A Brief History
On October 5, 1607 (the same year Jamestown, Virginia was founded), Pope Paul V (yes, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church seen in the sculptural bust above) sent assassins to kill Paolo Sarpi, a Venetian lawyer, historian, and statesman. Fortunately for Sarpi, he survived the 15 stab wounds from stilettos (the knives, not the shoes), and his attempted assassins were given refuge in Rome. Many important people have been assassinated over History, but many other attempts have failed. On April 30th we have an article, “10 Failed Assassinations“, and today we list another 10 notable failed assassination attempts. What failed attempts would you add to the list?
1. Paolo Sarpi, 1607.
Sarpi ran afoul of the Catholic Church and the Pope when he openly disagreed with the Church over the teachings of Copernicus, advocated for the separation of Church and State, and advocated for a free press. Scientist, politician, lawyer, philosopher, historian, and clergyman, Sarpi was a true Renaissance Man. He lived until 1623 and his last words, “Esto perpetua” are the motto of the State of Idaho (“she lives forever”). After a foiled attempt on his life in September of 1607, and the unlikely survival of the 15 stab wounds in October of 1607, Sarpi considered going to England to live in safety, but chose to stay in his cloister in Venice instead. Even then, plots to kill him continued until his death.
2. Gerald R. Ford, 1975.
As President of the United States, Ford was as much a target for nutty people as any other president, and in September of 1975 he survived 2 assassination attempts, 17 days apart, both by pistol packing women. The first attempt, September 5th, was made by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, one of the deluded followers of cult leader and convicted murderer Charles Manson. When Fromme pulled the trigger on her .45 caliber Colt pistol, a Secret Service agent had grabbed the gun and the webbing of his hand prevented the hammer from falling on the firing pin, saving Ford’s life. The second attempt on Ford’s life came on September 22nd when Sarah Jane Moore, another mentally disturbed young lady and FBI informant, pulled a .38 caliber revolver and fired a shot at Ford, missing by only about 6 inches (probably due to bad sights on the gun), and when attempting a second shot, she was grabbed by a former Marine, Oliver Stipple, which threw her aim off again, again narrowly missing the president. The second missed shot ricocheted and wounded a taxi driver (not Robert De Niro!). Fromme and Moore are the only 2 known female attempted presidential assassins.
3. Fidel Castro, 1959-2000.
When Castro and his crowd overthrew Cuban dictator Fugencio Batista in 1959, the United States was unhappy with this newcomer that did not seem likely to be a US puppet. Thus, assassination attempts and schemes began to be hatched, which continued for the next 40 years! In fact, an estimated 638 United States government sponsored plots against Castro’s life were hatched over the years, though of course not all were actual attempts. A British television documentary aired in 2006 called 638 Ways to Kill Castro, detailing these various US plots (see 638 Ways to Kill Castro for more information). Among the many plans included poisoning his food or drink, poisoning his cigars, creating an exploding cigar, planting a booby trapped explosive Conch shell in waters Castro dived in, poisoning Castro’s wet suit or scuba equipment, a poisonous ball point pen/syringe combination, blowing up Castro when he visited a museum, and using the Mafia to “bump him off” in their usual fashion. Eight of these plots were actual attempts, the rest relegated to the planning stage. The last US attempt is believed to have been planting 90 kilos of explosive in a podium he was to give a speech from in Panama in 2000. Castro died at the age of 90 of natural causes in 2016, cheating all his many assassins.
4. Franklin Roosevelt, 1933.
Gunman Giuseppe Zangara fired 5 shots at President Elect Roosevelt in Florida mere days before the Presidential Inauguration, missing Roosevelt but hitting and killing Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak and wounding 5 other people. Zangara was arrested and executed only 5 weeks later (no big delays in those days!). Zangara was a mere 5 feet tall, and stood on a metal chair in order to see above the crowd to shoot at Roosevelt. A woman immediately grabbed him, causing his shots to go wild, while others in the crowd assisted in subduing the gunman. An alleged anarchist, Zangara’s real motive is unknown, though speculation that he was sent by Al Capone is one conspiracy theory.
5. Harry S. Truman, 1947, 1950.
In 1947, Zionist Stern Gang members sent letter bombs to President Truman, but failed in their attempts to kill him, and in 1950, two Puerto Rican terrorists attempted to kill Truman at the Blair House, where Truman resided while the White House was being renovated. The Puerto Rican gunmen were part of an Independence for Puerto Rico movement, with one would be assassin killed in a shootout with White House Police, the other taken into custody and sentenced to Life in Prison (although President Carter commuted his sentence and released him in 1979). One White House police officer was killed in the shootout and 2 others were wounded.
6. Bill Clinton, 1994.
Gunman Francisco Duran fired 29 shots at the White House where he mistakenly believed President Clinton was one of the men standing outside wearing business suits. Duran was tackled by 3 tourists and held for police. During 1994 a plot to kill Clinton while he was jogging was found out and the plotter arrested, and another man flew a small Cessna airplane into a tree on the White House grounds in an attempt to hit the White House and kill the President. (Clinton was not in the White House at the time.) The would be assassin died in the plane crash.
7. George W. Bush, 2005.
While giving a speech in Tbilisi, Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not the US state), an assassin threw a grenade at the podium, and although the pin was pulled, the Soviet military grenade did not detonate because a red handkerchief wrapped around it as a disguise failed to allow the “spoon” to fly off the grenade and initiate the fuse.
8. Steve Scalise, 2017.
Along with other Congressional Republicans, Scalise was practicing baseball in Alexandria, Virginia in preparation for the annual Congressional Baseball Game For Charity at 7:10 AM when a shooter opened fire in an attempt to kill as many of these congressmen as possible. Left-wing activist James Hodgkinson, age 66 opened fire on the legislators with an SKS semi-automatic rifle, wounding 4 people, including House Majority Whip Scalise, critically wounded with a pelvic gunshot wound. Scalise survived and is still recovering, but the gunman was shot by Capitol Police in a shoot-out at the scene and died of his wounds. The gunman had previously posted various anti-Trump and anti-Republican rants on-line.
9. John Major, 1991.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Major was the target of a heavy mortar attack by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) while at his home at 10 Downing Street, London. The IRA assassins fired 3 shots at the Prime Minister’s residence, with 2 shots going long and landing some distance away on a green. The most accurate shot landed only a few yards from Major’s cabinet office, but failed to injure anyone inside due to the bomb-proof windows and construction of the building. Four people outside the residence were injured, including 2 police officers, but no one was killed. The homemade mortar shells were a whopping 4 ½ feet long and weighed 140 pounds each, and were fired from a van with a hole cut in the roof 200 yards from the target. It was estimated that had any of the rounds (with their 40 pounds of explosive packed warheads) hit the target building, Major and his entire cabinet may have been killed.
10. Larry Flynt, 1978.
Purveyor of pornographic publications to the public, Flynt was the man behind Hustler Magazine, and the subject of the major motion picture, The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), starring Woody Harrelson as Flynt. Flynt was shot by a sniper while Flynt was walking to a courthouse in Georgia with his lawyer during one of the obscenity cases against Flynt. The gunman was not caught, and Flynt suffered a spinal cord injury around his waist, leaving him permanently paralyzed from waist down. A stroke that followed left his speech permanently slurred. A man claiming to be the gunman, White Supremacist Joseph Franklin, years later took credit for the shooting, saying he did it because of an interracial photo spread in Flynt’s magazine. Franklin was not charged with the crime, but was executed in 2013 for 8 unrelated murders.
Question for students (and subscribers): What do you you think would have been the historical consequences had any one of these assassination attempts succeeded? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
History’s Mysteries: Failed Assassinations. A & E Mod, 2004. DVD.
The featured image in this list, Paolo Sarpi, Mezzotint by William Dickinson, 1777, after F. Zucchero, 1777, from https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0005217.html, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.