20th Century’s 5 Most Significant Political Assassinations

Martin Luther King, Jr. lies on the balcony of Lorraine Motel in Memphis after being shot. New Yorker

Assassinations have toppled kings and kingdoms. With each assassination attempt, the smallest details tucked within each unfolding moment have played a role in the outcome. Some assassinations may not have happened, but seemingly trivial details allowed them to happen.

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Robert F. Kennedy

After giving a late-night speech in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, instead of meeting with reporters as planned, Senator Robert Kennedy decided at the last minute to exit the Ambassador Hotel through the kitchen where, unbeknownst to him, an assassin waiting for him.

The shooting was captured on audio tape by a freelance newspaper reporter. The visual footage the public would later see was the chaotic aftermath another reporter caught on film. Not unlike other assassins, the man who killed Kennedy was young.  Sirhan Sirhan was only 24-years-old at the time of the shooting. He was an immigrant to the United States who recently quit his job where he made two dollars an hour at a health food store in Pasadena, California, where he and his boss saw eye to eye on most subjects; the exception was Israel.

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Sirhan was raised an Orthodox Christian. He was a Jordanian citizen, born in Jerusalem, in Mandate Palestine – a place Kennedy spent time visiting in his early twenties. Kennedy consequently expressed admiration for the Jews he met there, and this eventually led him to throw strong political support behind Israel. Sirhan was vehemently against the creation of a Jewish state. Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy three times. One of the bullets struck his head behind his ear. It dispersed fragments throughout Kennedy’s brain. Sirhan, when asked to address reasons for his actions only said, “I can explain it. I did it for my country.”

Kennedy’s death had immediate political repercussions. It paved the way for a new candidate to enter the presidential race when Kennedy was in the midst of riding a wave of success. His assassination happened in the middle of the campaign season for the 1968 presidential election. He is still one of only two sitting United States Senators to be assassinated, the other being Huey Long in 1935 in Louisiana. The 1968 election eventually went to Republican candidate Richard Nixon.

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  • disqus_C67ZJ9pNj6

    When RFK was killed the always unbiased media ran hysterical articles saying that his pro civil rights stands were the cause and he was murdered by radical white power racists, after it was learned he was killed by a Muslim Arab all that talk stopped and no retractions, so things have not changed much.

    • McTavish

      Except that Sirhan wasn’t a Muslim.
      Also, I would think it would be hard for anyone to claim RFK was murdered by ‘radical white power racists’ since his assassin, a small Arab man was caught red-handed. Please share examples.

      • Most of the assassains were. Ghandi was killed because of his conflicts with Muslims. Now, I guess, someone will say Malcolm X’s assassains were NOT Muslims.

      • Ronnie Bishop

        Sirhan didn’t know what world he was in. Typical Manchuria candidate.?

    • TreadLightly

      Sirhan is Palestinian I believe and killed Bobby Kennedy due to his support for Israel. That was the only narrative ever discussed.

  • Atlanta Lawyer

    It seems to me that the McKinley assassination (1901) was much more significant than either the RFK or Malcolm X assassinations, in that it made Teddy Roosevelt President. Given how much the Republican Party establishment hated TR (they made him Vice President in order to neuter him), it is unlikely he could ever have become President any other way.

  • Ronnie Bishop

    I believe both Kennedy assassinations was a conspiracy. The book Double Cross just crossed every T and dotted every I . Unbelievable but it’s true

  • David Hoover

    The Kennedys were traitors to those who made them rich and powerful. They got what they deserved.