From Time Magazine archive:
Monday, May. 21, 1979
Skid Row Plot
Skid Row Plot A scheme to kill Carter?
The man clearly was unstrung. He had a history of mental illness. He also bore an eerily resonant name for a person claiming to be part of a four-man plot to assassinate a President: Raymond Lee Harvey. At first, it all seemed too weird to be taken seriously.
Unemployed and a drifter, the Ohio-born Harvey, 35, claimed to have met three men with Latin names in downtown Los Angeles two weeks ago. On May 4 he was with the three in a third-floor room of the skid row Alan Hotel, near the Los Angeles Civic Center. The three told him they intended to shoot President Carter, who was scheduled to talk to a crowd in the center on the following day, a Saturday. They asked him to help. Under the plan, Harvey was to work his way toward the front of the crowd, then fire a starter pistol. That was to create a diversion during which two of the others would fire at the President with rifles from an undisclosed location.
Harvey was given a starter pistol. He and one of the men, whom he called Julio, went to the roof on Friday night and fired seven blanks from the pistol to see how much noise it would make. He spent the night at the hotel in a room with Julio. The other two men occupied another room on the same floor.
Just a wild tale by a wino? Perhaps, but just before Carter was to speak on Saturday, Harvey was in the crowd—and he looked so nervous that he drew the attention of a Secret Service agent. As the agent approached him, Harvey began walking rapidly away, and was seized. He was carrying a starter pistol. As he told his story, Secret Service and FBI agents tried to check it out. They found the man Harvey knew as Julio, but he gave his name as Osvaldo Espinoza-Ortiz, 21. He admitted being an illegal alien from Mexico.
At first Espinoza denied knowing Harvey, but under questioning he said he had known him for more than a year and knew the other two Latins as well. They, he said, had showed him two loaded rifles. He knew one of the men as Umberto Camacho. Agents found a shotgun case and three rounds of live ammunition in refuse from the room rented by Camacho, who had checked out of the hotel on Saturday. When agents seized Harvey, Espinoza said, he had been standing in the crowd only ten feet away.
Was it nevertheless just skid row chatter among transients who had no intention of carrying out the killing? And why would they have wanted to kill the President? Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles were not certain. But they charged Harvey with conspiring to kill the President and jailed him on a $50,000 bond.
Espinoza was held as a material witness under $100,000 bail. The other two men were being sought. The U.S. Attorney was to decide this week whether to seek grand jury indictments. Declared FBI Spokesman Tom Sheil: “Any time there’s a threat against a President or a possible plot against a President, we’re going to take it seriously.”
When I came across this, I honestly thought it was a joke. There was a sort-of, almost assassination attempt against Jimmy Carter in 1979 by two street guys whose names happened to be Lee Harvey and Osvaldo? Who writes this stuff?
Carter was about to give a televised address to the nation in which it was expected he was going to announce “major policy changes” in an attempt to bolster a presidency gone wrong. Instead after this, he went to Camp David and isolated, never giving the address or making any changes. This came only weeks after the HSCA conclusion of conspiracy in the JFK assassination and even less time after Carter had stated in April that We are going to have to go all the way back to the assassination (JFK) to get this country right.
The Carter/Mondale “outsider” ticket of 1976 was the only instance between 1952-1992 in which there was no one directly tied to the Bay of Pigs operations and/or Warren Commission in the White House and it wasn’t the first time Carter had experienced a bizarre coincidence of sorts relating to this fact. During his first debate with Gerald Ford in 1976, as Carter was beginning to respond to Ford’s assertion that the CIA had been brought under control, the audio cut out for 27 minutes just as Carter was about to chastise the “rogue CIA”, cutting off his answer. When the feed finally resumed, Carter summarized his position with one sentence (There has been too much Government secrecy and not enough respect for the personal privacy of American citizens), never really being able to answer the question because of the time lost.