Posted on | July 10, 2014 | 143 Comments
Preston Smith (@common_alias) is an atheist progressive supporter of Hillary Clinton’s incipient 2016 presidential campaign. C. Steven Tucker (@CSteven) is a Chicago businessman, Tea Party activist and ObamaCare critic. Wednesday afternoon, Tucker sent out a Twitter message about calls to impeach President Obama. Smith responded with a sick comment — CC’d to Tucker’s wife Andrea — that appeared to be a rape threat directed at one of their teenage daughters:
Why? Beyond Smith’s perverse interpretation of an Old Testament passage, it seems Smith had devoted enough attention to his target to be able to locate Tucker’s wife’s account, showing her with the couple’s three children in the profile picture.
You can imagine how any parent would take alarm at such a comment. Tucker said he has reported Smith to law enforcement, but I’m afraid the Tuckers will be disappointed to learn that, from a legal standpoint, a comment like Smith’s is not be considered a “threat.” A threat, in the legal sense, requires that there be some reason for the target to fear that the person making the threat will actually carry it out.
In other words, if I say, “I’d like to beat Preston Smith to a bloody pulp,” that’s not a threat, legally. On the other hand, if I were to say, “I’ve got Preston Smith’s home address and I just booked my flight from Dulles to Miami tomorrow so that I can kill that vicious bastard with my bare hands” — well, the specificity of such a comment could be seen as a legitimate threat that might cause him to fear that an enraged redneck could show up at his front door with murderous intent.
The difference between these hypothetical scenarios may seem trivial legalistic hair-splitting to the layman. On the other hand, if I told you that Delta Flight 6224 left Dulles at 6:10 a.m., connnecting through Detroit via Flight 1829 to arrive at Miami International Airport before noon, you might believe I’d given it serious consideration. And if Steven Tucker posted a selfie of himself at O’Hare Airport boarding a non-stop flight to Miami, that could also be taken as indicating Preston Smith has reasonable cause to fear for his safety.
But these are just hypothetical scenarios, of course.
(Hat-tip: Big Fur Hat.)