Assassination threats against Barack Obama

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Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, has been the target of several assassination threats and alleged plots.

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, has been the target of several assassination attempts and alleged plots since he first became a presidential candidate in 2007. Secret Service protection for Obama began after the Senator received a death threat in 2007, while serving as the junior Senator of Illinois and running for president. This marked the first time a candidate received such protection before being nominated.[1] Security was increased early for Barack Obama due to fears of possible assassination attempts by white supremacist or other racist groups or individuals against the first African American major party presidential nominee.[2][3][4]

Some of the threats have been extended to members of Obama's family, including First Lady Michelle Obama.[5][6][7][8] Obama and his officials have generally declined to discuss death threats against him since entering the presidential race.[1][5] While some commentators have suggested the unusually high amount of death threats surrounding Obama are at least partially tied to the use of racist imagery and words used by some of Obama's critics to describe the president,[2] in 2009 the Secret Service stated that the volume of threats against Obama was "comparable to that under George W. Bush and Bill Clinton."[9]

2008[edit]

North Carolina Waffle House threats

Jerry Blanchard, an accountant from Charlotte, North Carolina, was indicted for threatening to kill Obama during a July 15, 2008, breakfast at a Charlotte Waffle House.[5][10] Two customers said Blanchard told them, "Obama and his wife are never going to make it to the White House. He needs to be taken out and I can do it in a heartbeat."[5] The customers contacted the Secret Service, who questioned Blanchard. He denied making the threats, but allegedly told the Secret Service agents he believed Obama was the Antichrist prophesied in the Bible.[5][10] The Secret Service later got a second call from an employee of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Charlotte,[11] where Blanchard was overheard in the lobby restroom saying into his cell phone, "I'll get a sniper rifle and take care of it myself. Somebody's got to do it ... We both know Obama is the anti-Christ."[5] Blanchard had claimed he would buy a sniper rifle and pistol from the Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte. The gun shop owner said Blanchard has visited the store but did not buy any weapons.[5] Blanchard was placed into custody on felony charges of making threats against a major candidate for president, and a psychiatric evaluation was ordered. It was questioned how much evidence existed that he planned to actually go through with an assassination attempt;[5][10] later, according to a federal affidavit, there was no proof of any furtherance of his crime.[12] In June 2009, Blanchard was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for making the threats. He was also fined $3,000 and ordered to be under supervised release for three years following his prison term.[12]

Miami bail-bondsman training threats

Raymond H. Geisel was charged with making threatening statements against Obama during a bail-bonds training class on July 31, 2008, in Miami, Florida.[10] During the course, Geisel referred to Obama with a racial epithet and said, "If he gets elected, I'll assassinate him myself."[2] Geisel also threatened to put a bullet in the head of then-President Bush, although Geisel later claimed he was joking. In his hotel room, authorities found ammunition, body armor, a combat-style hatchet, tear gas, a loaded 9 mm handgun and four loaded magazines. Geisel said he collected firearms, and was only using the gun for his bail-bonds course. Geisel remained in custody for a month.[2][10] He later plead "not guilty" on August 20, 2008.[13] With trial date set for January 2009, in December 2008 there was discussion of a plea agreement for Geisel who faced up to thirty years in prison if convicted on all four counts brought against him.[14] In December 2009, Geisel was convicted on weapons charges and served three years' supervised probation stemming from that conviction. The threat charges were dropped as part of his plea agreement.[15]

Assassination plot in Denver

Three men allegedly discussed shooting Barack Obama, then the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nominee, during his acceptance speech on the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. Cousins Tharin Gartrell and Shawn Adolf, and their friend Nathan Johnson, allegedly came to Denver specifically to kill Obama, and discussed in their hotel room how they could assassinate him.[1][16][17][18] On August 24, 2008, Gartrell was arrested when police found his truck filled with weapons and narcotics.[19][20][21] Johnson and Adolf were arrested shortly thereafter and, during a televised interview, Johnson later indicated Adolf was the one who planned the alleged threat.[17][22] Authorities later downplayed the threats and indicated the trio had little chance of successfully killing Obama.[4][17] The three men were charged with drug and weapons charges and sentenced, but did not face federal charges of threatening a presidential candidate.

Assassination plot in Tennessee

Paul Schlesselman and Daniel Cowart, two men with strong white supremacist beliefs, allegedly planned a murder spree of 88 African Americans in Tennessee, many of whom were to be young students at an unidentified, predominantly African-American school. They allegedly planned to end the spree by driving their vehicle toward Barack Obama as fast as they could and shooting at him from the windows.[23][24] The two men were arrested on October 22, 2008, after they bragged to their friends about firing shots at a church in Brownsville, Tennessee.[23][25] Schlesselman and Cowart were in possession of several guns during their arrest, and they allegedly told police they intended to rob a firearms dealer and other stores to secure more weapons for the attack.[26] Both plotters pleaded guilty to various federal charges; Judge J. Daniel Breen of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee sentenced Schlesselman to 10 years imprisonment on April 15, 2010, and Cowart to 14 years in prison on October 22, 2010.

Scranton "Kill him" threat

In October 2008, it was widely reported that someone yelled "Kill him" at a Scranton, Pennsylvania, Sarah Palin rally when Obama's name was mentioned. The Secret Service denied this claim, but a Scranton Times-Tribune editor said, “We stand by the story. The facts reported are true and that’s really all there is.”[27] Also, MSNBC clips of McCain rallies, while unclear, appear to show two similar incidents.[28]

2009[edit]

Kristy Lee Roshia, 35, called the Boston office of the Secret Service on November 10, 2009, and told them she planned to "blow away" First Lady Michelle Obama while the family visited Honolulu, Hawaii, for a Christmas vacation. She also indicated she planned to shoot members of the United States Marine Corps.[6][7][8] Roshia told authorities she knew "the exact location" the Obama family would be staying. Information that Roshia provided to the Boston office was consistent with the itinerary of the Obama family at the Secret Service office in Hawaii, and authorities believe Roshia had observed Secret Service agents in the area of the Kailua Beach home where the Obamas had previously stayed.[7] Roshia had a history of calling the Boston office and making threats, and told the agency in 2004 that she intended to assassinate then-President George W. Bush, although she contradictorily added that she had no desire to hurt him. Following her threatening call, Roshia was arrested two miles from the Honolulu house the Obama family had booked for their vacation. She allegedly struck an officer in the face and arms while he tried to detain her. Roshia was charged with threatening a family member of the president and assaulting a federal agent while being arrested.[6] A federal judge ordered Roshia to undergo a mental competency examination.[7] She was held in custody until a subsequent hearing in February 2010.[29] Roshia was transported to a facility in Texas and her competency continued to be evaluated through April 2010.[30] In January 2012, Roshia was sentenced for her crime.[31]

2010 [edit]

On April 25, 2010, Joseph McVey, 23, was arrested in Asheville, North Carolina. McVey was found listening to a police radio scanner using an earpiece, and told officers that he had heard that Obama was in town.[32] McVey was held on a charge of "going armed to the terror of the public," according to the Buncombe County jail's booking office. McVey's bail was set at $100,000. Airport police Capt. Kevan Smith said the suspect was driving a car that was made to look like a law enforcement vehicle with working lights and sirens. He would provide no further details about the suspect, but emphasized that the president was never in any danger.[33] McVey legitimately possessed amber colored LED lights and radios used in his vehicle during volunteer service on his local REACT (Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams) group and as a SKYWARN Severe Weather Spotter for the National Weather Service. McVey was later released, and charges dropped, with a U.S. official stating that he "is just a law enforcement buff, and is not considered a threat to the President."[32]

2011[edit]

Khalid Kelly

In May 2011 Irish Islamist militant Khalid Kelly was arrested for threatening to assassinate Barack Obama. In an interview with the Sunday Mirror he said that al-Qaeda was likely to kill Obama on his upcoming trip to Ireland. He reportedly said he would like to do it himself, but was too well known. He stated, "Personally I would feel happy if Obama was killed. How could I not feel happy when a big enemy of Islam is gone?"[34]

Shots fired at White House

On the night of November 11, 2011, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez fired a Romanian Cugir semiautomatic rifle from his car parked on Constitution Avenue. Nine rounds were fired, one of which was found lodged in a window of the first family's living quarters. He was arrested five days later in a hotel in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Obama was not at the White House at the time of the shooting, but was at an APEC Meeting in Hawaii. Nevertheless, Federal prosecutors launched an investigation to determine if Hernandez acted out of hatred for Obama.[35] Subsequently, writings by Hernandez and testimony from those who knew him showed that he believed President Obama was the antichrist and the devil.[36] In September 2013, Hernandez plead guilty to one count of destruction of property and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.[37] Originally scheduled to be sentenced in January 2014, Hernandez's lawyers objected to the "terrorism enhancement" as unconstitutional, though he accepted it as part of his guilty plea. On March 31, 2014, Hernandez was sentenced by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer to a term of 25-years imprisonment .[38]

2012[edit]

Plot by anarchist militia within US Army

In 2012, a case was brought against four U.S. Army soldiers in the U.S. state of Georgia claiming that they formed a paramilitary anarchist militia within the U.S. military with plans to overthrow the U.S. federal government: Private Isaac Aguigui, Private First Class Michael Burnett, Sargent Anthony Peden, and Private Christopher Salmon.[39] The group purchased $87,000 worth of guns and bomb-making materials, conspired to take over Fort Stewart, bomb targets in Savannah and Washington state, and assassinate the president.[40] Burnett plead guilty to lesser manslaughter and gang charges in the December 2011 slayings of former soldier Michael Roark and his girlfriend Tiffany York who were killed because they knew of the militia group’s plans.[39] Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but in May 2014 Peden was given a life sentence that included the possibility of parole after serving at least 30 years in prison.[41] Aguigui and Salmon also struck plea deals to avoid a possible death sentence and both were sentenced to life in prison without parole.[41]

Threats made by Denver man

In October 2012, Mitchell Kusick was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service at his parents' suburban Denver home after his mental health therapist told police that he wanted to kill the president, and had been trying to keep track of his visits to the Denver area. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Hosley stated that the Secret Service stated they arrested him because "they were concerned for the community's safety". "It's clear to the court that the defendant has a severe mental illness," U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Kristin Mix said in denying a request from Kusick's attorney to allow him to be released on bond that he had been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and posed a "risk to the community."[42] In August 2013, Kusick plead guilty and was later sentenced for the threats. After nine months in federal prison, he was released on time served. Kusick's release agreement includes three years of supervision and comprehensive mental health treatment. He must also live with his parents, both of whom are psychotherapists.[43]

2013[edit]

Death ray plot

In 2013, two men from upstate New York were arrested after building a radioactive "death ray" device and plotting to use it against Muslims, and other perceived enemies of the United States and Israel,[44] including Obama. The men, Glenn Scott Crawford and Eric J. Feight, were arrested by the FBI after a 15-month operation involving FBI agents posing as co-conspirators. A court affidavit described the device as "a mobile, remotely operated, radiation emitting device capable of killing human targets silently and from a distance with lethal doses of radiation."[45]

Crawford, affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan organization, had allegedly contacted an Albany synagogue and a Jewish organization, and asked for their assistance with technology that could be used against Israel's enemies. Crawford also plotted to kill President Obama with the device. The undercover agents rendered the weapon inoperable to eliminate potential danger to the public. Crawford and Feight were charged with "conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists" and could potentially be sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.[46][47][48][49][50]

Ricin plots

One attempt was made in April 2013 when a letter laced with ricin, a deadly poison, was sent to President Obama along with other government officials.[51] Another attempt was made in June 2013, when another ricin-laced letter was sent to President Obama by actress Shannon Richardson. The letter contained a threat to kill anyone attempting to take away the sender's guns or impair their "constitutional God given" right to bear arms.[52] It was later revealed the letter's message was fake as the sender's sole intent was to incriminate her estranged husband.[53] In November 2013, Richardson reached a plea agreement and faced up to five years' imprisonment on each of three counts.[54] The following month she pled guilty.[55] In July 2014, she was sentenced to eighteen years in prison.[56]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c d Parks, Gregory S.; Heard, Danielle C. (2009). ""Assassinate the Nigger Ape": Obama, Implicit Imagery, and the Dire Consequences of Racist Jokes" (PDF). Cornell Law School Working Papers: 2. 
  3. ^ Riccardi, Nicholas (2008-08-26). "Men's threat to kill Obama is downplayed". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  4. ^ a b Johnson, Kirk; Lichtblau, Eric (2008-08-26). "Officials see no "credible threat" to Obama in racist rants". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
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  49. ^ "Obama kill plot pair arrested over plans to use giant death ray on President". 
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  53. ^ {{cite http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/12/10/250037366/woman-pleads-guilty-to-mailing-ricin-to-obama-bloomberg |accessdate=2013-12-25}}
  54. ^ http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/11/24/21592577-texas-actress-has-plea-deal-over-ricin-letters-sent-to-obama-bloomberg?lite
  55. ^ Merchant, Nomaan. "Texas Woman Admits To Sending Ricin To Obama". Associated Press via Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  56. ^ Staff. "Texas woman in ricin case sentenced to 18 years in prison". cbsnews.com. CBS. Retrieved 14 September 2014.