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Death threats against Obama: Did Florida cop 'fan flames'?

Many offhand death threats against President Obama, including several by US police, are leading to public scrutiny and concern – even if they are not leading to legal action.

By Staff writer / November 23, 2012

Musician and gun-rights activist Ted Nugent addresses a seminar at the National Rifle Association's convention in Pittsburgh last year. Nugent met with the Secret Service earlier this year after he called Barack Obama’s presidency an 'evil, America-hating administration' – comments that some critics interpreted as a threat against the president. No charges were filed.

Gene J. Puskar/AP/File

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Atlanta

While the Secret Service ultimately agreed that Jacksonville, Fla., Det. Sam Koivisto was kidding when he suggested to fellow cops that he’d gladly volunteer for an Obama assassination mission, the loose talk led the 26-year veteran to retire six months earlier than planned, saying that “it’s best for everybody.” 

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The political polarization of the country, together with rising use of the Internet to make “general” threats against the president, has lead to heightened anxiety in some quarters.   

“With all the super-heated emotions” around the election, all “this kind of talk just fans the flames of these sorts of emotions – that’s my concern,” a law enforcement official told Homeland Security Today in response to recent threats. 

In the final weeks of Election 2012, a whirlwind of anonymous online threats emerged against both President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney. But Mr. Koivisto’s early retirement marks at least the third time in the past six months that the Secret Service looked into police officers making threats against the president. In all cases, the threats did not meet the legal standard of a “true threat,” and no charges were filed. But in all three, the comments led to employment termination. 

In Richmond, Va., two officers were fired for comments made before an event that included the president and first lady. One said: “You can take a couple of shots. You might have to kill yourself, but you can take a couple of shots,” to which another added, “Yeah, somebody should plant a bomb underneath the stage while they’re on there and blow it up.” 

In Washington, another police officer was fired this summer for joking about shooting first lady Michelle Obama. "There's no room for jokes or frivolity when you're dealing with the first family," DC Mayor Vincent Gray said at the time. 

In Koivisto’s case, he admitted to telling colleagues after the election that, “If an order was given to kill Obama or something, then I wouldn’t mind being the guy.” He also told investigators that he would not be concerned if a nuclear bomb hit the Northeast and “killed them all,” since he perceived most of them as Obama supporters.  

“That’s not saying I’m going to do it or would do it, and that’s never going to happen,” he told colleagues, who nevertheless were concerned enough to report the statements. 

The election of Obama as America’s first black president raised particular concerns about the possibility of assassination attempts. Since 2007, the Secret Service has disrupted several assassination conspiracies – including some involving white nationalists – and arrested dozens of people who have made less-than-idle threats against the president.  

While the Secret Service saw a spike in death threats in 2008 and again in 2012, the total number of daily threats against Obama is for the most part similar to those against his predecessor, George W. Bush, and has occasionally dipped significantly lower, according to reports from the Secret Service. 

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