RFK Jr. May Have Made Up Wild Story About Bow-And-Arrow Ambush, Throwing Dynamite

In the early 1980s, Robert Kennedy Jr. told a story to journalists about being ambushed in a bow-and-arrow attack by Indigenous people during a 1974 whitewater rafting trip in Peru.

Kennedy’s account of the incident, which is detailed in the 1984 book “The Kennedys: An American Drama,” describes how one of his friends was nearly hit in the leg with an arrow, which penetrated a canteen nearby. Kennedy said he and his cousin, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, retaliated by picking up a stick of dynamite they found, lighting it and throwing it at their attackers:

Bobby rummaged for the bow and arrows he had earlier obtained in a trade. He hadn’t brought them. Chris found a stick of dynamite and held it up. “Lawford was standing there holding it, telling me to hurry,” Bobby recalled later. “We could hear the Indians coming at us through the bush. We put a blasting cap and a fuse on the dynamite. As the Indian who’d shot at us stepped out on the bank of the river, I lit the dynamite. Lawford held it until the fuse had almost burned down, then threw it. It landed in the water right next to the Indian. Then it exploded, sending water thirty feet in the air. He and all the rest of them took off.”

It’s a wild story from Kennedy, who is currently running for president as an independent — and it also appears to be wildly exaggerated or entirely made up.

Lawford, who died in 2018, offered a brief and far less dramatic account of this incident in his 2005 memoir, ”Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption.” He made no mention of a near-miss arrow strike or dynamite.

He wrote only: “We floated by Indian villages, once having to avoid the arrows being shot in our direction by a drunken tribe on the shore.”

A longtime Kennedy friend who was alsoon the rafting trip, Blake Fleetwood, said as soon as the 1984 book came out that theincident never happened.

“Fleetwood said yesterday that the river was calm, and that the Indian attack never occurred,” according to a 1984 Washington Post article about the Kennedy book. In the same article, Fleetwood said a number of Kennedy’s other claims in the book were distorted or “just fantasy.”

Kennedy’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment on whether he stands by his detailed account of the bow-and-arrow ambush. A request for comment from Fleetwood was not immediately returned.

Was there really a stick of dynamite lying around when you were white water rafting in Peru, sir?
Was there really a stick of dynamite lying around when you were white water rafting in Peru, sir? Roy Rochlin via Getty Images

The son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, the 2024 independent presidential candidate has earned a reputation for his controversial views on a number of topics. Kennedy is a prominent peddler of conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine misinformation.

Kennedy is hoping his famous last name can help him defeat President Joe Biden and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump in November. He’ll likely function as a spoiler for one of them, and it’s not clear which one he’ll take away more votes from.

The Kennedy family has overwhelmingly endorsed Biden for president.

If the 70-year-old presidential hopeful did make up the story about the ambush and the dynamite, a possible reason why is that he wanted to boost his political prospects and stand out from his cousin, John F. Kennedy, Jr.

The authors of the 1984 book, Peter Collier and David Horowitz, said years later that Kennedy agreed to interviews for their book because he was thinking about his legacy and believed his cousin had been unfairly anointed as the family’s political heir. (JFK Jr., a Democrat, died in 1999.)

“Bobby had a bit of an agenda with us,” Collier told author Jerry Oppenheimer in his 2015 book, RFK Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream. “He wanted to be seen as the sort of real heir to Camelot. The RFK kids were very, very anxious about the fact that John-John, whom they saw as sort of a foreigner, was seen as the heir to Camelot, and they felt that it was their father who had really made Camelot in some sense.”

Horowitz similarly said Kennedy was looking for “a journalist gun, his own biographer” when he agreed to talk to them for their book.

“He was told [by longtime JFK associateLem Billings] he could be president one day, and that has an effect,” Horowitz said. “[JFK] surrounded himself with writers who were instrumental in his rise, so that could have been an aspect of [RFK Jr.’s] cooperating. He had a twisted mind.”

Other tales Kennedy and his Peru travel companions offered in the 1984 book include claims that Kennedy used bows and arrows “to shoot tree monkeys, which they roasted and ate,” and an incident where a drunk Indigenous person charged Kennedy with a machete, “gashing him in the back; he was aiming a coup de grâce at his neck when Chris Lawford jumped him from behind and wrestled him to the ground.”

Kennedy also reportedly “kept eating strange things on the trip,” including a “boiled rat” and one of its eyeballs:

Bobby ate anything and everything, even though he had a bad case of dysentery. He’d take these pills of paregoric, but he claimed that the only thing that worked was some tincture of opium we’d brought along. But he kept eating strange things-another of his dares. At one point we were at some peasant’s house and boiled rat was served for dinner. Bobby ate it. Not only that, he sat there with this weird smile and then pulled one of the eyes out of the rat’s head and ate that too.