By Farooq A. Kperogi
In the heady after-glow of Obama’s epochal victory, the world seems unmindful of a real, ever-present danger that haunts him: the danger of assassination. And this is no idle alarmist hysteria.
Although Obama won more votes than any presidential candidate in America’s entire history, suggesting that a majority of Americans judged him on the basis of the content of his character rather than on the color of his skin (to paraphrase Martin Luther King), there is still a lunatic fringe out there that is so disconcerted by his victory that it will stop at nothing to assassinate him.
To be sure, threats to Obama’s life—or anticipatory concerns over his safety—predated his November 4 victory. In fact, shortly after his election into the U.S. Senate, his wife, Michelle Obama, had been discomfited by the Secret Service protection he was given.
She said the fact that there was a need to protect him that elaborately indicated that her husband’s life was somehow in danger. Well, perhaps, at the time, it was just a prevenient move to forestall any potential threats to his life since he was only the third African American ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
However, concerns about his safety grew from hushed whispers in the privacy of homes to loud, anguished verbalization of concerns in the public domain when it became clear that he was no lightweight who wanted to be a mere addition to the long list of “also-rans.” In fact, given that even “also-ran” African-American presidential candidates were not immune from death threats, the worries about his safety became even more justified.
The African American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, for instance, received racially-tinged death threats during his presidential run in 1988, prompting the government to provide him with Secret Service protection. And former Secretary of State Colin Powell ruled out his White House bid because his wife, Alma Powell, expressed fear that he would be murdered.
With this backdrop, early in the Democratic presidential primaries, there were many Americans—white and black alike—who were reluctant to support Obama because they loved him too much to NOT want him to win; they thought he would be assassinated if he emerged victorious, and the only way they thought they could save his life was to deny him their support.
"For many black supporters, there is a lot of anxiety that he will be killed,” said Princeton University political science professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell. “It is on people's minds. You can't make a prediction like this - like he has a 50 per cent chance of getting shot. But the greater his visibility and the greater his access to people, there is a danger."
But it was Hillary Clinton, whom Obama now seems set to pick as his Secretary of State, who first famously darkly implied that Obama would be assassinated. In response to persistent calls that she withdraw from the Democratic primary race and concede to Obama in view of his insurmountable lead, she practically said she shouldn’t be counted out just yet because Obama could be assassinated before the Democratic Convention.
"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?” she told the editorial board of the Argus Leader on May 23 this year in defense of her obstinate decision to stay in the race. “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it."
Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, the younger brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, was the leading candidate in the Democratic primary election in 1968 until he was assassinated in California shortly after midnight of June 5, dying on June 6. He had just won the all-important California primary and was almost certain to lock the nomination before he was shot by a hired Palestinian assassin.
Clinton’s comment was an unguarded slip that not only revealed her subconscious preoccupations but that helped bring the fears—and anticipation—of an Obama assassination to the forefront of national discourse early in the campaign.
In fact, mentions of the fate that befell President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Senator Bobby Kennedy, intensified after Obama was joined on the campaign trail by Caroline Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s first and only surviving child) and Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy (JFK’s only surviving younger brother).
“I’m pretty familiar with the history,” Obama once said in response to a question about the fear that he might be assassinated like the Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. “Obviously, it was an incredible national trauma, but neither Bobby Kennedy nor Martin Luther King had Secret Service protection.”
On occasions, he simply ignored worries about his safety. “It’s not something that I’m spending time thinking about day to day,” Obama said. “I made a decision to get into this race. I think anybody who decides to run for president recognizes that there are some risks involved, just like there are risks in anything.”
But Obama couldn’t shrug off the concerns for too long. Soon, he was forced to address the issue more frontally because it threatened his very political future. His supporters won’t stop worrying.
“I’ve got the best protection in the world,” Obama assured his supporters who openly raised concerns about his safety at a campaign rally. “So stop worrying.”
But people, including high-profile figures, who love (and hate) him didn’t stop worrying—or anticipating the worst for him. For instance, former governor of Minnesota and early Obama supporter Jesse Ventura warned during a TV show that Obama could be in danger, not because of his race but because of what he represents.
"I believe very strongly that if an independent candidate like myself - a rogue - were to get into the President's race legitimately, if the polls looked like he had a chance to win, I believe that candidate would either be physically assassinated or would be assassinated credibility-wise or in some manner by our government because I do not believe they would ever allow a true independent or a citizen to become President of the United States," said Ventura.
"I say this in all seriousness—watch out Barack Obama," he added.
British Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing and supporter of Hillary Clinton provoked mass outrage on February 10 this year when she said, with almost omniscient airs, that Obama would be assassinated if he becomes the U.S. president. "He would probably not last long, a black man in the position of president,” Lessing told a Swedish newspaper. “They would kill him."
The sense that Obama was in danger of being murdered during the primary season put the Secret Service bodyguards attached to Obama on an unusually high alert.
A reporter for the London Daily Telegraph witnessed and reported a creepy incident on January 8, 2008, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, that highlighted the heightened concerns over Obama’s safety. A white man was screaming "Obama! Obama!!" as he ran toward him. Obama’s Secret Service bodyguards stopped dead.
“But as the agents prepared to draw their weapons,” the reporter wrote, “it became clear that the man was simply an enthusiastic Obama supporter who wanted to shake the candidate's hand.” He added: “Obama, who had seemed surprised at the shouting of his surname, recovered quickly and shook the man's hand.”
After the handshake an Obama aide told the supporter: "Hey, you can't do that, man. Be careful. You freaked those guys out."
This incident dramatizes the intensity of the worries over Obama’s safety and security. Similar incidents have been reported in other states.
And, although Obama’s Secret Service protection is almost unparalleled in its comprehensiveness and vigilance, some conspiracy theorists once alleged that Obama had been set up for an assassination attempt during a February 20 rally in Dallas, Texas, after it emerged that the Secret Service gave the order to stop screening for weapons a full hour before the event began.
It was at that same spot that the late John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
To be continued