It’s one of those cases where our laws are held in tension… It’s Free Speech vs. Threats against the President. Where do you think Kathy’s stunt falls in that range?
Wikipedia gives some of the bqckground on the histor of ‘Threatening the President‘
It covers the history of the law. It covers past violations, and why this issue gets special treatment in light of usual free speech laws.
Threatening the President of the United States is a class E felony under United States Code Title 18, Section 871. It consists of knowingly and willfully mailing or otherwise making “any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States”. This also includes presidential candidates and former Presidents. The United States Secret Service investigates suspected violations of this law and monitors those who have a history of threatening the President. Threatening the President is considered a political offense. Immigrants who commit this crime can be deported.
Because the offense consists of pure speech, the courts have issued rulings attempting to balance the government’s interest in protecting the President with free speech rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. According to the book Stalking, Threatening, and Attacking Public Figures, “Hundreds of celebrity howlers threaten the President of the United States every year, sometimes because they disagree with his policies, but more often just because he is the President.”
The prototype for Section 871 was the English Treason Act 1351, which made it a crime to “compass or imagine” the death of the King. Convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 871 have been sustained for declaring that “President Wilson ought to be killed. It is a wonder some one has not done it already. If I had an opportunity, I would do it myself.”; and for declaring that “Wilson is a wooden-headed son of a bitch. I wish Wilson was in hell, and if I had the power I would put him there.” In a later era, a conviction was sustained for displaying posters urging passersby to “hang [President] Roosevelt”.
There has been some controversy among the federal appellate courts as to how the term “willfully” should be interpreted. Traditional legal interpretations of the term are reflected by Black’s Law Dictionary’s definition, which includes descriptions such as “malicious, done with evil intent, or with a bad motive or purpose,” but most courts have adopted a more easily proven standard. For instance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a threat was knowingly made if the maker comprehended the meaning of the words uttered by him. It was willingly made, if in addition to comprehending the meaning of his words, the maker voluntarily and intentionally uttered them as a declaration of apparent determination to carry them into execution. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Manual, “Of the individuals who come to the Secret Service’s attention as creating a possible danger to one of their protectees, approximately 75 percent are mentally ill.”
So, we open the question to you, ClashNation…