A Look At The Assassination Attempts Plotted Against Gerald Ford

Thanks to the vigilance of the Secret Service, countless intelligence agencies, and law enforcement, most Americans will never know how truly common are plots to assassinate sitting American presidents. History is certainly packed with attempts; more than 30 have been credibly documented, including four successful assassinations of sitting presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy.

As the National Archives puts it, "Since 1865, there have been attempts on the lives of one of every four Presidents and the successful assassination of one of every five." Shocking numbers, but in September of 1975, with Kennedy's assassination 12 years earlier still a fresh wound of the nation's psyche, President Gerald Ford managed to survive not just one, but two serious attempts on his life in the space of just 17 days. But it was not only the compressed timeline that makes these attempts historic. As Smithsonian reports, they were also the only two attempts by women (so far) to kill a sitting United States President.

A Manson family member's assassination attempt against Gerald Ford

The first attempt to kill President Ford occurred on September 5, 1975, when 26-year-old Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme pulled out a Colt .45-cailber pistol at a crowded park in Sacramento, California, as NBC News reports. President Ford was in the park greeting people on his way to speak at a breakfast hosted by then-Governor Jerry Brown.

Just a few years earlier, Fromme had gained notoriety as one of Charles Manson's "family" members. While she was never tried for any of the crimes the "family" committed, she was one of the infamous female Manson supporters who'd sat vigil at his trial for the Tate and LaBianca murders and who'd carved Xs into the foreheads as a show of solidarity with Manson and as a form of protest, as Oxygen writes.

It's perhaps unsurprising then that protest was what once again provoked Fromme to plot against Ford. On the day of the assassination attempt, Fromme dressed all in red as a sign of solidarity with the California Redwoods, which (per All That's Interesting) she allegedly believed were endangered due to Ford's environmental policies. Politico says that, after raising her gun, Fromme was pulled to the ground by a Secret Service agent while exclaiming. "It didn't go off. Can you believe it? It didn't go off." Ford was uninjured and went on to make his scheduled speech. His topic? Crime.

A former FBI informant's attempt to assassinate President Ford

Just 17 days later, another California woman, Sara Jane Moore, would make her assassination attempt against Ford in San Francisco. Unlike Fromme, however, she managed to fire. As Politico writes, a bystander (and ex-Marine) named Oliver Sipple instinctively grabbed Moore's arm. In another fortuitous turn of events for Ford, the .38 she'd used had a faulty sight, causing her aim to be off. She was more used to using a .44 and, per an excerpt from the Mel Ayton book Hunting the President: Threats, Plots and Assassination Attempts — From FDR to Obama (posted at History on the Net) later said that if she'd "had my .44 with me I would have caught him." Richard Vitamanti, the FBI case agent, agreed, adding, "She would have had at least a head shot."

As a further strange circumstance in the case, Moore had just wrapped up work as an FBI informant a few months earlier. Though her specific motives for the attempt remain unclear, Moore herself later speculated that she felt the government had declared war on the left. "I was functioning, I think, purely on adrenaline and not thinking clearly, she told KGO-TV in a later interview, posted on the website of the Press Democrat. "I have often said that I had put blinders on and I was only listening to what I wanted to hear."

The aftermath of the Ford assasination attempts

For her role in the Sacramento assasination attempt, Fromme was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. She was first eligible for parole in 1985, but reportedly waived her right to a hearing for years for unknown reasons, relates CNN. It's unclear why circumstances changed, but Fromme was granted parole in July of 2008, though she still had to wait until August of 2009 for her release, due to time tacked on to her original sentence for a two-day escape from a West Virginia prison in 1987. In a chilling 2019 interview in the New York Post, Fromme said of Manson, "Was I in love with Charlie? Yeah, oh yeah, oh, I still am, still am."

Moore was also granted parole in 2008 and freed that same year at age 77. Though Moore had shown little remorse at her sentencing, she seemed more thoughtful as years went by, explaining, per the Press Democrat, that she'd been blinded by anger and political motives.

Despite these two attempts on his life, at the time of his death in 2016, Gerald Ford was then the longest-lived American president.