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I wish President Bush would... dance the cha cha!
October 27, 2004 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Want a visit from the Secret Service? Talk smack about the president on your LiveJournal, and you too can be the recipient of a visit from the Men in Black. Looks like kablam was right.
posted by headspace (51 comments total)

 
No. Kablam was wrong. What the person you linked to did was not illegal. It wasn't even improper. And it's debatable whether it was even ill advised. Obvious jokes about killing the president are not illegal.

In America we have a tradition that says we won't be silenced by the threat of government toughs trying to scare us.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:53 AM on October 27, 2004


what y6y6y6 said. officious little busybodys are always trying to put the fear of authority into someone.
posted by quonsar at 11:58 AM on October 27, 2004


. . . on the other hand, hasn't everyone in America heard about the "secret service checks in on death threats even when they're silly" meme? I remember that from, like, 20 years ago. Maybe youse two up above me are right, but I still think acting surprised is a little odd, if not disingenuous.
posted by hackly_fracture at 12:08 PM on October 27, 2004


I don't blame the secret service or FBI here as much as I blame the LiveJournal user who reported them. I suppose it's possible that the lanuage of the post in question really could have given indication of a serious plot against the president, but it seems more likely done out of spite.

I don't think jokes about killing the president are apropos, though -- I mean, look at how funny y'all find Rush Limbaugh's "jokes" about keeping one "liberal" in a museum or Ann Coulter's witicism about dealing with them with a baseball bat. Sure, it's supposed to be hyperbole and wit, but I don't doubt for a second that it shapes the discourse, and can easily imagine a situation where that ignites into actual violence.
posted by weston at 12:09 PM on October 27, 2004


I don't blame the secret service or FBI here as much as I blame the LiveJournal user who reported them.

Same here. The FBI and Secret Service have to investigate reported threats or they wouldn't be doing their job. It just plain disgusts me that people are taking advantage of that hypervigilance to get back at people who annoyed them.
posted by headspace at 12:14 PM on October 27, 2004


I am skeptical about anything reported on LJ. Not saying it didn't happen, just saying that it might not have.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:14 PM on October 27, 2004


These people in this Livejournal all sound like they are sixteen years old.
posted by xmutex at 12:15 PM on October 27, 2004


"your honor, the defendant is obviously guilty because when he made his threat to the president his current mood was 'assasinationish' and he was listening to Rage Against The Machine."
posted by bondcliff at 12:18 PM on October 27, 2004


What hackly_fracture said, it's always been this way. I've heard anecdotes like this all my life. Even joking threats to the President are investigated seriously. At least one good teacher warned me of this when I was a kid.

She's likely on a "No-fly List" now:

... I could now be placed on the government's "no-fly" list, could be subject to random searches of private property without my knowledge or permission, and could be subject to wiretapping surveillance. I doubt that any of these things will happen (except with the "no-fly" list – according to my attorney, that's a strong possibility and is something we are looking into) ...

It's a shame the SS did such a good job of intimidating her, but in a practical sense they do have some ways to complicate her life.

So, if you're going to joke about threatening the president, use big spoilers:

***THE FOLLOWING IS ONLY A JOKE***

-and-

***THE PRECEDING WAS ONLY A JOKE***

I guess you can still call the little asshole President a little asshole President without retribution though, right?
posted by Shane at 12:21 PM on October 27, 2004


These people in this Livejournal all sound like they are sixteen years old.

That would be because the majority of LiveJournal users ARE Sixteen (16-18 that is)

That said.. Im with JoeyMichaels here... to a point. I do know someone who this happened to, however they didn't publicly announce it on their LJ.
posted by dawna at 12:25 PM on October 27, 2004


And the proof that this isn't a hoax is...?
posted by Orange Goblin at 12:35 PM on October 27, 2004


Shane: Unless you say "let's fuck that little asshole."
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:35 PM on October 27, 2004


Seriously, doesn't the Secret Service have better things to do? :P
posted by Foosnark at 12:36 PM on October 27, 2004


And the proof that this isn't a hoax is...?

Well, hoax or no, it's all a perfectly realistic scenario and all the details seem perfectly in order. If it's a hoax, she has done a good job of it.
posted by Shane at 12:43 PM on October 27, 2004


Thanks bondcliff...that was a good chuckle.
posted by Richat at 12:47 PM on October 27, 2004


I'm not surprised by this. I just think it's wrong. If people think they will be put on no-fly lists if they question or ridicule the government, we lose one of the things that's best about living in a free society.

If the person in the LJ site is placed on a watch list, that's un-American. And even the fear of such a thing is antithetical to the principles the founding fathers tried to hardwire into our country.

If there is some rule that says the SS must open an investigation on anyone who jokes about killing the president, then fine. I doubt they like it any better than I do. But the least they could do, in *my* United States, would be to assure the person they've scared the shit out of that their record is clean, they won't be added to a list, and no further action will be taken.

That would be the right thing to do. Anything short of that is unfair and wrong.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:51 PM on October 27, 2004


Can someone do one of those fancy Google Cache things and tell us what the heck she originally posted that caused the problem?
posted by Outlawyr at 1:05 PM on October 27, 2004


Dan Burford's 1996 visit from the secret service after publishing photoshopped pictures of various people's heads exploding, including Senator Dole:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.04/eword.html?pg=10

At the time, Dan was a good friend. His webcam even managed to capture at least one of the secret service agents' picture. Unfortunately, the exploding heads are no longer available on the web that I know of.

This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. The change now is that the FBI record may impact this person's life more heavily than it used to. But lots of people have FBI records. I have a record because I was bonded at one time (certified to work in the financial industry).
posted by kalessin at 1:10 PM on October 27, 2004


And the proof that this isn't a hoax is...?

This doesn't prove it isn't a hoax, but I've known Annie via online fan communities for the best part of three years now and she has never pulled any hoaxes/stunts before. It's possible she's been waiting all this time just to do this, but it's more likely that her story is genuine.

on preview: yes, it does come up via the google cache, but very badly formatted and, as she decided to lock it, I'll not post the url here.
posted by anyanka at 1:18 PM on October 27, 2004


In related news, Tom DeLay accused Daily Kos of funding insurgents in Iraq. From The Citizen:
"LaRouche is a con felon and all I can tell you is that Mr. Morrison has supported and campaigned with LaRouche followers and Mr. Morrison also has taken money and is working with the Daily Kos, which is an organization that raises money for fighters against the U.S. in Iraq," said DeLay.
The moral of these stories seem to be don't oppose elected officials.

As for what she said, it appears in the Google cache.

Wassup? How's it hanging? Yeah, I know it's been a long time since we talked. This probably stems from my belief that you do not exist. Anyway, the reason why I'm calling you is because last night, President Bush said that he could feel it every time we prayed for him, and since he apparently doesn't listen to anyone but you, Lord, I thought you might pass this along to him.

Please kill George Bush. I hate him so much. I think he is a giant dick and I want terrible things to happen to him. I'm not really big on the specifics of how he dies, but if you could at least arrange it so that the authorities find his dead body on top of an underage black male prostitute surrounded by a mountain of cocaine and child pornography, that would really be super-awesome. And maybe you could have some media people there when the police find the body, so they can take pictures and stuff. That'd be fucking GREAT. Am I allowed to say "fuck" in a prayer? Shit, I just said it again. Ah, well.

Anyway, that's my prayer, Lord. Please, please, please kill Dubya. And Dick Cheney. And everyone else in the Bush Administration. Maybe they can all commit mass suicide together or something. I don't know. You're the one with all the ideas. You come up with something. I need more coffee.

Smooches and Huggles,

anniesj

Come on, people. Share your own prayers for Bush. Maybe if we all pray hard enough, Bush will feel it so deeply he'll have an aneurysm! You never know! *squeezes eyes shut and prays harder*
This was posted just after the last presidential debate and the comments have been deleted.
posted by sequential at 1:23 PM on October 27, 2004


Adding to the meme: Back in about '92 or so, I was doing my usenet thang on some group or other (comp.something.geos or sci.anthropology, most likely), and some guy made some very offhand joke about killing the president. Nobody thought anything about it. He wasn't anti-GHWB or anything; he was just really making a joke. I don't remember what it was, but he was a pretty mild-mannered guy, I remember that much.

He got a visit. Scared the hell out of him. They were nice about it, kept it short, but yeh, it scared the hell out of him.

It's true, they're required by law to check it out every time. And they do. I personally think it's un-American to require that, but that's the law, and unless you want to fall afoul of it, you don't say anything about the current sitting president within earshot/eyeshot of a random asshole with a phone and the reading skills to look up the local Secret Service office. PATRIOT ups the stakes on just about everything that any federal prosecutor might want to spin as "terrorism", so you could find yourself detained indefinitely or even just under indictment without the legal right to tell anyone about it.

Now me, personally, I don't with Bush would drop dead. 'Cuz then Dick Cheney would be president. And Dick Cheney as President for even a couple of months just scares the living hell out of me.
posted by lodurr at 1:54 PM on October 27, 2004


Man, that 'smooches and huggles' is blood-chilling. What sort of crazy Al-Quaeda murder-fuck would say such a thing? Better send in the brownshirts!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:57 PM on October 27, 2004


This stuff happens - it did to me:

In May of 2001 I created a flash piece called "Smack Bush"

It basically involved punching the president with a set of fists until a bomber comes and destroys him, pretty silly piece...

The company I worked for agreed to host it and put their "send to friend" technology in it. The piece got pretty big with over 100,000 views.

Then we got a call from the Secret Service asking us to take down the piece. They didn't require us too - but said if anyone hit the president - we could be liable.

We called the Secret Service to make sure it wasn't a joke from one of our friends and confirmed the story.

My company decided to take down the piece - as my boss had problems with the IRS and was afraid of what they would do - (not what I would have done, but oh well...)

I put the piece back up again about 4 months ago on my own site: (haven't had any problems yet!)

Smack Bush
posted by mildred-pitt at 1:59 PM on October 27, 2004


Can you let the SS in, or even agree to questioning if they don't have a warrent? Personally my first response to any government official trying to scare me is "My lawyer's number is...", that's what lawyers are for. Obviously she did contact hers, but I wouldn't even have let the SS in.

Am I being paranoid? Absolutely not. Everyone should fully take advantage of their right to a lawyer. Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer. I don't know how to emphasize it enough. I don't care if you haven't done anything wrong, they think you have or they wouldn't be there. Innocent people get screwed all the time.

As I said before the SS checks you out, sees who you are so that if they need to build a case against you they can. I don't believe the government has enough time/resources to surpress free speech. They're simply protecting the president. To me it didn't sound like they were threatening her, they were just telling her what could happen -- which is possibly very true.

Did I mention the magic word for today? Lawyer.
posted by geoff. at 2:14 PM on October 27, 2004


He got a visit. Scared the hell out of him. They were nice about it, kept it short, but yeh, it scared the hell out of him.

This is what I just don't understand. Why does it scare someone to have someone come talk to them? Fear is only really appropriate if a) one feels guilty about something or b) one is subjected to threats (or action) of some sort. If the complaint is ridiculous and the SS is "just doing their job" by investigating, then why do people insist on wetting their pants over it?

More smacking George W. Bush fun.
posted by rushmc at 2:15 PM on October 27, 2004


What are fears but voices airy?
Whispering harm where harm is not.
And deluding the unwary
Till the fatal bolt is shot!

— Wordsworth
posted by rushmc at 2:18 PM on October 27, 2004


why, rushmc? ... because we don't trust the government ... it really is that simple
posted by pyramid termite at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2004


I posted about this on my LiveJournal... and now it looks like someone is trying to make my post into a meme. For those who are interested, here is a screencap of the post that got this person a visit from the federales. This isn't the first time that this has happened on LiveJournal. Two other LJers were reported to the Secret Service previously for similar threats.

"the majority of LiveJournal users ARE Sixteen"

Actually, no, they aren't. While 18 is the most common age for LiveJournalers, the average age is nearly 24, based on the site's stats. The majority of LiveJournalers are 23 or older

Methodology: Add all the users up for every age between 13 and 55, as listed. divide the result in two, and find the age group that represents that average age.

Frankly, I know enough about LJ's stats to tell you that even they are inaccurate.

Why?

1> Older users are less prone to submit their age in their stats.
2> There are LJers who are older than 55, but they aren't represented in the stats because it would've taken up more room. The oldest LJer I know is in her 90s.

Frankly, I would be very surprised if the actual age wasn't closer to 26, which is roughly the same Blogger.
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:01 PM on October 27, 2004


So what happens if I (not an American) says something about Bush? Do the Secret Service book a plane for the UK?
posted by Orange Goblin at 4:04 PM on October 27, 2004


nope...you can say what you want, Orange. (do it for us, since we obviously can't, without some shitface reporting it)
posted by amberglow at 4:09 PM on October 27, 2004


Gotcha insomnia ;)
posted by dawna at 4:19 PM on October 27, 2004


kablam was only partly right. Threats, even joking threats, are investigated, which can involve questioning the individual in question and his family and circle of acquaintances. Yes, you will have a file, and yes, it's unpleasant, but it's constitutional, routine, and has been the policy for as long as I can recall. The only difference is that today, the web permits many more venues for people to make statements and the ease of e-mail allows others to snitch without much effort.

kablam was wrong in that he claimed

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

which, as I pointed out and PrinceValium corroborated is hyperbole. A 1969 Supreme Court decision established a clear boundary between free speech (joking or not) and credible threats.
posted by dhartung at 4:51 PM on October 27, 2004


Heh, this is an excellent lesson in why a poster ought to let the link stand for itself instead of getting cutesy and metatopical about the site!
posted by headspace at 5:43 PM on October 27, 2004


Would creating an internet 'Kill The President Joke-A-Thon' be wrong?

We could DDOS the FBI!

(... he says from the relative safety of the UK)
posted by Blue Stone at 7:21 PM on October 27, 2004


I think these might be what got her in trouble Thought I think it's obvious she's ranting and not saying she is gonna do it herself...

Check out:
10/14/04 04:04 pm
10/14/04 09:25 am
posted by Dome-O-Rama at 7:41 PM on October 27, 2004


Joking about wanting the President dead is pretty juvenile. But anonymously reporting someone to the Secret Service for making those jokes takes real balls, oh yeah. No wonder half of East Germany ended up snitching on the other half. Something like this makes me hope that The Cornerites all have their own files by the end of the Kerry Administration.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:19 PM on October 27, 2004


Joking about wanting the President dead is pretty juvenile.

I believe you misspoke. Most are certainly joking that they would undertake to make it happen themselves, but I doubt many are joking that they would like to see it happen.
posted by rushmc at 10:08 PM on October 27, 2004


The original post in this thread seems to assert that because this LJ user criticised the President, they received a visit from the secret service. But this is not the case. They received this visit because they made a post in which they joked about assassinating the President (having not read the post in which this joke was made I cannot tell how obviously it was a joke or not). While most people seem to have gathered this, people just reading the original post and not the consequent links/comments could simply be mislead.

What the person you linked to did was not illegal. It wasn't even improper. And it's debatable whether it was even ill advised. Obvious jokes about killing the president are not illegal.

Well, at no point has it been suggested that joking about assassinating the President is illegal or improper – it appears that the reason these Secret Service men went to the house was to make absolutely sure that this was simply a joke and not something more serious.

In America we have a tradition that says we won't be silenced by the threat of government toughs trying to scare us

Officious little busybodys are always trying to put the fear of authority into someone.


If these officials had wanted to intimidate their subject, as is suggested here, it would seem entirely self-defeating to drink coffee and joke with them and their family and be generally personable, reasonable people. The impression these statements seek to create is that the post in question was merely a critique of Bush and/or his administration and in order to stop this legitimate criticism the Secret Service intended to intimidate the subject into silence. However, this impression is absolutely false.
posted by ed\26h at 3:02 AM on October 28, 2004


rushmc: Fear is only really appropriate if a) one feels guilty about something or b) one is subjected to threats (or action) of some sort.

I don't know how to respond when people say things like this. It's as though they live in a different world than I do.

Look: Wherever you are, people in police authority have profound power to really fuck up your life. The Secret Service probably has the most power to do that of any US police agency, excepting possibly US Marshalls acting on a PATRIOT warrant or a sex-crimes investigator in the state of California. I've been questioned by cops, very aggressively, regarding a crime to which I was only tangentially connected and which the guy had no good objective reason to regard me as being in suspicion of. He assumed I was guilty because I was the first person he happened to track down who was in any way connected to the crime he was investigating. (He found an unregistered vehicle that had one of my license plates on the front, someone else's license plate on the back, and a third person's registration sticker. So he called for backup and hammered on my doorbell for 15 minutes in the middle of the night until I came down, then got right up in my face trying to get me to crack and demonstrate ownership of a red 72 GTO with a blower and a big box of plumbers tools in the passenger seat.)

And ed\26h: Why do you have to spin everything into an attack on the Bushites? The bulk of this thread expresses outrage at the idea that free expression is chilled by this policy -- which it is, and if you don't understand that, then you need to get out of your free-will ivory tower. It's in no way reasonable that the Secret Service should be required by law to investigate trivial bullshit like this -- in fact, it's a severe drain on their resources. That's a fact. But since the Secret Service is primarily staffed by "good soldier" types, they tend to be reluctant to talk about that very much out loud -- their corporate culture AFAICS tends toward solidarity with regard to external forces. This has not been an anti-S.S. thread; it's been anti-FBI in places, but mostly it's a pro-American thread.
posted by lodurr at 4:59 AM on October 28, 2004


This reminds me. Back in the 80s when Bush Senior was VP, there was a company selling buttons that displayed the phrase "Shoot Bush First". I always wondered if they got a Secret Service visit for that.
posted by litlnemo at 5:00 AM on October 28, 2004


"However, this impression is absolutely false."

No. It's not. I read what she wrote. It's clearly a criticism of of the president, and not a threat. Granted, she worded it very badly given current SS policy. But I think it would be impossible to read it as a threat rather than a critique.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:33 AM on October 28, 2004


Why do you have to spin everything into an attack on the Bushites?

What does this mean? Also, can you tell me what a “free-will ivory tower” is please? I did not suggest that this policy was a perfect one, or even a very good one for that matter, but merely that the impressions given of the situation in question by the original poster and a few others were misleading or false.

No. It's not. I read what she wrote. It's clearly a criticism of of the president, and not a threat.

Well, if this is the case, perhaps you can provide a link to the article in question? You state in your first post that “obvious jokes about killing the president are not illegal.” This suggests the piece does at least contain a joke about assassinating the president; the only situation to which my reply referred.
posted by ed\26h at 6:36 AM on October 28, 2004


Read the thread, Ed. The whole post is right there for you to peruse.
posted by headspace at 6:58 AM on October 28, 2004


Of course it contains a joke about killing the president. It's also an obviously and transparently a critique. I fail to see any way anyone other than a lunatic could read that and think that the person was a threat to the president.

Go ahead. You read it. Do *you* think that person is a threat to the president? What would be the point of questioning this person further, other than intimidation?
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:05 AM on October 28, 2004


Ed: a "free-will ivory tower" is something that you live in if you believe that the only thing a free man can be forced to do is die. Among other things.
posted by lodurr at 7:32 AM on October 28, 2004


Headstate: Right thanks.

Do *you* think that person is a threat to the president? What would be the point of questioning this person further, other than intimidation??

I certainly don’t think this the author is a genuine threat or that it is reasonable to assume as such from the piece, but, presumably the point of adhering to the policy that lodurr criticises above could be a reason, other than intimidation, for the visit. To suggest that either they wouldn’t have visited or they certainly intended to intimidate this subject seems something of a false dilemma.

A "free-will ivory tower" is something that you live in if you believe that the only thing a free man can be forced to do is die. Among other things.


So it is a belief that there is only one thing (among other things) that a man can be forced to do? That definition contradicts itself.
posted by ed\26h at 7:42 AM on October 28, 2004


... that there is only one thing (among other things) ...

Your child-like literalism is so charming, ed....

How about this:

Among other things, a "free-will ivory tower" is something that you live in if you believe that the only thing a free man can be forced to do is die.

Though grammatically, of course, your original reading is plainly wrong, so I don't know why I assume you'll be able to interpret a more complex formulation any more accurately...
posted by lodurr at 8:16 AM on October 28, 2004


Well, you'll have to forgive me that, I am very child-like in nature and my reading skills are extremely poor at best. But in saying that these policies, and consequently the actions of the agents on this particular visit oppress free speech, you are begging the question in assuming the truth of the idea that these actions were actually intimidating.
posted by ed\26h at 8:47 AM on October 28, 2004


Perhaps you could explain how "begging the question" applies, here?

Yes, I do assume those visits were intimidating. I have not, and would not, argue that there is a concerted effort to silence dissent by dispatching the Secret Service. I would argue, and have, that the law which requires the Secret Service to dispatch for all such trivial nonsense is: [a] a waste of resources, [b] un-American in spirit, and [c] does have a chilling effect on free speech.

I'm sure you'll be quite happy to point out the debate-school errors for me...
posted by lodurr at 12:24 PM on October 28, 2004


Perhaps you could explain how "begging the question" applies, here?

This is through assuming the truth of the idea that these actions were actually intimidating; an idea that is still in question.

I'm sure you'll be quite happy to point out the debate-school errors for me


I am not aware of the distinction between “debate-school errors” and logical errors. It may be, of course, that there is no such distinction, and using that term was an effort to pre-emptively describe any highlighting of the logical errors in your post, that I may do, with pejorative language in order to underplay those errors.

But there is probably not a great need for us to resolve our differences over this specific issue as your concern over this case seems to be solely directed at the policy that initiated it; as I stated above, I have formed no real opinion on this policy so it would not be in my interests to contest it with you. My original argument sought to show that certain people in this thread were attempting to create the impression that this visit was a calculated act of intimidation, made towards a person who had merely posted an unequivocal critique, to then end of forcing them into silence. You seem to be saying that indeed intimidation was caused, but this was simply a ramification of this questionable policy being adhered to, rather than a direct intention with more sinister aims; a ramification that could, in turn, subdue some legitimate free speech. While I cannot see how the events described in the linked post could be thought of as intimidating – intentionally or unintentionally – due to the way in which the agents conducted themselves, it would seem something of an aesthetic issue. And also, it doesn’t appear that the attribute of being “American in spirit” could ever be a normative concept nor why failing to have this attribute is necessarily a negative property of any particular holistic condition.
posted by ed\26h at 2:07 AM on October 29, 2004


I know the person involved. She felt intimidated. Hope that helps you understand better.
posted by dwivian at 1:10 PM on October 30, 2004


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