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Our own little Ashcroft.
October 23, 2004 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Our own little Ashcroft. Are threats really appropriate in a place meant for discussion?
posted by amberglow to Etiquette/Policy at 9:58 PM (60 comments total)

His original attempt at silencing people is here: First of all, I would like to remind everyone here that threatening the life of the President of the United States is a serious felony, even in jest, and individuals who do so are regularly, and successfully, prosecuted. If you are living in the US, and you make such a comment in this thread, you may expect a visit either from the FBI or the Secret Service.

If nothing else, by making such a comment you are exposing the operators of MetaFilter, and their web hosts, to harassment, even if they are located outside of the US.

Ironically, what amounts to threats is liberally interpreted by the US government. So please be careful what you write.

posted by amberglow at 10:01 PM on October 23, 2004


For what it's worth, Amberglow (and this is coming from a die hard Bush hater), you really are coming off as overly strident here. All K did was point out that the Gov't doesn't have a huge sense of humor about these kinds of jokes. For you to accuse him of bringing GOP tactics to the beloved filter and then above and beyond that, to bring it here, it's just a little over the top. Calm down, not everyone marching exactly in step with you is the enemy.
posted by jonson at 10:19 PM on October 23, 2004


Everyone knows that the government has to record all threats so they can build up a case against you in case you are that 1% that is wacko. Saturday night drama fest? Saying your going to kill the president? If you say it at the proverbial wrong place and wrong time, someone will notice and you'll get your name on a list. Purchasing a bunch of high powered rifles, becoming Taxi Driver all over the place, are all individual events that separately would not warrent prosecution. But if they keep compiling stuff on you then they've got a case. Look it's American laws at work.

On preview: what jonson says.
posted by geoff. at 10:25 PM on October 23, 2004


I seem to recall a Kids in the Hall episode that had a teacher explaining how it was illegal to threaten the president's life, but every time someone gave an example, these Secret Service guys came out of nowhere and carried them off. Or maybe it was Saturday Night Live. Anyway, it was funny.

Regardless, this is all moot -- most doctors will tell you that once your brain-dead, there's pretty much no chance of resusitation, so I think the president's already got at least a foot in the grave.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:37 PM on October 23, 2004


Back around 98, I was helping to moderate what at the time was a fairly healthy bulletin board full of miscreants.

At one point, there was a thread listing the sort of things that people wanted to do to Clinton - a handful of threats included.

Two days later, the head admin was called by the Secret Service looking for user information for the users involved in the thread.

Now while I don't know how much merit there is in the "regularly, and successfully, prosecuted" part, I do know that they have been known to go looking.
posted by Remy at 10:37 PM on October 23, 2004


Dammit, I'm brain-dead.

The contraction for you are is you're, as in, you're a dumbass for fucking up your point, Civil. And you talk to yourself too much.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:39 PM on October 23, 2004


Paranoia alert... scramble black helicopters!
posted by Krrrlson at 10:41 PM on October 23, 2004


Amberglow, WTF? That wasn't a threat, it was a public service announcement.

Nobody will take the following paragraph to heart, but here goes anyway: those of us who are on the Kerry side of the equation for the upcoming election need to start chillin' the fuck out a little bit. Going off the deep end at every conceivable opportunity isn't going to get him elected any faster.
posted by PrinceValium at 10:41 PM on October 23, 2004


Damn Kablam for speaking the truth. Next thing he's going to tell us is that if we smoke we may get cancer. Such lies.

Really now, he's not trying to silence anyone. He's just pointing out what could happen with such discussion. Listen to him or not, or go outside and get some fresh air. The choice is yours.
posted by justgary at 10:45 PM on October 23, 2004


What everyone else said. I feel like I agree with you in spirit, amberglow, but kablam made a fair enough point. Maybe he (she?) was being an officious turd by doing so, but call him a turd and move on. There's nothing to call out here.

Here you go, kablam.
posted by scarabic at 11:26 PM on October 23, 2004


I'm not going off the deep end until you people down south force me into another four years of that fucking intellectual invalid. Then all bets are off.
posted by The God Complex at 11:48 PM on October 23, 2004


Kablam's a tool, obviously, but this particular bit of toolery wasn't really worth pointing out, really.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:55 PM on October 23, 2004


I'll repeat what I said in the thread: It was a really crappy FPP. To get outraged over something that is so blatantly meant as satire is so brainless.

This is why people outside the US want to influence the vote - there are people so utterly devoid of wit, humour & the general ability to work out even the simplest of situations that are in posession of the right to vote in the US and it scares people on the outside. [And a fair few people on the inside too.]

Ah well. Freedom to be a total knobend is freedom nonetheless...
posted by i_cola at 1:07 AM on October 24, 2004


obviously

Really? It isn't that obvious to me. Can you explain?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:30 AM on October 24, 2004


This is why people outside the US want to influence the vote - there are people so utterly devoid of wit, humour & the general ability to work out even the simplest of situations that are in posession of the right to vote in the US and it scares people on the outside.

Because all people outside the US are full of wit, humour & the general ability to work out even the simplest of situations. Though they seem to have no trouble generalizing or stereotyping.
posted by justgary at 1:40 AM on October 24, 2004


So does this mean I can make jokes about assassinating the President or not? I'm so confused.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:57 AM on October 24, 2004


justgary: I purposely didn't say 'all people outside the US'.
posted by i_cola at 3:35 AM on October 24, 2004


Guys, it is very true that even in jest, any threats made against the President-no matter which one is in office-get taken seriously.

No one was trying to make threats or be heavyhanded. It is just a fact. Just like how if you made a joke about bombs at the airport, the goons would come out.
posted by konolia at 4:09 AM on October 24, 2004


What jonson and PrinceValium said. Maybe chilling out across the board would be good. I mean, a 10.34 contribution index and around 100 comments [in a quick count] this week - that is a lot of time on MeFi.
posted by sciurus at 4:17 AM on October 24, 2004


Get a grip.

Where did amberglow make any threats?

I know that The Fucking FBI raid our ISP's to take servers away, but so far as I can tell, a British comedian can say whatever the fuck he likes to make a joke about the POTUS, the Queen, T. Blair and the Pope, in a British TV Guide (yes - not the newspaper proper). Just 'cos yanks seem to lose their GSOH when their partisan pres gets the piss ripped out of him should not mean a Guardian writer starts censoring himself.

Remember when you guys had free speech?

Land of the Free, my arse.

Memo to dipsticks: item by Guardian writer does not equate to Guardian editorial. That's why the op. piece has a signature, and editorials don't.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:28 AM on October 24, 2004


Were the threats deleted from the thread? I saw a bunch of people saying "Go vote, remove the twisted fuck from office" (paraphrasing) but nobody actually threatening the president. So kablam's informative comment seems out of place though it isn't actually incorrect.

Oh yeah, and don't yell fire in a crowded theater! Don't even JOKE about it because somebody could get hurt and you'll be responsible!
posted by substrate at 5:51 AM on October 24, 2004


EB - I would avoid those, especially in the few weeks preceding a presidential election.

I read through the thread comments and come to a couple of conclusions :

1) Kablam's "public service announcement" was very appropriate when applied as a general warning on the thread, as in - "hey people. Remember : hate speech re the President is avery serious affair. Don't be stupid - in this specific realm, words have a unique weight which can lead to a knock on your door from federal investigators."

Some people may have been skittering towards that cliff - I think Kablam's warning was appropriate and not an attempt to curtail freedom of speech for the fact that, in that province (hate speech against the President), speech is already de facto curtailed.

2) That said, Kablam's targeting of Amberglow was utterly inappropriate, and I'm surprised that dash_slot was the only other person here to notice that : Amberglow said nothing on that thread which could could be construed as hate speech against the president. And so I have to write Kablam's later comments in response to amberglow's as a mutual flareup of personal animosity.

Also - the Guardian piece was a rant, and one which the US right would like to promote so as to tar Kerry supporters with that absurdly misplaced brush.

"Hey! Somebody in the UK Guardian wrote a rant about Bush! Let's claim that it represents majority sentiments of Kerry supporters!" - "Yeah, great idea!"
posted by troutfishing at 5:57 AM on October 24, 2004


I loved the way kablam was practically cumming all over his keyboard with fascistic delight as he was writing the

"Ironically, what amounts to threats is liberally interpreted by the US government. So please be careful what you write. "

part. little, frustrated men really like to threaten people with a higher authority's intervention. it all goes back to "I'll tell mommy".

*snicker*
posted by matteo at 6:41 AM on October 24, 2004


Now I'm really confused.
posted by sciurus at 7:30 AM on October 24, 2004


Guys, I am sure you can google cases where kids were goofing around and made threatening statements against a sitting President online. They DID get a visit from the secret service. Whether the prez was GOP or DEM.


So go ahead and snicker.
posted by konolia at 7:39 AM on October 24, 2004


A reminder to Americans that your president is not, in fact, a deity.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:42 AM on October 24, 2004


shit. I am really surprised how many people think this was just a friendly public service announcement. I have specifically argued against comparisons of the US to fascist states by reminding everyone that we live in a free country and can say whatever we want, even about our president.

I understand that secret service people have to keep track and all that, but harrassing members of a bulletin board for their partisan ranting is just ridiculous. That is the embryo of fascism and I am seriously bothered by how comfortable everyone is with it. I was reading that thread without thinking anything of it until I came across Kablam's post, which really threw me - I wasn't sure if he was sarcastically playing a right wing fear monger or just overly paranoid.
posted by mdn at 8:10 AM on October 24, 2004


Can someone point out to me where the threats against the president's life were in that thread?
posted by Stynxno at 8:13 AM on October 24, 2004


I am seriously bothered by how comfortable everyone is with it

As am I. This notion that the President should be in a special category separate from all other citizens is both appalling and absurd. He's just some guy, ya know?

It is also worth noting that desperately wishing that George W. Bush would die is not equivalent to a threat.
posted by rushmc at 9:08 AM on October 24, 2004


Indeed, rushmc -- I wonder if Pat Robertson got a visit when he prayed for the Supreme Court justices to retire by reminding G-d about their various illnesses and old age?

Somehow, I think not.
posted by ltracey at 9:32 AM on October 24, 2004


I blame moose und sqvirrel.
posted by jonmc at 9:33 AM on October 24, 2004


Seriously, were there any actual threats in that thread that Matt edited out? Because, although kablam is correct that threats against the life of the US Pres, like jokes about bringing a bomb on an airplane, are something that US law enforcement has not an iota of a sense of humor about, I didn't see any in that thread at all.

You guys should see some of the editorials in the New York papers from the US Civil War. I would say that an open suggestion that someone should assassinate Abraham Lincoln (and Andrew Johnson, to boot) was made at least once a week.

And yes, I said the New York papers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 AM on October 24, 2004


This notion that the President should be in a special category separate from all other citizens is both appalling and absurd. He's just some guy, ya know?

I agree, but the Secret Service doesn't. As far as I can see, kablam was (initially) making a public service announcement, and those who object to it are shooting the messenger; kablam didn't invent the paranoia of the Secret Service.

And amberglow, you're one of my favorite MeFites, but you are seriously getting way too hyper. Try not to take out your (perfectly understandable) rage at Bush & Co. on everyone and everything that in any way reminds you of them. kablam may be a jerk at times, but there was no threat here, just a reminder of the nature of the world we live in.
posted by languagehat at 11:20 AM on October 24, 2004


rushmc is right. The relevant statute is 18 U.S.C. § 871:

Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The leading case on this statute is Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705 (1969). The defendant, an 18-year-old who had just received his draft notice, stated at a public rally: "They always holler at us to get an education. And now I have already received my draft classification as 1-A and I have got to report for my physical this Monday coming. I am not going. If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L. B. J." He argued that his statement did not constitute a threat since his act constituted only "a kind of very crude offensive method of stating a political opposition to the President." The Supreme Court agreed, holding that "the statute initially requires the Government to prove a true 'threat.' We do not believe that the kind of political hyperbole indulged in by petitioner fits within that statutory term." Justice Douglas, in concurrence, went even further, stating that § 871 was facially unconstitutional as a relic from the Alien and Sedition Act days.

All this will mean nothing to the FBI guy that shows up at your door, of course.
posted by PrinceValium at 11:22 AM on October 24, 2004


kablam is a weenie. a thug-worshipping wobbly-kneed little weenie.
posted by quonsar at 11:23 AM on October 24, 2004


Back in high school, we had a student write an e-mail to Clinton...something about how he was going to kill him or bomb the White House or something. Some men in black suits and ties showed up to school one day and nobody's heard from the kid since.
I dunno if the kid was serious in his threats, but just reitterating that if threats are indeed found by the government, they are in for a world of trouble.
posted by jmd82 at 11:51 AM on October 24, 2004


no. they are in for a threat assessment. shrug.
posted by quonsar at 12:16 PM on October 24, 2004


"....On Friday, the antiwar-T-shirt-clad mother of a slain soldier was pulled out of a Laura Bush speech in New Jersey and threatened with arrest. A West Virginia couple was detained by the Secret Service for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at a July 4 rally—they filed a lawsuit last week—and AIDS activists were removed and kept away from reporters at a Sept. 9 presidential event in Pennsylvania. Most notably, some 1,800 protesters, monitors, and passersby were jailed in indiscriminate raids during the Republican Convention in New York, while several hecklers were dragged off the Madison Square Garden convention floor. All were arrested or threatened with arrest, and hundreds expect to stand trial. And that's why Bursey's is not the story of an isolated troublemaker, but a harbinger of what protesters might expect in the future.

The strange catalyst here is a new weapon in the federal antiprotest arsenal or—more precisely—a previously unused one. The government nailed Bursey with an arcane 1970 Secret Service provision—Title 18, Section 1752(a)(1)(ii) of the U.S. Code—which makes it a federal crime to "knowingly and willfully" enter an area restricted by the Secret Service during a presidential visit. The law was originally drafted by legislators scarred by the assassinations of the 1960s, in the hopes of preventing the next attempt on the life of a president. Turns out the law can be used to prevent criticism as well."
posted by troutfishing at 12:30 PM on October 24, 2004


I agree, but the Secret Service doesn't.

I couldn't care less what the SS thinks. The law (and the justice that one hopes lies behind it) is what matters, not the opinion of hired guns.
posted by rushmc at 1:37 PM on October 24, 2004


A reminder to Americans that your president is not, in fact, a deity.

Because, as we know, god is already dead.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:05 PM on October 24, 2004


I couldn't care less what the SS thinks. The law (and the justice that one hopes lies behind it) is what matters, not the opinion of hired guns.

That's interesting, rushmc, because legal defense often has costs, no?

And nice Ashcroft comment, amberglow. Hyperbole much?
posted by Kwantsar at 2:43 PM on October 24, 2004


As am I. This notion that the President should be in a special category separate from all other citizens is both appalling and absurd. He's just some guy, ya know?

"Communicating a threat" is a crime in almost all jurisdictions. The president gets special status in that the Secret Service, not the cops, come after you, and in the severity of the punishment, and in that communicating a threat is generally a misdemeanor — but it's illegal to (credibly) threaten anyone. I personally know at least one individual who's done jail time for this (sans any physical confrontation).

Not that I think this is good law. Merely pointing out that, contrary to the propaganda they fed you in 8th grade Civics class, mdn's statement:

I have specifically argued against comparisons of the US to fascist states by reminding everyone that we live in a free country and can say whatever we want, even about our president.

is incorrect. Restrictions on speech are myriad. The First Amendment is a lovely little bit of self-promotion from the Feds which works because most people are unaware of how drastically the courts have eroded its protections.

(Sorry for the rant; I'm a bit of a free speech absolutist and it always irks me when people take for granted that "freedom of speech" exists in this country. That taking for granted is the reason why it no longer does.)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 2:46 PM on October 24, 2004


MEMO

RE: Presidential Assassination - Threat Assessment
RE:RE: Prioritizing Investigations

Recent studies have shown that those who make crude or humourous public threats are the least likely to act on them; naivete has proven to be a valid threat-level-negative indicator. The dangerous goups, The Poseurs and The Quiet Ones, attempt in various clever ways to preemptively deflect suspicion from themselves. These are the groups on which we should concentrate our efforts.

(A) Poseurs: those who enthusiastically explain to others how serious publicly-made threats can be (attempting thusly to remove themselves from investigatory focus by masquerading as 'one of us').

(B) The Quiet Ones: those who cause it to appear (by their lack of explicit opinion) that they are unconcerned by the consequences of publicly-rendered assassination threats. This group includes most of the public at large - specifically those who by omission or commission simply don't talk much about presidential assassination.

We will concentrate initially on Group A, and as resources permit, fan out into Group B.
posted by Opus Dark at 3:01 PM on October 24, 2004


I couldn't care less what the SS thinks. The law (and the justice that one hopes lies behind it) is what matters, not the opinion of hired guns.

Damn right! You'll fight The Man to amberglow's last dollar! Don't listen to that nasty kablam, people -- threaten the president all you like -- rushmc is behind you all the way!

Way behind you...
posted by languagehat at 3:48 PM on October 24, 2004


Read this Weblog or We'll Shoot this dog!
posted by jonmc at 4:17 PM on October 24, 2004


Sidhedevil & mdn, I think the comment kablam made referred to the article it links to which I see has now been edited and an apology put in its place.
posted by SpaceCadet at 4:21 PM on October 24, 2004


wimpy limeys.
posted by quonsar at 4:35 PM on October 24, 2004


Matt would not be liable for links to an article published in the Guardian, for Pete's sake!
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:25 PM on October 24, 2004


That's interesting, rushmc, because legal defense often has costs, no?

Damn right! You'll fight The Man to amberglow's last dollar!

So you two admit that your ethics are based upon financial concerns? That's, um, interesting too.
posted by rushmc at 6:05 PM on October 24, 2004


is incorrect. Restrictions on speech are myriad. The First Amendment is a lovely little bit of self-promotion from the Feds which works because most people are unaware of how drastically the courts have eroded its protections.

I'm perfectly aware of certain restrictions, some of which are completely reasonable given the purpose of the law. But political dissidence is the primary reason for the 1st amendment. I understand wanting to investigate straightforward claims of intent to kill, like if someone said, I'm going to kill george bush, but even that doesn't deserve prosecution on its own, even if the feds want to keep track of the guy who says it.

Like rushmc said, the president is just a citizen. Murder is a terrible crime, but talking about or joking about, or expressing in anger, Jesus, I'm gonna kill that kid, is not murder or even intent to murder.

We do not live in a monarchy. Our country does not fall into the hands of the bush twins if the pres is killed. We do not believe he is chosen by god (right...?). it would be terrible if he was killed, just like it would be terrible if anyone was killed. But, there is not a political reason to put bush in a different category. The more we treat the leader as a king or despot, the closer we get to a dangerous society. The guardian column was a joke and did not suggest anything specific. The comments in the thread were likewise lighthearted and unspecific.
posted by mdn at 7:17 PM on October 24, 2004


and, for what it's worth, the comment linked sounds more like Cheney than Ashcroft. What with the threats and the fearmongering and all...
posted by crunchland at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2004


Speaking of hate speech :

Southern Poverty Law Center : US Hate Groups Map
posted by troutfishing at 8:40 PM on October 24, 2004


Matt would not be liable for links to an article published in the Guardian, for Pete's sake!

I don't think kablam was saying that - I think he was just pointing out the law in reference to the link people were discussing, which certainly did make threats, joke or not, to the president. The Guardian themselves acknowledge the mistake, and have edited out the article. Saying "what amounts to threats is liberally interpreted by the US government. So please be careful what you write" is hardly offensive in my book or trying to shut anyone up - it just sounds like somebody stating a fact rather politely.
posted by SpaceCadet at 2:21 AM on October 25, 2004


rushmc, you're completely missing the point. My ethical standards have nothing to do with it; to urge people to ignore sensible warnings because you think the world should be a different place, ignoring the fact that taking your advice could completely ruin them financially if not land them in jail, is irresponsible. If you want to threaten public officials, fine, that's your risk to take. To stand back and urge others to do so is like chickenhawks urging others to fight the wars they feel are so necessary. And I find it, um, interesting that you so readily leap to impugning my ethics because I disagree with you on this.
posted by languagehat at 6:55 AM on October 25, 2004


It seems to me that you are having a knee-jerk reaction based in fear that prompts you to view the discussion in terms of encouraging people to threaten the president (and then shrilly warn everyone of possible consequences to their bank balance). You come across as cowed and intimidated. There are worse things that can happen to one than a negative financial impact. Frankly, that attitude sickens me, so I responded to it. But the bottom line is, you've misinterpreted the thread and missed the point.

to urge people to ignore sensible warnings ...is irresponsible

Where have I done this?

If you want to threaten public officials, fine, that's your risk to take.

Where have I done this?

To stand back and urge others to do so

Where have I done this?
posted by rushmc at 8:26 AM on October 25, 2004


if i wasn't wearing this cub scout uniform, i'd kick someones ass!
posted by quonsar at 9:23 AM on October 25, 2004


I don't think kablam was saying that - I think he was just pointing out the law in reference to the link people were discussing,

might wanna work on those reading comp skills:

(from kablam's comment)
"If you are living in the US, and you make such a comment in this thread, you may expect a visit either from the FBI or the Secret Service.

If nothing else, by making such a comment you are exposing the operators of MetaFilter, and their web hosts, to harassment, even if they are located outside of the US."
posted by mdn at 11:24 AM on October 25, 2004


mdn, how is that harrassing members of a bulletin board?

might wanna work on those reading comp skills:

Is that a note-to-self? :-)
posted by SpaceCadet at 12:27 PM on October 25, 2004


I think that it is usual in the English language when positing a future event to use the conditional mood.

Perhaps the confusion arose because kablam did not write "...by making such a comment you WOULD BE exposing the operators of MetaFilter" when he/she was referring to something that had not, in fact, occurred.

Reading and writing comprehension courses for everyone! Hooray!
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:39 PM on October 25, 2004


"If you are living in the US, and you make such a comment in this thread, you may expect a visit either from the FBI or the Secret Service.

i definitely see this as a threat, as in "i will call the SS and tell them what you just said." conditional be damned.

see the Live Journal thread from today (10/27) for more info. some member (or frequent reader) of Metafilter would have to tip off the Secret Service for any of us to get a visit.

it's veiled, but it still sounds like a threat to me. as several have pointed out, amberglow never made anything close to comment that would warrant investigation by the SS, which makes it even worse. my2c.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:16 PM on October 27, 2004


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