Simulated Assassination

- originally from Time Bomb #2 -

- rewritten for WWW publication -


Perhaps some of you may have heard about David Kang, the Cambodian student who simulated an assassination of Prince Charles of England while the royal twit was visiting Australia. Charles was about to give a droll little speech when Kang leapt over a barricade and fired blanks from a pistol at Charles. The prince's sole official reaction was to raise his eyebrow and adjust his cufflinks, but I'll bet that he immediately wet his pants.

This was not the first simulated assassination. It was not a failed attempt -- indeed, it was more successful that most recent attempts at real assassination, which is not very popular anymore in the United States. No, in these modern times of instant media, we prefer character assassination to cold-blooded murder, a well-placed rumor being much more devastating and more commonly accepted than a hail of bullets. Nonetheless, the innovative David Kang brought a wonderful new method of poetic terrorism into the public eye.

The motive for any given assassin is either insanity (including a pathological desire for media attention) or political extremism. Simulated assassination, as I shall show, is as good as the real thing in the service of the latter motive.

Simulated assassination is much, much more effective than actual assassination for several reasons. Firstly, the subject of a bloody assassination instantly becomes a martyr. In the public eye, or to his/her followers, the untimely death lends even more significance to whatever movement or era the victim represented. Excellent examples in recent American history are quite plentiful -- the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X. In terms of annihilating someone's goals, a political death (public humiliation/defeat and subsequent withdrawal from political/public life) is much more effective than a violent murder, as in the cases of Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. However, reanimation after such political death is frequently possible.

Political extremists usually seek two things: to demonstrate that they are serious and to have their demands met. A real political murder achieves only the first goal, and usually after this first success the extremists must execute several more victims in order to get what they want. It must be noted that terrorists, kidnappers, assassins, etc. very rarely succeed in changing anyone's mind.

By simulating the murder of your enemy, or a figurehead in the enemy organization, you demonstrate your sincerity and you will probably have more attention paid to your demands -- if not by the media, then by the victim of your pseudo-hit. If Kang had actually murdered Prince Charles, attention would be focused on the violent act itself and the personal sorrows of the would-be killer instead of his true motive behind the attempt. The global media consistently divorce terrorist actions from their original purpose, but the boldness and complete safety of simulated assassination could circumvent the media's focus on mindless violence and instead attracts attention to the Cause itself.

Just imagine what would have happened if Dr. David Gunn had been shot at with blanks instead of slain by real bullets. The pro-lifer certainly would have made his point and might even have been permitted to babble some nonsense about the murder of an abortionists being equal to the destruction of an embryo, or whatever. But because of his use of deadly force, the poor pro-lifer is simply viewed as an insane radical (perhaps rightfully so!) and whatever he says will be tainted by this perspective.

The rare non-lethal maneuvers of Hassan i Sabbah's assassins and the practical jokes of the Manson Family also provide a lesson in simulated assassination. The legendary Hassan i Sabbah, also known as the Old Man of the Mountains, was the master of a vast network of hash-smoking killers -- Arabian ninjas -- secret agents of the medieval Middle East. These killers were moles in enemy organizations with deep cover to rival any police force. At the command of the Old Man, the assassins would strike. On occasion, Hassan i Sabbah sought to use his minions as persuasive tools rather than instruments of death. You can't persuade a dead man, Hassan reasoned -- an important lesson to serious students of simulated assassination -- and so he terrorized foreign rulers by demonstrating his power without exercising it. One such ruler laughed at the Old Man's threats until he awoke one morning with a dagger stuck into his pillow. That action is more or less the exact same thing that David Kang did, only more effective because it took place in the victim's well-guarded abode rather than a public place.

The Manson Family claims to have engaged in similar disruptions of a sleeping person's security. During "creepy crawl" missions, as the Family called their simulated assassinations, they would break into homes while the victims were asleep. The furniture would be rearranged, often turned upside down, and knives would be hung over the victim's bed or arranged around its edge. All of this was done in complete silence. When the victim awoke, he or she probably had the same reaction as the victims of Hassan i Sabbah's simulated assassinations: They had the power to kill me in my sleep, but didn't. I better do what they want.

Suppose that your first simulated assassination fails. You leap out of the crowd, fire several blanks from your gun, then are subdued and captured by enemy forces. Although you make your purpose clear during interviews and your trial, your target nonetheless refuses to see things your way. No problem. Once you are free, do it again. If you share your purpose with a larger organization, recruit members of the group to attempt simulated assassination over and over again. My guess is that nobody can withstand the psychological warfare tactic of repeated, simulated death. It will be as if the target has brushed too close to oblivion over and over again. With luck, copycat simulators will also join the fun. In no time, your target will either be pleading for mercy or adopting such draconian methods of self-protecting that he or she will in effect be banned from public appearances. Either way, your point has been made, and you have not committed a single act of violence.

As a postscript, let's think about the legal ramifications of simulated assassination. One cannot be seriously charged with any violent crime or a conspiracy to commit a violent crime, since there is nothing violent whatsoever about simulated assassination. There is only the suggestion that violence is possible, and there is absolutely nothing illegal about that. You can't be charged with assault, but you could be charged with some variant of disturbing the peace, or even with making a death threat. Technically, however, you are not threatening someone with death, but demonstrating that you have the power to deal death if you choose. There is, in my opinion, a distinct legal difference between promising to murder somebody (a death threat) and simulating a murder. For example, it would be illegal to threaten someone with immolation, but it is perfectly legal, even Constitutional, to burn somebody in effigy. It is also illegal to plot against the United States, but it is quite legal (for now) to symbolically destroy the United States by burning a US flag. Threatening to burn somebody is illegal; simulating that person's death by fire is not, and therefore simulation of death by assassination is not specifically illegal, and might even be protected by the First Amendment, even though death threats are indeed against the law.

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