An alleged neo-Nazi in Louisville is pushing the constitutional envelope with a poem that resulted in a criminal charge as a threat to kill the President. Johnny Logan Spencer Jr. is charged with threatening the life of the President with his poem that refers to killing a black president but not Obama by name.
I have long harbored serious constitutional concerns over the federal law used to investigate and charge people for threats against the President. The Justice Department takes the position that even saying “I wanted to shoot that man” in reference to a president is a federal crime as opposed to free speech. Such expressions are juvenile and common in our society.
The case against Spencer, 27, is based on a sixteen-line poem entitled “The Sniper” including the statement “DIE negro DIE.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Chance insists “[t]his is a threat by one individual against another because he is the president and because he is black.”
In fairness to Chance, this is consistent with past prosecutions. However, I strongly disagree with the premise of these prosecutions. The poem is vile but it is also an act of free speech and should be protected by the Constitution. It is possible to be both vile and protected speech.
Spencer faced five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for writing and publishing a poem.
What is particularly disturbing is that Oliver Stone can do a movie on killing a black president but Johnny Spencer cannot do a poem on the same premise. It is an example of criminalizing speech that should be anathema to Americans — regardless of how unsympathetic we are to the defendant.
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