He seems so small, almost frail. He weighs less than 150 pounds now -- dieting, golfing, no booze. He smokes five packs of Marlboros a day. He seldom smiles.
Gone is that boisterous, good-ole-boy affability that was once the trademark of the president's brother. When he speaks, he breathes in short nervous bursts.
Billy Carter is a changed man -- frightened, in over his head, defensive, confused. Billy besieged.
He is standing here this morning at the pay phone of his favorite hangout, the Best Western Motel, his club.
He is speaking in harried, whispered tones. As he finishes his conversation he pauses, "I never knew it would get this bad. This is so much worse than I thought."
Back in the dining room, he rejoins his table. The red wall phone next to Billy's table has "the White House" printed on it. Somehow it doesn't seem so funny this morning.
His friend, motel owner Jimmy Murray, sits beside him, reading the paper. Murray is on his way to the Shriners' parade in Columbus, dressed in yellow overalls. The two are reading the Atlanta papers, the Billy Carter stories.
"Says here your friend Randy is registered as a foreign agent," says Murray.
Billy smiles. "Yesterday," he acknowledges of his cohort Henry (Randy) Coleman.
A TV crew comes over to the table and begins to film him drinking his coffee. A reporter and photographer come over and hover, begging an interview. Several other reporters lurk around the dining room, trying to catch a word or a phrase.
Billy is polite but firm. His lawyer has told him: no interviews. He will not talk to the press. It is obviously hard for him. He likes to talk. He complains, however, of feeling put upon. Several television crews found his isolated house in Buena Vista, where he and his wife Sybil now live, and surrounded the house the other day.
"We had to call the sheriff to come and get them out," he says.
Carter also tells the story of being mobbed by reporters earlier this week in New York, pushed against the wall and knocked around to the point where Sybil ended up with bruises all over her body. Now even his club and his home are no longer sacred.
He finishes the paper. Jimmy Murray grunts, "Bob Dole shouldn't be allowed to investigate anyone." Billy wonders, "Who's going to be on the investigating committee? That Mathis? What's his name from Delaware? Mathias?"
He tries to joke, then gets serious for a moment.
"I get into trouble being flip, you know," says Billy. "Like I had them do 49 drafts of the foreign registration before I agreed to it. But when they asked me to finally read it before I signed it, I said, 'Hell, I don't need to read that crap.'
"Read it? I'd read it a hundred times. I'd memorized it. And like Afghanistan," he goes on. "When they asked me what I thought about the invasion of Afghanistan, I said, 'I don't even know how to pronounce it.' I just didn't want to talk about it, that's all."
A baby in the restaurant begins to cry.
"I didn't have anything to do with making that baby cry," Billy says, throwing up his hands in a defensive posture. "Or Mount St. Helena erupting. I wasn't even near Mount St. Helena. I swear I didn't have anything to do with it," he says.
"Only the fallout," snickers Murrary.
Billy gulps down his last sip of coffee and disappears from the dining room of the Best Western Motel for the day.
Sybil Carter, Billy's wife, has agreed to an interview. She is upset by what is going on and feels that somebody should tell the Carters' side of the story, even if Billy can't talk to the press.
Sybil sits in the living room of their secluded, spacious, ranch-style home in Buena Vista (pronounced Bew-na Vista) 25 miles from Plains, a home they were forced to move to for privacy's sake after Jimmy Carter was elected president.
She is a big woman, strong, healthy looking -- bigger than Billy now that he has lost so much weight. She is the mother of six children and a no-nonsense woman. She is straight-forward and candid, her clear blue eyes unblinking as she tells you what she thinks.
"With the Carter family," she says with a laugh, "what you see is what you get."
Sybil smokes a lot, too, and the more she talks, the angrier she gets.
"The bottom line is that members of the president's family have no rights. They cannot speak to who they want to, they cannot have friends in their home, they cannot travel to foreign countries. They're supposed to dig a hole and put their heads in the sand. They are not American citizens. They have no rights.
"Society seems to dictate what the president's family is supposed to be like. I didn't ask to be president. Billy didn't ask to be president. Jimmy Carter is a fine man. But I don't think the rest of the family should be punished because of it and that's what's happening."
Here, according to Sybil Carter, is the Carters' side of the story:
Billy first got interested in Libya after he read a statement issued by former secretary of state Dean Rusk of the University of Georgia saying that the world's two worst terrorist states were Cambodia and Libya. That made him curious. When he was invited to Libya, he decided to go and see for himself.
Billy believes that he was invited to Libya in the beginning because he was the president's brother. But, afterward, he feels he made so many good, close friends there that he does not think the relationship remained an issue.
When Billy got back from his first trip to Libya, he wrote a thank you note and ended it in the typical Southern way by saying, "Y'all come and see us some time." The Libyans took him up on his invitation and he reciprocated with the same kind of hospitality that he had received from them.
Billy was particularly impressed with what Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, whom he never met, had done for his people -- the free health programs, food, education and new farming methods. He was also impressed with Qaddafi's popularity and the fact that the Libyan colonel lived in a housing project or a tent instead of a palace like the Saudi princes who had come to Atlanta and dropped several million dollars on big houses.
When the Libyans accepted his invitation to come to America, the press got hold of it and began to call him anti-Zionist. Billy, who admits to being stubborn, got angry, and refused to back off. He was angered that Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson had to renege on offering the Libyans a "key to the city" because of the bad publicity. The Libyans were planning to put millions of dollars into a large convention center complex in Atlanta and Billy thought it would be good for the state of Georgia. But after the press got through with him, he told the Libyans to forget Georgia.
The Carters feel that the press has terribly distorted several incidents that have made Billy look particularly bad. This includes one where he was reported to have relieved himself in front of a group of people while waiting at the Atlanta airport for the Libyans' arrival. In fact, their story is that he was at the end of a runway, a long way from the terminal building, and went behind a barricade where no one could see -- with another reporter who also relieved himself at the same time.
After the Libyans' visit in 1979, and the damaging press coverage -- the Billy Carters feel the media is largely Jewish-dominated -- most of Billy's TV appearances and lectures tours were canceled. Because that was his only means of earning a living at the time and he was almost broke, his Libyan friends felt responsible for his being cut off from his only source of income. Consequently, they offered him a $500,000 loan to tide him over, $220,000 of which he has received.
The Libyans have never asked Billy to do anything for them at all -- ever. The only thing they asked of him was that he go to their 10th anniversary celebration last year. He did.
At this same time, because the president was forced to put his part of the peanut warehouse in trust, Charles Kirbo, Jimmy Carter's confidant, was made a trustee. Kirbo began dictatiang to Billy, making decisions about the business of which Billy was never informed. Billy was made to feel like a fool. Finally, in anger and frustration, he quit, cutting off his only source of income. After that, Billy began lecturing and making his celebrated public appearances.
Billy and Sybil also have been accused of not paying their back taxes. They admit to not paying the back taxes but think they have a pretty good excuse. They claim they could not pay because the federal government confiscated all their records two years ago when it was investigating the peanut warehouse and has refused to give the records back. The Carters have no way of paying taxes without the advantage of possessing their tax records.
They also have had to pay heavy legal fees for the cost of the investigation. Finally, the crops were so bad that year that, even if they had not wanted to, they would have had to get out of the warehouse operation.
Billy has never asked the White House to do anything for him. Billy would not call the president today if Miss Lillian died. He has only called the president twice since Jimmy Carter took office (except when he has returned the president's call). One time was when Miss Lillian had a stroke and the other time was when Billy was drying out from alcoholism in a Long Beach, Calif., clinic..
After three weeks there, Billy called the president at Jimmy Carter's request to give him a progress report. Jimmy Carter calls his brother often, sometimes paging him at hotels, just to check in with him.
Billy has called presidential appointments secretary Phillip Wise Jr. somewhere between 300 and 400 times in the last four years to relay to him problems of citizens he runs into who can't fight the bureaucracy or the red tape. One example is a woman whose son was being mistreated in a veteran's hospital. She could not get his records or find a way to have him moved. All of the problems about which Billy calls Wise have to do with little people who can't help themselves.
Billy did not want to register as a foreign agent because he did not believe that he had done anything to warrant that registration. But he was in constant touch with the Justice Department about the case because he wanted to expedite the matter. One reason he was so anxious for it to be resolved was that he felt he could not get lecture assignment and appearances until the matter was cleared up. He was broke and needed the money.
His wife says Billy was told early this spring that the Justice Department did not want to do anything about the matter because it was too close to an election and would be too hot to handle in a political year. Finally, to seattle it, he forced the issue and went to the Justice Department himself. Billy had hired a lawyer to fight the registration but when he was told that he would either have to register or be indicted, he agreed to register.
The Carters maintain that the $220,000 loan from the Libyans has nothing to do with his registering as a foreign agent. He registered because the government caught him in a propaganda activity for Libya. Although Billy checked "no" on the registration form when asked if he had been involved in arranging propaganda for a foreign government, that is what caused all his problems.
Specifically, Billy arranged a "Good Morning America" appearance on ABC-TV with himself and Ahmed Shahati, head of the foreign liaison office in the Libyan embassy in Washington.
Billy had gotten no help or advice from the president or any member of his staff on the Libyan issue before the new controversy erupted.
Sybil Carter says that she and her husband are planning to go to Washington Monday. They plan to stay indefinitely until they can get the whole thing cleared up.
Sybil says there is nothing her husband would rather do than to testify before Congress so that he can get his side of the story out to the public.
"I'm not so sure anymore that the president's brother does have rights," she says. "And I'm fast learning in this country, where I thought I had freedom of speech, that I don't."