Guitar-strumming iconoclastic Ted Nugent got an obligatory visit from and interview by the Secret Service for his loose-lipped crack that to ensure that President Obama's not be re-elected, "we need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November" at the National Rifle Association convention.
But the chilling thing is the fulsome praise -- or at best, defense -- of Nugent by gun enthusiasts, bloggers on websites, and by right-wing talk show gabbers. Even more chilling was Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's gush with giddy delight about his admiration of Nugent, and Oklahoma GOP Senator Jim Inhofe who wondered what the big deal was about Nugent's crack. Though presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign did issue a tepid rebuke of Nugent's remarks as "divisive," even more chilling was the wall of silence from top GOP party leaders. Nugent, for his part, was unrepentant. Though he tempered his Obama threat with the loud protest that he did not wish any harm to the president, he quickly added that he had the right to express himself however he chose.
Nugent is right. He does have the right to speak out and voice his views as any other private citizen or public figure. And he has done that in the past Obama. On Aug. 21, 2007, Nugent ranted that, "Obama's a piece of s...., and I told him to suck on my machine gun." His latest broadside against Obama could charitably be considered no more than a hard personal dig at Obama with no inference that he personally wished him dead. But that doesn't erase the malign sentiment behind his remark, let alone the sentiment of the legions that made a mad dash to secretly and even publicly praise Nugent. But Nugent is a celebrity, personality, and public figure. No matter his intent or how First Amendment protected he thought his remark, it was bound to get widespread public attention and agreement from many who loath Obama.
But more importantly it doesn't alter the terrifying fact that threats against Obama have come fast and furious before and after he took office. That concern over Obama's safety has been intense since he announced he would seek the presidency in February 2007. He had the dubious distinction of being the earliest presidential contender to be assigned Secret Service protection on the campaign trail. This didn't ease the jitters over his safety. Several congressional members demanded that Secret Service officials provide all the resources and personnel they could to ensure Obama's and the other presidential candidates' security. They heard the whispers and nervous questions from his constituents about Obama's safety.
During the presidential campaign in 2008, the flood of crank, crackpot, and screwball threats that promised murder and mayhem toward Obama continued to pour in. This prompted the Secret Service to tighten security and take even more elaborate measures to ensure his safety.
The Secret Service reported the year after he took office that the rate of threats against President Obama has increased 400 percent from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush. He receives dozens of assassination threats continuously, and that number has been steady before and during the campaign and increased after he took office. Federal law is very clear on Threatening the President of the United States. It is a Class D felony under United States Code Title 18, Section 871. It consists of knowingly and willfully mailing or otherwise making "any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States."
The Secret Service has taken the threats against the president seriously and has diligently investigated every one of them. Nugent found that out and even agreed that the Service was only doing its job in investigating him. In a few cases, prosecutors have brought charges. These have been the most extreme cases, where the suspects have actually concocted plots against the president and have histories of gun-toting and of even committing violent acts. Nugent, of course, won't face any charges. But he did serve as yet another cautionary note that in an intense election year, with so much riding on Obama's re-election and the GOP pulling out all stops to make sure that doesn't happen, the frustration, anger, and discontent with Obama from many that lay underneath Nugent's crack will almost certainly be heard and repeated again and again during the campaign.
The line between what's legitimate free speech and expression -- up to and including rapping the president -- versus a threat of bodily harm to him will be tested, blurred and challenged just as repeatedly. Nugent is only the latest example of that. He won't be the last. That's what makes what he said so chilling.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/earlhutchinson