Senator John F. Kerry said through a spokesman this week that he has no recollection of attending a November 1971 meeting of Vietnam Veterans Against the War at which some activists discussed a plot to kill some US senators who backed the war.
"Senator Kerry does not remember attending the Kansas City meeting," Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan said in a statement to the Globe in response to written questions about the matter. "Kerry does not remember any discussions that you referred to," the statement added, referring to the assassination plot.
In the past couple of weeks, some media and Internet reports have raised questions about whether Kerry was at the meeting and, if he heard about the assassination plot, whether he alerted authorities.
Kerry has long been portrayed as not being at the Kansas City, Mo., meeting because Kerry recalled quitting the organization at an acrimonious July 1971 session, four months before the November meeting at which the assassination plot was discussed.
But last week, the Kerry campaign seemed to leave open the possibility that he had attended the November session, after historian Gerald Nicosia said he had found an FBI document that he said indicated that Kerry was there. As a result of Nicosia's assertion, Kerry's campaign said in a statement that while Kerry did not remember being at the meeting, "If there are valid FBI surveillance reports from credible sources that place some of those disagreements in Kansas City, we accept that historical footnote in the account of his work to end the difficult and divisive war."
The assassination plot was suggested by antiwar activist Scott Camil. Camil and Kerry knew each other well; the two were together during the April 1971 protests on the Mall in Washington. In a telephone interview from his Florida home, Camil confirmed historical reports that he had suggested a vague plot aimed at prowar senators, but he said he has no recollection of seeing Kerry at the meeting.
"He had nothing to do with this," Camil said. "I don't remember seeing him there."
Another person at the Kansas City session, Larry Rottmann, also said he does not remember seeing Kerry there. A third key player, Randy Barnes, who headed the Kansas City chapter that hosted the meeting, has been quoted in the media as saying Kerry was there. But in a telephone interview, Barnes said he may have confused that session with an earlier one in St. Louis and now is unsure whether Kerry attended the Kansas City function.
"Quite honestly, I am not absolutely certain that John Kerry was at that meeting," Barnes said about the Kansas City session. "A meeting occurred in St. Louis and one occurred in Kansas City. I thought the Kansas City meeting was first."
But Barnes said he now realizes that "the St. Louis meeting was first. What I had thought was a certain thing, I am absolutely not sure now."
In any case, Barnes said, the plot suggested by Camil was never taken seriously and was quickly shouted down. As for Kerry, Barnes said, "John constantly gave an impassioned plea to be nonviolent, work within the system."
Many members of the organization agreed with Barnes that Kerry sought to moderate the group and that he quit the organization in 1971 when he could not come to terms with some of the more radical members the group.
Nicosia's history of the antiwar movement, "Home to War," says that Kerry resigned from Vietnam Veterans Against the War at a St. Louis meeting in July 1971 after a shouting match with another member. That reinforced the belief that Kerry was not in Kansas City in November 1971.
But two weeks ago, Nicosia said he examined some FBI reports that he had obtained during research for his book but had not reviewed. One report said Kerry was at the November meeting in Kansas City. The report, from an unnamed confidential source, said "John Kerry, a national VVAW leader, appeared at the meeting and announced to those present he was resigning from the executive committee for personal reasons; however, he would be available to speak for VVAW." The report does not mention discussion of a plot to kill senators; instead, it mentions that the group planned activities such as "a fast, a vigil, and guerrilla theater."
But another FBI report from the same period adds that an informant at the Kansas City meeting heard a "vastly more militant posture," prompting an FBI official to add this cautionary note: "Some information reports by various informants is at variance and considering extreme importance of developments in this matter and intense interest of other government agencies, it is essential that full details of meeting be ascertained accurately and immediately." The reports indicate that the FBI information about Kerry came not from FBI agents but from informants who fed information to the government. Thus, the reliability of the reports is difficult to verify.
Moreover, Nicosia has made public only about 50 of the 20,000 pages of FBI files as a result of an 11-year effort under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI has not authorized a separate release of the files, although it is studying pending requests. Separately, Nicosia said Sunday that someone had broken into his home and stolen some of the files, and the case is under investigation.
Michael Kranish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org