Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Mind of an Assassin

Who was the man who killed President William McKinley? Born in Alpena, Michigan, he also spent part of his childhood in Detroit, and on a family farm in or near Warrensville, Ohio. His family's heritage was from eastern Europe; they were Roman Catholics and generally voted Republican. Leon abandoned his family's traditions, and began embracing socialism and anarchism, after finding himself lacking in social skills and generally treated as an outcast by other young people. He spent huge amounts of time in his family's attic, reading radical books.

His life's trajectory moved ever further away from things normal and healthy. As Ann Coulter explains,

Leon Czolgosz, who killed President William McKinley in 1901, was a socialist and anarchist (okay, that's redundant) who was captivated upon hearing a speech by radical socialist Emma Goldman the year he shot McKinley. If memory serves, Goldman's inspirational speech had something to do with "hope" and change."

Coulter's quirky humor in recounting this bit of history reveals the ironic patterns: despite potential conflicts between socialism and anarchism, radicals like Goldman and Czolgosz continually worked at formulating the perfect blend of the two. Violence thoroughly permeated this movement: Goldman and her boyfriend, Alexander Berkman, attempted to murder Henry Clay Frick in 1892, who was not even a government official, but merely a businessman. They planned this murder as an act of terrorism - many anarchists of the era organized random acts of violence to keep the public in a state of anxiety. Frick survived the attempt, and Goldman's boyfriend went to jail.

The attempted murder of Frick, along with a pattern of similar anarchist bombings and assassinations around the world - the King of Italy had been murdered in 1900 - inspired Leon Czolgosz, a misfit and a malcontent.