Walter Bagdasarian, the La Mesa man convicted of making a death threat in 2008 against then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, has filed an appeal, claiming that, while racist, his postings on a Yahoo! Finance message board did not constitute a “true threat.”
What may be of even more interest to the public—and an argument in Bagdasarian’s defense—is the time it took the U.S. Secret Service to track him down.
On Oct 22, 2008, Bagdasarian, using the handle “californiaradial” posted these comments in a thread on Yahoo! Finance’s page for AIG (one of the first “too big to fail” financial institutions to receive a federal bailout):
Shoot the nig. Country fkd for another 4 years+, what nig has done ANYTHING right???? Long term???? Never in history, except sambos.
FK the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon.
The appeal filed Jan. 26 with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sheds light on the context and investigative process that led to the arrest of Bagdasarian for these comments.
Bagdasarian—who works in airplane sales and trades with an option robot—said he had been “drinking heavily” on Oct. 22 when he posted the comments. A retired Air Force officer in Torrance, Calif., saw the comments and contacted the Secret Service field office in Los Angeles.
Eight days later—less than a week before Election Day—the Secret Service retrieved Bagdasarian’s user registration and IP address from Yahoo.
It took another three weeks for them to get Cox Communications to match the IP address to a home address. Agents immediately visited Bagdasarian’s home; he took credit for the postings and admitted that he owned firearms.
Four days after that, the Secret Service finally executed a search warrant and raided Bagdasarian’s home. By then, Obama had assumed the title president-elect.
To break that down: It took a full month for the Secret Service to track down and arrest a guy who allegedly threatened Obama.
That may be alarming to some, consider that the Secret Service found six firearms at Bagdasarian’s home, including a .50 caliber rifle. The Secret Service agents also found an election-day e-mail thread titled “So it begins” in which Bagdasarian discussed what a .50-rifle could do to a “nigga’s car.”
But if Bagdasarian was so dangerous, why did it take the Secret Service so long to bring him in?
Bagdasarian waived his right to a jury trial and a judge found him guilty of “Making Threats Against a Major Candidate for President of the United States” and sentenced him to time served, 60 days in a halfway house and two years on probation.
In his appeal, Bagdasarian argues his statements were “vague, merely predictive and made while he was drunk,” and the phrase “shoot the nig” was “so vague facially as to not even constitute a definitive statement.” His attorneys argue that the Secret Service decontextualized his language by presenting it separate from the original thread.
Here’s one of the strongest, non-legalese arguments for Bagdasarian’s First Amendment rights:
The statements were racist and did say ambiguously to shoot Barack Obama, however these statements do not satisfy the definition of a “true threat.” Bagdasarian did not say that he was going to shoot Obama… and did not suggest that someone else should harm Obama. When read in their full context the statements are racist remarks that included violent language.
A reasonable person reading the messages would need to believe that Bagdasarian was threatening Obama. One concerned citizen reported the “shoot the nig” (Count Two addressed below) posting to the Secret Service. There is no information that anyone else contacted the Secret Service. If only one person was offended, than all the other readers must not have believed that the message was a “true threat.” The readers of the messages did not perceive Bagdasarian’s comments as serious and therefore did not report the messages.
The state’s response is due Feb. 25.