Volume 49, Issue 5 (September 2004)
A Research Review of Public Figure Threats, Approaches, Attacks, and Assassinations in the United States
The authors review extant research on threats, approaches, attacks, and assassinations of public figures in the United States. Despite the limited number of studies, data exist concerning: 1) threatening letters and approaches to celebrities; 2) attacks and assassinations of public figures, usually the President of the United States; 3) threats and approaches to legislative members of state and federal governments; and 4) threats, approaches, and attacks against federal judicial officials. Similarities and differences across the various studies are discussed. Consistent findings across the studies indicate that direct threats toward the target are unusual and are often correlated negatively with an approach or attack; a significant proportion of subjects are mentally ill and have criminal histories; many subjects evidenced a downward spiral in their lives in the months or year before their approach or attack; and if an attack occurred, it was predatory (instrumental, premeditated) rather than affective (emotional, reactive), and the weapon of choice was a firearm, usually a handgun. Operational guidance and further research recommendations are made.