Why are modern heads of state seemingly so impervious to old-school assassins? All the old presidents were constantly getting attacked. President Jackson famously, but unfortunately, even fought his assassins off with a cane.
Well the truth is attempts still happen. They just get less coverage than they used to. In fact, plots are often foiled before they take place — then downplayed or hushed up in the press.
10. Donald Trump
Showboating at North Dakota’s largest oil refinery in 2017, Trump was blissfully unaware that someone was planning to kill him. The president was in the state to talk about his tax plans. Ivanka was there too; he told the crowd she’d asked “Daddy, can I go with you?”
Meanwhile, a 42-year-old man was hijacking a forklift to flip his limousine. His plan was to drive the vehicle into Trump’s motorcade, disable the limo, and kill the president. In the end, however, he got the forklift stuck in a gated area. Although he abandoned the plan and dumped the forklift in a ditch, he was caught and arrested by police.
But only because the area he was in was restricted for the visit. They had no idea he was planning to assassinate the president… until he told them. Later in court his attorney explained he had bipolar and ADHD. The uninterested judge sentenced him to 10 years in the state penitentiary.
9. Angela Merkel
On her visit to Prague, the seemingly harmless, grandmotherly German chancellor was the subject of furious protests. One placard showed Merkel with a Hitler mustache, while another linked the EU flag and the swastika. They felt the EU was invading, forcing Czech submission to NATO and its hawkish military orders.
One man took it upon himself to show the EU just how welcome its leaders were in the Republic. Driving a black 4×4, he maneuvered toward Merkel’s motorcade as it traveled from the airport to Sobotka’s government headquarters. But police intercepted and threatened to shoot him, despite him not being armed. Eventually he gave himself up.
Defending their heavy-handedness later, the police claimed to have found “items” in his car that “could easily have been used as weapons.” What were they, you ask? Blocks of cement.
8. Theresa May
British prime minister Theresa May ruined a lot of people’s lives but it seems only one sought revenge. After his uncle was killed in a drone strike, a homeless 20-year-old Londoner approached militants online to get hold of some bombs. He told them he was planning to blow up Parliament, or to get May at home, at 10 Downing Street — both of which he’d scouted out beforehand.
Unfortunately for him, these “Islamic State militants” were actually FBI, who referred him to their MI5 counterparts, who hooked him up with an undercover cop posing as an armorer in London. Oblivious, the would-be assassin kept them abreast of his plans and, once he’d got a (fake) bomb and a jacket filled with (fake) explosives, police surrounded and arrested the bereaved young tramp. He’d later admit he was glad it was over.
In court, he insisted the plan wasn’t genuine. He’d been set up and tricked by police, he said. He was always coming up with crazy schemes; he never followed through. One early idea had been to drop missiles from balloons at the edge of space. But the judge was unsympathetic and gave him 30 years.
7. Joe Biden
Old Joe Biden’s unpopular with young’uns. The senescent commander in chief has (obliviously) dodged several attempts on his life — all from the under-30s. In 2020, a 19-year-old was arrested in Delaware for driving a van containing guns and explosives within four miles of the president’s home. In addition to the weapons, the young man had $509,000 in cash, books about bomb-making, and a handwritten checklist ending with “execute”. Investigators later claimed to have found internet posts announcing his plan, including a meme on iFunny captioned “Should I kill Joe Biden?”
The following year, a 27-year-old tipped himself off to the Secret Service. “I’m going to come kill the president,” he told them over the phone, “I’m going to kill the Secret Service because I own this whole planet.” When they called him back to find out more, he defended his “right to free speech.” Then he asked them to pick him up and take him to the White House so he could “punch the president in the face, sit in his chair, and stay there until he dies.” They put him in jail instead.
Most recently of all, a 19-year-old was charged with “threatening to kill, kidnap or harm the president”, among other transgressions, when he drove a truck into a White House fence. He got 10 years in prison.
6. Justin Trudeau
After a 46-year-old man stormed the gates of Rideau Hall, the story was mysteriously downplayed. Although they detailed the weapons he had in the truck that he crashed through the gates (an unlicensed revolver, a prohibited semi-automatic rifle, and two shotguns), the media claimed he only wished to arrest, not kill, the Canadian prime minister. Later, they changed their mind and said he just wanted to talk.
In reality, however, the man was charged with threatening to kill or harm Justin Trudeau. A letter that may have contained this threat was never released to the public; only “selective summaries” were “provided to the media by anonymous officials.” The attempt also came just one day after the Dominion Day rally on Parliament Hill, where Canadians waved pictures of Trudeau in a gallows and demanded the prime minister be executed.
It’s thought the establishment was largely silent on the attempt (despite it being the first on any Canadian prime minister) because the assassin was in the armed forces. According to some, it would upset the narrative that soldiers all support their PM.
5. Queen Beatrix
Assassination attempts on royalty are fairly common too. On Queen’s Day in the Netherlands in 2009, a 38-year-old Dutchman crashed his car in a suicide attack on Queen Beatrix. Tragically, he plowed into the watching crowd instead, killing six bystanders and injuring ten others. He also hit a monument and sustained critical injuries. The man later died in hospital — but not before police (who, despite months planning security, had failed to protect anyone) extracted a confession from the brain dead assailant.
By contrast, for Elizabeth II’s VJ (Victory over Japan) Day celebrations in 2010, prime minister David Cameron didn’t entrust his queen’s protection to incompetent Metropolitan police. When he learned of a plot to assassinate her, he ordered a drone strike himself, killing the as yet innocent but suspected British citizens in Syria.
He did, however, leave the public’s protection to the police, who encouraged crowds to ignore credible claims of a pressure cooker bomb in the capital and line the roads for the cameras regardless.
4. Barack Obama
Remote assassination via the postal service would have been fitting for a president who proliferated drone strikes. But it was not to be.
In 2013, a 45-year-old Elvis impersonator sent him “a suspicious granular substance” identified as ricin along with a typewritten letter. “No one wanted to listen to me before,” it read, “There are still ‘Missing Pieces’ [a reference to the assassin’s own novel about black market body parts] …. To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” He signed the letter: “I am KC and I approve this message.” Copies of the letter, complete with ricin, were sent to the Republican senator Roger Wicker (for whom KC once performed) and Mississippi judge Sadie Holland. All were intercepted.
The FBI claimed nobody died from contact with the letters, but this is hard to believe. Ricin, which is cheaply and easily extracted from castor beans and for which there is no antidote, is so deadly that as little as 500 micrograms (a dose roughly the size of a pin head) can kill. There’s also no specific test for exposure.
Another deadly package addressed to Obama was intercepted in 2018, this time a bomb. Others were also targeted, including George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and former CIA director John Brennan. The return address on them all was that of former chairwoman of the DNC Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who naturally denied involvement.
3. Fumio Kishida
Calling to mind the time George W. Bush had a hand grenade lobbed at him, Japan’s 101st prime minister was shocked to see an explosive device flying his way. He was about to give a speech at Wakayama when the pipe bomb exploded a meter from where he was standing. It probably would have hit him were it not for his guards blocking the attack with an unfurled ballistic suitcase. The 24-year-old attacker was swiftly arrested.
Surprisingly, though, Kishida kept to his schedule and, just six hours later, gave another speech to a crowd in Chiba. There weren’t even any bag checks or metal detectors.
Unlike the alienated relationship between government and the public in most developed countries, Japanese electoral campaigns require candidates to prove their trust in those they aspire to govern. In fact, the number of votes they get is said to be a measure of how many hands they shake.
2. Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Before early 2022, few outsiders had even heard of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, let alone painted his flag on their faces and prayed for God to protect him. By early March, however, people around the world were urgently told of the beleaguered president’s existence — as well as his heroic survival of three assassination attempts in a week (later corrected to 12).
The would-be assassins — Chechen special forces — were shocked before they were killed at Zelenskyy’s timely protection. Apparently, his bodyguards had been tipped off by Russian FSB agents opposed to Putin’s invasion.
Kremlin-backed mercenaries with the “lunatic”, battle-hardened Wagner group were also dispatched to kill the president; they were thought to be the only ones crazy enough to pull it off. One of their plans was to get a laser target marker on Zelenskyy and call in an airstrike. The president has long since gone into hiding, delivering his speeches from in front of a green screen instead of on the ground in Ukraine.
1. Barack Obama (again)
In 2011, a lone gunman pulled up outside the White House, aimed his semi-automatic rifle, and unleashed a barrage of bullets. One smashed a second floor window by Obama’s formal living room, while another got lodged in a window frame and others hit the roof.
There was no response.
Although one Secret Service officer drew her gun and snipers scanned the lawn, the order came quick to stand down. “No shots have been fired,” said a supervisor over the radio. The sound of the gunshots was thought to have come from a vehicle backfiring nearby, or a shootout between neighboring gangs — all despite a witness tweeting that a driver in front of her cab had “STOPPED and fired 5 gun shots at the White House”.
It took the Secret Service four days to realize someone had tried to kill the president — or, rather, it took four days for a housekeeper to notice the debris and tell them about it. (Maybe they were too busy thinking about Colombian prostitutes?) In fact, the only reason the depressed 21-year-old got caught was his unnecessary haste in escaping. Crashing his car just seven blocks away, he left his gun inside when he fled. But he needn’t have worried at all. Even when police were finally alerted, they were looking for a couple of black men; the shooter was alone and hispanic.