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Lone Assassins

Andrew Cook looks at the idea of the unaided assassin, and finds several 20th-century examples.

FBI mugshot of John Hinkcley, Jr. after his attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981.
FBI mugshot of John Hinkcley, Jr. after his attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981.

The 20th century saw a number of historically significant assassinations, some carried out by lone assassins, others involving one or more accomplices.

With JFK’s assassination on November 22nd, 1963, and the shooting two days later, live on television, of Lee Harvey Oswald, a new age dawned. For the first time the vivid immediacy of such acts was brought into the homes of millions. News broadcasts, films, books and documentaries debated and speculated upon every facet of these tragic dramas. Perhaps because of the apparent lack of motive or the randomness of some assassinations, the public did not always find the ‘lone assassin’ theory a believable one, and increasingly became receptive to conspiracy theories.

As Henry Steele Commager, who studied the conspiracy phenomena, said in 1967:

There has come in recent years something that might be called a conspiracy psychology. A feeling that great events can’t be explained by ordinary processes. We are on the road to a paranoid explanation of things. The conspiracy theory, the conspiracy mentality, will not accept ordinary evidence ... there’s some psychological requirement that forces them to reject the ordinary and find refuge in the extraordinary.

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