(Providence, Rhode Island) – The bizarre shoe-throwing attack on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought to mind a whole slew of weird attacks on our political figures over the years – some rather lame, others quite serious. Since it is “Sunday the 13th,” I thought it might be interesting to revisit some of the strange and scary assaults on our political leaders over the years:
“Shoe Fly; Don’t Bother Me” – Hillary Clinton was speaking to a waste management convention, of all things, in Las Vegas last week, when a shoe went flying past her head as she began her remarks (photo above). The woman arrested for tossing the shoe – for reasons still not known – is 36-year-old Alison Michelle Ernst. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because she is the same woman who showed up in a red dress and bald-headed to disrupt a court appearance by accused Aurora, Colorado, theater killer James Holmes in 2012. (Good lord, where is the Secret Service intelligence on her?) In any case, at least the former First Lady had a sense of humor. “Is that part of the Cirque du Soleil?” she asked, as the crowd laughed.
“If the Shoe Fits” – Secretary Clinton is in good company. In 2008, President George W. Bush had two shoes flung at him during a news conference in Iraq, a severe insult in Arab culture (photo above). The thrower was Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who shouted, "This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog." The TV journalist served a nine-month prison sentence for assaulting a foreign head of state and was released in September, 2009.
“To the Moon!” – On October 25, 1989, famed Astronaut-turned-Senator John Glenn was being interviewed on Capitol Hill by my good friend, TV reporter Gary Nurenberg. Suddenly, a well- dressed man walked up and punched Senator Glenn in the face for no apparent reason. Police arrested 31-year-old Michael John Breen of Washington. He apparently punched the Senator for failing to warn the public about earthquakes. Breen did some jail time, but is back on the street.
“Burr Under the Saddle” – Sometimes, it’s the politicians attacking each other. One of the great feuds in American political history involved Vice President Aaron Burr and his rival, former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The fierce rivalry ended in a duel in 1804. No shoes were thrown, but gun shots were fired. Hamilton missed his mark, but Burr fatally shot Hamilton in the abdomen. Burr was charged with murder, but the charges were later dropped. As fate would have it, Burr later died in obscurity, while Hamilton is immortalized to this very day as the face of the $10 bill!
“The Rough Rider” – Only in my hometown of Milwaukee could such a bizarre political attack take place. Former President Teddy Roosevelt was running to regain his old job in October, 1912, when he was shot by a disgruntled saloon keeper named John Schrank. The bullet passed through Roosevelt’s eyeglass case and a 50-page copy of his campaign speech that was inside his suit jacket pocket. The bullet was slowed by the two items, but still managed to penetrate Roosevelt’s chest, but not his heart or lungs. Even though he was bleeding from the chest, he delivered his 90-minute speech before heading to the hospital. Roosevelt lived another nine years with the bullet still lodged in his chest. The eyeglass case and copy of the speech saved his life!
“The Squeaky Wheel Gets Life” – On September 5, 1975, former Charles Manson Family member Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford at the Statehouse in Sacramento, California. Fromme tried to shoot Ford at point blank range, but her gun did not discharge. (Again, doesn’t the Secret Service keep tabs on these people?) In any case, Fromme was sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled after 34 years, following the death of former President Ford.
“There Goes the Neighborhood” – In 1999, I bought a home in the Sycamore subdivision in Danville, California. Some time later I learned that a notorious woman named Sara Jane Moore had lived just up the street from my house. In September, 1975, Moore fired a shot at President Ford in San Francisco, narrowly missing him (this just 17 days after Squeaky Fromme tried to kill Ford). Moore was sentenced to life in prison, but was released after 32 years in 2007, after Ford’s death.
“The Life of Pie” – One of the most bizarre political groups I ever had to cover was the Biotic Baking Brigade in San Francisco. The group was famous for tossing cream pies in the faces of noted business leaders such as Bill Gates, and politicians such as San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. No one ever got hurt. The photos and video were always a hoot, but it seems the group has since disbanded.
“Vote Them Out” – So what’s the lesson from all of this? We’ve covered the gamut from seemingly harmless shoe assaults to outright assassination attempts. We have the longest lasting democracy in world history, and one of the main reasons is the peaceful way we transition power from one party to another. The point is, if you don’t like a particular figure or movement, then vote them out. There’s no need to shoot them, let alone throw shoes! And besides, no one ever went to jail by using the ballot box to fire a politician.
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