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Fake Assassination

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Assassination often requires a mastery of subtlety and manipulation, and when the target is a highly public figure, killing them without implicating yourself or your employer in any way is very much easier said than done. Fortunately, though, the hero has morals they're usually unwilling to cross, and what could be less heroic than failing to stop an assassination attempt on the kindly, humble leader, that the leader themself ordered and engineered to intentionally fail?

Similar to Faked Kidnapping and Staged Shooting, very few among the parties involved are aware of the plot and its deliberate failure, to help sell the intended effect so that the real goals can be pursued without interference. Depending on the target, the would-be assassin may decide to get a little creative, or opt for something much simpler and less public, such as poisoning their tea, or stabbing them in a deserted alley. If the killer actually kills him, either unwillingly, or because someone made him a better offer, it's a case of Karmic Death or Springtime for Hitler. If subverted, so that the assassination is not fake, but the character wants to be killed, then it's probably a Thanatos Gambit.

For obvious reasons, the orchestrator of this will likely want to avoid being implicated in this scheme, such as the unwanted leaking of information, or simply the assassin's bill, and kill or have the hitman killed.

May overlap with Wounded Gazelle Gambit or, if the hitman is disguised as someone from an enemy nation, False Flag Operation. If the character is a very important politician like above, he probably is a President Target. Also, he could be trying to be seen as a Red Herring, while he actually is pretty important.

Oftentimes a subtrope of Xanatos Gambit and Failure Gambit. Compare to Death Faked for You, which applies to cases where the target seems to be killed but isn't really.

Due to the spoileriffic nature of this trope, beware of unmarked spoilers below!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 20th Century Boys: An important part of the second part of the manga is Friend's plot to assassinate the Pope; though the Pope wasn't in on it, Friend (who is assumed to be dead by the entire world) wants to use it as an opportunity to "come back from the dead" to save him and be hailed as The Messiah.
  • Subverted in Code Geass, where Lelouch's last plan involves Suzaku, dressed as Zero, killing him in order to obtain worldwide peace. The whole murder attempt is acted so that it seems genuine to the public, but the death was real.

    Comic Books 
  • An odd variation during the "Enemy of the State II" arc of All-New Wolverine. The assassination attempt itself is very much real, with Kimura using a trigger scent-induced Wolverine to murder Tyger Tiger for control of Madripoor. However Gabby, Gambit, Jean Grey, and Angel are wise to the plan, and swap out a Life Model Decoy for the real Jessán, both to make it look to Kimura like the attack was successful, and as a trap to recapture Laura so Jean could deprogram her.
  • One of The Ultimates annuals has Nick Fury putting a hit out on himself in order to flush out an assassin who's been in retirement for years.
  • Ozymandias in Watchmen. After overpowering his would-be killer, he forces a cyanide pill down his throat to make him look like a suicide attacker. Ozy orchestrated the whole thing to make people believe that someone was targeting ex-superheroes; in reality, he'd killed the Comedian himself for unrelated reasons.
  • In the second issue of X-Statix, O-Force is sent on a mission to rescue celebrities in Hollywood from terrorists. Unbeknownst to the public, the terrorists were all hired by O-Force's managers so that the newly-minted team would have a big, splashy premiere.

    Films Live-Action 
  • ZigZagged in The Art of War, which first appears to play this straight, by having David Chan arrange a fake assassination attempt on himself, at a UN summit, during which he takes a bullet in his arm. But it's later revealed that, 1.) Chan wasn't the actual target, it was Chinese ambassador, Chin Xi Wu. The only reason Chan was shot, was to make it appear they were both being targeted. 2.) The shot that hit Chan was fake. When Shaw corners him, and removes the bandage, there wasn't a wound. 3.) Then Chan gets Killed Off for Real, seconds later, by the assassin he hired: Shaw's former teammate, Bly.
  • Zig-Zagged in The Dark Knight. The assassination attempt itself is real, as the Joker tries to shoot the Mayor in a Conspicuously Public Assassination and escapes in the fray, only for James Gordon to sacrifice himself by Taking the Bullet. Gordon faked his death with Batman's help so that they could lure the Joker into a trap later on.
  • In The Living Daylights, Bond is ordered to assassinate General Pushkin, the head of the KGB, after Pushkin allegedly instigates a new "death to spies" policy. Bond suspects the policy is bogus and fakes the assassination with Pushkin's help. He's right: Pushkin is being set up by the Big Bad.
  • Zig-Zagged in Machete: at first it seems Machete's hired to kill the governor, but it turns out it's this trope when he's interrupted by another sniper, the plan being to wound the senator and kill Machete. Unfortunately, he survives.
  • Penn & Teller Get Killed: Penn hires someone to pretend to try to kill him, just to fuck with Teller.
  • Shooter: A mysterious sniper attempted an assassination on the US President while he's doing a public speech. The President didn't get hit, but the news become engrossed in the "attempted president assassination". The twist is that later, the hero Bob finds out that the sniper's real target was the Bishop of Ethiopia (who was there with the President) all along, who was about to tell everyone about the war crimes that the real bad guy did in Ethiopia.
  • In Velvet Goldmine, Brian Slade attempts this as a publicity stunt, hiring someone to "shoot" him in the middle of a concert. However, it backfires as the public learns the shooting was faked, killing his career and causing him to be come a recluse.

  • In the novel Favorite Son by Steve Sohmer, and the television mini-series based on the novel, Senator Terry Fallon arranges for the assassination of contra leader Colonel Martinez and for himself to be wounded in the same attempt in order to secure the nomination for vice-president.
  • In the Judge Dee Fan Sequel "Kimono Diplomacy", a rich silk merchant named Hong begs for the judge's help as several attempts have been made on his life, including a falling crate that missed him but killed his accountant. The judge goes to see the criminals supposedly hired to kill Hong, but they know of no such contract. The merchant comes to the judge later in a state of panic due to his almost having been murdered when his bed was set on fire. The judge determines Hong had gone in disguise to a village inn known as a lair of cutthroats and staged a conversation with another clerk so everyone would know there was a hit out on Hong. The accountant's murder was the real goal all along (he was sleeping with Hong's wife, on Hong lured him to a warehouse and dropped him from the scaffolding), but Hong was first punished by his wife setting fire to his bed and later killed by one of the supposedly hired assassins trying to carry out the contract.
  • Worm: Coil fakes an assassination attempt on all of the mayoral candidates of Brockton Bay, even the two who he's paid to be on his side, which he accomplishes by attacking them with real throwing knives but aimed by a cape who has Improbable Aiming Skills powers and can thus ensure she doesn't actually kill them, then makes it look like he himself died in the attempt.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Angel, Angel is hired by an actress to protect her from a dangerous stalker. It turns out that the stalker was hired by the actress' agent to help her gain publicity and boost her career, and she was never in real danger. Well, until she releases Angelus by mistake, that is.
  • In the pilot of Happy!, Nick Sax has been contracted to kill three of the Scaramucci brothers. Not wanting to spend days hunting down each of them individually, he arranges for a third party to hire them to come after him, then shoots them all when they show up to kill him.
  • In Killing Eve, Eve hires Villanelle to kill her as a gambit to get her attention so that they can work together.
  • In Lie to Me, the governor is suspected of attempting to ride a "Bullet Bump" to re-election, when an assassin who seemed to be aiming at him pretends to miss and kills a staffer. It was actually his wife who ordered the hit, and the hitman did not miss his intended target: the staffer knew too much.
  • Mission: Impossible: "Casino" centers on a retired mobster put in charge of a lucrative casino. Jim Phelps and company aim to torpedo this man's loyalty to his Mafia bosses by staging a couple of botched "hits" on him, plus an inconvenient robbery to make it seem as though this man is skimming the profits. By the end of the episode, this man is convinced that he's Marked to Die because he knows too much, and eagerly awaits rescue by the FBI.
  • NCIS had one of these moments, though it's rather inverted. They have the man, who was trained by the government for counter-terrorist purposes, be the one to get shot, acting as though he was getting out of hand. All of this is a ploy to rescue the man's granddaughter, and once he's "dead," the one who was after his blood gives away her location. They make sure she's safe, and suddenly the trained killer gets up an runs to hug his granddaughter, leaving the would-be survivor absolutely flabbergasted.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Improbable Cause", Elim Garak suspects someone else is targeting him, so he blows up his own tailor shop in order to draw Odo in to investigate it.

  • The Last Podcast on the Left: Described in the five part series on Jonestown as a tactic used multiple times by Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones as a means of giving his cult an external enemy to rally against. In particular an incident is described in which Jones was apparently shot and wounded, and in which search parties were lead in the opposite direction from a dog who had apparently run straight towards the shooter.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth: The first case of the second game opens with an attempted assassination on the visiting President of a foreign country. However, the President engineered it himself as a PR stunt to boost his popularity. However, there were a few complications which arose: First of all, somebody hired Shelley de Killer to actually assassinate the President, but de Killer took offense when he learned that the "President" is actually an impostor who pulled a Kill and Replace on the real President a decade ago (a fact the player doesn't learn until the final case of the game) and therefore his client was lying to him, so he abandoned the job. Second of all, one of the President's bodyguards was killed, which wasn't part of the plan. The other bodyguard killed him hoping he would be promoted to head bodyguard in his place, and tried to frame de Killer for it, who naturally got pissed off by this and forcefully conscripted Edgeworth into solving the case (ironically by holding the real killer hostage).
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3: At one point in the Soviet campaign, Premier Cherdenko is the victim of an assassination attempt, but survives. Once he discovers General Kurkov was behind it, he orders you to kill him (to Krukov's confusion). In the penultimate mission, it turns out Cherdenko not only faked the attack and pinned the blame on Kurkov to get rid of him, he also intends to get rid of the player character. However several of his subordinates choose the player over him, and eventually the player becomes the new Premier of the Soviet Union (the only remaining superpower after the Allies and Empire of the Rising Sun are defeated).
  • Criminal Case: World Edition: In "Murder's Cheap", Archibald built a fake bomb then made it look like the Greeks were targeting him, since the country wouldn't stop asking the European Bank for more money and Archibald needed an excuse to refuse financial aid.
  • In the bonus chapter of Dark Tales: Masque of the Red Death, this is revealed to have been the case with the murder of police chief Jacques Morro. Although he is shot dead on the street in the main game, the bonus chapter shows that it was staged by Morro and the local Masked Vigilante.
  • The Dark Brotherhood quest "The Assassinated Man" in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion involves faking a client's assassination to help him escape from Loan Sharks.
  • Zigzagged in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Edelgard is responsible for siccing the bandits on the house leaders at Remire Village. The perpetrator hoped that the bandits would kill the other two leaders while deflecting any potential blame from themselves. Unfortunately, the bandits didn't get the memo and tried to kill all three of them when they bumped into Jeralt.
  • Can be found in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future: after Layton and Luke meet Future Luke 10 years in the future (or so they think), they're attacked by a huge number of Family henchmen. However, since Future Luke, a.k.a Clive, is their boss, it's probable that they actually never intended to kill him.

    Western Animation 
  • Played all over the place in the Archer episode "Killing Utne". Mallory hires fake assassins to fake an attempt on the life of UN delegate Torvald Utne, so that her agents can "pretend" to kill the fake assassins and save Utne's life, thereby earning a lucrative UN contract. What the fake assassins don't know is that the ISIS agents aren't firing blanks as Mallory plans to kill them to tie up loose ends. What Mallory doesn't know is that the "fake" assassins are real assassins sent by the KGB to kill Utne for other reasons. What the head of the KGB doesn't know is that one of the assassins plans to kill Mallory instead of/in addition to Utne. What the fake assassins don't know is that the head of the KGB sent another assassin to ensure that the job gets done properly. I'll let you work out who dies in that scenario.
  • David Xanatos stages an assassination attempt on himself in the Gargoyles episode "Her Brother's Keeper". For added effect, the assassins weren't actually told that the assassination had to be fake.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "Deception", Obi-Wan, of all people, pulls one off with the help of Jedi Masters Mace Windu and Yoda, as part of an undercover mission meant to uncover a Separatist plot to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine. Uniquely, the assassin in question, Rako Hardeen, isn't even aware of his role in the plan until Mace and Obi-Wan later confront him in his room at a cantina, where he gets captured and Put on a Bus. Meanwhile, with the help of nanotechnology, Obi-Wan undergoes a facial and voice transformation to look and sound exactly like Hardeen, before he is taken in Hardeen's place to prison to begin the next phase of their plan. It's also implied that the entire thing was orchestrated by Palpatine himself, as a means of increasing Anakin's distrust towards the Jedi Council, while playing on his fears of losing the people he cares about, as he wasn't initially in on the plan.
  • Steven Universe: Throughout the series, everyone believed that Steven's mother, Rose Quartz, shattered/killed Pink Diamond during the war. The episode "A Single Pale Rose", reveals that wasn't the case. Rather, Pink Diamond faked her own murder by having her Pearl shapeshift into her alternate identity, Rose Quartz, and poof her (while leaving behind fake diamond shards so everyone would be convinced that she was shattered) so she could live as Rose all the time. Pearl was ordered to not speak to anyone directly about it. When Steven learns about this, he and Garnet (specifically, the Sapphire half of her) begin to question everything they thought they knew about Rose and Pink.
  • Young Justice:
    • In the episode "Targets", Ra's Al Ghul's League of Shadows try to kill officials at the Rhelasian peace conference, only to be heroically thwarted by Lex Luthor. The ending of the episode reveals that Ra's and Lex were working together the whole time, scheming to gain influence over the newly-reunified nation.
    • The episode "Depths" involves Artemis seemingly getting murdered by Aqualad, only to reveal that they faked her death (with help from Nightwing) so that she could join Aqualad as a Reverse Mole.

    Real Life 
  • Peisitratus, Tyrant of Athens (in the original meaning as someone who seized power rather than inherited it) took control of the city through such a method. Already a distinguished soldier and leader of his own political faction, Peisistratus slashed himself and the mules that lead his chariot then dramatically rode into the market place, claiming to have been attacked by assassins and barely escaped with his life. This led to the people of Athens voting for him to be allowed to have a private militia to act as his bodyguards. With them Peisistratus seized control of the city.