The job of protecting presidential candidates and the president of the United States has become a much more challenging issue in recent years than ever before.
We live in an age of unprecedented domestic political divisiveness and international terrorism, and what happens anywhere in the world or in our borders can affect the security and safety of those given the responsibility to govern us.
Also, there are growing indications of mounting threats to Dr. Benjamin Carson, requiring Secret Service protection. No matter who the candidate is, he or she should gain protection if he or she feels a need to have it. Since Trump has been threatened months ago by a Mexican drug overlord for his criticisms of Mexico and Mexican Americans, this is something not to be ignored, anymore than the growing threats to Carson.
Divisive rhetoric relating to race, nationality, religion, gender, and sexual orientation and identity is at the forefront of today’s political dialogue. The gulf between economic and social classes inflames animosity, and threats of violence in the name of principle, against those seeking the presidency or that individual in the Oval Office. It is an unfortunate reality that anyone running for the presidency in 2016 is in greater danger of his or her life than ever before in our history.
The Secret Service, originally created to deal with counterfeit currency, was given the responsibility to protect the president after the William McKinley assassination in 1901, the third tragic presidential murder in 36 years, including those of Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield. For a long time, the Secret Service performed its mission very efficiently. There was, also, an element of luck until the tragic murder of John F. Kennedy in 1963, which ushered in a new era of crisis. The late 1960s would see the shocking demise of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, leading to a change in the role of the Secret Service.
From that point on, the Secret Service would protect any presidential candidate within 120 days of a national election. Additionally, any announced candidate who was made aware of death threats was granted the right to ask protection, as was the case with Barack Obama shortly after he announced his candidacy in 2007 and Ted Kennedy in 1979. Obama has had more death threats, internally and externally, than any president since Abraham Lincoln. Threats by religious extremists overseas to “behead” the president and kill other top government leaders are an issue that cannot be ignored.
The growing danger of a “lone wolf”, who believes in the goals and mission of a foreign religious or political ideology, might wreak harm on the nation at large. Also, those suffering from mental illness but wish to gain notoriety makes it more imperative than ever that all presidential candidates, not just the leading ones, should have Secret Service protection. The growing prevalence of gun violence in our society in recent years is a warning sign of extreme danger to all presidential candidates, making it essential to avoid a possible national tragedy.
So adequate government funding, and recruitment and training of enough Secret Service agents to protect all presidential candidates, is of the greatest urgency in 2015-2016 and beyond!
Feinman is a professor at Florida Atlantic University, specializing in twentieth-century American history, with emphasis on political and diplomatic history. He is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 15, 2015)