On February the 18th, Black Lightning co-creator Trevor Von Eeden posted what he termed as a "dream" or "musing out loud in public" on Facebook. Without delving into specific names, the post referred to America's "first openly White Supremacist idiot President" as well as the administration of the President and the Vice President as "an openly corrupt dictatorship". The post went onto speculate, in hypothetical terms, that an individual who "took out" the President and the Vice President might receive fame as well as the gratitude of the nation, including that of some wealthy people.
Suggesting, even in purely hypothetical terms, the assassination of a President and/or Vice President, tends not to go down well. But not everyone realises that writing such hypothetical statements online can have real-life repercussions. Especially when someone sees them and reports them. Von Eeden let us know what just happened to him.
SO THE SECRET SERVICE CAME TO MY HOME TODAY (WOKE ME UP, TOO–SO I WASN'T IN THE BEST OF MOODS…)
I went to bed around 6am. At 11am, someone rings my front doorbell. A large, pleasant-looking young black man, and a tall, young blonde woman tell me they're from the Secret Service, and ask to come in. I say "No. What's this about?" The man shows me the post "Did you write this?" "Yes. What about it?" "We're here to investigate this, and find out who you are." I point to the BL action figure, and BL plaque I'd gotten at the Akron Con with Tony & Jack in '17 that're prominently visible in my front window "You guys are Secret Service– and you don't even know whom you're investigating?"… I gave 'em my credentials–first black DC artist, co-creator of first black superhero on TV–and said "Do you really think I'm involved in a plot to assassinate our RACIST PRESIDENT? Well, I'll tell you to your face right now: I WISH HE WAS DEAD!!! This IS still a free country, ain't it?"… Long story short–I didn't let 'em in my apartment without a warrant, I didn't give 'em squat as to "whom they can speak to about me"…and I eventually escorted them to my front gate, and out of my yard. As they left, the black guy said "Have a GREAT day!" and the blonde woman said "Have a good day." I told 'em both "I ALWAYS HAVE A GREAT DAY! GOODBYE." I'll letcha know if anything else happens…right now, I'm a bit upset about not getting a full night's sleep because of an idiot Pig "President" that I–like most people in America–wish was dead, already…but I'll settle for impeachment, and removal from office–ASAP! Even his Secret Service is goddamned boring…😴
This is one of those pop cultural touchstones that most people know, but the often-combative nature of social media has perhaps led some to believe that such things fly under the radar due to the sheer volume of social media data generated from moment to moment. However, a search for relevant terms on twitter indicates that the Secret Service does routinely make visits in response to social media and other online postings of the type that Von Eeden has experienced here.
18 U.S.C. § 871 states that "Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."
However, according to the Department of Justice:
Several decisions have cast light on the scope of 18 U.S.C. § 871 and the requisite intent which must be proved in prosecutions thereunder. Proof that threatening words were uttered in a context such that a reasonable person would interpret them as mere political hyperbole, idle talk, or jest indicates that the words do not constitute a threat within the scope of the statute. However, it is the view of the Department that an actual intent to carry out a threat is not a requisite to violation of the statute.
That may or may not have come into play here, and the Secret Service famously no-comments questions as to specifics of investigations. That said, a glance at their 2017 Annual Report gives one a general impression of some impressive data-processing infrastructure, and on February 15, 2019, they issued a press release discussing bi-partisan legislation called the EAGLES Act of 2019, which would expand the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center.
All of which is to say, it's still a bad idea to post a hypothetical threat against the President on Facebook.
Trevor Von Eeden is best known for co-creating the Black Lightning character for DC Comics, as well as working on Batman, Green Arrow, Power Man and Iron Fist, and more recently the graphic biography, The Original Johnson.