Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Conspiracy of Ravens


LOS ANGELES — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. drummed his fingers on his lawn chair as a reporter and a photographer crouched expectantly within the bushes behind his Los Angeles home. His two wild ravens refused to take part in a photograph shoot.

“I will not reward their bad behavior,” he said finally, closing the greasy bag of scraps of meat he had brought out for the birds. He strode into the home, followed by a dog.

When Kennedy and his wife, Cheryl Hines, moved into their house about four years ago, he noticed a few ravens nesting there. A few months ago, he says, he decided to tame them with food.
When Kennedy and his wife, Cheryl Hines, moved into their house about 4 years ago, he noticed just a few ravens nesting there. A couple of months ago, he says, he decided to tame them with food. –Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

As an independent presidential candidate, the 70-year-old Kennedy is leaning on his illustrious political pedigree, his profession in environmental law and his caustic anti-establishment views that sometimes veer into conspiracy theories. But an often-overlooked a part of his appeal to voters is his long-held and never easily worn-out image as a rugged outdoorsman with a peculiar enthusiasm for wildlife and nature.

And yet I used to be surprised recently when a routine phone call in search of Kennedy's comment on one other article was interrupted by a loud “croak” on the opposite end of the road.

When asked what the noise was, Kennedy paused after which said, “I have a few pet ravens.”

I had loads of questions, but probably the most pressing of them was, “Can I meet the Ravens?” I can be in Los Angeles the subsequent weekend anyway.

“Sure,” he said.

Birds have long been a selected fascination for Kennedy. Since his youth, he says, he has kept ravens, peacocks, crows, owls, homing pigeons and guinea fowl as pets. He trains and hunts with falcons; in New York, he says, he was a licensed bird keeper and cared for injured or orphaned birds. In 2005, he published a children's book about St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, birds and the environment. Donors to his campaign were invited to go falcon hunting with him.

Ravens are beautiful, clever, cooperative and adaptable, fiercely protective and ubiquitous. But they are usually not the stuff of polite society. Their black plumage, button eyes, haunting cry and eager scavenger behavior have earned them a distinguished and creepy place in myth and folklore. They are opportunistic eaters of absolutely anything, but their consumption of carrion – their comfort with the dead – made them a nasty omen long before Edgar Allan Poe made them a cliché.

Their collective term is an “unfriendliness” or – caution – a “conspiracy” of the ravens.

Kennedy and the non-public and political oddities that surround him have emerged as an unpredictable element on this presidential election. Some polls have him in double digits, and he’s attracting votes from each President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Even if he doesn't get on the ballot in enough states to win, he could still tip the election: He's already on the ballot within the swing state of Michigan and five other states.

His campaign has filed ballot petitions in greater than a dozen other states, but it surely is unlikely he will probably be officially certified there in time to qualify for next week's CNN presidential debate.

Kennedy had time last week to introduce the ravens, so I drove to the hilly areas of northwest Los Angeles to satisfy them, accompanied by Ruth Fremson, a senior photographer for the New York Times.

On a hike along with his three dogs, Kennedy told us about his “first crow,” which got here into his life when he was about 10 years old. Ravens are larger and smarter, and so they are “social,” he said.

When Kennedy and his wife, actress Cheryl Hines, moved into their current home about 4 years ago, he noticed a pair of ravens nesting in a big palm tree. A couple of months ago, he says, he decided to tame them. The most important strategy is food.

“They're getting closer and closer,” he said. “By the end of the summer, they'll be eating out of my hand.”

I asked him what Hines thought. “She gets along well with the ravens,” he said. But, he added, “she had a big fight with my emu.”

Back at the home, Hines confirmed: “This emu was so aggressive.”

Toby the emu had moved to Malibu with Kennedy in 2014 and settled within the backyard. But Toby was jealous of Hines and started to violently attack her. She began carrying a shovel along with her each time she went outside for self-defense. Every morning she asked herself, “Will today be the day I wake up and kill an emu in my backyard?”

One day, while home alone, she took a call from a producer and went outside to get well reception. “I started telling him about this script and the emu started chasing me as fast as he could,” she recalls.

Here, Hines, dressed for a pickleball match, looked as if he was playing something for a producer while scaring away a big, flightless bird.

Years later, Toby was killed by a mountain lion.

The ravens are comparatively harmless, Hines says, even “cute.” But when Kennedy is on the campaign trail, they may be just a little needy. Lately, Hines has looked up and seen them peering down at her impatiently from the skylight in her bathroom. “As if to say, 'When is he coming back?'”

Although the ravens gently knocked on the door of her chamber, she didn’t answer with “Nevermore,” Hines said.

Instead, she told them, “Guys, I’m not interested.”

As she was telling this, Kennedy grabbed the bag of leftover meat – “cheap steak,” he said – from the refrigerator and went into the back yard. He raised his head and shouted, “Caw! Caw!”

A couple of moments later, two black arrows appeared within the sky, circling and drifting, their spade-like tails and feathers shining as they approached. They called back.

Kennedy threw some meat onto the deck after which sat down in a lawn chair while Fremson, about twenty feet away, took aim on the scene along with her large lens.

The ravens made several short flights, one after the opposite. Eventually one settled on a close-by tree while the opposite landed on the deck. It grabbed the meat and the pair flew away.

“This is unusual,” said Kennedy. The birds were particularly cautious, one keeping watch while the opposite grabbed the food. “Normally they would both land at the same time and come towards me.”

This lasted for over an hour and so they appeared to turn out to be increasingly cautious.

“I think they don’t like the camera,” Kennedy said.

We agreed to satisfy within the late afternoon, when the ravens can be less skittish. In the meantime, we toured his office, where we saw a big stuffed turtle – his former pet, Carruthers – and a stuffed Sumatran tiger, a present from Indonesian President Sukarno to Kennedy's father, Robert F. Kennedy.

When we returned hours later, the ravens still seemed very wary. Fremson and I paced up and down the deck, hoping that if we kept quiet we could attract them. I learned that certainly one of Kennedy's dogs, Ronan, now 13 and affected by severe arthritis, had killed several pets in his prime, including one more emu and a tortoise (not Carruthers).

Soon the ravens were nowhere to be seen. Kennedy apologized, but he was late for a television ad.

A couple of hours later, he sent us a series of photos and videos on the airport. Apparently the ravens had landed together after we left.

“Now they are cooperating,” said Kennedy. By the top of the week, they were close by.

This week, he introduced the birds to his followers with a video on social media. “I got them to come to my balcony every morning and meditate with me,” he said.

“Edgar Allen Potus,” wrote one commenter on Instagram.

This article originally appeared in .

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