from the threatening-speech-is-all-in-a-day's-job-at-dhs dept
The Supreme Court’s decision to say “fuck it” to reproductive rights has resulted in plenty of firmly protected First Amendment expression. People are angry and have decided to let the Supreme Court, along with the rest of the federal government, know that they aren’t happy.
Twitter user mattie daddy did the same thing, only using Twitter for their response. Here’s what that looked like, as captured by Adam Steinbaugh after the Twitter user deleted tweets and locked down their account:
Reacting to President Biden calling for non-violence in response to the Supreme Court’s reprehensible decision, the Twitter user quote-tweeted the lukewarm call to non-action and added this statement:
Burn every fucking government building down right the fuck now. Slaughter them all. Fuck you god damn pigs.
Incitement? A terroristic threat? A violation of laws federal or local?
Actually, no. None of the above. This was anger, expressed inelegantly. No one was directly encouraged to engage in violence. No specific agency was targeted. None of the elements needed to prove a violation of the federal law cited by the federal idiot who responded to this tweet (which had 8 retweets and 31 likes when it was removed by the Twitter user): 18 U.S. Code § 115 (Influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a Federal official by threatening or injuring a family member.)
This appears to be the “relevant” part of the law cited by the US federal agent (Josh Henry of the DHS’s “Threat Management Branch”), and I am using the term “relevant” only in the sense that Henry cited this part of the US code in his threat letter to the Twitter user:
[Whoever threatens] with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with such official, judge, or law enforcement officer while engaged in the performance of official duties, or with intent to retaliate against such official, judge, or law enforcement officer on account of the performance of official duties, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
(2) Whoever assaults, kidnaps, or murders, or attempts or conspires to kidnap or murder, or threatens to assault, kidnap, or murder, any person who formerly served as a person designated in paragraph (1), or a member of the immediate family of any person who formerly served as a person designated in paragraph (1), with intent to retaliate against such person on account of the performance of official duties during the term of service of such person, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
I can’t see how that tweet fits into this framework, unless the very special agent Joshua Henry felt a wholesale call to burn everything down was indistinguishable from distinct actions or threats directed at specific government officials.
But that’s what Josh Henry put in his threat letter, which was published by the Twitter user shortly before tweets were deleted and the account locked.
If you can’t read/see the image, I will reproduce it in full, lest I be accused of misconstruing the language or intent of Special Agent Josh Henry of the US Department of Homeland Security, who really needs to be sent back to “Know What The Fuck You’re Talking About” school.
This letter is in reference to your recent post on Twitter. Specifically, on June 4, 2022, you became upset at the Roe Vs Wade decision and stated, “Burn every fucking government building down right the fuck now. Slaughter them all. Fuck you god damn pigs.”
This letter is to advise you that any further communications containing any real or implied harassment/threats against the personal safety of agencies, employees or contractors towards government facilities are unwarranted and unwelcome. You are advised as of the date of this letter to cease and desist in any conduct deemed harassing/threatening in nature, when communicating to or about the federal government. Failure to comply with this request could result in the filing of criminal charges for violations of 18 United States Code Statue [sic] 115.
In closing, please refrain from any harassing/threatening language when contacting any government agency.
First things fucking last: the tweet was sent on June 24, not June 4. Sure, it might be a typo, but details matter, especially when threatening someone with a loss of their freedoms over expression protected by the First Amendment.
Second: the most robust First Amendment protections apply to speech “to or about the federal government.” So, this agent has a higher bar to clear than most when it comes to “real or implied harassment/threats.” Agent Joshua Henry doesn’t even make an attempt to clear this bar. And then he goes on to cite a government “statue” that definitely doesn’t apply to the speech he’s being extremely stupid about.
Third: there’s no evidence this Twitter user ever directly contacted any government agency to repeat the (protected) hyperbolic expression of disgruntlement observed in this tweet.
None of this appears to be slowing the roll of DHS Special Agent Dunning-Kruger. As far as the agent sees it, he might need to do something even stupider in the near future since his angry letter has failed to silence the Twitter user or an ever-increasing number of online critics.
Henry said Walker sharing the letter on Twitter could bring more trouble.
“She’s kind of taking it as a joke,” Henry said. “She’s not remorseful about these statements, so that’ll be presented a United States Attorney and they’ll make a decision on that.”
Hopefully, Agent Henry’s superiors will be along shortly to smack the stupid out of him. Law and Crime’s editor Colin Kalmbacher spoke to Robert Sperling, the Director of Communications for the Federal Protective Service — the agency overseeing Agent Henry’s attempts to keep the country safe by steamrolling the rights of Twitter users.
If Henry presents this case, there’s a very good change he’ll get laughed out of the US Attorney’s office:
In a phone call, Sperling described the language as quite “colorful” but, when asked about the First Amendment implications, said he doubted the incident would actually be presented to a U.S. Attorney for prosecution.
Come get your boy, DHS. This is embarrassing. Of course people are angry about the Supreme Court decision. Of course they’re going to talk a bunch of shit on social media. But almost none of it will actually escape the boundaries of the First Amendment. Actions like these just make the federal government look stupid, censorial, and ineffective. With any luck, it will be Agent Henry who needs to worry about the dumb stuff coming out of his mouth, rather than some internet rando whose “threat” managed to reach a few dozen followers before being picked up in the DHS’s social media dragnet.