Magneto’s Threat Against President Richard Nixon

Magneto in X-Men Days of Future Past threatened to assassinate President Richard Nixon and a substantial number of his cabinet during the Sentinel product demo gone horribly wrong. The story took place before, during, and after the Paris Peace Accords, which was signed on January 27, 1973.

SaveYou-NixonAs such, the attempted assassination had to be in the final days or January or early February 1973 (which magically looked like summer). We can assume the cabinet members included:

Magneto-PresidentialLine_1973Vice President Spiro Agnew, who may or may not have been at the Sentinel demonstration;

Secretary of State William Rogers;

Secretary of the Treasury George Shultz (Unlikely at the demo);

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird;

Attorney General Richard Kleindienst;

Secretary of the Interior Roger C. B. Morton (Unlikely at demo);

Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz (Unlikely at demo);

Secretary of Labor James D. Hodgson (Unlikely at the demo)

It was unlikely the other cabinet members were in attendance. However, there was a high likelihood that the Speaker of the House Carl Albert would be in attendance. It is hard to say whether or not Senator James Oliver, the President Pro Tempore would have attended the ceremony. Given the high cost of the project and national defense interests, it would make sense for Congress to have key players attend the demonstration.

Who Would Be President if Everyone at the Sentinel Demo Died?

Knowing who was in attendance would have a major impact on the Presidential Line of Succession in case of a mass assassination. This is why one cabinet member does not attend State of the Union Address, in the event of a Tom Clancy-type attack taking place on the United States Capitol Building.

Magneto-SecAgricultureThe short order of Presidential succession goes from President to Vice President, followed by the Speaker of the House; then the President Pro Tempore of the Senate; then the Secretary of State; then Secretary of the Treasury; then the Secretary of Defense; then Attorney General; then Secretary of the Interior, then Secretary of Agriculture; followed by the Secretary of Commerce; Secretary of Labor; and further down other cabinet members.

If Magneto had killed President Nixon, the Vice President, the cabinet members present, and possible Congressional leadership in the Presidential Line of Succession, there was a high chance someone like Senator James Oliver or Secretary of the Interior Roger C. B. Morton would have become the 38th President of the United States.

And that would have been weird and terrifying, but would show the Constitution was prepared for a nightmare situation.

Good thing the 1970s did not see a Constitutional crisis where someone never elected President or Vice President became President. Just imagine one Congressional term with three Vice Presidents….

Do No Threaten A President

Threatening a President is a bad life choice. US law states that:

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(b)  The terms “President-elect” and “Vice President-elect” as used in this section shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the offices of President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained from the results of the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 1 and 2. The phrase “other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President” as used in this section shall mean the person next in the order of succession to act as President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 19 and 20.

18 USCS § 871.

Magneto’s threat on Nixon and the cabinet was not done through the mail, but in person and televised. A World War 1 Era 1917 statute prohibits any person from “knowingly and willfully . . . [making] any threat to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States…” Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705 (U.S. 1969).

The Watts case took place during the Vietnam War. An 18 year-old voiced his feelings towards the Draft and stated: “They always holler at us to get an education. And now I have already received my draft classification as I-A and I have got to report for my physical this Monday coming. I am not going. If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J. They are not going to make me kill my black brothers.” Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 705 (U.S. 1969).

The young man was convicted of knowingly and willfully threatening President Johnson. Id.

The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding both that the 1917 statute was Constitutional, but that the Defendant lacked the “willfulness” required by the statute. The Court did not fully state “willfulness” required “an apparent determination to carry them into execution,” but the Government failed to prove the Defendant was a true threat to the President.” Watt, at *706, citing Ragansky v. United States, 253 F. 643, 645 (C. A. 7th Cir. 1918).

The case against Magneto being a “true threat” against the President is extremely clear. Magneto dropped RFK Stadium around the White House, ripped a bunker out from many stories below the White House, and aimed multiple guns at the President for a public execution. There is no question that Magneto was a true threat to the President before Raven (or Mystique) and the X-Men stopped him.

…and while Mystique certainly took many steps to murder Bolivar Trask, she did not go through with it. President Nixon might have given her a pardon for her saving the day.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.