In light of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, NPR looks at a secret serviceman’s landmark 1999 study on the psyches of political assassins in America. Rather than ideological extremism, a desperate hunger for importance and immortality was what motivated most would-be assassins, who typically were individuals with failed, messy lives. And if they thought they could achieve fame by knocking off a political leader…they weren’t crazy, they were correct:
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It’s well known that in March 1981, John Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. What is not well known is that several years later, the life of President Reagan and the life of his vice president, George H.W. Bush, were threatened again — in fact, not just once.
“In the space of 18 months, four situations came to the attention of the Secret Service,” says Robert Fein, who in the mid-1980s worked with the Secret Service as a psychologist. Two were convicted, and two were sent to psychiatric facilities, Fein says, though the government didn’t exactly advertise it.