One does not have to be a security expert to realize that Barack Obama's presidency constitutes an unprecedented challenge to the Secret Service, which is responsible for the safety of top government officials. In addition to the long history of attempts on U.S. presidents' lives, Obama's skin color obviously plays a role.
In fact, Obama was the first presidential candidate in history, from either party, to receive Secret Service protection a year and a half ahead of the elections. Indeed, Hillary Clinton had also received such protection, even before, but she was the First Lady as well.
Obama's exceptional protection, which he had been endowed even before he became a leading candidate, was even more striking comparing to other candidates, who traveled around freely, immersing themselves in crowds of supporters.
But on Wednesday, at his victory rally, it seemed to be even stricter. The stage, on which he, his running mate and their families appeared, was surrounded by a bulletproof glass partition, in addition to numerous police - in uniform and undercover ? who were deployed in the area.
American presidents, a coveted target of various Islamic Jihad networks, have always received the most watertight degree of security the service is able to provide, but it seems even more crucial in light of the American intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the United States is highly unpopular in many corners of the world due to its allegedly domineering culture and economy.
Potential threats to the life of American presidents have come from a wide spectrum of circles: Islamic terrorists, fundamentalists, anarchists, and far-leftists; and now, due to Obama's skin color, from the American reactionary far-right as well.
"I can't avoid sharing the fear that many people, especially African Americans, have about Obama's safety," wrote the Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. "But Secret Service protection is much, much better than in the Sixties. I finally decided that this wasn't something I wanted to obsess about."
A similar view is held by Mark Potok of Alabama's Southern Poverty Law Center, which, among others, monitors extreme right groups. He told Haaretz that during the election campaign, two plots to assassinate Obama were uncovered.
Even though these attempts were seemingly amateurish, he says, they may point to an emergent trend. The threat from white supremacist hate groups has certainly increased, he says. Combined with the credit crunch, growing immigration and demographic change, Obama's election may usher a political climate that could produce an assassination attempt. It is most likely, though, to be a lone assassin, he says, rather than an organized network.
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