A Novel's Plot Against the President
Character Fantasizes Bush Assassination
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; Page C01
In Nicholson Baker's new novella, "Checkpoint," a man sits in a Washington hotel room with a friend and talks about assassinating President Bush.
It's a work of the imagination and no attempts on the president's life are actually made, but the novel is likely to be incendiary, as with Michael Moore's documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Flush with the headline-generating success of "My Life," by Bill Clinton, Alfred A. Knopf is planning to publish Baker's work Aug. 24, on the eve of the Republican National Convention. "Checkpoint" is 115 pages long and will sell for $18.
In the book, two men -- Ben and Jay -- meet at the fictional Adele Hotel and Suites in Washington. It is midday. They eat a bag of bagel chips and order lunch from room service. They talk into a tape recorder.
Ben: Obviously you have something on your mind.
Jay: That's true.
Ben: You could begin with that.
Jay: Okay. Uh. I'm going to -- okay. I'll just say it. Um.
Ben: What is it?
Jay: I'm going to assassinate the president.
Though it is against the law to threaten the president in real life, a work of fiction is usually protected by the First Amendment.
"Under a big 1968 Supreme Court precedent, Brandenburg v. Ohio, speaking of assassinating the president cannot be forbidden or punished unless the speaker's purpose is to provoke an assassination attempt and that is likely to be the effect," says legal scholar Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal. "It's quite possible in the wake of more recent developments -- 9/11 especially -- the court might modify that in some kinds of cases. But it's almost inconceivable that the court would allow punishment of a novelist for what one of his characters says about killing the president."
"Without seeing the work," says Charles Bopp, a spokesman for the Secret Service, "a determination can't be made at this time."
Books have played roles in certain American tragedies. Timothy McVeigh handed out copies of "The Turner Diaries" before the Oklahoma City bombing. John Hinckley Jr., would-be assassin of Ronald Reagan, and Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon, both carried copies of "The Catcher in the Rye." James Edward Perry followed 22 of the recommendations in "Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors" in the 1993 Silver Spring contract killings of Mildred Horn, her quadriplegic son, Trevor, and Trevor's nurse, Janice Saunders, according to prosecutors.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company