Peoples and Nations

'Non-Serious' Threats Against the President

'Non-Serious' Threats Against the President

The following article on threats against the president is an excerpt from Mel Ayton's Hunting the President: Threats, Plots, and Assassination Attempts-From FDR to Obama.


Threats against the president extend back to George Washington, but they accelerated in the early 20th century, with the advent of a fast, universal postal system making threatening letters more likely to arrive at their intended recipient, and personal explosives and small firearms giving any U.S. resident access to a lethal weapon.

By the time Truman took office, threats against the president were occurring on an industrial scale. the Secret Service had “50,000 odd records” in their files of people who had written threatening or obscene letters to the president or his family or who had turned up at the White House. The Secret Service refused to be drawn on details but told reporters that would-be assassins were “hustled to St. Elizabeth's mental hospital.” Almost 90 percent of the people on the “threats” list were described as “crackpots.” Agents said some threateners had “pocketed guns and tried to enter the White House.”

In the period 1949-1950, the Secret Service investigated 1,925 threats against Truman's life. In the first year of the Korean War, arrests and detentions doubled, according to Baughman. In the last year of the Truman administration, the president received more than three thousand threats.

According to Agent Floyd M. Boring, the Secret Service referred abusive letters to field offices. “Sometimes the guy was arrested if he made a threat,” Boring said, “and of course, they actually had a copy of the letter right with them… some of these people were just voluminous writers.” Boring said most of them were “psychotics.” Talking to the threatener usually did the job, Boring said, and field officers would tell them, “We don't mind if you talk to the president or write to him, or disagree with him, but you can't become abusive. You can't call him a son-of-a-bitch or whatever.”

'Non-Serious' Threats Against the President

Most of the verbal and written threats Truman received were thought to be “non-serious,” the result of drunken or inappropriate remarks spoken at the wrong time and in the wrong place. In December 1950, President Truman attended the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. Fans Adolph Ruszyek and Michael Pantzykouski had traveled from their homes in Lackawanna, New York. As the president's train pulled into the station, an alert police officer heard one of the men say, “If I had a gun I would have bumped him off.” The men were arrested and taken to police headquarters for questioning. After an hour agents decided the men had simply made “foolish remarks” and were “just a couple of punks blowing off.” Ruszyek and Pantzykouski were taken to the stadium to watch the remainder of the game. Ruszyck said he had made the remark, but he was just making a wisecrack to point out that it appeared to him the president was not well protected.

Typical of the “non-serious” written threats Truman received was the case of a Kansan woman married to a tenant farmer. Fortyfive-year-old Mary Lois Jones, a self-confessed “communist sympathizer,” sent five letters and four postcards to Truman in 1952, using “obscene, abusive and defamatory language and making threats to inflict bodily harm on the president of the United States.” A postcard dated January 14 contained the sentence, “I hope someone kills you.” In a letter dated January 19, she wrote, “I just want to tell you, Harry, I'd rather be a slave of the Kremlin, than a slave of big business, big land holders and the big city racketeers.” She was arrested by federal agents. When she was charged, she described them as “Truman's Gestapo.”

Another typical letter writer who threatened Truman was Robert T. Gaudlitz, a twenty-two-year-old student who came from Columbia, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University. He was a research fellow in chemical engineering and worked at the university's engineering experiment station. He was described by a colleague as a “quiet sort of fellow who doesn't use profanity.” In April 1951, Gaudlitz sent President Truman two letters. One of the letters was addressed to “That jackass in the White House.” The letter read, “You expletive. This stupid bungle of kicking General Douglas McArthur out should entitle you to the electric chair. However, if that is not done by Congress you may be sure that I will take it upon myself to see that your head is blown off with a high-powered rifle if you ever stick your nose in Columbus. How could I serve my country better?” After a post office employee noticed obscene words on the envelopes, he informed the Secret Service, and Gaudlitz was arrested and charged.

Serious Threats Against the President

President Truman was the subject of numerous threats by former military men who had received dishonorable discharges. One threatener, Dennis E. Porter, was a slightly built twenty-year-old ex-U.S. Marine with a crew cut who came from Hermon, Louisiana. He had been dishonorably discharged from the Marines when they discovered he had a criminal record. “They threw me out after telling me I wasn't much good,” he said. After he was arrested and imprisoned in Franklinton, Louisiana, for “defamation of character,” he wrote to President Truman and threatened his life. The letter was mailed on October 28, 1948, a week before Truman's reelection.

His letter stated, “I'll write you a few lines to let you know what I think of your rotten political schemes. It is a shame and disgrace for anyone to treat the American people like you do. Even if you win the office of president you won't live to glorify in it… if God gives me the strength, you won't be president long. I'll see to that.”