Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Open Letter To Potential Assassins


Apparently, a number of individuals in this country have thought it acceptable to openly threaten violence, or even commit violent acts, against elected members of the federal government. It's well-documented at this point. The gas line of Tom Perriello's brother's house being cut by someone who thought it was Periello's house and had the wrong address. 'If Brown Can't Stop It, A Browning Can'. 'We Came Unarmed This Time'. If you don't like these examples, just scan the next Tea Party gathering near you and there are fair odds of seeing someone similar. Or check out this, or this.

If any reader out there happens to know one of these people, bring them on yonder because we need to have a bit of a talk.

Hi, potential assassin. (As this is what you are.) Have a seat.

First off, let's address the obvious: what you're thinking of doing is completely and utterly morally wrong. But I wager you're not going to be convinced to put down the gun on moral grounds. You're no Manchurian Candidate. Nobody who gets this far down the line, to the point of considering murdering an elected federal official, has any real moral uncertainties. In fact, you probably think I'm the crazy one. If you have any moral qualms about what you're doing, rest assured you're putting the brakes on any plan of action far before it gets around to 'hey, let's assassinate the President of the United States'. By this point, you legitimately think it's a good idea.

So let's dispense with the sermon and instead walk through why this is a BAD idea.

Your first and biggest mistake is estimating your level of support for this kind of thing. Surely, you are positive that history will look at you as the hero.

As Obama is naturally going to be the primary target- being the President and all (and noting that only four sitting members of Congress have ever been assassinated, with one of them, Leo Ryan, killed in Guyana during the Jonestown massacre; and two others, Robert F. Kennedy and Huey Long, having Presidential ambitions; the other was James M. Hinds)- let us go over the list of Presidential assassins and attempted assassins to this point, and see exactly what kind of company you're going to be joining. We'll limit ourselves to those who have put an attempt into action, and omit those apprehended in the planning stages. We will also omit attempts from external sources.

1835- Richard Lawrence, attempted to kill Andrew Jackson
1865- John Wilkes Booth, killed Abraham Lincoln
1881- Charles Guiteau, killed James A. Garfield
1901- Leon Czolgosz, killed William McKinley
1912- John F. Schrank, attempted to kill Theodore Roosevelt
1933- Giuseppe Zangara, attempted to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt
1950- Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, attempted to kill Harry Truman
1963- Lee Harvey Oswald, killed John F. Kennedy (no, we are not getting into the whole conspiracy thing)
1974- Samuel Byck, attempted to kill Richard Nixon
1975- Squeaky Fromme, attempted to kill Gerald Ford
1975- Sara Jane Moore, attempted to kill Gerald Ford
1976- Chester Plumber, attempted to kill Gerald Ford
1981- John Hinckley Jr., attempted to kill Ronald Reagan
1994- Francisco Martin Duran, attempted to kill Bill Clinton
2001- Robert Pickett, attempted to kill George W. Bush

The first thing to note is that Lawrence and Schrank were eventually declared insane, and many of the others on the list had emotional issues as well. The second thing to note is that most of the rest ended up dead themselves, either from being killed in the act, at the scene, soon afterwards, or from a formal execution; this was the fate of Booth, Guiteau, Czolgosz, Zangara, Torresola, Oswald, Byck and Plumber.

As for the rest, Collazo was to be executed as well, but Truman commuted his sentence to life, and Jimmy Carter pardoned him after 29 years. Fromme was given life in prison, but released after serving 34 years. Moore was paroled after 32 years. Duran was sentenced to 40 years and is currently serving that out. Pickett, who was shot by a Secret Service agent on-site, got three years.

The third thing to note: these people are either viewed as crazy, history's villains, or this is the first you've heard of them at all. The sole exceptions are Collazo and Torresola, looked upon fondly by the Puerto Rican independence movement. (And Fidel Castro, whatever you wish to make of that.) A movement that seeks to break off from the United States, which only is a fair analog to you if you seek secession.

We'll get to that later.

The fourth thing to note: none of these things actually has led to anything larger. If you actually do seek secession, look towards Booth. If anyone was going to bring about secession (or at least a recharge in Southern enthusiasm; the states were still seceded) it was him, as the Civil War had just ended. It didn't happen. Collazo and Torresola? Their act was in 1950. Now, in 2010, Puerto Rico is the exact same status that it was in 1950.

So it's not going to lead to anything, you're in all likelihood not getting vindicated by history, and you'll probably die trying.

What's your goal, assuming mental stability? (And it cannot be assumed; according to the US Attorney's Manual, approximately 75% of all threats on the President are made by the mentally ill.) Is it regime change? Get a Republican in office? Because if it is, you'd need a lot of accomplices. Six of them, in fact. I'm assuming you're a Republican here (or an "independent" that's just So Fed Up with a group of people that, if you listed them off, would turn out to be just a bunch of Democrats with maybe the occasional moderate Republican mixed in; whatever you want to call yourself to make yourself feel better). The first Republican in the line of succession right now is Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense. In front of him are Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Hillary Clinton, and Timothy Geithner. If you prefer the other Republican in the line of succession, Ray LaHood, that would require eight additional accomplices to take out Gates, Eric Holder, Ken Salazar, Tom Vilsack, Gary Locke, Hilda Solis, Kathleen Sebelius, and Shaun Donovan.

This would be a tad difficult, as it should be noted that no Vice President has yet been assassinated, never mind the effort involved in killing the six highest-ranking people in America at the same time, let alone the 14 highest.

So Biden's President now. And you think he'd just stumble around like Dan Quayle 2.0 until he could be driven from office, right? Obama didn't pick him for his mouth. There's a brain in there that his mouth just happens to outrun. While in the Senate. Biden chaired the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees, the latter of which he chaired during the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Not a guy you'd like very much. Aside from that, he drafted the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, created what became the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and led efforts to get involved in the Balkans in the 90's. Since becoming Vice President, it was Biden who leaned heavily on Specter to flip parties, and he's the guy the administration relies on to convey expectations to Iraqi leadership. (Whether Iraq meets those expectations, that's not Biden's problem.)

Long story short, there's a reason his verbal gaffes always get shrugged off.

And if you do get Obama and Biden... President Nancy Pelosi. I know you don't like the sound of that one, and that's before you take into account that she'd take the 'first woman President' title, and as a woman, she would have absolutely no problem laying into Sarah Palin without having to worry about looking like a chauvinist pig. Obama can't hit a girl, you say? Biden can't hit a girl, you say? Pelosi sure as hell can.

Are you after an overthrow of the government? Do you think the military will side with you and turn the administration out of office? Put your side in, remake the country in your image? Well, in your attempt to remake the United States, you've pretty much ended the United States as we know it, but never mind your pipe dream. Here's what's actually going to happen.

You get the stuffing knocked out of you. That's what's going to happen.

Note that even with the size of the Tea Party movement now, there isn't much of anybody in the military joining in. There's one officer refusing to follow orders because of birther-related concerns, and that guy's simply getting court-martialed. If an actual movement were to take place, don't expect very much military support. Maybe you get a couple scattered people to break off, and maybe they bring their weapons with them. Maybe they attach to whatever local militias have taken up the cause.

That still leaves the rest of the military. That still leaves all the gigantic military toys that scattered desertions can't simply walk off with. That still leaves, if it were to come to it, all those missile silos that somebody has the launch codes to, and that somebody isn't going to be you. It's going to be the high-ranking officers loyal to the Commander-in-Chief. And if they leave and take the codes with them, they better call for the missiles fast, because the codes are very likely to be changed almost as fast.

A smattering of local militias, probably a couple hundred guys at best, against thousands and thousands of military professionals in addition to local police. The former probably has some fairly impressive guns at their disposal, admitted, but the latter has impressive weaponry too. And tanks. And airplanes. I'm willing to wager not many local militias have tanks laying around. And if things got into a sustained gunfight, the militias are running out of ammo first.

Are you trying to get your state to secede? Please note that the Civil War was not originally fought as a war over freeing slaves (though it eventually became so, and slavery was the core issue at hand), but as a war over preserving the Union. Secession, it should be noted, is in fact unconstitutional. Right after 'we the people', you'll note the phrase "in order to create a more perfect union". This was in reference to the Articles of Confederation, which talk of a "perpetual union", which should really be self-explanatory.

Unfortunately, some people were confused about that little clause. The Supreme Court laid it out bare in the 1869 case Texas v. White, in which they ruled 5-3 that the Confederacy never actually left the Union during the Civil War, because states can't secede.

So even if you get your state to secede, you haven't seceded. All you've done is commit treason. And treason tends to be frowned upon in our modern times.

Do you simply not like Obama because he's black? I already had words with you a couple months ago.

So you've been squashed. You manage to survive the altercation, and are arrested (as you should well expect). No matter, even if you didn't manage to complete the assassination, you can just vote out your quarry normally anyway, right?

Wrong. Oh so wrong.

Simply making threats on the President's life is a class D felony under US Code Title 18, Section 871, punishable by five years in prison. And the Secret Service isn't known for being picky about what constitutes a threat. An actual attempt, well, that's straight-up attempted murder all by itself, before you add in the whole Presidential thing.

Felons aren't allowed to vote. Through your actions, you've simply reduced your electoral ranks by one, and given your opposition that much more breathing room.

But let's say, knowing all that, knowing the odds against you, you succeeded. Let's say you actually do manage to kill the President.

Who's to say the events of the aftermath won't backfire on you? Who's to say that your target- and here we loop back around to that original error of overestimating your level of support- won't gain a slew of sympathy points, thus making them, or at least their policies, even more popular, thus taking the country even further from your worldview at an even faster rate? Reagan got that treatment. Kennedy became mythical. Teddy postponed going to the hospital so he could use his attempt in a scheduled campaign speech, which turned out to last an hour and a half, and added it to his already-burgeoning legend. (He didn't win the race, but he wasn't going to win anyway.) And let's not even get started on Lincoln.

So there you go. You're going to get crushed, you're not going to get away, you're going to pay dearly- possibly with your life- you won't accomplish anything by it other than potentially cause a lot of people a lot of grief, you will in all likelihood go down in history as crazy or worse- if you go down in history at all- and even if you complete your task, in trying to silence your target, you may very well give him a larger voice than you could possibly imagine.

Put the gun down.

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