Conviction Overturned for Man Whose Words Were Not a “True Threat” to Obama.

On October 22, 2008, Walter Bagdasarian, after allegedly drinking heavily that day, wrote the following on the “Yahoo! Finance — American International Group” message board regarding then candidate Barack Obama:

Re: Obama fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon.”

shoot the nig country fkd for another 4 years+, what nig has done ANYTHING right???? long term???? never in history, except sambos.

A retired Air Force officer on the message board contacted the Secret Service. The Secret Service then contacted Yahoo!, who gave the them Bagdasarian’s IP address. The Secret Service then went to Bagdasarian’s house and interviewed him. In the interview, Bagdasarian admitted to having weapons in the house.

Four days later, agents executed a federal search warrant at Bagdasarian’s home and found six firearms, including a Remington model 700ML .50 caliber muzzle-loading rifle, as well as .50 caliber ammunition.

The agents also searched the hard drive of Bagdasarian’s home computer and recovered an email sent on Election Day with the subject, “Re: And so it begins.” The email’s text stated, “Pistol??? Dude, Josh needs to get us one of these, just shoot the nigga’s car and POOF!” The email provided a link to a webpage advertising a large caliber rifle. Another email that Bagdasarian sent the same day with the same subject heading stated, “Pistol . . . plink plink plink Now when you use a 50 cal on a nigga car you get this.”

Bagdasarian was convicted of making threats to kill or cause bodily injury to a presidential candidate in a non-jury trial and was sentenced to 60 days in a half-way house.

Bagdasarian appealed the conviction on First Amendment grounds claiming that his writings were protected political speech.

The case went to a three judge panel where, in a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit overturned the conviction saying that there was no evidence that Bagdasarian’s words were not a “true threat,” and therefore protected speech.

It is easy to sit back and think the 9th Circuit got this one right when the “target” is Obama. There is palatable hatred of the man in this country and it would be understandable to justify the speech of Bagdasarian because of that hatred. It is therefore better to imagine Bagdasarian’s words were written about Bush, Palin, Bachmann, or another conservative. Would we support Bagdasarian’s words if he had said “shoot the bitch country fkd for another 4 years+, what bitch has done ANYTHING right????”

Probably not.

Would conservatives want him in jail if those same words were said about Conservatives?

We hope not.

But the elephant in the room is the issue of race. There is a history in this country of violence against blacks. While that history has been dominated and inspired by non-conservative groups, it is difficult to ignore that citizens of this country have been attacked and killed simply because of the color of their skin. Bagdasarian’s words injected race into this discussion.

We hope that we can agree that Walter Bagdasarian is a loathsome individual. While there is a long history of hatred and contentiousness in elections, (see here for an example that is near and dear to our hearts) we condemn all types of prejudice and bigotry. There can be little doubt that Bagdasarian has issues with people of other races simply because of their race. That makes him a bigot, an idiot and a moron.

It does not make him a criminal.

Read in context, Bagdasarian’s comments, as wrong as they are, cannot be taken seriously. For a person to be convicted of making threats, there has to be an actual threat. People hearing the comment must believe that the threat is genuine. That did not happen here.

As much as we hate what Bagdasarian said and as much as we would have hated his words if they were directed to a political figure we like, the words just do not rise to the level of a threat. What was just as heartening in this decision is that the majority acknowledged the racial overtones in Bagdasarian’s rant to help determine whether there was a threat. They did not rely on the idea that because the words were directed toward a black man, it automatically followed that the threat was real. It appears to us that the 9th Circuit got this one right and therefore secured our coveted “even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile” graphic.

Bagdasarian should be scorned and ridiculed for his ridiculous hateful and bigoted words.

He should not be in prison for them.

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