assassination attempts

by Brian Clarey


Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz), 2011

Jared Lee Loughner may not have had political assassination on his mind when he opened fire on a crowd in Tucson, Ariz., hitting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head at point-blank range. But it sure looks that way. FBI agents say Loughner planned ahead, that he used a legally purchased handgun and that it’s possible he is mentally ill. Loughner’s attempt is just the most recent example of political assassination, a phenomenon that goes back thousands of years.



Julius Caesar (emperor of Rome), 44 BC

Julius Caesar was murdered in cold blood on the floor of the Roman Senate on the Ides of March (beware!) by political rivals that included Servilius Casca, Brutus Albinis and, according to one contemporary report, about 60 others. Caesar may have had it coming — he had recently made changes in Roman law that had greatly increased his sphere of power and influence — but the people weren’t having it. His funeral pyre grew so large from offerings that the blaze damaged the Forum, and a series of civil wars ensued.



Franz Ferdinand (archduke of Austria), 1914

Even mediocre eight-grade history students know that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, then part of Bosnia, was the precipitating event that started World War I. And it was perpetrated by the Black Hand. But still, it was something of a botched job. The first two assassins failed to act on the motorcade as it passed. The third threw a grenade at the archduke, but it was deflected. The bomber ate a cyanide pill as was part of the plan, but all it did was make him vomit. The next three assassins also failed to act, and it wasn’t until a wrong turn brought Ferdinand’s car to the Latin Bridge — after the Town Hall reception that evening — that he was spotted by 19-yearold Gavrilo Princip, who shot him once in the jugular and his wife, the duchess, in the stomach.



Abraham Lincoln (US president), 1865

Initially, assassin and popular actor of the day John Wilkes Booth had planned on kidnapping President Abraham Lincoln and exchanging him for Confederate war prisoners. After he heard the president planned on allowing blacks to vote, he changed his mind and decided to shoot him during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, just five days after Confederate General Robert. E Lee surrendered to Union forces at Appomattox Courthouse.



Andrew Jackson (US president), 1835

The first recorded incident of an attempted assassination of a US president came on Jan. 30, 1835, when British subject Richard Lawrence fired not one but two pistols at Jackson outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Lawrence then received the very first public ass-kicking from a president when Jackson smacked him around with a walking stick, with a little help from Davy Crockett, who was also in attendance.


John F. Kennedy (US president), 1963

Pretty much every American who was alive on Nov. 22, 1963 can remember where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas during a motorcade through the city. Short — and official — version of the story: It was Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, from the Texas School Book Depository. The long version, involving the mob, the FBI and several other shooters, is a bit more complicated.


Teddy Roosevelt (former US president, candidate), 1912

Roosevelt — this Roosevelt; FDR was also the object of an assassination attempt in 1933 — was one US president who seemed to actually relish attempts on his life.


In Milwaukee, Wis., Roosevelt was shot at close range by John Schrank. A 50-page speech and a metal glasses case in Roosevelt’s overcoat pocket likely saved his life. Roosevelt was known to carry a gun, though he wasn’t on this day. And he wasn’t a sitting president; he was running on his progressive Bull Moose ticket for the 1912 election after having served two terms, from 1901 to 1909.


Ronald Reagan (US president), 1981

Just a couple months into his first term, President Ronald Reagan got shot in the lung outside the Washington Hilton. Reagan was the first sitting US president to survive an assassin’s bullet; the gunman, John Hinckley Jr., was the first would-be assassin to be inspired by an obsession with a Hollywood actress: Jodie Foster, who wasn’t all that impressed, as it turns out.



Huey P. Long (Louisiana governor), 1935

Gov. Huey P. Long, known in Louisiana as the Kingfish, was a radical populist who believed wealth redistribution would pull all the poor folks in his state out of the Depression. The official story is that he was shot and killed by Dr. Carl Weiss, though there is evidence to suggest that Long may have accidentally been killed by his own people, who then framed Weiss.



Fidel Castro (Cuban prime minister/ president), 1960-2009

Before stepping down from his post in 2008, Fidel Castro’s head of security estimated that there had been 638 attempts on the man’s life, most coming from the US Central Intelligence Agency. Some of them are downright laughable: planting explosives in giant mollusks where Castro liked to SCUBA dive, an exploding cigar, poisoned cold cream, conscription of Chicago gangsters and other ridiculous ploys. Castro once said, “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.”