How many people would take up a weapon to kill to protect someone? Most of us would, if driven to it. But how many would take up a weapon and kill for a living? Not many! How many would find new and creative ways to do it, or even to excel at it? Fewer still!
The United States Secret Service studied 83 people who had attacked or tried to attack celebrities or political figures in the second half of the 20th century. Psychologists and agents analyzed the lives of assassins both living and dead. In fact, 23 real-life assassins participated in the study! The discoveries were truly fascinating:
The assassins killed for one of eight major motives:
To achieve notoriety or fame
To bring attention to a personal or public problem
To avenge a perceived wrong; to retaliate for a perceived injury
To end personal pain; to be removed from society; to be killed
To save the country or the world; to fix a world problem
To develop a special relationship with the target
To make money
To bring about political change
There are four types of assassins:
Type I assassins view their acts as a probable sacrifice of self for a political ideal.
Type II assassins are persons with overwhelming and aggressive egocentric needs for acceptance, recognition, and status.
Type III assassins are psychopaths (or sociopaths) who believe that the condition of their lives is so intolerably meaningless and without purpose that destruction of society and themselves is desirable for its own sake.
Type IV assassins are characterized by severe emotional and cognitive distortions that are expressed in hallucinations and delusions of persecution and/or grandeur. As a rule, their acts are mystically “divinely” inspired—in a word, irrational or insane.
Here is the reasoning behind the actions of assassins trying to kill the U.S. President:
|Motive||Delusional Thinking or Active Psychosis||Harm Intent||Animus Toward POTUS*|
|Pathologically obsessed||Retribution or Personal gain||Persecutory or Grandiose||Yes||Yes (Retribution)No (Personal gain)|
|Infamy seeker||Political statement||None||Yes||Not necessarily|
|Intimacy seeker||Realization of fanaticized relationship||Erotomanic||No||No|
|Nuisance||To provide help to or seek help from the President||Grandiose, narcissistic, or dependent; may be actively psychotic||No||No|
|Attention seeker||To see or be seen with the President||None||No||No|
What kind of person becomes an assassin?
77% were white and 86% male
51% had used a handgun and 30% a rifle
25% were employed full time
57% were not delusional
61% had been evaluated or treated for mental health problems
41% had shown signs of being suicidal and 39% had a history of substance abuse
97% had a history of strongly expressed resentment and grievances
0% sent a direct threat to the person targeted
(Source: Psychology Today)
According to the Secret Service, it’s nearly impossible to identify an assassin by WHO THEY ARE. Assassins look like just everyone else you know. There is no specific psychological profile to determine what kind of person becomes an assassin.
However, they can be identified by WHAT THEY DO. There may be a few indications of their behavior, and there is a very logical (in their mind) trail of events that led them to believe assassination is acceptable. Psychologists can analyze the thought processes and patterns that led them down the path to taking another person’s life. You cannot simple label them as “crazy” or “irrational”, despite their actions. While mental health problems are common among assassins, the delusions–while influencing their decision to kill–did NOT divorce them from reality. They understood full well what they were doing and why.
The mind of a killer is a truly fascinating (and horrifying) place, and you can find a lot more information at the following websites:
This last link is particularly interesting, and it contains a WEALTH of information on the subject.