On June 5, 1968, United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech to his supporters at the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, after which he spoke with a crowd of people surrounding him. One of those people was a Palestinian Christian militant by the name of Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, and he wasn’t there for an autograph. When he had his chance, Sirhan surged forward to begin firing a .22 caliber revolver at Kennedy, hitting the senator once in the head and twice in the back, as well as hitting five other bystanders before being wrestled to the ground and subdued by people in the crowd. Kennedy would later die of his wounds 26 hours later at Good Samaritan Hospital and Sirhan Sirhan was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. At the time it was thought that this was a simple political assassination carried out by a lone fanatic and fueled by U.S. involvement in the Arab–Israeli conflict in the Middle East, but over the years it has acquired many varied conspiracy theories, and one of these is the idea that Sirhan Sirhan was a mind-controlled, Manchurian Candidate-style pawn in a complex assassination plot.
According to some who have researched the case, Sirhan was not himself at that time, but had rather been activated with a command implanted in his brain through hypnosis and mind control, perhaps not to kill Kennedy directly, but to at least act as the fall guy for the real killers. Throughout the whole ordeal, his prison sentence, and his multiple requests for parole, Sirhan had always made one thing clear- that he has no memory of the shooting or his subsequent trial and confession of guilt. He claims that he has no conscious recollection of entering the hotel or of raising and firing the weapon, that the whole incident is a complete, inscrutable blank in his mind. Sergeant Bill Jordan, the detective who was Sirhan's first interrogator, has said of his talk with Sirhan:
We took him back for more than a year with some intensity - where he'd been, what he'd been doing, who he'd been seeing. But there was this 10- or 12-week gap, like a blanket of white fog we could never penetrate, and which Sirhan himself appeared to have a complete amnesia about.
British author Peter Evans, author of a book on it all called Nemesis, as well as other experts who have looked into the case believes this was because he had been “hypno-programmed” and put into a sort of pre-programmed standby assassination mode through mind manipulation techniques perfected by the CIA mind control program that was called Bluebird, then Artichoke, and finally MK Ultra. It has been claimed by Evans and several other authors that techniques such as the use of hallucinogenic drugs and hypnosis could be used to condition a person to react to cues that would bring out a desired, preprogrammed response, including stealing and even murder, after which the victim would not remember a thing, and that the CIA had successfully demonstrated that this was possible on more than one occasion. Author John Marks would write of this in his book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, mentioning one CIA hypnotist named Morse Allen, who had shown that the unsettling idea could work. Marks would say:
Morse Allen decided to take his hypnosis studies further, right in his own office. He asked young CIA secretaries to stay after work and ran them through the hypnotic paces. He had secretaries steal secret files and pass them on to total strangers, thus violating the most basic CIA security rules. He got them to steal from each other and to start fires. On February 19, 1954, Morse Allen simulated the ultimate experiment in hypnosis: the creation of a "Manchurian Candidate," or programmed assassin. Allen's "victim" was a secretary whom he put into a deep trance and told to keep sleeping until he ordered otherwise. He then hypnotized a second secretary and told her that if she could not wake up her friend, "her rage would be so great that she would not hesitate to 'kill.'" Allen left a pistol nearby, which the secretary had no way of knowing was unloaded. Even though she had earlier expressed a fear of firearms of any kind, she picked up the gun and "shot" her sleeping friend. After Allen brought the "killer" out of her trance, she had apparent amnesia for the event, denying she would ever shoot anyone.
It is all very disturbing indeed, that our mind could be used without our consent to force our hands to do someone's grim work, but is this really possible? According to Dr. Richard Kluft, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Temple University and the past-president of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, it is “certainly within the realm of plausibility.” He notes that there is plenty of freely available, unclassified information to suggest that the U.S. government security agencies have heavily researched the idea of using mind-control techniques and hypnosis to create "hypnotic assassins" and "hypnotic couriers,” and although it is unknown to what extent any of this research was actually used in the field or how successful it all really was, according to Kluft the theory is sound. He says of it:
Post-hypnotic subjects can be induced to misunderstand their circumstances and, as a result of them misunderstanding their circumstances, do and say some things that are very likely to be potentially detrimental and injurious. In the most general sense, you can't make a person do something against their principles with hypnosis, but you can deceive them as to what's truly the case so that they may wind up doing something that they themselves regard as reprehensible but that they did under circumstances of not really getting the whole picture.
Is this what happened to Sirhan? Was he hypnotically induced to either shoot Kennedy or to act as a fall guy to cover the tracks of another assassin? Dr. Daniel Brown is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, who was hired by Sirhan's lawyer William F. Pepper and who began meeting with Sirhan in prison in 2008, in the process uncovering some rather unsettling details that show that maybe the “hypno-assassin” theory holds water. He claims that during his sessions with Sirhan he sometimes conducted the interviews with the accused under hypnosis in an effort to dredge up any repressed memories that might be lurking about in his mind. Besides making the observation that “Sirhan is one of the most hypnotizable people I’ve ever met,” he also quite by accident seems to have found a sort of buried mental “trigger” that put him in some sort of weird attack mode in which he was convinced he was firing at targets at a shooting range rather than at people. It began during one of Brown’s interviews using hypnosis, in which Sirhan remembered talking with a girl in a polka-dot dress and feeling a tap on his elbow shortly before blacking out and losing his memories of what happened next. Brown Would say of this interview and its implications on the RFK Tapes podcast:
He said of her (the woman in the dress) "I am trying to figure out how to hit on her.... That's all that I can think about. I was fascinated with her looks .... She never said much. It was very erotic. I was consumed by her.” She kept turning away and looking. She was very distracted and it was hard for him to for him to flirt with her. And at some point, people started coming in through the doors. At at that point she goes like this - TAP TAP - He said it felt like a pinch in his elbow. I said “Did anyone ever give you instructions or suggestions to shoot on command?” And then Sirhan immediately, suddenly, jumps up like this. Takes a stance (a firing stance with his hand pointed like a gun) and goes ‘Thchchchch.’
Now we figured out that we could trigger him by either saying the word “shoot on command,” or I could tap him on the elbow. And then we could trigger "range mode." And every time that I would give him the cue, he would jump up and go into range mode, an altered personality state where he would be shooting in his mind circled targets on the range. I asked Sirhan when he was shooting, did he have any sense of what was going on around him. And he said it was all chaos. And the next thing he remembers is that people are pinning him down and grabbing at his throat. He realized, he said “Oh my god, I just shot somebody. I didn't know that I had a gun.” It is my expert opinion that Mr. Sirhan was trained through a variety of coercive persuasion techniques to serve as a distractor on the night of the assassination, so that a second professional shooter could render the fatal shot.
The idea here is that the mysterious unidentified woman in the polka dot dress was in on the plot, and that her job had been to activate Sirhan’s hypnotically implanted trigger and put him into some sort of kill mode. It is known that this woman in the polka-dot dress was not merely a figment of Sirhan’s imagination, as several other witnesses saw her talking with him, and others still claimed that she had been seen running from the scene of the crime screaming, “We shot Kennedy!” After that, the conspiracy gets even deeper, in that there is new evidence that shows there was likely more than one shooter, seeing as 14 bullets seem to have been fired when Sirhan only had 8, and other witness testimony that places Sirhan at a location in relation to Kennedy that would have made it impossible for him to have delivered the killing shots. For proponents of the hypnosis theory, Sirhan was only programmed to shoot his gun and draw attention to himself so that the real hitman could get away. This information from Evans, Brown, and Sirhan's lawyers who have looked into it, as well as new forensics evidence, have launched a movement to arrange for a retrial for the courts to take another look at Sirhan’s case, which also mentions alleged suppression of ballistics evidence and the autopsy report, as well as claiming ineffective assistance of counsel during the original trial. One filing made by attorneys for Sirhan says:
Sirhan was an involuntary participant in the crimes being committed because he was subjected to sophisticated hypno-programing and memory implantation techniques which rendered him unable to consciously control his thoughts and actions at the time the crimes were being committed. The public has been shielded from the darker side of the practice. The average person is unaware that hypnosis can and is used to induct antisocial conduct in humans.
Larry Teeter, one of Sirhan's lawyers who has contributed to the efforts to get the case reopened, concurs, saying:
There was no way Sirhan Sirhan killed Kennedy, He was the fall guy. His job was to get busted while the trigger man walked out. He wasn't consciously involved in any plot. He was a patsy. He was unconscious and unaware of what was happening - he was the true Manchurian Candidate. He is absolutely innocent. He is not the person who did the shooting. He was out of position and out of range and he couldn't have done it. I know how it was done. It was consistent with the US government's programme developed by the CIA and Military Intelligence to enable handlers to get people to commit crimes with no knowledge of what they are doing.
Of course, this is all a lot to unpack, and it would be very hard to prove any of this all of these decades later and with most of the physical evidence long gone. The whole mind-control hypno-assassin angle is also bound to be a tough sell, as there is no hard evidence that this technology ever went past the testing and research phases, or that it was ever used in the field to any appreciable degree. There is also the fact that no one can really agree on who would want to program Sirhan in such a way, why they would do so, and how they could pull off such an elaborate conspiracy that requires so many pieces to fall into place just so. Podcaster Zac Stuart-Pontier from The RFK Tapes has said of this whirlwind:
For this to be true, for Sirhan to be a hypno-programmed assassin, we have to believe that there’s this secret hospital where they’re doing all these mind control experiments, and the girl in the polka dot dress is this handler, that the bartender is somehow in on it, that when Sirhan goes into this hypno-programmed state, then the real assassin shoots Kennedy in the back and puts the gun away and leaves, the girl then goes running through the Ambassador Hotel yelling “We shot him, we shot him” but then you also have to imagine that the LAPD is somehow involved in this? How high does the cover up go? It’s just a lot- it’s a lot of dots to connect.
So is there anything to this all, or is this just conspiracy ramblings? Was Sirhan truly an innocent scapegoat programmed using CIA mind-control technology to make him a mindless pawn at the flip of a switch? Is any of this possible at all? There seems to be a lot of people who definitely think it is not only possible, but was done in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, which if true would not only completely change the face of the official case, but open up a Pandora's Box of what the government is capable of with regards to secret, unwitting assassins and mind-control. If any of this is true at all, then one could easily see why it would be in the best interests of the ones behind the scene to keep this all quiet. It remains to be seen whether the efforts to get Sirhan a retrial will come to anything, and it is unknown just how true any of this is, but it certainly is a bizarre and enthralling tale of intrigue, secret government experiments, and potential deep mysteries we may never fully uncover.