Subscribe
First Look

How Facebook threats against Trump can turn into a felony

Threatening a president or president-elect can result in a five-year prison sentence. As people continue to make such threats on social media, other users have decried and shared their remarks, resulting in criminal investigations. 

  • close
    President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally in New York in November. After Mr. Trump won the election, a man in Del Mar, Calif., threatened his life in a Facebook post.
    Evan Vucci/AP/File
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

A man who says his Facebook post stating he wanted to kill Donald Trump was made in jest could potentially face up to five years in prison for threatening the life of the president-elect.

"I'm going to kill the President Elect," Matt Harrigan, the then-chief executive of PacketSled, a cybersecurity start-up based in Del Mar, Calif., wrote on Facebook. "Bring it secret service."

Later on, responding to a friend's comment, he added, "Getting a sniper rifle and perching myself where it counts. Find a bedroom in the whitehouse [sic] that suits you ... I'll find you."

Recommended: Trump's reality TV playbook: Seven ways it changed 2016 election

While Mr. Harrigan contends that his claims weren't serious, and were made privately on his Facebook page to friends he believed would understand that, they spread widely, raising concerns that likely wouldn't have come up before the digital age. Screenshots captured the words and allowed others to repost them on Twitter and Reddit, causing Harrigan to receive harsh criticism, including death threats, and later, a visit from investigators.

In a divisive election cycle, a barrage of offensive posts about both candidates, including racial remarks about the current first family, have surfaced on Facebook, even some shared by elected officials. While such remarks often result in the resignation or termination of those who made them, as they did in Harrigan's case, according to The Washington Post, bringing a criminal case against those who actually threaten the president is a bit trickier.

Threatening the life of a sitting president or president-elect is a felony that can result in five years behind bars or up to $250,000 in fines. Still, such threats aren't uncommon. 

Just a day before the election, a man in Oregon named John Martin Roos pleaded guilty to making threats to Mr. Obama's life on Facebook and Twitter. While such comments must be investigated with respect to an individual's right to free speech, those that show someone may have actually intended to carry out the threats can face prison time.

While Mr. Roos said he uses social media to "blow off steam," he admitted that he would "punch Obama in the nose" if he had the chance. Authorities found rifles, hundreds of rounds and ammunition, and firebombs in his home, prompting them to charge him.

An investigation earlier this year into threats from an inmate held in Bridgewater, Mass., yielded similar findings. After he told a fellow inmate, who was working as a cooperating witness with authorities, that he intended to kill Obama, authorities gathered sufficient evidence from his cell to believe the threats had merit.

Harrigan, whose family has received threats of their own since his post went viral, maintains that his threats against the president-elect weren't serious. He was questioned by two agents who searched his home Monday, but no charges have been brought against him.

"What I do know is that I'm deeply regretful for having made any commentary on the president-elect at all," Harrigan told The Washington Post. "I certainly don't want to harm him and I hope he does a great job."

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK