THE STUDY APRIL 19, 2012
The Secret Service, as its name suggests, loathes being the center of attention. Nonetheless, the agency keeps finding itself in the spotlight: First, for an ill-advised rendezvous down old South America way, and now for taking an interest in crusty old rocker Ted Nugent, who recently predicted that if President Obama wins reelection, he “will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Hey, keep this up, Ted, and maybe you can be in jail ahead of schedule! Silliness aside, do Nugent’s comments really indicate that he’s a threat to the president?
Probably not, according to a 2004 review of research on attacks against American public figures. For example, the Secret Service itself has concluded that presidential targeting is “most often motivated by a desire to achieve notoriety,” something Nugent surely doesn’t lack. Moreover, in most attacks studied, “the pathway to attack or assassination was marked by the absence of any directly communicated threat to the target or law enforcement beforehand.” So even if Nugent were planning something, he certainly wouldn’t tell the Secret Service—in fact, while attackers often communicate their thought or plans to a diary or to friends and family, “less than 10% of the entire sample of assassins, attackers, and near-lethal approachers communicated a direct threat.” In general, whether the target is a celebrity, a politician, or some other figure, “threats are much more common than approaches, and approaches are much more common than attacks.” In other words, most potential threats turn out to be nothing more than bluster—which is almost certainly the case with this bonehead.