As federal, state and local law enforcement officials continue to express concerns over the persistence of threats against both President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made on social media websites, the US Secret Service twice urged its more than 40,000 Twitter followers to report threatening Tweets and other threats made by way of social media.
During the past week, many more social media threats, especially using Twitter, appear to have been directed against Romney, Twitter searches show.
Homeland Security Today earlier reported officials’ concerns about the number and virulence of many of the threats that were made via social media following the debates between President Obama and Romney.
On Oct. 23, the Secret Service’s Twitter page, which had been inactive since June, was reactivated with a plea to citizens “To report a Tweet that concerns you.”
“Call the nearest field office in your state,” the agency’s Tweet said, linking to the page on the Secret Service website that lists its state field offices.
The following day, the Secret Service again Tweeted to its followers that they should “Contact your nearest field office with time-sensitive or critical info or to report a Tweet.”
Despite violation of Twitter usage rules as well as federal laws against making threats using electronic mediums, Twitter pages of many individuals who’d made threats to kill Romney have yet be removed.
Requests for comments were not answered.
“The threats made today [Nov. 2] were posted exclusively by supporters of President Obama. We weren’t able to find even one Republican threatening to riot if Mitt Romney loses,” reported Twitchy.com, a website that follows Twitter trends.
“Granted, most of these riot threats were probably made in jest, but a few may be serious,” the website stated, adding, “People who do not respect property rights and have little regard for the rules governing civil society have been known to riot over matters of less importance than a presidential election.”
While many threats were made against Republican President George W. Bush through social media during the 2008 presidential election, law enforcement intelligence analysts said it appears to them that there have been many more threats “in general” during the 2012 election period against both President Obama and Romney, and at a time when polling has indicated the electorate is more polarized along partisan lines than at any time in the last 25 years.
A Florida man was charged with using social media, including Twitter and Facebook, to make threats to assassinate President Obama. A 25-year-old Birmingham, Alabama man who used Twitter to threaten the president during the Democratic National Convention was also charged. Also during the Democratic convention, New York delegate Julia Rodriguez provoked an investigation by the Secret Service after she told a reporter on camera that “If I see [Romney], I would like to kill him."
A 21-year-old Charlotte, South Carolina man who Tweeted a number of threats against the President on September 2, 2012 was charged by the Secret Service. Last week he pleaded guilty under a deal with federal prosecutors that reportedly would allow him to avoid a prison sentence. Earlier this month, the Secret Service charged a 51-year-old registered sex offender in Ohio for allegedly threatening both the President and Romney.
The Weekly Standard’s Daniel Halper recently wrote that “the Secret Service, which maintains that it is currently investigating … specific threats [by way of social media], would not reveal or discuss the specifics of its activities, but it appears these users who made these threats have not (yet) been arrested — or even banned from Twitter.”
“The Secret Service receives intelligence information from a wide variety of sources; general public, local law enforcement, federal agencies, intelligence agencies,” Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary tells me,” Halper wrote. “This also includes information received from Twitter.”
Leary continued: “Any time we receive information we have to make an assessment on things like veracity and/or urgency while also considering context and dangerousness. Once the assessment is made the appropriate follow up has to be determined.”
And once the agency has determined that follow up is necessary, Leary explained that there are a “wide range” of options that include “a conversation determining someone’s intent all the way up to working with the local US Attorney’s Office on prosecuting someone.”
Leary stressed that “we do take [threats] seriously. We look into them.”
Homeland Security Today had previously reported that the Secret Service “most definitely is taking this seriously,” according to federal law enforcement sources who added that the FBI is also aware of the “threats” and has used its various authorities to obtain from telecommunications companies the identities of specific individuals “of interest” because of what the officials described as “serious” terrorist-like threats they’ve made against both the President and Romney.
Officials, Homeland Security Today reported, said federal agencies like the Secret Service were actively investigating an undisclosed number of persons for having made “threatening remarks and statements” about both Obama and Romney via Twitter and Facebook accounts, personal blogs and othervarious forms of online social media such as forums and chat rooms.
Similarly, the Weekly Standard reported Oct. 25 that Leary insisted Twitter users who make threats against the President and Romney “can be tracked down [by the Secret Service] and not simply hide behind a veil of anonymity.”
“Is it possible to identify these people?” Leary quipped to the Weekly Standard. “Absolutely. We have the capabilities.”
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told the Los Angeles Times, “We cast a wide net for information, and that includes law enforcement agencies, federal agencies and the general public.”
According to a Secret Service manual, “Threats should always be investigated; even if a threat is not an early warning of attack, making a threat is usually a violation of law, which is a valid reason for opening an investigation.”
“Generally, a person who thinks that attacking a public official or figure is a desirable, acceptable or potentially effective way to achieve a goal can be considered a potential assassin,” the agency’s manual states, adding, “If such a person has or develops the capacity to mount an attack on a public official or figure, the threat increases. Changes in thinking about the acceptability or effectiveness of attacking, or changes in ability to attack, may decrease the threat posed.”
Continuing, the Secret Service manual says “Protective intelligence — a less visible aspect of protection — consists of programs and systems aimed at identifying and preventing persons with the means and interest to attack a protected person from getting close enough to mount an attack and, when possible, reducing the likelihood that they would decide to mount an attack. Protective intelligence programs are based on the idea that the risk of violence is minimized if persons with the interest, capacity and willingness to mount an attack can be identified and rendered harmless before they approach a protected person. This involves three key functions:
- “Identification of persons who might pose a threat;
- “Assessment of persons who are identified as a potential threat; and
- “Case management of persons and groups deemed a threat to a protected person.”
The agency further stated that “Identification is the process by which persons who might present a risk to a public official or figure come to the attention of agencies responsible for protective intelligence.”
And “Some persons self-identify,” the Secret Service manual says, meaning “they call, write, e-mail or approach a public official or figure or indicate an unusual or inappropriate interest in a person. These individuals often give their names or provide other information that leads to easy identification."
“The threatener — someone who communicates a direct, indirect or conditional threat — is the classic example of a self-identifier,” the Secret Service says, adding, “Such a person may threaten for various reasons: to warn of a possible attack, to ask to be stopped, to demand help or attention, to express frustration or anger or to communicate distress.”
Meanwhile, law enforcement authorities said they’re also concerned about the “sort of dangerous rhetoric” that they say has been espoused by pundits, media personalities and individual party advocates that “practically begs violence,” as one said. This and other senior law enforcement officials involved in monitoring social media threats pointed to several recent examples that they described as “dangerous,” including an admittedly alarming web advertisement riddled with obscenities and vulgar language in support of Obama.
Under the headline, “A Moving Message About the Election From a 97 Year Old and Her Friends,” the ad was produced by controversial liberal filmmaker, Michael Moore, in conjunction with the leftwing MoveOn.org that’s provoked bipartisan outrage because of its unsettling advocacy of violence against Romney if he wins the election.
Although MoveOn.org quaintly described the video as a “moving, inspirational message from the greatest generation,” the ad features an elderly woman saying if Republicans, through “your voter suppression throughout this beautiful country, enables Romney to oust Barack Obama …We will burn this m—-r f—-r down!"
Another elderly woman says, “if the Republicans steal this election, I’m going to track down Mitt Romney and give him the world’s biggest cock punch … right in the n-t s–k!”
But not all viewers of the ad support the worrying message that’s conveyed by the ad. In the comment section beneath the advertisement, one person said “I support progressive causes and have always been labeled a liberal, [but] ads like this make me cringe … I think this ad will end my financial support of MoveOn.org.”
Another said: “This would be really funny if the message wasn’t so disturbing …”
Similarly, political comedian Bill Maher stated on HBO’s Real Time that "If you’re thinking about voting for Mitt Romney, I would like to make this one plea: black people know who you are and they will come after you.”
And on CNN’s OutFront, Paul Begala, a liberal political consultant and commentator who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton, said, "When Bush Sr. carried Pennsylvania, he also carried California and Illinois and New Jersey, places where they would hunt Romney down with dogs."
Distressingly, President Obama also has been criticzed for entering the inflammatory speech domain when he told attendees at a campaign rally in Springfield, Ohio Friday that voting for him is "the best revenge” against Romney.
“With all the super-heated emotions that are running in this election, [all] this kind of talk just fans the flames of these sorts of emotions – that’s my concern,” a law enforcement official tracking social media threats expressed in a background interview with Homeland Security Today.