Robert F. Kennedy Jr. offered a striking justification for the surveillance effort against Martin Luther King Jr. during an interview with Politico on Sunday.
Kennedy, who is seeking the 2024 presidency as an independent, defended his family’s authorization of the FBI’s wiretapping of the civil rights leader — a day before the national holiday honoring King.
The surveillance campaign was done by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover but was authorized by Kennedy’s father, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, with the authority of then-president John F. Kennedy.
The younger Robert Kennedy argued his family had little political choice but to authorize the surveillance given Hoover’s insistence and political power.
“They were betting not only the civil rights movement but their own careers. And they knew that Hoover was out to ruin King,” Kennedy told Politico in the interview.
“There was good reason for them doing that at the time because J. Edgar Hoover was out to destroy Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement and Hoover said to them that Martin Luther King’s chief was a communist,” Kennedy said.
“My father gave permission to Hoover to wiretap them so he could prove that his suspicions about King were either right or wrong,” he said. “I think, politically, they had to do it.”
Kennedy’s insurgent campaign has been rife with questionable comments. He is well-known as a vaccine skeptic, and he has also courted controversy with remarks about Hitler, the 2004 election and school shootings.
Although Kennedy has been criticized by many in both parties for touting extreme and unproven claims, he’s also gained traction with parts of the electorate, including with independent, young, and Black voters in some surveys.
It’s unclear how his comments this week will impact his standing among segments of the voting population who prioritize racial justice and civil rights amid current political turbulence.