s Witnesses had created an effect.

Watchtower Society was in panic mode--or--if that’s too exaggerated an expression, let’s prudently amend it to: they were in ‘crisis prevention’ mode.
Subscribers to the Watchtower magazine had immediately begun canceling subscriptions!
Subscriptions were obtained by sending JW’s door to door, a laborious process at best. Each canceled subscription represented hundreds of man-hours of grunt work (called 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:
Why all the fuss?
Two reasons I can offer at this late date 48 years later on.

JFK’s assassination was the most sensational, world-stopping event in my 69 year lifetime. I was 16 years old on November 22, 1963, and one day later became officially a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses at an assembly in Cleburne, Texas.
(Oddly during that religious assembly, not one word was said concerning the sensational murder the day before! It was all happy-happy New World Society talk and religious jabber.)

Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, every single world event is proof positive of End Times signs and wonders! This is how newspapers and newscasts are filtered through their consciousness. Everything “proves” we were right! Any minute now--the Great Tribulation and Armageddon will come and sweep everything and everybody but--US! We were “the only true religion.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are self-centered on purpose, you see. They expect to be the bullseye of Satan’s target when the End comes. This is (cough cough) predicted in advance in scripture. Having the words “Jehovah’s Witness” linked in a newspaper with a world-shaking assassination naturally alerted every one of us--”This is it!”

Half a century later, nothing has changed.

At recent District conventions with huge audiences in attendance, the Watchtower showed 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 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.”
(PDF of Los Angeles News Dispatch article: http://jfk.hood.edu/Collection/Weisberg Subject Index Files/K Disk/Kennedy Robert F Assassination Clips/Item 062.pdf)

The Palestinian-born Sirhan is 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.

Why did Sirhan Sirhan kill RFK?

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 archfoe, Satan, who has deceived the entire inhabited earth."]

The Question now arises, 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?


48 years after the fatal shooting, Sirhan Sirhan is denied parole for the 15th time.

We may never know, but it is a question I’ve heard asked. 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.

This is my personal memory of those dark days in prison, it was a decade of upheaval
when I was in the thrall of a cult myself, willing to sacrifice freedom for Belief. If Jehovah said, "Frog", I was told it was my duty to respond by saying, "How high?"
But, enough idle speculations and reminisciences.
"These are confidential matters." :)

- Via Terry Walstrom

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