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
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
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
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.
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.