Have We Entered a New Era of Political Assassination in America?

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tags: assassination, Trump

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015). A paperback edition is now available.

As the author of a book on presidential assassinations and threats three years ago, and having been focused on this issue for decades before the book was published, the news of assassination threats against two former Presidents and First Ladies (Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack and Michelle Obama); a former Vice President (Joe Biden) likely to be a contender for the Presidency in 2020; a member of the House of Representatives (Maxine Waters); a former Attorney General of the United States (Eric Holder); a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (John Brennan); a well-known actor (Robert DeNiro); and a well known liberal political activist (George Soros); as well as CNN, meaning a threat against all News Media, print and cable, is alarming.

  It brings back memories of the tragedy of political assassinations and threats that raged in the 1960s, into the 1970s, and seemed to end in the early 1980s.  The deaths of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, George Lincoln Rockwell, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy from 1963 to 1968; followed by serious threats against Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and the paralyzing of George Wallace in the early 1970s, remind us of the continuing threat.  And the murder of John Lennon in 1980 and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, and the growing number of threats against every President since, with the number of such dangers reaching its peak under Barack Obama, makes one constantly on edge as to the reality of domestic terrorism present in our society, particularly now with a President, who by his rhetoric, willingly or unwillingly, provokes unstable people to the point where we are now in the midst of a major crisis.

Once the midterm elections of 2018 are over, the presidential campaign of 2020 will be in full swing, and there will probably be two dozen potential candidates in both political parties, but more of them likely on the Democratic Party side, ready to challenge President Donald Trump.  Trump has accelerated his rhetoric against his “political enemies” and seems to have incited at least one, if not more, of his adherents to be reckless enough to threaten the  lives of major critics of the President.  And Trump continues to be assertive in his attacks on the mainstream media, calling them “Fake Media.”

At a time when a President should be trying to unite us, as President Lyndon  Johnson did in 1963 after JFK’s assassination, and all Presidents of both parties have strived to do at similar times since then, instead we have the sense that Trump has no regard for the lives of his critics.  This poses a danger to the whole concept of American democracy.

The Secret Service protects all candidates who are seen as “serious” and started to do so after the assassination of Robert Kennedy a half century ago.  But how is one to know who will be seen as “serious,” particularly with the reality of such well-known political figures as Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Eric Holder, and newcomers such as Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, and even a Kennedy, Joe Kennedy III.  Should all of them be given Secret Service protection? 

There’s also the potential threats faced by Republican critics who might decide to challenge Trump in the presidential primaries and caucuses, including such well-known political figures as John Kaisch, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and Mitt Romney.  Would all of them need Secret Service protection, too? 

Will we see potential candidates discouraged from running for President due to the dangers they might face?  Will we witness the harming or death of political leaders simply wishing to be considered for the Oval Office because the incumbent President draws the support of people seemingly willing to resort to violence?

This is a constitutional crisis that undermines the right of the American people to feel free to support whoever they wish for the presidency, and puts the crowds at all political events for those who oppose the President, in dire danger.  Where will it all end?