Skip to main content
Skip to main Navigation
Skip to Search
toggle search input
toggle main navigation
All RFE/RL sites
Political Assassinations In The United States
January 10, 2011 13:53 GMT
The attempt on the life of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head on January 8, has shocked and saddened Americans. It has been more than three decades since a member of the U.S. Congress was felled by an assassin's bullet.
The attempt on the life of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona has shocked and saddened Americans. - Minutes after she finished talking to locals who stopped by her question-and-answer table at a Tucson supermarket, part of a new Democratic initiative called "Congress On Your Corner," a gunman shot her in the head at point-blank range. She remains in critical condition. Six others, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, were killed. A 22-year-old man, Jared Lee Loughner, faces five criminal charges in the case.
The last sitting member of the U.S. Congress was assassinated more than 30 years ago. - It was November 18, 1978, and Representative Leo Ryan, a Democrat from California, was in the middle of a trip to Guyana. He and his staff were investigating reports that a U.S. cult called the People's Temple, originally from Ryan's congressional district in San Francisco, had relocated to the area and was holding people against their will. Ryan and his entourage were ambushed by People's Temple members at an airstrip near Jonestown. Ryan and four others were killed. Later, more than 900 People's Temple members committed mass suicide in an event known as the "Jonestown Massacre."
Another senator with presidential ambitions, Huey Long, was assassinated on September 8, 1935. - Long, who was the inspiration for Robert Penn Warren's classic book "All The King's Men," was shot in the hallway of the Louisiana capital building by the nephew of a bitter political opponent. He died two days later. James Hinds, who represented Arkansas shortly after the American Civil War, was shot and killed on October 22, 1868, by a member of the Ku Klux Klan by while traveling on horseback to a public event.
George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, was shot five times while campaigning for U.S. president on May 15, 1972. - Wallace survived the assassination attempt in Laurel, Maryland, but was paralyzed from the waist down. His would-be assassin was Arthur Bremer, who admitted to no political beef with Wallace, only that he wanted to become famous.
Presidential assassinations are far more well-known, particularly the death of President John F. Kennedy. - Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. His death struck Americans hard. People wept openly on the streets, schools were closed, and impromptu memorials were held in numerous cities. Kennedy's accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself shot and killed two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head on April 14, 1865, while seeing a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington. - His killer, John Wilkes Booth, was an actor and Confederate sympathizer. Lincoln died early the next morning from his wounds. Booth escaped from the theater but was tracked down in Virginia and killed by Union soldiers on April 26.
U.S. President James Garfield was shot by a lone assassin in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1881. - Garfield's killer, Charles Guiteau, was angry over his failure to be appointed to a federal post. Garfield, a bullet still lodged somewhere in his torso, died on September 19 of complications related to the shooting.
U.S. President William McKinley was shot by a lone assassin in Buffalo, New York, on September 5, 1901. - McKinley's assassin was anarchist Leon Frank Czolgosz. McKinley, a bullet still lodged in his back, died on September 14 from complications surrounding his wounds.
Several U.S. presidents have survived attempts on their lives, most notably President Ronald Reagan in 1981. - Reagan survived despite a punctured lung. Reagan later described the incident, writing, "I was almost to the car when I heard what sounded like two or three firecrackers over to my left -- just a small fluttering sound, pop, pop, pop. I turned and said, 'What the hell's that?' Just then, Jerry Parr, the head of our Secret Service unit, grabbed me by the waist and literally hurled me into the back of the limousine."
In 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, attempted to kill President Harry Truman. - The two traded fire with Truman's security detail but failed to reach the president. Torresola was killed during the attack. Collazo was arrested and imprisoned for life, but his sentence was later reduced. He died in Puerto Rico in 1994.
In 1975, President Gerald Ford had guns drawn on him twice in one month. - On September 5, 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (center left above) was subdued by a Secret Service agent after she pointed a pistol at Ford, who was visiting Sacramento, California. On September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore fired a single shot at Ford during a visit to San Francisco. The bullet missed Ford.
Political Assassinations In The United States
Arizona Lawmaker Recovering
Giffords Gunman To Appear In Court
Back to top