Dr. Oliver Examines Assassinations and Violence Against Congress

Black and white photo of the Capitol

On the heels of a book on assassinations and attempts on the lives of U.S. Presidents, Dr. Willard Oliver explores acts of violence against U.S. legislators in “Killing Congress: Assassinations, Attempted Assassinations, and Other Violent Acts Against Members of Congress.”

Coauthored by Dr. Nancy E. Marion of the University of Akron, the book chronicles the assassination of seven Congressional members since the national body was created in 1789, as well as major assassination attempts against

Congress or its members. It also examines other acts of violence against Congress, including “caning” incidents in the 1700 & 1800s, anthrax scares in 2001 and other examples of the public physically assaulting sitting members of Congress.

Dr. Willard Oliver
Dr. Willard Oliver
“Although it has happened very infrequently, there have been acts of violence perpetrated on members of Congress because of their policy positions or statements,” said Dr. Oliver. “The violence has ranged from spitting and shoving, to punching, assaults, fights, and even death. So, while the president of the United States is often the focal point of the assassin’s wrath, members of Congress have not been excluded from such vituperative attacks.”

Portrait of U.S. Rep. Thomas Haughey sitting in a chair.
Rep. Thomas Haughey was killed during a political speech.
The book documents the assassination of members of the Congressional delegation, including the actions that led up to the violence and the repercussions of the event. These include U.S. Rep. James Hinds of Arkansas, who was killed by a member of the Ku Klux Klan in 1868; U.S. Rep. Thomas Haughey, of Alabama, who was shot while making a political speech in 1869; U.S. Rep. John Pinckney of Texas, who was assaulted and killed during a political event in 1905; Sen. Huey Long of Louisiana, a Presidential nominee who was assassinated in his home state a month after announcing his candidacy in 1935; Sen. Robert Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was shot while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968; U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, who was ambushed during a trip investigating a religious cult in Guyana in 1978, and U.S. Rep. Lawrence McDonald, who was shot down while on Korean Air Line Flight 07 by the Soviet military in 1983.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot down in a supermarket parking lot while meeting constituents.
The book also delves into two major assassination attempts against Congress, including the 1954 shooting in the House Chambers by members of a Puerto Rican separatist organization, which wounded five members, and the 2011 attack on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in a supermarket parking lot while meeting with constituents. The attack killed six people, including a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl, and an aide to the Congresswoman. A total of 17 people were wounded.

Over the last nearly 250 years since Congress was established, members have been the victims of violence, including bombings, assaults, or accidents. Only some were targeted by assassins for their political views. In its early history, four members of the governing body were subject to “caning,” an alternative to dueling where men beat one another with canes in an effort to solve political disputes. In fact, one of the perpetrators in such an attack was Sam Houston, a Texas icon and previous and future member of Congress.

An  illustration of caning from the U.S. Library of Congress.
An illustration of caning from the U.S. Library of Congress.
There also have been other notable attacks against Congressional members. In 2001, a week after the Sept. 11th attacks on the U.S., anthrax was mailed to two members of Congress and several media outlets. The attacks killed five people and infected 17 others. In 1998, a lone gunman burst through a security checkpoint in the U.S. Capitol and was involved in a shootout with U.S. Capitol Police. No members of Congress were injured, but two officers lost their lives in the gun battle.

On a less serious note, Sen. John Glenn was punched in the face while taping a television interview; the Senator brushed it off. The motive of the attack was never clear.

“There is not another book out there like this that provides a comprehensive examination of assassinations or related violence again Congress,” said Dr. Oliver.

Sen. John Glenn, Library of Congress
Sen John Glenn,Library of Congress
Unlike the President, members of Congress are not protected by the U.S. Secret Service, unless they are the nominee in Presidential elections. That changed slightly in recent years, with protection offered to several candidates before they earned their party’s nomination.

The Capitol Police are charged with protecting members of Congress while they are in the Capitol and several members have hired their own private security.

The book was published by Lexington Books and is available at http://www.lexingtonbooks.com/ISBN/9780739183601. Drs. Oliver and Marion also are the authors of “Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief” (ABC-Clio, 2010).

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