Presidential Assassination Attempts: 1920–Present

Updated January 25, 2022 | Logan Chamberlain

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial - Assassination AttemptsEveryone knows about the assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, but there is a larger history of attempts on the lives of U.S. leaders. Here are the presidential assassination attempts you might not have heard of, and the people involved.

Franklin D. Roosevelt & Giuseppe Zangara

FDR is one of America’s most famous leaders, and his assassination attempt by Giuseppe Zangara has recently been gaining more public attention. On February 15, 1933, Roosevelt was delivering a speech on from the back of his car in Florida when Zangara fired his pistol. The bullet missed Roosevelt and hit Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who would later die of complications. What’s most interesting about this case is that many historians argue that the president-elect might not have been the target at all, and that Zangara was aiming for Cermak. Zangara claimed he would kill “presidents, and then all capitalists,” but recent documentary evidence indicates he might have been hired by the mob in Chicago to take out the mayor. Historians may never know.

Gerald Ford, Sara Moore, & Lynette Fromme

Gerald Ford is the only president to ever have his life threatened by a woman—not just once, but twice in three weeks, by unrelated assailants. Nixon’s former Vice President was in Sacramento, California on September 5, 1975 speaking to members of the public as he approached the Capitol. Fromme was a member of the infamous Manson Family. She claims to have intercepted him to plead for the California Redwoods. When she pointed a pistol at the president, the pistol had no cartridge in the chamber, and Fromme claims she didn’t intend to shoot him. Just three weeks later, the President was in San Francisco. A crowd was gathered outside his hotel, and in that crowd was Sara Moore. Moore had previously been assessed as a risk and had her personal firearm confiscated; when she attempted to shoot the President, she used a new pistol with which she had no experience. Her first shot missed by six inches due to the iron sights on the pistol. She was disarmed before she could fire her second shot.

Ronald Reagan & John Hinckley, Jr.

Ronald Reagan is a majorly contentious figure and his presidency was a watershed moment for American politics, but his attempted assassination is the least political of all. John Hinckley, Jr. plotted to assassinate a president after being inspired by the movie Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. Hinckley was a big fan of Jodie Foster, and so he hoped to impress her by assassinating a politician like De Niro’s character attempted in the movie. Hinckley initially hoped to assassinate Jimmy Carter, but never had the opportunity. He moved to D.C. to be near the president, and followed him around. On March 30, 1981, he waited in a crowd outside of Reagan’s hotel. When Reagan walked in front of him, Hinckley unloaded six rounds. He seriously wounded several officers and officials, including Press Secretary James Brady, and nearly killed Reagan. Hinckley was committed to a mental institution, and Reagan saw his low approval ratings rise dramatically.

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Remember to read U.S. Presidential Assassination Attempts: 1880–1920.

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