Should Obama Be Killed Poll is No Joke: Secret Service Investigates

BlogHer Original Post

Somebody on Facebook created a disturbing poll with the question "Should Obama Be Killed?" The Secret Service is investigating, confirm news sources, and blogger GottaLaff at The Political Carnival says she's gotten a "thank you" call from the agency for supplying it with a screen shot of the poll. The agency caller told her "without it, they wouldn't have been able to address the matter." She writes:

Last night I posted about a scary Facebook entry, specifically a poll asking whether Obama should be killed. ... (The caller) thanked me over and over, emphatically, saying that there would be no way for the Secret Service to catch something like this without assistance. The Internets are too vast for that. (Read more by GottaLaff)

The assassination poll's questions had potential answers of "yes," "maybe," "if he cuts my health care," and "no," per HP. At one point the poll had more than 730 responses, about 10 percent advocating violence, reports Raw Story.

Raw Story also reports that the "Should Obama be killed?" poll appeared Sunday night, and while Facebook removed it, the social website did not issue a statement when first asked about the incident.

One Facebook user posted in the poll’s comments area: “What kind of sicko even puts up a poll like this? Where are the moderators of Facebook, don’t they even monitor some of this crap? I am stunned!”

“It’s scary that 10 percent agreed on some level,” another user commented.

As of press time, Facebook had not responded to RAW STORY’s inquiries, and there was no mention of the poll on Facebook’s own Facebook page, or on its press releases page. (Raw Story)

I don't think the social networking site has to issue a statement unless this story gets picked up by more of the press asking questions about Facebook moderation. (Since the first posting of this story, it has gotten more attention from MSM and Facebook has issued a statement of sorts.) Facebook is not responsible for some wackadoo posting a crazy poll and has done what it can by taking it down. All any website can do is warn users that if they violate guidelines, the site will remove their content and possibly block them, and then enforce the guidelines. I assume the person has been kicked off Facebook (maybe FB should say that), but getting kicked off FB is nothing compared to the heat the Secret Service will bring.

Asking people to vote on the potential assassination of any president is not a joke, not parody, not satire. The creator should be investigated and if there's a legal penalty, face it.

I'm glad GottaLaff, who first posted on the poll under "This is NOT okay," took action.

The hate speech, the threats have gotten completely out of hand. And those who have incited viewers and listeners-- and you know who you are Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, etc.-- are responsible for a good part of this horrific activity.

No, it is not "grassroots", not even close. It is a sick, terrifying, dangerous movement toward violence and the worst kind of civil unrest. (GottaLaff)

I'm also happy GottaLaff and other Facebook surfers notified the Secret Service and that Raw Story and HuffPo reported the poll to the larger public so quickly. In addition, I agree with GottaLaff that some of the hateful rhetoric spread lately contributes to the kind of climate where this kind of threat of violence, if not violence itself, may flourish. We live in a social climate where this kind of threat may be taken lightly or even secretly approved by those oppose President Barack Obama, and, as she said, it's not a grassroots movement.

What we are witnessing may be the result of irresponsible use of the airwaves and the Net where some conservative political pundits indulge their baser instincts and stir rage. Some of the pundits GottaLaff mentioned, for instance, have stoked the fires of unrest with crazy conspiracy theories and out and out lies on everything from health care reform, to socialist takeovers, to race baiting kookiness. I mention conservative pundits because they have of late been the most prominent offenders, dressing actual hate speech in the cloak of protest speech. However, divisive strategies employing fear-inspiring propaganda at the expense of public peace may be used by any political group at any time. And so, before I go further in this discussion, I say in bold for those who skim, for all we know the person who created the poll belongs to no political group.

He or she may just be someone seeking attention in the dumbest way possible. The person could even turn out to be someone who is a progressive, who supposedly supported Obama, and is trying to make a point poorly. Remember the Daily Kos blogger last year who tried to show how Michelle Obama is objectified by using a horrible image of her as a KKK victim that he created himself. Some people don't think clearly or are clearly clueless.

Such possibilities notwithstanding, last year reports emerged that Obama, as the president elect, had more threats against him than any other president elect in American history. Since then, the Secret Service has said threats against this president are up "400 per cent from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush."

While some choose to debate whether the big increase in threats is race-related, it's hard to ignore the fact that Obama's primary difference from presidents before him is his African heritage and skin color. This is not to say that other presidents' lives have not been in danger simply because all presidents get threats but that Obama's life seems to be threatened more.

At The Moderate Voice earlier this month, Kathy Kattenberg, addressing cuts in Secret Service funding, said given the number of threats against Obama both Republicans and Democrats should be concerned. She told her readers about a petition at Credo with the following text.

“As racist attacks increase and protestors continue to bring guns to presidential events, it is strikingly clear that President Obama is vulnerable to harm. Threats against the president have grown 400 percent, while funding for the agents that must confront and investigate threats against him has significantly decreased. I urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that the FBI and Secret Service expand and fully fund efforts to protect the President of the United States.” (CREDO)

However, I know some conservatives don't consider incidents such as one Arizona protester brining a gun to a rally where Obama will be speaking is anything that should concern Americans. The concern, they say, is that the man's right to carry the weapon may be violated and one said that a protester who carried a weapon to a rally showed responsible gun ownership by not shooting at people. I mention conservatives on this particular point because I haven't personally heard any moderates, progressives, or liberals saying it's cool to bring a gun to a rally where the president is speaking.

Why would anyone believe carrying guns to rallies, alluding to threats, and sharing so-called "humor" about the assassination of a president, any president, should be taken lightly? I don't have an answer to that question, but I do know that despite President Ronald Reagan actually surviving an assassination attempt, while President Bill Clinton was obviously despised, and even as former President George W. Bush's approval rating plummeted and people on the left called him horrible names, none of those presidents had the number of death threats President Barack Obama gets, threats that started before he even took office.

There are some people courageous enough to examine why threats against this president may be higher and are willing to study the matter even if the examination makes them face our country's problems regarding race and the tendency to excuse political pundits and leaders who use misinformation, coded language that otherizes opponents of color, and racially-tinged fear tactics to score points. It would be better for us all if more of us were willing to look honestly at what's motivating the intense hatred of President Obama to the point where people take weapons to rallies, gleefully listen to pundits who make claims such as "Obama's budget is reparations to black people," who promote a book like The 5,000 Year Leap, easily believe conspiracy theories that involve "death panels" and health care reform, or encourage sending money to a legislator for disrespecting the office of the president.

Few prominent conservative pundits seem willing to address the importance of using wisdom in the methods employed to criticize this particular president or the tactics used to get him out of office. However, they must ask themselves are they making statements that inspire the kind of hate for the president and the Federal government under Obama's administration that creates the climate for a "Should Obama be Killed" poll or insane acts of violence like the murder of a census worker on whom the word "fed" was scrawled. Do they dare look in the mirror, into their own eyes?

Free speech is not as free as some of us seem to believe. Free speech that is also irresponsible speech can ruin lives, can exact the price of blood from those who are the target of hate-inspiring words.

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough recently stepped forward to take at least one irresponsible pundit to task for flooding the airwaves with irresponsible speech. He called for conservatives to step away from Glen Beck.

Scarborough went on to say that he was starting an "honor roll" of conservatives willing to come out against Beck. He made multiple references to Beck's "race-baiting," and "wallow[ing] in conspiracy theories." Scarborough concluded: "Not only is Glenn Beck responsible, but conservatives who don't call him out are responsible." (HuffPo)

I'm not sure into what political camp Scarborough falls these days and it's possible his declaration is only about his ratings, but his sentiment that conservatives should start addressing head on irresponsible speech coming from those who claim they are conservatives was discussed in the comments section of a recent BlogHer post that argued progressives or liberals should get off the "racism train" and stop leveling charges of racism against conservatives. The writer, American Princess, seems to believe continued charges of racism will make conservatives leave the table on health care reform negotiation.

We can all agree that it's not a good idea for anyone to leave the table on a critical piece of legislation, but I suspect the charge that conservative political pundits are using rhetoric that increases threats against Obama and conservative citizens are not tuning that out will also be viewed as making conservatives leave the table.

Yet how do we know that conservatives are tuning this kind of rhetoric out if more of them don't say so or as long as people like Limbaugh and Beck have growing audiences? Somebody's listening to these men, and it seems any criticism asking certain types who support the Becks and Limbaughs of the airwaves to examine carefully what may be perceived as hate speech, especially hate speech directed at people of color in general and Obama as a man of color in particular, makes such conservatives clam up, collect their marbles, and threaten to go home.

Until I see clear signs that more conservatives reject the kind of rhetoric and conspiracy theories these men produce, I must conclude a large part of the conservative base agrees with them. Furthermore, as long as people who call themselves conservative make it sound as though the charge of racism is worse than practicing racism itself, I'm unconvinced that I should give conservatives benefit of the doubt when they claim they were joking, ignorant, or just entertaining us.

However, racism is not a problem with conservatives alone. Politicians of all types appear willing to waltz strategically down the color line when it suits them. Neither is mean rhetoric the province of the right alone.

Furthermore, race is not the only factor influencing a high level of threats against Obama. Add fear of the unknown in general, one that rises in some people on hearing the word "change," fear of loss--loss of money, health care, privilege, or power--and we've got ourselves a certain percentage of people losing their minds.

Again I say, within the context of the Facebook poll that spurred this post, for all we know the creator of that poll is a progressive or possibly even non-political. For all we know an ignorant gamer created the poll. We may never know why the person posted such a disturbing survey unless he or she is caught and questioned, but that one poll is a drop in the bucket for allusions to threats or actual threats against the sitting POTUS.

In updates on the Facebook poll story, Public Record reported that Facebook has responded.

“The application that enabled a user to create the offensive poll was brought to our attention this morning and was disabled,” Barry Schnitt, director of policy communications for Facebook, told Raw Story. “We’re following up [with] the developer to ensure the offending content has been removed and that they have better procedures in place going forward to monitor their user-generated content.”

So, Facebook's done what it could and has put the ball in the application developer's court.

PlumLine at Who Runs Gov has confirmed that the Secret Service is investigating and has a statement from agency spokesperson Ed Donovan. CNN and ABC also confirm the Secret Service involvement. I wonder what the poll's creator is doing right now.

The good that I see in this story is how the Secret Service responded to GottaLaff and the realization that the Internet has the potential for greater good. While we don't want to become speech police online, it's reasonable that we should be on the look out for irresponsible expressions of protest that imply a call for violence. Can we at least agree that this type of speech is not really free, that it may cost us more than we should ever be asked to pay?

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer.com CE. You may keep up with her writing adventures via Her411 or visit her personal blog.

Updated/cross-posted at WSATA

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