As the nation examines its civic conscience in the aftermath of the Tuscon shootings, a Secret Service study reveals that politics rarely motivates political assassins. Instead, those shooters are driven by a much more American malady: the quest for fame.
That's the central conclusion of a compelling report on NPR. The radio network takes a close look at the "Secret Service Exception Case Study Project," begun in the mid-1980s, shortly after the attempt on President Reagan's life.
Psychologist Robert Fein worked with the Secret Service, reviewing files of assassins and attempted shooters -- many unknown to the public. Fein and his team also interview some of the infamous, to get additional insight into what propelled them. Their results were published in 1999.
According to NPR, what emerges from the study is that -- rather than being politically motivated -- many of the killers and would-be killers simply felt invisible. In the year before their attacks, many suffered reversal and disappointments in their lives. This, Fein and his group argued, was the true motive: they didn't want to feel like nobodies.
They choose political targets, then, because that was the surest way to fix the situation: in an instant, they would be known. Researchers tell NPR there was even one man who plotted to kill the vice president because he'd read that no one had ever attempted to assassinate a sitting vice president -- and therefore "there might even by a whole chapter on him" in history books.
The Secret Service report is an important warning: in a society that pushes people more and more to seek their fifteen minutes in the spotlight, it's important to know that this is the very thing that drives some of the most disturbed among us.