The Washington Hilton. Eight minutes from the White House.
Six shots from a Rohm RG-14 0.22 revolver.
John Warnock Hinckley Jr. fired every bullet his pistol would hold but each of the six missed his intended target, President Ronald Reagan -- codenamed "Rawhide" by the Secret Service. His first shot struck Press Secretary James Brady in the left temple. Shot number two struck DC Police Officer Thomas Delahanty in the back as he was shielding Reagan with his body. Bullet three was wild and struck a nearby building but the fourth found a target in Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy. Hinckley's final two shots were aimed in the direction of the Presidential limousine, #5 hitting the bullet-proof glass of the door but #6 gave Hinckley some small measure of success. The final bullet ricocheted off of the car's armor-plating and was diverted upward, striking Reagan in the armpit and puncturing his lung.
Reagan was the first US President to survive being shot while in office. Due to his age and the severity of his injuries, Reagan's health was in doubt at least temporarily and the situation was serious enough that the emergency plan for Presidential succession was enacted with Secretary of State General Alexander Haig famously telling the press, "I am in control here" while Vice-President Bush was en route from Texas. The Oscars were even post-poned.
It took little time for the furor surrounding the assassination attempt to dissipate, however, after the press began exploring Hinckley's background. Or, at least, parts of it. Hinckley's obsession with actress Jodie Foster soon dominated headlines and soon the assassination became a mere footnote in the bizarre story of a lonely, obsessed man and beautiful starlet he stalked. Reagan's assassination became something of a joke; one that was compounded when Reagan himself made light of it and Hinckley's subsequent successful insanity defense. In most people's opinion, a crazy man shot the President, who lived... so no story, right?
There are, however, a number of highly suspicious aspects of the shooting. So many, in fact, that the one-in-a-million chance shot that struck Reagan -- another "magic bullet" -- isn't even the most curious element of the attempted assassination. We'll take these point by point and also investigate the strange synchronicities between this and other famous assassinations.
The element that received the most attention in the wake of the shooting was the connections between the Hinckley family and George H.W. Bush, the man who would have reaped the most benefits from Reagan's assassination. The Bushes and Hinckleys both made their fortunes in the oil business in Texas. Many theorists have pointed to a particular, peculiar event as evidence of something more sinister: John Hinckley's brother, Scott, was scheduled to have a meeting with Bush's son Neil the day after the shooting took place. The Bush-Hinckley connections are strange, for sure, and when coupled with Bush's previous post as CIA director and the vicious attacks Reagan and Bush launched at each other prior to the RNC, the assassination seems to be an open-and-shut case. But it is almost too neat. The idea that Bush would pick a young man from a family that could be easily connected to him strains credulity and rightly so. It seems so improbable because it is most likely untrue. George HW Bush has been accused of a litany of crimes by conspiracy theorists -- from being a reptilian alien to the Antichrist -- but no one accuses him of being a dummy, so the likelihood that he would have made such an obvious error is infintesimly small.
Far more intriguing than the Bush links is the saga of a man all but forgotten by history. So obscure that he isn't even mentioned on the Wikipedia page on the shooting: Edward M. Richardson. Richardson was an unemployed man from Pennsylvania who was arrested in Manhattan by Secret Service agents on April 7th. Richardson had sent a letter threatening to "finish what Hinckley started" by assassinating Reagan, Secretary of State Haig, and ultra-conservative Senator Jesse Helms in attempt to, in his words, "turn the country to the 'Left'." The story of Richardson could be dismissed as simply a copy cat were it not for the numerous and disturbing links between him and Hinckley. Both men were obsessed with Jodie Foster, with both men writing letters, phoning her, and even stalking her on Yale's campus during 1980. Richardson and Hinckley even stayed at the same hotel in Connecticut on separate occasions while stalking Foster. Richardson also mirrored Hinckley's pattern of aimlessly wandering around the US, although the unemployed Richardson didn't have a wealthy family to support him. At one point, the two men were living withing a half hour's drive of one another in Colorado. The Richardson story faded from headlines quickly, but the similarities between the two men are too provocative to ignore.
Hinckley's path to the assassination took a myriad of twists and turns, but ultimately reads like a "greatest hits" of political murder in the 20th Century. One could call all of these connections "scripted" but I'll leave that for you to decide. To wit:
- Martin Scorsese's film Taxi Driver was based in part on Arthur Bremer, the would-be assassin of then-Presidential candidate George Wallace.
- Hinckley reportedly saw Taxi Driver 15 times, which was the beginnings of his obsession with Jodie Foster and the idea that assassinating a political figure would make him famous.
- Like Bremer and Sirhan Sirhan, Hinckley began keeping a diary of very incriminating information.
- We all know about his obsession with Foster, but Hinckley's fixation on the actress was strengthened by the death of his other obsession, John Lennon.
- Instead of hating Mark David Chapman, he seems to have been trying to emulate him. Seldom reported at the time, Hinckley left behind an apartment full of incriminating evidence, including a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
Like most serial killers and assassins, law enforcement practically bent over backwards to ensure Hinckley made it to his target. Hinckley was arrested in a Tennessee airport in October 1980 for carrying two handguns in his luggage. Why was Hinckley in Tennessee you ask? He was there to kill Jimmy Carter, who was visiting the city. Despite arresting an out-of-towner with concealed weapons during a Presidential visit, Hinckley was held for 5 hours and allowed to leave after paying $62.50. Hinckley's attorney would later be Edward Bennett Williams, a CIA-Mafia connected lawyer with ties to the JFK assassination. Bennett was at one time in contention for the CIA directorship that Bush received and, ironically, was good friends with Ronald Reagan. So suffice it to say the "insane" young man in love with the movie star got the best cover-up man in the United States to defend him in what, on the surface, was an open and shut case.
Lastly, despite the fact that the media portrayed Hinckley as a loner, the fact of the matter is that he had a lot of acquaintances. In fact, he was in with a lot of our old friends that have turned up in the investigations of the JFK, RFK, MLK, and even the Larry Flynt shootings: the American Nazis. Hinckley's association with the Nazis dates back to his college years; he even submitted essays on Mein Kampf to his professors. The government went out of their way to squelch the Hinckley-Nazi links, even after leaders of neo-Nazi groups in multiple states admitted that Hinckley had been a member. The Nazi's didn't mind being linked to the man who shot the President because they had actually kicked Hinckley out for being "too violent." Let's think about that for a moment. Hinckley was drummed out of the neo-Nazis because the things he was suggesting they do were too violent and the leaders thought it would hurt their cause. That is practically the definition of an agent provocateur and it seems at least one Nazi leader was smart enough to figure it out (eventually), admitting in hind sight, he now suspected that Hinckley was working for the government.
Reagan's assassination attempt faded quickly from the headlines when another beloved figure, Pope John Paul II, was shot in May of the same year. Like Hinckley, the assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, had numerous links to the Nazis both Neo- and original as well as to Italian intelligence agencies and the CIA.