Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Court overturns convictions for threatening Obama

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Southern California man who urged readers of an online message board to "shoot the n-" two weeks before the 2008 presidential election, and said Barack Obama "will have a 50 cal in the head soon," was protected by freedom of speech, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned Walter Bagdasarian's two felony convictions for threatening to kill a presidential candidate and said his advocacy of violence, though "alarming and dangerous," was not illegal.

The online posting "conveys no explicit or implicit threat on the part of Bagdasarian that he himself will kill or injure Obama," said Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the majority opinion. The law, he said, "does not criminalize predictions or exhortations to others to injure or kill the president," or a candidate.

Dissenting Judge Kim Wardlaw said anyone posting such messages "at a time when violent and racist threats against candidate Obama were being taken very seriously" must have known, and intended, that they would be interpreted as threats.

Lawyers for Bagdasarian and the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego declined to comment on the ruling.

Prosecutors could ask the full appeals court for a rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor and legal commentator, said the high court might well decide to review the case.

"This is a close case," he said. "The line between punishable threats and protected vituperation, or even protected advocacy of violence, is not completely clear."

Bagdasarian, of La Mesa in San Diego County, posted the statements under the pseudonym "californiaradial" on a Yahoo Finance message board in October 2008. On election day two weeks later, the court said, he sent e-mails with a link to an ad for a rifle, a video of cars being blown up, and racist references to Obama.

Secret Service agents went to his home several weeks later and found six guns, including a .50-caliber rifle, the court said.

Bagdasarian waived his right to a jury trial and was convicted by a federal judge in July 2009. After apologizing and saying he had posted the initial messages while drunk, he was sentenced to two months in a halfway house, in addition to 24 days he had already spent in jail.

In Tuesday's ruling, Reinhardt, joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, said the Supreme Court had made it clear in 2003 that violent statements are protected by free speech unless the speaker intended to carry out an unlawful assault, or at least to threaten an assault.

Bagdasarian may have believed he was encouraging others to kill Obama, Reinhardt said, but his words - even read alongside his possession of guns - expressed no intent to take such actions himself.

But Wardlaw said such messages - in a time of fear, racial tension and outbreaks of violence - would be interpreted by most people, including the Secret Service agents protecting Obama, as threats of harm.

The ruling can be viewed at

E-mail Bob Egelko at

Tuesday, July 5, 2011



The Guardian ^ | 7/4/11

Rogue 4 July tweets on TV news channel's politics service go viral but Fox News is apparently back in control

Fox News has apparently fallen victim to hacking, with its politics Twitter feed repeatedly announcing President Barack Obama had been shot dead.

@foxnewspolitics began tweeting the information to its 33,000 followers at about 2am local time, with the posts rapidly being shared around the internet.

The rogue tweets appeared to begin after the account sent a message saying Fox had just "regained full access to our Twitter account".

The following tweets all related to the supposed death of Obama, with some posts being very specific about the president's injuries.

"@BarackObama has just passed. The President is dead. A sad 4th of July, indeed. President Barack Obama is dead," came the first tweet. The string of messages continued:

"@BarackObama has just passed. Nearly 45 minutes ago, he was shot twice in the lower pelvic area and in the neck; shooter unknown. Bled out", and then: "@BarackObama shot twice at a Ross' restaurant in Iowa while campaigning. RIP Obama, best regards to the Obama family."

Whatever the hoaxer's identity, they do not appear to have been entirely web-savvy. The first three posts revealing the president's death were directed to the @BarackObama Twitter feed, meaning only those following both accounts would have seen the messages.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...