Federal Court Rules to Protect Racist’s Call for Obama’s Murder

Threats against the President prove we’re not living in a post-racial America

On October 22, 2008, when Walter Bagdasarian of Southern California wrote on his Yahoo message board, “Obama fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon,” and “Shoot the nig country fkd for another 4 years+, what nig has done ANYTHING right??? Long term??? never in history, except Sambos,” he was guilty only of first degree felonious idiotic illiteracy but not guilty of any crime. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision last week, the Constitution—specifically the First Amendment that mandates “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech”—protects such people who make such statements. Accordingly, his 2009 Federal District Court conviction in San Diego was reversed.

Although the Ninth Circuit found Bagdasarian’s rantings “particularly repugnant,” as well as “alarming and dangerous,” they nonetheless were not illegal because they merely endorsed violence and did not threaten it. He had been charged with two counts of violating 18 U.S.C. 879(a)(3), which makes it a crime to “ … threaten to kill … or inflict bodily harm upon … a major candidate for the office of President … ” However, he never actually threatened to harm then-Senator Barack Obama. And, as the appellate court pointed out, the law does not and cannot criminalize “predictions and exhortations to others to injure or kill” anyone, including presidential candidates. In other words, it’s only a crime if you’re a player on the field, not a cheerleader on the sidelines.

The Supreme Court had already resolved the issue in these types of situations when, in its 2003 Virginia v. Black cross-burning decision, it held that a crime is committed only if a person communicates “true threats,” which are defined as language that the “speaker means to communicate (as) a serious expression of an intent to commit … violence … (on) a particular individual.” Fortunately for Bagdasarian, the only “true threat” he communicated was to sanity. Neither that Supreme Court ruling nor the Constitution prohibits him or anyone else from being a racist idiot.

In the dissenting opinion, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote that Bagdasarian’s conviction should have been upheld because his language should have been viewed in context, i.e., in light of the long history of political violence against blacks, the fact that a black person for the first time was a viable, even leading, contender in the then ongoing heated presidential campaign, the fact that the defendant did actually possess six guns, including a .50 caliber rifle and ammunition, and the fact that Internet postings in the past had presaged horrifically tragic events such as the 1999 Columbine and 2007 Virginia Tech massacres. Judge Wardlaw made great points, not the least of which concerned the racist violent history and the historic black candidacy.

For example, people would be shocked (or maybe not so shocked) to learn that since President Obama took office, the rate of death threats has increased 400 percent since George W. Bush was President—from 3,000 per year to an astounding 12,000 a year. Moreover, because of concerns for his safety, candidate Obama received Secret Service protection 18 months prior to the election, which was earlier that any other presidential hopeful in U.S. history. And threats against him had become so serious that a confidential Presidential Threat Task Force was established inside the FBI’s National Security Branch, which consisted of a total of 20 representatives not only from the FBI but also the Secret Service, CIA, NSA and Department of Defense.

And such a show of high-powered security force was and is absolutely necessary to protect Obama from racist would-be and wanna-be assassins and assassination plots. For example:

• Milwaukee police officers who proudly displayed a poster showing Obama with a bullet in his head inside their station
• A former NYC cop who told a Secret Service agent that he’d like to put the President up against a wall and shoot him and who kept loaded weapons in his South Carolina home
• The plot by recently convicted white supremacists in Tennessee to rob a gun store, shoot 88 African Americans, decapitate another 14, and assassinate Obama
• The Facebook poll asking whether Obama should be killed
• The sign on a tree in Idaho announcing a “Free Public Hanging” of the President
• The one-dollar public betting tournament in a Maine store that would award a prize in “The Osama Obama Shotgun Pool” to any person who came closest to picking the date of his murder with the advertisement boasting “Let’s hope we have a winner”
• The Denver men who showed up at the Democratic National Convention spouting racist slurs, wearing bullet-proof vests, and carrying guns
• The second and third graders on an Idaho school bus chanting “Assassinate Obama!” obviously after being taught and prompted by their parents.

Some of those examples are blatantly criminal and some are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech. And that’s a good thing for all of us, black, white and otherwise. It’s also a good thing that we all can now see that President Obama’s election did not usher in a “post-racial America.” It simply exposed a lot of dangerous—but constitutionally protected—racists.