Previously published in
SEMANA NEWS - NEWSPAN MEDIA
Issue: October 26 - November 1, 2008
By Don Juan Corzo
Houston- “Kill'im!”, “Terrorist!”, “¡Off with his head!”, “Traitor!”
In this year's presidential election these are some of the hateful words heard in the crowds against Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama at his rival's campaign rallies, Republican Senator John McCain.
Senator McCain, and (especially) his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, have stoked a hostile environment against the Illinois senator in the campaign trail in 2008.
"We've seen a malignant anger at McCain-Palin rallies that could turn into real violence," said recently David Gergen, a political expert who was an adviser for former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
The volatile environment has raised fears about the security of Senator Obama, and "true" Americans (like Palin) consider him different from the typical mainstream American for his ethnic background, his populist ideology and his relations with controversial figures like black reverend Jeremiah Wright, an afro-extremist and university professor William Ayers, a former leftist radical.
Opiyo Oloya, an Ugandan activist and political pundit who resides in Canada, warned the public about the tense climate (created less by McCain and mostly by Palin) earlier this year. The rhetoric used in their rallies has tried to paint Obama as a real enemy of the people in their attempt to win the election at all costs.
"The McCain campaign has enforced the opinion that Obama is enemy number one of the country and has to be eliminated, and some extremists may literally consider that a patriotic duty," said Oloya in a radio interview.
|Photo credit: Don Juan Corzo
Concerns that Senator Obama might be assassinated are not new. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff ordered additional security for the Democrat candidate in early May, 2007. It's the strictest and earliest protection the secret service has given to a presidential candidate since it was implemented as a law after Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968.
According to a spokesperson from DHS, the service was offered following a petition from Obama's office even though at the moment there was no indication of any threat against the Democratic senator. However, DHS confirmed shortly after they received threats from the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
"If that man [Obama] is elected President, he'll be shot for sure," said Ray Larson, one of KKK's leaders in a YouTube video posted in spring, 2008.
But surprisingly Larson has not the first one to suggest or imply the possibility of assassinating Senator Obama.
More than rumors
Famous ex-wrestler and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura warned in a radio interview in April 2008 that Obama might be the target of an attempt on his life.
Ventura, known for his irreverent style, stated that an independent candidate different from the usual type would be a threat to the political "establishment," and his opponents would try to kill him, or at least destroy his image and credibility.
"I say this very seriously: Be careful, Barack Obama," said Ventura.
In the international arena, similarly grim comments have been made. Doris Lessing, British Nobel prize winner in literature (2007) said in an interview with a Swedish newspaper in February, 2008 that "he would probably not last long, a black man in the position of president. They would kill him."
Fidel Castro, Cuba's former leader said on October 11 that is a "pure miracle" that Obama has not been the victim of an attack yet.
|Photo credit: Don Juan Corzo
Others have criticized these speculations by many as negative or dangerous.
"Suggesting that his life is in danger if he is to win the election in November is done just to divide us," said a Republican analyst.
However, black activists and former presidential candidates like reverends Jesse Jackson (1984 & 1988) and Al Sharpton (2004) received death threats during their campaigns. Also, former secretary of state General Colin Powell abandoned plans to announce his candidacy in the 90s because of fears for his life, according to family and friends.
In early August when Obama was campaigning in Florida, a 22-year-old man was arrested in Miami when authorities found firearms and military gear in his hotel room and his car. Several witnesses revealed they heard him say for several months he would assassinate Obama if elected.
Later during the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, three men were arrested after they were outed by two women who heard them say they had "plans to kill Obama."
During the questioning the authorities discovered they planned to shoot him with a telescopic rifle from a high spot in the stadium or with a gun hidden inside a TV camera.
However, charges were dismissed by federal prosecutor Troy Eid, a Republican, after concluding his office didn't have enough evidence and against the opinion of the FBI.
Lotta Danielsson, an Swiss entrepreneur and public affairs commentator living in Washington D.C. thinks the threat against Obama should be discussed openly.
"To cover your eyes has never been the answer to a controversial topic," said Danielsson.
According to Monica Guzman, another renowned columnist in Seattle, most people that bring up the controversial topic are more concerned about a possible attack than to promote it.
Other worrying comments have been by accident as happened, for example, with Senator Hillary Clinton during a presser in South Dakota during the primaries. In late May she made a statement in response to political pundits suggesting she should abandon her campaign efforts.
"My husband [Bill Clinton] did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California," said Clinton.
Public opinion and the media considered the comment improper and incendiary. Clinton apologized days later.
Other people have suggested assassinating Obama using tasteless humor as an excuse.
"And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, uh, Obama. Well, both, if we could," said Fox News contributor Liz Trotta, regarding Clinton's comment. She was heavily criticized and also apologized shortly after.
|Photo credit: Don Juan Corzo
"When a public figure emerges who seems to really represent the people and wants real change, it also creates reservations and challenges to the way things have always been in society," said Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg in Houston.
The Rice professor knows United States has really progressed when compared to the events in the past two centuries, but recognizes there are a minority of people who don't want to accept U.S.A. has changed.
"Just like we have decent people in America, also there also are the extreme fanatical types. Just like most Muslims are good people, but we have a minority of them that is extremist and dangerous," explained Klineberg.
The professor added that every president everywhere faces the possibility of being assassinated because it's part of the risks of being a leader of a nation, but in the case of Obama more caution has to be taken because of the change he represents.
"Part of the motivation and expectation for Obama is that many people have the impression that perhaps he is like a mix between Martin Luther King Jr. and President John Kennedy; even for Europeans and people around the world," concluded Klineberg.
◗ An art exhibition titled "The Assassination of Barack Obama" from Yazmany Arboleda, a Latino artist, was open in a New York Gallery in February, but was closed in June by authorities for its controversial subject matter.
◗ When Obama's popularity increased significantly during the primaries in 2008, Online searches for the phrase "Obama assassination" went from 20,000 to 250,000 results.
◗ So far nine U.S. presidents have faced attempts on their lives. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy died as a result.
◗ Two white supremacists from Tennessee and Arkansas plotted to go on a killing spree of African-Americans before assassinating Obama, but were arrested in late October.