Are All Threats Created Equal?
I saw this piece from the Louisville Courier Journal today about an investigation of a Louisville woman resulting from a tweet she’d sent. The tweet said “If someone was cruel enough to assassinate MLK, maybe someone will be kind enough to assassinate Trump #bekind#trump#lovetrumpshate.” The investigation centers around whether the tweet violated a federal statute that makes it a crime to threaten the president.
Not surprisingly, one online commenter on the story wondered whether Madonna would be investigated. Madonna made this comment at the Women’s March last weekend: “Yes, I’m angry. Yes I’m outraged. Yes, I’ve thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that won’t change anything.” In response, former Celebrity Apprentice contestant and current Trump supporter Piers Morgan tweeted: “Madonna just said she wants to bomb the White House. Any ordinary person who said that would be arrested, charged & jailed.”
So, any chance either of these two will be charged? Not likely. Here’s a thoughtful piece from Professor Eugene Volkh explaining why. The bottom line is that the comment has to be considered in context, and courts typically don’t consider “political hyperbole” — even hyperbole that references violence – as a true threat.
Trump supporters may question the logic of that ruling, but the consequence of living in a country that prizes free speech is that offensive speech is protected.