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FBI Files on Queen Elizabeth II Reveal IRA Threat During Her 1983 Visit to the United States

Photo Credit: Anwar Hussein / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Anwar Hussein / Getty Images

In 1983, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, made a royal tour of the West Coast of the United States. The trip was to be a great success, but it also saw possible threats from an Irish Republican Army (IRA) sympathizer bent on seeking revenge. Newly released FBI files reveal the ever-present threat the queen faced during visits to the United States.

1983 Royal Tour

The Queen and Prince Philip pose with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan aboard HMY Britannia.
Prince Philip, Nancy Reagan, The Queen, and President Ronald Reagan, March 4, 1983. (Photo Credit: David Levenson / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Arriving in San Diego aboard HMY Britannia, the royals embarked on a 10-day tour of the West Coast. The tour was a success despite a storm bringing three times the amount of rain expected that time of year. The queen joked about this during a speech, stating, “I knew before we came that we had exported many of our traditions to the United States, I had not realized before that weather was one of them.”

The tour included visits to several California cities and a port of call in Seatle, Washington. Highlights included the queen and Prince Philip visiting President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan’s Santa Barbara home, Rancho Del Cielo, as well as meeting Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, and other celebrities at a dinner in Los Angeles.

Possible IRA Threat

The Queen and Prince Philip visiting Yosemite National Park with two Park Rangers.
The Queen and Prince Philip at Yosemite National Park, March 5, 1983. (Photo Credit: David Levenson / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Before the queen arrived in San Francisco, a police officer who was a regular at a local Irish pub notified the FBI of a possible threat from an IRA sympathizer. On February 4, 1983, a month before the royal tour began, this officer received a phone call from someone he knew from the pub who said that his daughter had died in Northern Ireland after being hit by a rubber bullet.

The police officer told the FBI that this sympathizer claimed that he planned to assassinate the queen. The FBI files state that the man was going to kill the queen either by dropping something from the Golden Gate Bridge onto Britannia while it sailed underneath or when she visited Yosemite National Park.

While this threat didn’t materialize, the FBI files do show the constant danger the queen and other members of the royal family faced because of the IRA and its sympathizers. There was no greater example of this threat than the 1979 assassination of Louis Mountbatten by an IRA volunteer.

Release of FBI records

During the Royal tour to the West Coast of the United States, President Ronald Reagan and The Queen share a laugh with Prince Philip in the background.
The Queen and President Reagan share a laugh, March 1, 1983. (Photo Credit: George Rose / Getty Images)

Following the queen’s death on September 8, 2022, NBC News and other media outlets submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for records on the late monarch. A total of 102 pages were made public and posted on The Vault, which is the FBI’s public website where such documents are released.

These documents included memos, itineraries, press clippings, and other documents related to visits the queen made to the United States since 1976. They also presented other possible threats. In 1976 an NYPD intelligence detective told the FBI that while no arrests were made, a summons was issued to a pilot who flew over a park the queen was visiting with a sign stating, “England, Get out of Ireland.”

In 1989, before the queen visited the East Coast and Southern United States, an FBI memo stated, “the possibility of threats against the British Monarchy is every present from the Irish Republican Army.” The FBI considered threats again during another visit made in 1991.

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Upon releasing the documents, the FBI notified NBC News of the fulfillment of the request and indicated that more records on the same or similar topics may exist.

Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.