Is The Knoxville Polling Place Attack Based On A Real Event? 'House of Cards' Pulls From Some Very Scary Headlines

David Giesbrecht / Netflix

House Of Cards Season 5 shows the Underwoods at their most desperate. At the beginning of the show, they were two people who were willing to do nearly anything to get to the top. Now, they're at risk of losing all of their power and are willing to do absolutely anything to make sure they retain their influence. (Spoiler alert for House Of Cards Season 5!) Only the Underwoods would see the benefit in an attempted terrorist attack on a polling place on Election Day – and while House Of Cards' Knoxville polling place attack isn't based on a single real event, it sounds alarmingly similar to some real headlines from the 2016 election.

On Nov. 8, 2016, a man started firing randomly near two voting areas in Azusa, California, killing one person and injuring two more, according to USA Today. While New York Magazine reported that authorities did not believe the shooting to be politically motivated, it did have an affect on people taking part in the political process. (Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina told The Los Angeles Times that the unidentified man had been taking cocaine for days leading up to the shooting.) That attack certainly had an impact locally, it did not have nearly the same affect on the country that the terrorist attack in House of Cards does.


USA Today reported a few days prior to the Election that ISIS called "for the "slaughter" of U.S. voters on Election Day, and ordered Muslims not to vote. A lengthly manifesto released via ISIS' Al Hayat media center featured pictures of candidates and declared that Americans should be afraid because militants "have come to slaughter you and smash your ballot boxes." Despite the severity of the threats, no terrorist acts were carried out on Election Day. Although ISIS is a dangerous force, they are not always able to follow through on its proposed violent plans.

The House of Cards version of Election Day seems to take that proposed attack and imagines what it may look like if an ISIS operative had followed through on its threats. In the show, the attack isn't catastrophic, but it does end up sending 12 people to the hospital and conjuring enough fear that the entire election descends into chaos, ending in uncertainty and multiple lawsuits. A suspect, Muhammed Kalabi, is detained, but viewers eventually learn that Kalabi had nothing to do with it. He's just a fall guy for an act that stalls the election and gives Frank Underwood more time to rig it in his favor.


While the polling place attack in House of Cards isn't based on a single real event, it manages to serve as a warning of sorts. The show features Frank spinning acts of terror to his advantage and using fear to control his country. This attack and how it is spun into a political talking point used to disrupt democracy is one example of the show hitting a little too close to home.