ARGUMENT: POLITICAL ASSASSINATIONThe Accelerating Threat of the Political Assassination

Published 24 August 2022

The pattern of terrorism in recent years has arguably been trending in the direction of political assassination, especially in the United States. Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware write that assassins have long believed that their vicious acts would change the course of history. “The emerging trend is due in no small part to the reemergence of so-called “accelerationism” as a distinct violent extremist strategy. For extremists seeking to sow chaos and speed up some cataclysmic societal collapse, high-profile politicians provide an attractive target.”

When Shinzo Abe was slain weeks ago by an assailant wielding a homemade firearm, it sent shockwaves rippling around Japan and beyond, prompting a bewildered public to ask how such an act could be possible and, more importantly, what would happen in the aftermath.

Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware write on War on the Rocks that the unthinkable murder of a popular former G7 leader will lead to both a reassessment of personal security details the world over, as well as a reconsideration of whether the costs of honorable public service are worth paying. Last month’s attempt on the life of New York congressman and gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin suggests we may be entering a similarly dangerous period in the United States, where elected or appointed officials and political candidates face a heightened risk.

Hoffman and Ware add that

The pattern of terrorism in recent years has arguably been trending in that direction, especially in the United States. In June 2017, a far-left extremist attempted to shoot Republican members of Congress at a practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game. In 2018, during the last midterm election, a wave of mail bombs targeted senior Democratic Party officials and liberal public figures. Months later, a Coast Guardsman was arrested for plotting to assassinate a number of prominent Democratic politicians. In 2020, law enforcement disrupted a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan — with two of the defendants pleading guilty even though a jury later acquitted two other plotters. And on Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol rioters bayed for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence.

Hoffman and Ware note that this year has seen a further escalation in cases. In June, a retired circuit court judge was murdered in Wisconsin, in what that state’s attorney general described as a politically motivated crime. That same month, an armed man was arrested outside Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home before he could carry out an assassination plan. Another man was arrested outside the home of Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwoman Pramila Jayapal for threatening to kill her. Recent reporting by the Guardian found that “U.S. Capitol police reported 9,625 threats and directions of interest (meaning concerning actions or statements) against members of Congress last year, compared to 3,939 such instances in 2017.”