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Home » Blog » Assassins And Presidential Candidates (Trump Doesn’t Count)

Assassins And Presidential Candidates (Trump Doesn’t Count)

a revolver in front of the United States fallTomorrow, Americans will decide who’s going to be the next president. We’ve had election news shoved forcefully down our throats for about a year now, so it’s about time. Things are contentious, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. A lot of people hate Donald Trump with a passion and fear the prospect of his presidency. A lot of people hate Hillary Clinton with a passion and fear the prospect of her presidency. There’s just a lot of hate going around — has been for awhile.

With this in mind, many people probably weren’t surprised to see some news outlets reporting a Donald Trump assassination attempt at his Saturday rally in Nevada. Secret Service rushed the Republican presidential candidate off the stage after a protester caught the crowd’s attention, which inspired somebody to yell “Gun!”, which caused a general ruckus.

It turned out that there was no gun. The protester, who’d been trying to make his way to the front of the crowd with a “Republicans Against Trump” sign, apparently just looked to some supporters as though he might have a gun. Security officials probably saved his life by removing him from the rally before he had the living crap beat out of him. Trump returned to his podium a few minutes later and finished his speech in a threat-free environment. “Nobody said it was going to be easy for us,” he told the crowd. “But we will never be stopped. Never, ever be stopped.”

So the assassination reports were a bit misleading. It was less of an assassination attempt and more of a false alarm. Secret Service found no weapons on the protestor or anybody else. This didn’t stop Donald Trump Jr. and campaign aide Dan Scavino from dropping the words “assassination attempt” on Twitter, though:

“Hillary ran away from rain today. Trump is back on stage minutes after assassination attempt.”

People were quick to call them out on their misleading tweets. The general consensus is that there has to be an attempt at assassination for us to call it an assassination attempt. So don’t worry, Trump was never in any danger. But all this does make one wonder — have presidential candidates historically been in danger of assassination? Maybe a better question is, how many presidential candidates have been the target of such attempts?

Answer: to our public knowledge, four.

Teddy Roosevelt

The man had already served two full terms as President of the United States (1901-1909), but in 1912, he decided to run again. On October 14 of that year, he was campaigning in Milwaukee. He planned to eat dinner at the Gilpatrick Hotel and deliver a speech at the Milwaukee Auditorium. On the way from the hotel to the venue, New York tavern keeper John Flaming Schrank shot Roosevelt in the chest with a .38 revolver.

If Roosevelt hadn’t kept his speeches in his jacket pocket, he probably would’ve been seriously injured or killed. That’s right — Schrank’s bullet traveled through Roosevelt’s 50-page speech, as well as his eyeglasses case, before hitting him in the chest.

Instead of going to the hospital, Roosevelt left the bullet in his chest and went to deliver his 90-minute speech. He figured that since he wasn’t coughing up blood, the bullet hadn’t torn into his lungs, so he was good to go. And, according to all accounts, his speech went pretty well. He never got re-elected, but he did get to brag about being the badass, bulletproof presidential candidate. What a Bull Moose.

Schrank, the would-be assassin, didn’t have such a happy ending. Authorities found a bunch of papers on him on which he’d written that the ghost of William McKinley came to him in a dream and told him to kill Teddy Roosevelt. Schrank was, surprise surprise, declared insane and committed to a mental hospital two years later, where he died after 29 years.

Bobby Kennedy

The attempt on Robert “Bobby” Kennedy’s life ended much more tragically than Teddy’s. This assassination was no attempt — it was successful.

It was June 4, 1968 and Robert Kennedy had claimed victory in California’s Democratic primary. He delivered a speech just after midnight (June 5) in a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. After the speech, he was scheduled to travel through the ballroom to give another speech in another part of the hotel. His schedule changed at the last minute. Instead of walking across the crowded ballroom, his bodyguard, former FBI agent William Barry, told him they’d be cutting through the kitchen to get to a press conference.

Moving through the kitchen was slow, due to all the people and the fact that Kennedy wanted to shake hands with them. He was shaking hands with a busboy by the ice machine when the assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, ran through the crowd and shot Kennedy over and over with a .22 revolver. Five other people were injured before Sirhan was subdued.

Kennedy fell to the floor. The busboy, Juan Romero, held his head and put a rosary in his hand. Kennedy asked Romero if everybody was okay. Romero said, “Yes, everybody’s okay.” Kennedy turned to face the room and said, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

About 26 hours later, Robert Kennedy succumbed to his wounds in the hospital. Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab with anti-Zionist beliefs, pleaded guilty to the assassination. At first, he was sentenced to death, but death penalty legislation in California later voided all death sentences before 1972 and Sirhan Sirhan the soon-to-die became Sirhan Sirhan the life-sentencer. He’s still alive, still in prison, and insists that he remembers nothing about what he did.

George Wallace

His name might not be familiar in every household, but George Wallace at least made enough of a splash politically to merit an assassination attempt during the Democratic presidential primaries of 1972. He ran alongside George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, and nine others — a contest eventually won by McGovern, who lost the election to Richard Nixon.

Nixon was the original target of Wallace’s would-be assassin, Arthur Bremer, a freshly unemployed and romantically heartbroken young man from Milwaukee. He kept an extensive diary, providing a narrative for his plot “to do SOMETHING BOLD AND DRAMATIC, FORCEFUL & DYNAMIC, A STATEMENT of [his] manhood for the world to see.” In other words, his plot to kill either Nixon or Wallace.

After failing to get close enough to Nixon, he focused all his attention on Wallace, who was up in the polls at the time. He planned to get as close as he could to Wallace at a rally in Maryland, to rush up and yell “A penny for your thoughts!” The first rally he attended in Wheaton, Maryland was too packed, but the next one in Laurel suited Bremer’s purposes. After Wallace had finished speaking, he started shaking hands with people in the crowd — Bremer’s moment. The young man shoved through the throng and unloaded his .38 revolver into Wallace’s middle.

He did, however, forget to yell “A penny for your thoughts!”.

As for Wallace, he didn’t die, but he ended up in pretty bad shape. Four bullets found their way into his stomach and chest. One of them wound up in his spinal column. After a five-hour surgery and many, many pints of blood, Wallace was declared a survivor. He was, however, paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. His campaign for the presidency was the only victim of assassination.

Bremer got 63 years for his attempt at Wallace’s life. At some point, this was reduced to 53, and thanks to a squeaky-clean prison record, he only spent 35 years behind bars. He was released on probation in 2007. That probation will end in 2025.

Ted Kennedy

The final presidential candidate to have been the victim of a, shall we say, nearly successful assassination attempt was Ted Kennedy. He was campaigning in the 1979 Democratic primaries at the time. A senator, he had an office on Capitol Hill, where he was working on November 28.

That night, he was nearly gutted by Suzanne Osgood. Not much is known about her except that she was in and out of treatment for mental illness. There’s not even a political agenda attached to her attempt. Osgood, 38-years-old, simply brought a six-inch hunting knife to Kennedy’s building. She made the rookie mistake of pulling it out before reaching Kennedy’s office and was, of course, tackled to the ground by a Secret Service agent.

Kennedy didn’t even know this happened until she’d already been handcuffed and escorted out of the building.

Since Osgood didn’t have a Bremer-style diary confessing the crime she was trying to commit, the court only found her guilty of assaulting a federal officer (the Secret Service guy who knocked her down got a cut on his hand). Due to her condition, described in the media as suicidal and possibly schizophrenic, Osgood was also forced to attend a 60-day psych evaluation. And the rest is history — albeit history we aren’t immediately privy to.

Security and Presidential Candidates

When President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, the Secret Service took on the responsibility of protecting America’s presidents. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated sixty-seven years later, their responsibility expanded to protection of “major” presidential candidates and nominees. They do a whole lot more than protect presidential-type people, but we won’t get into that.

These days, there are thousands of employed Secret Service agents. Since no presidential candidate has been successfully assassinated since Robert Kennedy, it’s safe to say their protection is effective. Donald Trump was not the target of an attempted assassination at his Saturday rally, but if he had been, the odds aren’t in favor of his attacker. Security is, as they say, very tight.

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