Sorry Judge, ‘Shoot Obama’ Is Not Free Speech

Barack ObamaPrepare to feel really unsafe America. An appeals court has ruled Walter Bagdasarian, the man previously convicted of a felony for threatening to kill a presidential candidate, didn't actually convict a crime when he went online to find someone to shoot now-President Obama in 2008. Or, as the California man so tactfully put it, to "shoot the n-g."


Creeped out? How about this? Bagdasarian provided links to an ad for a rifle on an online message board, where he made comments like "Obama fk the niggar (sic), he will have a 50 cal in the head soon." Not only did police find a 50-caliber handgun at Bagdasarian's home, a statement from the court that cleared him this week said:

These statements are particularly repugnant because they directly encourage violence. We nevertheless hold that neither of them constitutes an offense within the meaning of the threat statute under which Bagdasarian was convicted.

Huh? So he DID encourage violence against a presidential candidate, but it's free speech? You see why I'm feeling like burrowing away in a bunker this afternoon, maybe calling up one of Glenn Beck's buddies at the Food Insurance company to help me stock my new home for the end of the world?

I'm no lawyer, but how much clearer can it get? A pissed off 'merican went online and begged for someone to shoot then-candidate Barack Obama. Multiple courts have determined that the man's statements encouraged violence. What more did he have to do to prove he was threatening the president's life? Show up at his doorstep, swinging the 50-caliber around his head? Be caught handing his entire plan for the man's assassination to a similarly disgruntled "patriot"?

I understand there's a difference between hateful speech and statements that specifically call for a crime to be created. I could stand outside my house saying I hate my husband, I want him to die all day long, and no one could do a thing to me. That's merely agitating, and as disturbing as it may be, I'm protected by the Constitution to hate on my husband in public if I so desire.

But if I stood out there telling passersby, "I hate my husband, $50 is yours if you off him for me," you bet your sweet behind I'd be hauled off to jail for soliciting a hit on my husband. (Disclosure for the moronic: This is what they call a hypothetical. I'm very much in love with my husband and would prefer he remain alive for a very, very long time.) That's not agitating, that's inciting violence. And like the age-old "crying fire in a crowded theater" problem, wherein the person who yelled created a stampede that hurt people, there I'd wander into another area of speech. Speech that has dire consequences. Speech that is a portion of a crime.

Law experts are already betting Bagdasarian's threats against Obama will go on to the Supreme Court for further review. Do you think it should?


Image via Ethan Bloch/Flickr

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