The John Hinckley Jr. concert in Brooklyn, an oddity that was scheduled to feature the music of a man best known for trying to kill a U.S. president, was canceled on Wednesday by the venue, which cited fears of a backlash in a “dangerously radicalized, reactionary climate.”
Mr. Hinckley, 67, who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and was found not guilty by reason of insanity, has been living in Virginia under restrictions since 2016, but was granted an unconditional release that took effect on Wednesday. Mr. Hinckley has been planning to use that release to mount what he has called a “redemption tour,” playing his original music at venues around the country.
But that plan has hit some roadblocks as venues have reneged on his scheduled concerts, including the Market Hotel, a concert hall in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn that posted a statement to social media on Wednesday saying it was canceling Mr. Hinckley’s July 8 performance.
“It is not worth a gamble on the safety of our vulnerable communities to give a guy a microphone and a paycheck from his art who hasn’t had to earn it, who we don’t care about on an artistic level, and who upsets people in a dangerously radicalized, reactionary climate,” the statement said.
The venue seemed to announce the decision with regret, writing in the statement that “this guy performing harms no one in any practical way.”
“This is a sexagenarian with an acoustic guitar,” the venue said. The statement went on to say that although they believed ex-cons and people with mental illnesses should be able to earn a chance to “fully rejoin society,” they made the decision after reflecting on “very real and worsening threats and hate facing our vulnerable communities.”
In 2020, a federal judge in Washington ruled that Mr. Hinckley could begin publicly displaying his writings, artwork and music under his own name after his treatment team told the court about his frustrations around having to post his music online anonymously. Since then, Mr. Hinckley has uploaded videos of his original songs and covers to his YouTube channel, which has more than 28,000 subscribers.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Hinckley said this tour would be the first time he played his original songs live, and that he was disappointed by the cancellation, although he said he understood the venue’s concerns about safety.
“I watch the news like everybody else — we’re living in very, very scary times, to be honest,” Mr. Hinckley said. “I would have only gone on with the show if I was going to feel safe at the show and feel that the audience was going to be safe.”
A lawyer for Mr. Hinckley, Barry Levine, wrote in an email that there had been “mounting threats” that could put Mr. Hinckley and the attendees at risk and that he agreed with the decision to cancel.
But Mr. Hinckley said that a promoter he was working with was looking for a new venue in New York City. Venues in Chicago and Hamden, Conn., that had previously scheduled performances from Mr. Hinckley have also canceled the concerts.
In 1981, after seeing the film “Taxi Driver,” in which the main character plots to assassinate a presidential candidate, Mr. Hinckley said he hatched his plan to kill Mr. Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster. He waited outside the Washington Hilton on March 30, 1981, where Mr. Reagan was giving a speech, and fired six shots as the president left the hotel. The shots hit the president; James S. Brady, the White House press secretary; Timothy J. McCarthy, a Secret Service agent; and Thomas K. Delahanty, a police officer. Mr. Brady died of his injuries in 2014.
Mr. Hinckley was sent to a psychiatric hospital in Washington for more than two decades. The judge set a final June 15 release date, without any restrictions, after finding that Mr. Hinckley had met several conditions, including mental stability.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute has come out in opposition of Mr. Hinckley’s unconditional release, writing in a statement that the organization was “saddened and concerned that John Hinckley, Jr., will soon be unconditionally released and intends to pursue a music career for profit.”
Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, has opposed the lifting of restrictions on Mr. Hinckley, writing in an op-ed in The Washington Post last year that she feared “the man who wielded that gun and almost got his wish of assassinating the president could decide to contact me.”
But supporters of Mr. Hinckley see an important message in society allowing him to perform publicly after decades of rehabilitation.
“This is what the world needs to see, which is the ability to rehabilitate,” said Andreas Xirtus, a podcaster from California who supports Mr. Hinckley’s music. “Somehow his spirit is still there and is making a positive impact with music.”
Mr. Levine said in the email that his client hopes that the public understands that he has changed since the 1980s.
“Although he knows his name is associated with an act of violence,” Mr. Levine wrote, “he hopes that people of goodwill will understand that when he committed those acts he was ravaged by mental disease — a condition from which he no longer suffers.”