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7 Failed Presidential Assassination Attempts Of The '60s, '70s & '80s

Culture | June 23, 2019

Left: Chaotic scene of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr. Press Secretary James Brady (in blue suit with two men over him) was critically injured. Right: Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme. Sources: CORBIS/Corbis via Getty; IMDB

The killing of John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963 left a generation of Americans heartbroken -- but it's not the only time a president's life was in the crosshairs. In addition to the unfortunately successful attempt on Kennedy's life, there were many more attempted presidential assassinations -- on Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan -- in the latter half of the 20th century.

Some attempts are so benign that you’ve likely forgotten they happened. For instance, on October 29, 1994, a man named Francisco Duran opened fire on a group of men traversing the White House lawn, hoping to hit President Clinton. Fortunately, President Clinton was inside watching a football game at the time and no one was injured. 

The '60s, '70s, and '80s saw an astounding seven unsuccessful assassination attempts.

Reagan: Close But Cheery

Secret Service agents and bystanders attend to those injured in the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Press Secretary James Brady was critically injured. March 30, 1981. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

President Reagan and his attendants took fire from John Hickley Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. The President sustained grievous wounds including a collapsed lung. Despite the seriousness of his injuries, he maintained a sense of humor. He told his wife, Nancy, ”Honey, I forgot to duck.” He also inquired after the political party of his surgeons saying, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.” Hickley was judged insane and unfit to stand trial. His motivation reportedly came from his desire to impress Jodie Foster after seeing her in Taxi Driver

Nixon: A Plan To Crash A Plane Into The White House

Would-be assassin Samuel Byck (Source: Youtube.com)

Reportedly, the secret service turned away more than a hundred people a year with mal-intentions for Nixon. Two caused serious harm while attempting to do away with President Nixon. One man, Samuel Byck, attempted to hijack a plane with the idea of crashing into the White House. In terms of a hijacking, he got rather far. Byck rushed past security, boarded a plane, shot two pilots but eventually died in that cockpit. 

Nixon: An Attention Seeker Settles For His Second Target

Arthur Bremer and Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in 'Taxi Driver.' Source: Allthatsinteresting.com

Milwaukee native Arthur Bremer wrote in his diary that he planned to assassinate either Nixon or George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama who was then seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for President. Bremer never got close to assassinating President Nixon -- he traveled to Ottawa, Canada, where Nixon had gone to meet with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, but was unable to get a shot at the president due to security. “He passed me six times and he's still alive!” he wrote in his diary, which he hoped would someday be widely read. “Can't kill Nixie boy if you can't get close to him.” 

On May 15, 1972, Bremer managed to shoot and paralyze George Wallace at a campaign event in Laurel, Maryland. Bremer was wearing a pro-Wallace button and sunglasses, but forgot to shout his intended catchphrase "A penny for your thoughts!" 

Bremer seemed to have no political motivation or allegiance -- he just wanted to be famous, or infamous. Bremer's desperate desires served as the inspiration for Robert De Niro's character in Taxi Driver.

Ford: One California Femme Fatale

Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme in the 2019 documentary '1969.' Source: IMDB

In a diversion from history, President Ford survived two assassination attempts, both in California, within two weeks of each other, and both by women! The first took place in Sacramento, near the capitol building. A devoted follower of Charles Manson to this day, Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme never got a shot off during her attempt on President Ford.


Ford: Another California Femme Fatale

Left: Oliver Sipple (highlighted) moves to disrupt the attempt by Sara Jane Moore (also highlighted) to shoot President Ford. Right: Moore being driven to federal court in 1975, where she pleased guilty. Sources: deadline.com; latimes.com

On September 22, 1975, just a couple weeks after Fromme's attempt, Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old housewife and closet political extremist, very nearly killed President Ford. Thanks to Marine Vietnam veteran Oliver "Bill" Sipple, she failed. Sipple, who just happened to be in the crowd to see President Ford, grabbed Moore’s arm as the first shot rang out. 

Carter: A Strange Plot Uncovered

President Jimmy Carter (Source:Ridiculouslyextraordinary.com)

On May 5, 1979, the Secret Service arrested a portentously named Raymond Lee Harvey minutes before President Carter spoke. Harvey, armed with a pistol, admitted his part in a plot with four other men to kill President Carter. Harvey, tasked with firing his pistol loaded with blanks to create a diversion, enabled the 4 other men to attempt the assassination.

Police investigated his claims and found a room rented by two Mexicans, one named Osvaldo, and found a gun case with ammunition. The men were held on bond but ultimately released because of lack of evidence. 

Kennedy: The Failed Attempt

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Source:galacticconnection.com)

Three years before Lee Harvey Oswald became famous for killing President Kennedy, a man named Richard Paul Pavlick tried his hand. Armed with a car loaded with dynamite and a singular mission, Pavlick followed Kennedy to Florida. His plan was simple: drive his car into Kennedy’s limo and ignite the dynamite. When his opportunity came, he couldn't do it. Pavlick failed to do it because Kennedy was accompanied by his family and he only wanted JFK to die.

He stalked Kennedy around the country, hoping for another chance. He never got that chance due to a sharp postmaster. Pavlick apparently sent deranged postcards to a friend in Belmont, New Hampshire. The postmaster noticed the unhinged tone of the cards and took note of the postmarks. Eventually, he put two and two together and realized the postmarks were mirroring President Kennedy’s location. He notified the FBI and they tracked down Pavlick. 

Tags: 1960s News | 1970s News | 1980s News | Assassination | Gerald Ford | Jimmy Carter | John F. Kennedy | Remember This?... | Richard Nixon | Ronald Reagan | Taxi Driver | US Presidents

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!