Why Newt Gingrich wants Madonna arrested

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that the Queen of Pop should face arrest for comments at the Women's March, when she said she has 'thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.' But is what Madonna said really illegal?

Jose Luis Magana/AP
Madonna performs on stage during the Women's March rally on Saturday in Washington, D.C.

Newt Gingrich wants the Queen of Pop arrested for her comment in a speech at the Women’s March in Washington on Saturday, when she said she "thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House."

“What you have is an emerging left-wing fascism. She’s part of it,” Mr. Gingrich said Monday about Madonna. “And I think we have to be prepared to protect ourselves. Frankly, the truth is she ought to be arrested.”

US courts recognize that political speech often contains crude, offensive hyperboles, but Madonna's comment shows the conflict between protecting a president, a vice president, and their families, and protecting free speech.

In her performance on Saturday, Madonna acknowledged she is “angry” and “outraged,” and has “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.”

“But I know that this won’t change anything,” she continued. “We cannot fail into despair. As the poet, W.H. Auden once wrote on the eve of World War II, ‘We must love one another or die.’ I choose love.”

Madonna’s comments sparked outrage among Trump staffers. On “Fox News Sunday,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus compared it to the reaction such a comment would receive if it were directed at former President Obama, according to the Washington Times. In addition to calling the singer’s comments “destructive,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway referred to a report by The Gateway Pundit that the Secret Service plans to open an investigation into Madonna.

But it was Gingrich, the former House speaker and longtime Trump supporter, who said the singer should be locked up.  

“She is parallel to the young fascists who ran around town breaking windows, all of whom should be given the maximum sentence,” Gingrich told “Fox & Friends” on Monday.

Madonna defended herself in an Instagram post, saying that she “spoke in metaphor.”

“I am not a violent person, I do not promote violence and it's important people hear and understand my speech in it's [sic] entirety rather than one phrase taken wildly out of context,” the singer wrote. “I shared two ways of looking at things – one was to be hopeful, and one was to feel anger and outrage, which I have personally felt. However, I know that acting out of anger doesn’t solve anything.”

Under a law passed in 1917, it is a crime to threaten the president, vice president, or their families. Convictions were upheld for displaying posters that encouraged bystanders to “hang [President] Roosevelt,” for declaring “President [Woodrow] Wilson ought to be killed,” and for saying “I wish Wilson was in hell, and if I had the power, I would put him there.”

But a 1969 Supreme Court decision involving an 18-year-old distinguished these types of threats from crude political hyperbole. In a Dubois Club public rally around the Washington Monument, the 18-year-old spoke to a group about police brutality and racial injustice.

"They always holler at us to get an education. And now I have already received my draft classification as 1-A and I have got to report for my physical this Monday coming. I am not going. If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J," he said. "They are not going to make me kill my black brothers."

The Supreme Court agreed with the defense’s argument that the comment “was a kind of very crude offensive method of stating a political opposition to the president.” They also agreed that any punishment should have the First Amendment in mind.

Madonna isn’t the first celebrity whose comments have debate about whether they constitute an actual threat, or just free speech. In 1971, the comedian Groucho Marx was quoted by Flash magazine as saying “the only hope for the country is Nixon’s assassination,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A US Attorney discovered the quote, and held a news conference where he threatened to indict Marx for treason.

A reporter then called up Marx to ask him about the quote.

"I didn't say that," replied Marx. "I never tell the truth."

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