The Secret Service is investigating a man who authorities said held a sign reading "Death to Obama" outside a town hall meeting on health-care reform in western Maryland.
The sign also read, "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids," referring to the first name of President Barack Obama's wife, said Washington County Sheriff's Capt. Peter Lazich
About.com gives me this information:
What Constitutes a "Threat"?
According to this law -- 18 USC Sec. 871 -- which reads, in part:
"...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."
That covers a lot of deeds and statements. It gives the Secret Service a lot of latitude when conducting an investigation. There is a very good reason for this. Few jobs are more dangerous than President of the United States.
Remember Francisco Martin Duran? Back in 1994, he told some people he was going to kill President Clinton. Nobody took him seriously. But on October 29, 1994, in broad daylight and surrounded by tourists, Duran walked up to the White House fence and fired at least 29, 7.62 mm rifle rounds into Mr. Clinton's home.
Or how about Giuseppe Zangara who took a shot at President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 because, "I don't hate Mr. Roosevelt personally... I hate all officials and everybody who is rich."
Imagine living every day with the knowledge that somebody, somewhere, is making plans to kill you. It would be enough to make me apply pretty liberal definitions to the word "threat."
Threat or Criticism
Where is the line drawn? When does a critical remark become a threat? On one extreme is the off-hand comment, the letter to a friend, the email to a co-worker, or message posted in a newsgroup. On the other, the twisted psychotic plot. Clearly, the circumstances of delivery make a great deal of difference. A "letter to the editor", or speech intelligently attacking the President's every action and policy is our right and should never be construed as a physical threat. Screaming obscenities in the President's face, sending threatening mail to the White House, or publicly stating a desire to see the President harmed are not only acts of shameful disrespect, they should always be considered threats under the law.
And threatening his wife and children at the same time - classy.