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Threatening government officials of the United States

  (Redirected from Threatening the government officials of the United States)

Threatening government officials of the United States is a felony under federal law. Threatening the President of the United States is a felony under 18 U.S.C. § 871, punishable by up to 5 years of imprisonment, that is investigated by the United States Secret Service. Threatening other officials is a Class C or D felony, usually carrying maximum penalties of 5 or 10 years under 18 U.S.C. § 875, 18 U.S.C. § 876 and other statutes, that is investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When national boundaries are transcended by such a threat, it is considered a terrorist threat.[1] When a threat is made against a judge, it can be considered obstruction of justice.[2] Threatening federal officials' family members is also a federal crime; in enacting the law, the Committee on the Judiciary stated that "Clearly it is a proper Federal function to respond to terrorists and other criminals who seek to influence the making of Federal policies and interfere with the administration of justice by attacking close relatives of those entrusted with these tasks."[3]

There are three elements of the offense of making an illegal threat: (i) there must be a transmission in interstate commerce; (ii) there must be a communication containing the threat; (iii) and the threat must be a threat to injure the person of another.[4] Threats can also sometimes be punished under the statutes criminalizing assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain United States Government officers or employees[5] or assassinating, kidnapping, and assaulting government officials of the United States.

United States Sentencing Guidelines take a number of factors into consideration in determining the recommended penalty, including evidence of the person's intent to carry out the threat; disruption to the government function; and the possibility of inciting others to violence.[6] There is also a 6-level official victim enhancement, which makes the recommended penalty, per the sentencing table, approximately double that which would apply if an ordinary citizen were the victim.[7] There can be many motives for making threats, including political motives or a desire to frame someone else for making the threat.[8] The person's intent can greatly affect the sentence.

In determining what constitutes a true threat, the courts hold that what must be proved is that a reasonable recipient of the communication would consider it a threat under the circumstances. Thus, a statement to a judge that "You and your family are going to die" would be regarded as a true threat, even if the defendant claimed that he meant it as a literal, biological truth.[9] If a threat is made to multiple individuals, it may be considered to be outside of the guidelines heartland, and therefore to warrant an enhancement.[10]

Contents

IncidentsEdit

PresidentEdit

The Secret Service prefers not to publicize incidents of Presidential assassination threats, because it believes that it will generate more criminal behavior, especially among the mentally ill.[11] Reports have circulated in the British press that Barack Obama received four times as many threats as his predecessor,[12] a claim that Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan denies.[13] Historically, prosecutions for Presidential assassination threats have risen during periods of national crisis, such as the World Wars and the Vietnam War era.[14] New communication technologies such as Facebook,[15][16] MySpace,[17] and Twitter[18] have become vectors for investigated alleged threats against the President. After the 2016 Presidential election mashable.com reported 12,000 calls for President Donald Trump's assassination in Twitter. [19]

LegislatorsEdit

There have been comparatively few physical assaults on Members of Congress. On May 22, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner was savagely beaten down to the floor of the Senate chamber with a gold-knobbed cane by Representative Preston Brooks after Sumner delivered a fiery oration against slavery. [20] A century later, four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the House chamber, wounding five Members of Congress.[21] Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot and severely injured on January 2011 outside a supermarket where she met with constituents. [22] Representative Steve Scalise was gravely wounded in 2017 when he was shot by a former volunteer for Bernie Sanders's 2016 Presidental campaign. [23] Senator Rand Paul suffered several rib fractures and developed pneumonia after a November 2017 attack by a neighbor over a dispute over lawn care. [24]

Threats and intimidation directed against Members of Congress are more common than physical assaults. A prominent example was the burning of a cross, an intimidation tactic of the Ku Klux Klan, on House Speaker Sam Rayburn's front lawn in Texas during debate on civil rights legislation in the 1960s.[21] The United States Capital Police investigates threats against Members of Congress and reports to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee on House Administration and/or the United States Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

Social media have been used to publish threats and intimidating messages. Threats have been made through YouTube videos [25] and Twitter (which hosted direct threats of violence against Members of Congress such as Representative Bob Goodlatte, and Senators Roy Blunt and John Hoeven). Concern has been voiced in the press over Twitter's failure in some cases to promptly remove threats made against Members of Congress. Kyler Schmitz's threats to shoot Senator Roy Blunt remained on Twitter after Schmitz had been arrested for illegally using interstate communications to make the threat. [26] Christopher Michael McGowan was arrested in April 2018 for a series of Tweets threatening Representative Goodlatte and other lawmakers made from January to April 2018. [27] Twitter's stated policy on "Violent threats and glorification of violence" says "You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people". [28]

2010 legislation for health care reform in the United States saw an increased number of threatening communications and actions directed at legislators. Several Members of Congress received threatening messages. Representative Eric Cantor received a threat from Norman Leboon, a donor to Barack Obama who had produced more than 2,000 threatening YouTube videos;[29] the Democratic Party said that it would donate the funds to charity.[30] Other lawmakers' windows were broken with bricks and other objects.[31]

House Minority Leader John Boehner stated, "Violence and threats are unacceptable. Yes, I know there is anger, but let's take that anger, and go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, and let's do it the right way."[32] Rep. Cantor, who received a bullet through his campaign office window, stated, "Security threats against members of Congress are not a partisan issue, and they should never be treated that way. To use such threats as political weapons is reprehensible."[33] He accused Representative Chris Van Hollen of "dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon."[34] A spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center remarked, "I think it is astounding that we are seeing this wave of vigilantism."[35]

After the 2016 Presidential election, personal attacks gained a more prominent place in dialogue between the President and legislators from both major US parties, with at least one Member of Congress advocating harassment of other Federal officials outside of work. In June 2018, Representative Maxine Waters, speaking at an outdoor rally said, "If you see anybody from that (Trump) Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere." [36]

In July 2018, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was confronted with shouted personal insults and the threat "we know where you live" by a crowd of protesters; earlier, McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao were subjected to verbal abuse by a crowd as they left an event at Georgetown University. [37] According to National Public Radio, at least three Trump administration officials — Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump adviser Stephen Miller and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, along with her family — have been forced out by vocal protesters from restaurants or denied service. [36]

While Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi denounced the tactic of harassing their political enemies Rep. Waters called for, they did not refer to her by name. Both Schumer and Pelosi referred to President Trump's personal attacks on political opponents on Twitter while disavowing the tactics Rep. Waters urged on activists. [36]

Personal attacks and threats have remained a prominent part of the US political landscape afterward. During Senate confirmation hearings on Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the US Supreme Court, Senator Ted Cruz's Houston campaign office received an envelope containing white powder just after two envelopes containing the poison ricin were mailed to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Chief of Naval Operations. [38] Sen. Cruz and his wife also had to leave their table at a Washington restaurant when protesters shouted them down at their table. [39] According to Newsweek, Senator Susan Collins's office received "threatening, profanity-laced phone calls and letters, telling her to vote against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court". One caller told a young woman working for Collins that he hoped she would be raped and impregnated, according to a voicemail provided to the New York Times by Collins's spokeswoman. [40]

Doxing of legislators also occurs. Jackson A. Cosko, a member of Representative Sheila Jackson Lee's staff, was arrested by US Capitol Police in October 2018, charged with public restricted information, unauthorized access of a government computer, burglary, threatening Federal officials and other crimes. [41] According to a Federal arrest warrant filed by Capitol Police, Cosko threatened an aide of Senator Maggie Hassan who found him using a computer in Sen. Hassan's office, then ordered him to leave in an E-mail: "“If you tell anyone I will leak it all. Emails signal conversations gmails. Senators children’s health information and socials...” Mr. Cosko posted confidential personal information such as home and office addresses and home telephone numbers of five US senators, including Senate Judiciary Committee members Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, to their wikipedia articles. [42]

Cyberstalking of legislators is a related problem. Juan McCullum, a former member of Congressional delegate Stacey Plaskett and Representative Frederica Wilson was charged in July 2017 with illegally obtaining private nude photographs of Delegate Plaskett and videos of her family from Ms. Plaskett's iPhone while he worked for her, then using an Internet account under an assumed name to distribute the photos and encourage other Internet users to share them online. [43]

Judges and prosecutorsEdit

Threats against federal judges can include threats of vigilantism. For instance, in 2004, gun-rights activist, Denver businessman and former Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate Rick Stanley was sentenced to six years of imprisonment for sending two judges, Thornton Municipal Judge Charles J. Rose and 17th Judicial District Judge Donald W. Marshall, Jr., a "notice of order" demanding that they reverse his conviction for a weapons violation or face arrest by Stanley's Mutual Defense Pact Militia and a trial for treason. Stanley was also ordered to pay $8,250 restitution to police who worked overtime to protect the judges.[44]

Threats against federal judges and prosecutors have more than doubled in recent years, with threats against federal prosecutors rising from 116 to 250 from 2003 to 2008,[45] and threats against federal judges climbing from 500 to 1,278 in that same period,[46][47] prompting hundreds to get 24-hour protection from armed U.S. marshals. The problem has become so pronounced that a threat management center has been opened in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia, where a staff of about 25 marshals and analysts monitor a 24-hour number for reporting threats, use sophisticated mapping software to track those being threatened and tap into a classified database linked to the FBI and CIA.[48] In 2009, a radio host was indicted for, after criticizing three appellate judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit who affirmed a lower court decision to dismiss challenges to Chicago's handgun ban as "cunning, ruthless, untrustworthy, disloyal, unpatriotic, deceitful scum", allegedly saying, "Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed."[49] He also allegedly posted blog entries providing a photo and a map of the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, where the court is located, with arrows pointing to "anti-truck bomb barriers."[50] That case resulted in two hung juries.[51] The sending of white powder as part of a threatening communication has become common since the 2001 anthrax attacks.[52]

The making of these threats coincided with high-profile violence against federal officials in that same period, including Baltimore Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna, who was stabbed 36 times with his own penknife and drowned in a creek, and Thomas C. Wales, an assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle gunned down at his home. Such incidents lead U.S. officials to take threats seriously. However, actual attacks on government officials are still rare in the U.S. relative to many countries with more unstable governments (e.g. so-called "banana republics" that frequently experience coups and assassinations) as evidenced by the fact that the most famous judge to be assassinated in recent times was John H. Wood, Jr. back in 1979.[53]

Case law records that many threats are made from prisoners dissatisfied with the handling of their own case or fellow inmates', or wanting to serve time in the federal system.[54] Often the penalties for making the threat are more serious than those imposed for the original offense.[55] Threats by inmates are taken seriously if the person has contacts on the outside who are capable of carrying out the threat. Federal officials attribute the rising threat rate to disgruntled defendants, terrorism and gang cases that bring more violent offenders into federal courts, frustration over the economic crisis and the rise of the "sovereign citizen" movement – a loose collection of tax protesters, white supremacists and others who don't respect federal authority.[56]

Social media has become notable in threats against high-profile Federal judges. Several threats or encouragements of others to kill United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh or members of the Senate who supported confirmation of his appointment to the US Supreme Court were made on Twitter. Twitter formally forbids users to "make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people". [28] [57] [58]

Other civil servantsEdit

The Internal Revenue Service is frequently a target of threats. Examples include the case of U.S. v. Darby, in which the defendant told the IRS he was tired of their bullshit, asked how they would like to have a pipe bomb delivered to their place of employment, and said that he didn't eat his victims like Jeffrey Dahmer but just killed them by blowing them up;[59] David J. D'Addabbo, who sent a petition to IRS workers warning that they would be "tried by a jury and your penalty will be sought for it to be death by firing squad" and told the arresting agents to "watch your back";[60][61] and John Barker, who perpetrated an anthrax hoax against the IRS. According to the U.S. Treasury Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration, threats against the IRS have been rising in recent years, and in 2009 rose from 834 to 1,014 per year,[62] an increase of 21.5% over the prior year.[63] There have been incidents of actual violence against the IRS to take place as well, by people ramming cars into IRS offices, setting them on fire, and taking out hits on IRS employees,[64] although the 2010 Austin plane crash was one of the more high-profile incidents. According to a Cato Institute commentator, "this trend is likely to continue until there is a fundamental change in our tax laws and collection methods. People who do not have access to the media and cannot afford expensive tax lawyers sometimes reach such a level of frustration with the IRS that they resort to violent or irrational behavior."[65] There is a special statute, 26 U.S.C. § 7212, that protects IRS employees from threats, which according to the U.S. Attorneys' Manual, "provides a particularly helpful alternative in cases where there is simply an offer of violence unaccompanied by the potential for imminent use of physical force."[66]

Federal law enforcement agencies are often the target of threats. Examples include Jeff Henry Williamson, who threatened to blow up FBI headquarters, CIA headquarters and the Justice Department;[67] and Micha Godfrey, who allegedly emailed medical cannabis websites threats against DEA agents and their families, and a search of whose house subsequently turned up four firearms, a bulletproof vest, and cannabis plants.[68][69] Government agencies are sometimes the subject of blackmail attempts, as when an informer threatened to falsely accuse the FBI of knowing in advance that the World Trade Center would be bombed and of failing to stop it.[70]

Doxing is also used against law enforcement officers. During the controversy over full enforcement of immigration laws in the United States in June 2018, the activist Web site wikileaks published the identities of over 9,000 alleged current and former employees of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement gleaned from the LinkedIn Web site, with their places of employment and contact information. [71]

EnforcementEdit

When the FBI receives threats over the Internet, it can use National Security Letters to obtain the real name, street address and Internet logs of the sender, and those who provide the information were forbidden by the PATRIOT Act from revealing the request to anyone, until the Doe v. Ashcroft case overturned that gag rule.[72] According to the federal investigators, political protesters who threaten elected officials or turn violent are easier for law enforcement officials to track due to their vocal and high-profile statements on the internet. For instance, Nigel Coleman posted the address of Rep. Tom Perriello online and invited people to "visit" the official at his home. The address was actually Perriello's brother Bo. A severed gas line at the home was discovered one day after the address was made public.[73][74]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(a)(2)
  2. ^ 18 U.S.C. § 1503
  3. ^ "UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,v.James Edward GRAY, Defendant-Appellant.; No. 86-3085.; United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit". bulk.resource.org. February 3, 1987. Archived from the original on May 4, 2012. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  4. ^ United States v. DeAndino, 958 F.2d 146 (US Ct. App. 6th Cir. 1992).
  5. ^ United States v. Heliczer, 373 F. 2d 241 (Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 1967).
  6. ^ U.S.S.G. §2A6.1, archived from the original on 2010-06-18
  7. ^ U.S.S.G. §3A1.2, archived from the original on 2010-06-18
  8. ^ Howard Pankratz & Joey Bunch (March 2, 2010), "Community College of Aurora librarian charged in mail threats", The Denver Post
  9. ^ United States v. Teague, F3d 1310 (10th Cir. 2006).
  10. ^ United States of America, Appellee, v. Samuel Adelman, Defendant-appellant, F.3d 84 (Feb 19, 1999).
  11. ^ "9-65.140 Publicity Concerning Threats Against Government Officials", U.S. Attorneys' Manual
  12. ^ Harnden, Toby (3 Aug 2009), "Barack Obama faces 30 death threats a day, stretching US Secret Service", The Telegraph, London
  13. ^ Secret Service Director: Threats Against Obama Not Up, December 3, 2009, archived from the original on December 7, 2009
  14. ^ Comment, Threatening the President: Protected Dissenter or Potential Assassin, 57 Geo. L.J. 553 (1969)
  15. ^ Secret Service Probing Obama Assassination Poll on Facebook, Fox News, September 29, 2009
  16. ^ Charlie Spiering (Sep 29, 2009), "Should Facebook remove groups that want to kill George W. Bush?", Washington Examiner[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ Teen Questioned Over Online Threats Against President Bush, Fox News, October 14, 2006
  18. ^ Goldman, Russell & Ryan, Jason (March 22, 2010), Health Care Bill Spurs Assassination Calls on Twitter, ABC News
  19. ^ Lekach, Sasha. "Over 12,000 tweets are calling for Trump's assassination. Here's how the Secret Service handles it". Mashable. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  20. ^ "U.S. Senate: The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner". www.senate.gov. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  21. ^ a b Kellman, Laurie & Abrams, Jim (March 26, 2010), Congress members reveal more details about threats, Associated Press
  22. ^ Herszenhorn, Marc Lacey and David M. "Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 Shot Near Tucson". Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  23. ^ "Congressman Steve Scalise Gravely Wounded in Alexandria Baseball Field Ambush". Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  24. ^ "Rand Paul's Neighbor Is Sentenced to 30 Days in Prison After Attack". Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  25. ^ Sherman, Jake (April 7, 2010), "Man arrested for Nancy Pelosi threats", Politico
  26. ^ Swanson, Ian (2016-06-28). "Death threats against senators remained on Twitter for 2 weeks". TheHill. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  27. ^ Chia, Jessica. "Virginia man arrested for making repeated threats against Republican congressman  - NY Daily News". nydailynews.com. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  28. ^ a b "Violent threats and glorification of violence". Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  29. ^ "Man accused of making threats against Cantor". CNN. March 29, 2010.
  30. ^ O'Brien, Michael (2010-03-29). "DNC will give Cantor threat suspect's donations to charity - The Hill's Blog Briefing Room". Thehill.com. Retrieved 2012-08-25.
  31. ^ FBI Probes Threats Directed at House Democrats, Fox News, March 24, 2010
  32. ^ Bendavid, Naftali & Johnson, Fawn (March 26, 2010), "Parties Exchange Barbs Over Threat Reports", Wall Street Journal
  33. ^ Kelley, Matt (2010-03-25), "House leaders decry threats, dish out blame", USA Today
  34. ^ Pergram, Chad (2010-03-27), Words Have Power, Fox News
  35. ^ Pettus, Emily Wagster (2010-03-25), Dems deal with threats over health care support, Associated Press
  36. ^ a b c "Congressional Leaders Criticize Maxine Waters For Urging Confrontation". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  37. ^ CNN, Devan Cole,. "McConnell chased from KY restaurant by protesters". CNN. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  38. ^ "White powder mailed to Ted Cruz's office". New York Post. 2018-10-02. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  39. ^ CNN, Devan Cole,. "Ted Cruz forced from restaurant amid Kavanaugh drama". CNN. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  40. ^ "Staffers of Maine GOP Senator Susan Collins are receiving threatening and vulgar calls over Brett Kavanaugh". Newsweek. 2018-09-12. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  41. ^ "Sheila Jackson Lee intern accused of 'doxing' GOP senators in Kavanaugh battle". HoustonChronicle.com. 2018-10-04. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  42. ^ "Democratic ex-staffer contests charges he posted personal data on GOP senators, threatened witness in doxing". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  43. ^ "Two former staffers charged in cyberstalking of U.S. House member, husband". Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  44. ^ Julie Poppen (September 11, 2004), "Six-year prison term for gun-rights activist: Threats to judges called 'an assault' on justice system", Rocky Mountain News
  45. ^ Andrew Ramonas (January 4, 2010), Threats Against Federal Prosecutors Increased During 2000s, Main Justice
  46. ^ Threats against federal judges increase, UPI, May 29, 2009
  47. ^ "Threats against federal judges, prosecutors are up", USA Today, January 4, 2010
  48. ^ Markon, Jerry (May 25, 2009), "Threats to Judges, Prosecutors Soaring", The Washington Post
  49. ^ "Radio host denies threatening federal judges", Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2009
  50. ^ Lynne Marek (November 24, 2009), "Trial Over Death Threats Against Federal Judges Could Test Free Speech Rules Online", National Law Journal
  51. ^ Erin Geiger Smith (Mar 11, 2010), "Mistrial Number 2 For Blogger Accused Of Threatening Federal Judges", Business Insider Law Review
  52. ^ Man sentenced for threatening Neb. federal judge, Associated Press, March 22, 2010
  53. ^ Torsten Ove (December 14, 2003), "Threats part of landscape for prosecutors", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  54. ^ "Missouri man to prison for threatening judge", Lincoln Journal Star, March 22, 2010
  55. ^ Man Sentenced for Threatening Federal Officials in Arizona (PDF), U.S. Department of Justice, June 16, 2009
  56. ^ Jerry Markon (June 11, 2009), "Guarding the Halls of Justice Against an Escalating Threat", Washington Post
  57. ^ "Rosemount teacher suspended for Brett Kavanaugh threat tweet". Bring Me The News. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  58. ^ "Kavanaugh supporters should be castrated, D.C. professor wrote. Twitter shut her down". miamiherald. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  59. ^ United States v. Darby, 37 F.3d 1059 (4th Cir. October 21, 1994).
  60. ^ Geoffrey Fattah (August 15, 2006), "Man admits threatening IRS", Deseret News, Salt Lake City
  61. ^ Winslow, Ben (March 21, 2006), "Cache County man charged with threatening IRS workers", Deseret News, Salt Lake City
  62. ^ Vaughan, Martin (February 21, 2010), "Threats Against IRS Employees on the Rise, Official Says", The Wall Street Journal
  63. ^ Marcus Baram (March 1, 2010), "Threats Against IRS Employees On The Rise, Increased 21 Percent From 2008 To 2009", Huffington Post
  64. ^ "Threats against IRS workers continue", The Washington Post, March 13, 2010
  65. ^ Rahn, Richard W. (April 6, 2010), Morality and the IRS, The Cato Institute
  66. ^ http://www.justice.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/crm01572.htm
  67. ^ Houston jury convicts man of threatening FBI, CIA, Associated Press, March 10, 2010
  68. ^ Allan Lengel (2010-03-15), Calif. Man Under Investigation for Threatening Lives of DEA Agents and Families Arrested, TickleTheWire.com
  69. ^ Calif. man investigated over alleged DEA threats, KansasCity.com, Associated Press, March 3, 2013
  70. ^ Fried, Joseph P. (April 7, 1995), "Informer in Terrorism Trial Admits Threatening F.B.I.", The New York Times
  71. ^ "WikiLeaks publishes identities and information about ICE employees amid intensifying anger". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-07.
  72. ^ Richard Willing (July 6, 2006), "With only a letter, FBI can gather private data", USA Today
  73. ^ McCabe, Virginia (March 26, 2010), "Tea Party makes tracking political criminals easier for law enforcement", FBI Examiner
  74. ^ Domenico Montanaro (March 24, 2010), FBI Looks into Gas Line Cut, MSNBC

External linksEdit