28 Political Assassinations That Changed the Course of History

The assassination of politicians and activists is a tool that has long been used throughout history. A political assassination is often motivated by a desire to prevent one’s opposition from coming to or remaining in power. It can also be used to thwart the opposition from gaining momentum or popularity that would bring them to power.

One of the most well-known early assassinations, other than Jesus Christ who was crucified for religious reasons, was Julius Caesar. Caesar was one of three members of the Roman Republic’s First Triumvirate.

When the other two members died, Julius Caesar was proclaimed “Dictator for Life”. This did not sit well at all with the Senate of the Roman Republic and several members include friend, Marcus Junius Brutus, stabbed him to death.

As you read through this list of political assassinations consider how the death of each of these people served to alter the future of the country and the world.

Political assassinations in one country can significantly affect the future of other countries. Some deaths may have had only local impact, however many, many political assassinations are responsible for an impact that forever altered the political and economic path of the world.

21st Century Assassinations

Jo Cox, Labour MP was shot and stabbed in Birstall, West Yorkshire on June 16, 2016, after a constituency meeting. The unofficial suspect, Tommy Mair, was reported to have shouted “Britain First”, believed to be a reference to Britain First, a far right political party.

The attack occurred just one week prior to the Brexit vote. Cox had championed Syrian refugee rights during her first year in office and was a supporter of Britain remaining in the E.U. Thomas Mair, recited his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” when asked in court.

Those who argued to leave the E.U. believed that doing so would allow Britain to control the influx of migrants entering the U.K. Those that argue to remain, like Cox had done so passionately, felt the immigration policy unnecessary and the Britain would be stronger if it remained in the E.U.

The vote was taken and those voting to Leave the E.U. won 52% to 48%. Many attribute the close vote to the momentum that surged with the tragic death of Jo Cox. The morning of the announcement, 200 billion pounds dropped off the London stock market, the largest drop since 2008.

David Cameron, submitted his resignation as Prime Minister effective in October 2016. A motion of no confidence in leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was also submitted by two Labour MP’s.

Boris Nemtsov, Putin’s opposition party leader in Russia was assassinated on February 27th, 2015, just hours after pleading for support for a protest march to be held that Sunday against the war in Ukraine. Nemtsov had been described as the “bridge between Ukraine and Russia” by Petro Poroshenko, then President of Ukraine.

Nemtsov served under President Yeltsin as first deputy prime minister in the 1990’s and while governor of Nizhny Novgorod, one of Russia’s largest cities, he was a well-known economic reformer.

On February 10, 2015, just a few weeks earlier, Nemtsov was quoted in an article as saying “I’m afraid Putin will kill me.” It would appear his fears were warranted. Many believe Nemtsov was targeted to upset the country and that Putin and his government were ultimately responsible.

John Roll, U.S Federal Judge, was well-known as one of the most constitutionally centered Judges in our history, and was one of six people killed in the Tucson attack on January 9, 2011.

You may remember that Gabrielle Giffords, U.S. Representative was meeting with constituents at a grocery store when the shooting occurred. Gabrielle Giffords was one of the 13 additional people injured.

Judge Roll was not scheduled to officially appear with Giffords but had apparently stopped by to lend his support. Some say he received a phone call asking him to stop by and that he was actually one of the primary targets, others say his death was an unfortunate coincidence.

Others claim that many of the victims and bystanders at the Gifford shooting event were actually actors and actresses and the event was a false flag event.

Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan (Killed December 27th, 2007)

She was the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan 1988-1990 and again from 1993-1996 and was the first and only female prime minister for Pakistan. She was chair-person of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

She was an icon for the battle of democracy. Was one of only a handful of female executive leaders who have shaped global events of this country in the last century. Killed leaving a rally of Pakistan People’s Party supporters for the run-up to the parliamentary elections 2008.

20th Century Assassinations

Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel during 1970’s and again in the mid-1990’s was killed by a Jewish extremist on November 4, 1995 as he left a peace rally. Rabin was a Nobel Peace Prize winner due to his efforts in the Peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat, then Palestinian leader. He had also signed a peace treaty with King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan in October 1994.

Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, was shot on October 31, 1984, by a pair of Sikh members on her own security team. Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

She was in her 4th term as Prime Minister, after a one-term hiatus, when she was killed in 1984. She was a key player in the signing of the Shimla Agreement to resolve the Kashmir dispute and her efforts served to establish the independence of Bangladesh.

She ruled with an authoritarian hand. In the 1980’s Gandhi attempted to repress a Sikh separatist movement that developed in India. During a Sikh extremists’ campaign within the Golden Temple, Gandhi ordered soldiers to clear the sacred space. Over 450 people died.

Maurice Bishop, Prime Minister of Grenada, killed on October 19, 1983 by Marxist militants just a week before the United States invaded and cast out the new regime.

Lee Bum-suk, South Korean Foreign minister and 16 others including 3 Cabinet ministers were killed on October 9, 1983 as a result of a bombing of a memorial service at the Burmese National Cemetary in Rangoon.

Benigno Aquino, opposition leader in Philippine, shot on August 21, 1983, as he arrived in Manila after an end to his self-exile in the U.S.

Beshir Gemayel, President elect of Egypt was killed on Sept 14, 1982 when the Beirut part HQ was bombed.

Anwar Sadat—Third President of Egypt from October 1970 to October 6, 1981. Was killed by fundamentalists in Cairo during an annual parade held to celebrate that take back of a small section of the Sinai Peninsula under control of Israel since 1967.

Sadat served twice as VP under President Nasser and then became President himself in 1970. He was President of Egypt for eleven years, and during this period he altered the path of Egypt. His negotiations with Israel ended with the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

Prime Minister Begin and Sadat were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize-making Sadat the first person of Muslim descent to win this award. The PLO and the Arab world opposed his peace treaty because they felt he had failed to ensure the Palestinian state.

Egypt was suspended from the Arab League from 1979 to 1989 after his refusal to reconcile with Palestine. The peace treaty was believed to be a primary motivator behind his assassination.

Mohammed Ali Rajai, President of Iran and Hojjatoleslam Mohammed Javad Bahonar, Prime Minister were both killed in a bombing of the PM’s office on August 30th, 1981.

James A Garfield, shot on July 2, 1981, and died after 11 weeks. His assassin was Charles J. Guiteau, who proclaimed “I am Stalwart, Arthur is now President.”

Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, Iran’s No 2 leader, along with seventy-three other leaders were all killed on June 28, 1981 by a bomb while at Tehran’s Islamic Republican HQ.

Anastasio Somoza Debayle, ousted President of Nicaragua was shot and killed on Sept 17, 1980 during a bazooka attack where his car was targeted.

John Lennon, a well-known anti-war activist was shot and killed on December 8, 1980, in New York, New York, by Mark David Chapman, a high school student.

Park Chung Hee, President of South Korea was shot in the head and killed on October 26, 1979 by the leader of the Korean CIA.

Louis Mountbatten, a Lord was killed August 27th, 1979 when his boat exploded just off the coast of Ireland, as result of a bomb.

Orlando Letelier, Former Chilean Foreign Minister, killed in 1976 by a car bomb while in Washington.

Mujibur Rahman, President of Bangladesh was killed on August 15, 1975 during a Pro-Pakistan coup by arm officers. His wife and five children were also killed.

Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy was killed on June 5th, 1968 just after midnight at a Los Angeles, California hotel, minutes after he announced victory to a room full of fans. He was killed by 22-year-old Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian sympathizer who in an interview said he doesn’t remember what happened.

That he had gone looking for coffee, found a shiny cup or urn. There was a girl there but he doesn’t remember anything after that. He later changed his story and said he believed the senator was a key player in the oppression of the people of Palestine.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights legendary activist, was allegedly shot by a sniper on April 4, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee. There are also many rumors that this was in fact carried out by someone else who then framed, suspected murderer, James Earl Ray.

Henrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa was stabbed on September 6, 1966, by a messenger while he was on the Parliament floor.

Malcolm X was killed during a speech on February 21, 1965 in New York City.

John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy was killed November 22nd, 1963. A World War II veteran, Kennedy became the Democratic Congressman from Boston to the Senate in 1953. Won the Pulitzer Prize in history for “Profiles in Courage”. Was almost the Democratic nominee for VP in 1956.

Ran against Richard Nixon and won to become the first Roman Catholic President. He was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 to 1963. Was killed by a sniper while in his motorcade in Dallas after just over one-thousand days in office. He was youngest to become President and youngest to die.

Mahatma Gandhi, the main leader of India’s movement for independence. He was known for his peaceful campaigns for civil disobedience. The name “Mahatma” given to him by the people means “Great Soul”.

He brought about non-violent change that inspired the leadership and civil rights movements all over the world. He was shot and killed on January 30, 1948, on his way to a prayer meeting.

His assassin was Nathuram Godse, Hindu extremist, who was outraged by Gandhi’s tolerance of people, especially Muslims.

William McKinley, shot on September 6, 1901. He was the governor of Ohio for two terms beginning in 1891 and then served as President from March 1897 to September 1901. His political term in office ended abruptly when he was shot and killed in Buffalo. His assassin was Leon Czolgosz, a known anarchist.

Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1865 was shot in the back of the head at the well-known Ford Theater performance in Washington. His assassin was John Wilkes Booth, an actor himself, a sympathizer with the Confederates, and a known racist, Booth was angered by a kidnapping plan that dissolved and by Lincoln’s announcement days previously which had suggested giving blacks the right to vote.

The Lincoln assassination was just one piece of a larger plan to spark a Confederate revival. The plot targets included then Vice President, Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State, William Seward, and Ulysses S. Grant.

Lincoln’s popularity across the country was not unanimous as some Peace Democrats thought his war was unnecessary and Radical Republicans thought him too moderate. But his death changed all that. He went down in history as a hero and a martyr.

Final Word

The assassinations listed here are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to political assassinations and although we included both U.S. and international political figures, there are many other political assassinations that occur every year.

Keep in mind that the death of a political figure at any level, including the city, county, and state levels and especially those in the Senate or House, can alter the path of our future.

1 thought on “28 Political Assassinations That Changed the Course of History”

  1. The first political assassination happened in Israel back in the time of King David. David’s ex-brother-in-law Ish-Bosheth was also a son of King Saul. Ish-Bosheth was the only surviving son of King Saul and was in a Civil War between King David and King Ish- Bosheth. Ish-Bosheth was assassinated by two of his own Generals, Rekab and Baanah. See the second book of Samuel in the Old Testament of the Bible.

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