THE SOURCE'S EXCITING SUMMER MAILBAG

The Militia of Montana and its conspiracy- minded founder, John Trochmann, are reveling in a recent letter from Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), asking for help to kill gun control provisions in the 1999 crime bill. "I'll continue to be working for you and all Montanans in keeping our personal freedoms intact," a grammatically challenged Burns wrote last month. "Conrad Burns is one of the few with guts enough to tell it like it is," Trochmann told us, rejecting widespread characterizations of his militia as racist, dangerous and wacky. Burns's press secretary, Matt Raymond, said the letter was mailed to nearly 500 Montanans who'd written the senator. "Sixty-two percent of Montanans supported Conrad in the last election, but he doesn't share every view of every one who voted for him," Raymond said. Such as Trochmann's claim that Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan speaks with a foreign accent, changed his name from Alon Grzynspyn, and caused the looming Y2K apocalyse to foment chaos and the rise of one-world government. "Senator Burns shouldn't be sending the Militia of Montana any letter at all," said Ken Toole, of the Montana Human Rights Network. "It gives them credibility."

* The Smithsonian Institution's foie gras flap continues with a blistering letter from Buckinghamshire, England, whence legendary 95-year-old actor Sir John Gielgud demands that Smithsonian Secretary Michael Heyman cancel a Sept. 21 presentation of "Foie Gras: A Gourmet's Passion," featuring a panel and a tasting.

Referring to "the horror taking place on many foie gras farms today," Gielgud writes: "The male ducks and geese . . . are restrained and have their bills forced open. A long metal pipe is then roughly pushed down their throats. Finally, an air-driven pump thrusts two to three pounds of corn mixture into their stomachs. . . . The result is that the birds' livers expand to six to 12 times their normal size, they can barely walk or stand. . . . Sometimes the force of inserting the metal pipe can rupture their necks. . . . Even a cursory examination of these methods would make a decent person shudder."

Heyman's spokesman, David Umansky, refused yesterday to let us read him Gielgud's letter--faxed to us by PETA--and said: "We'll respond to it when we receive it."

* Christopher Kennedy--"the eighth child of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy," as he identifies himself in a peeved letter to 40 media outlets--is asking journalists "to respect the meaning of 'family' by properly characterizing our relationship with Kerry McCarthy of St. Augustine, Fla."

The 36-year-old Chicago real estate executive, who decided to write after the death of first cousin John F. Kennedy Jr., claims that McCarthy has been passing herself off to the press "as a Kennedy cousin, which would imply being a family intimate. To me, my brothers and sisters, she is neither. None of us have any recollection of meeting her."

McCarthy, 46, who once marketed a presidentially inspired clothing line with the brand name JFK PT Wear, is, in fact, a relation. Her grandmother was Loretta Kennedy Connelly, patriarch Joe Kennedy's sister. That makes her Christopher Kennedy's second cousin. But yesterday Christopher was having none of it. "She continuously misrepresents the emotional state, the attitude and the feelings that those of us in our family have had or have in various points in our lives," he told us. "She has no way of knowing that because she doesn't know us."

"It's like being in the royal court of Elizabeth. You don't want to offend the royal family," McCarthy said, adding that she knew Christopher as a boy and last saw him at Rose Kennedy's funeral in 1995. "It's silly. I wish Chris well, and I always have."

WARREN WATCH

* "I'm not going to do it," Warren Beatty told us yesterday. He wasn't talking about running for president--the subject of intense speculation since he told the New York Times last week that he was considering such a career move. He was talking about talking about running for president. There seemed to be nothing we could do or say to persuade the media-savvy movie star otherwise. "You notice I haven't said anything more about this," he pointed out after we reached him at his Beverly Hills home. "That's not an accident."

Giggling every so often and speaking in monosyllables, Beatty refused to be drawn into a discussion of his disenchantment with Democratic contenders Bill Bradley and Vice President Gore and the toxic role of money in politics, whether or not he's a control freak who couldn't tolerate the chaos of a campaign, or other issues of national import. "I have a cold," he volunteered. No word yesterday on where get-well cards can be sent.

CAPTION: Militia of Montana's John Trochmann, a Burns fan.

CAPTION: Greenspan, left, and Burns.

CAPTION: Sir John Gielgud.

CAPTION: Cousin McCarthy.

CAPTION: Christopher Kennedy, peeved.

CAPTION: Beatty's not taking the bait.