Assassins Among Us, From JFK to Today
Published on September 12th, 2013 | by Terry Duschinski0
Those of us fixated on our black-and-white television sets could sense the confusion and understand the chaos. At Parkland Memorial Hospital, the President of the United States had been pronounced dead, gunned down in a Dallas, Texas, motorcade. Her pink Chanel suit now stained in blood, reports later indicated that Jacqueline Kennedy would not depart the hospital without the body of her husband, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, America’s 35th President.
If assassinations warrant anniversaries, the 50th is fast approaching on the murder of JFK. Contributing to the chaos that day also was contention over legal jurisdiction. It wasn’t until August 1965, almost two years later, that Congress passed legislation making it a federal offense to kill or attempt to kill the President, Vice-President, President-elect or Vice-President elect.
So on Nov. 22, 1963 Dallas Police had authority over the Kennedy fatality and the wounding of Texas Governor John Connally.
At Odds Over Autopsy
While news spread across a mournful and shocked America, including a second-grade classroom in Cincinnati, Ohio, where we tried to grasp a five-syllable word I had never before encountered, the as-sas-sin-a-tion of President Kennedy produced high drama in a hospital hallway that came to light in later reports.
Secret Service agents appeared ready to pull their weapons on a local medical examiner. That’s the account from several sources, including Dr. Charles Crenshaw, a physician among those who had a hand in treating President Kennedy.1
Face-off in Hallway
The flare-up came as the agents where wheeling the President’s coffin toward the hospital doorway and a waiting limousine. Homicides in Texas required an inquest by a justice of the peace and, if ordered, an autopsy, a statute Dr. Earl Rose, chief of forensic pathology, intended to uphold.
Agents claimed they needed to get Lyndon Banes Johnson sworn-in and in a place of maximum security, and Johnson wouldn’t leave the hospital without Mrs. Kennedy, who wouldn’t leave without her husband’s body.
In JFK: Conspiracy of Silence (1992) Dr. Crenshaw recounted:
“Had Dr. Rose not stepped aside I’m sure that those thugs would have shot him. They would have killed me and anyone else who got in their way.”
Kennedy’s autopsy was performed later that night at Bethesda Naval Hospital in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Of the three prior Presidential assassinations, two (Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and James Garfield in 1881) occurred in Washington. President William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, NY, in 1901.
Since the 1965 legislation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has primary jurisdiction when there’s an attempt on the President’s life, which has occurred numerous times, as well as in the event of an actual assassination.
Another President is Shot
Since the Kennedy killing, only one attempt on a President’s life has inflicted injury. This occurred on March 30, 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was returning to the Presidential limousine after addressing a luncheon in the nation’s capital.
Reagan would survive a broken rib, punctured lung and internal bleeding but his press secretary, James Brady, suffered permanent brain damage, and a Secret Service agent and D.C. police officer were also struck but recovered fully. John Hinckley, Jr., the shooter, was deemed mentally ill and confined to an institution where he remains.
President Gerald Ford had been targeted twice for assassination by women, just 17 days apart, in September 1975. Lynette Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, drew a pistol on the President as he reached to shake her hand passing through a crowd at the California state capitol. But while she had four cartridges in the pistol’s magazine, there was none in the firing chamber and the Secret Service quickly subdued Fromme, who was released from prison in 2009.
Sara Jane Moore fired at Ford in San Francisco September 22, 1975. A bystander struck her arm as she took aim, however, and the shot missed. She was imprisoned until 2007.
Most other plots have failed to materialize, or missed their target, or were foiled before execution. There have been shots fired at the White House, even a small plane landed on its lawn, and recently there have been two incidents of ricin-laced letters addressed to President Barack Obama.
One of four plots aimed at President Bill Clinton took place in Manilla in 1996 and involved a bomb under a bridge over which the Presidential motorcade was to cross, had it not been re-routed after Secret Service officials intercepted a message indicating an imminent attack. Intelligence officers later discovered the bomb planted under the bridge they bypassed. An investigation traced the plot to a man from Saudi Arabia training terrorists in Afghanistan–Osama bin Laden.
On a fall morning in Florida at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort in Longboat Key, President George W. Bush awoke around 6:00 am and prepared for his morning jog. Men claiming to have a “poolside” interview with the President arrived at the resort, but were turned away without meeting the President. The men appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent.
Time magazine reported the similarity of their action to the assassination two days earlier of Ahmed Massoud, a military leader in Afghanistan who fought the Taliban. But President Bush’s regular schedule would be interrupted a short time later–it was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
Be Careful How You Protest
Most of us are never going to attempt an assassination, but we might want to be careful in how we handle our frustration with Presidential policies. Your next tweet or post could have the Secret Service at your door and you quickly calling a Florida federal defense lawyer. That’s because threatening the President of the United States is a Class D felony.
In 2007, a Purdue University grad student from India was convicted of threatening President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in protest of the Iraq War through comments in a Yahoo Finance forum. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but was released in 2011.2
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Terry Duschinski is a writer with keen interest in American history, government, and politics. He was inspired to write this article by a Florida federal defense lawyer who was formally a special agent with the FBI who worked alongside the CIA.
1C. Crenshaw, et al, JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, 1992, pp. 118 – 120.