An Ohio man has been charged with threatening to assassinate President-Elect Donald Trump.
Zachary Benson, a 24-year-old man from Fairview Park, Ohio, faces up to five years in prison for what he wrote about Donald Trump on Twitter shortly after his victory on November 9th. This is the second major case since Election Day of a person being investigated for threatening comments about Trump that were posted on social media.
Here’s what you need to know about the case of Zachary Benson.
1. He Said He Wanted to Assassinate the President-Elect
Zachary Benson’s Twitter account has been deleted, but according to NBC News, he tweeted a threatening message about the president-elect on the morning of November 9th.
“My life goal is to assassinate Trump,” he wrote. “Don’t care if I serve infinite sentences. That man deserve to decease existing.”
The tweets were made in the early hours of November 9th, after Trump won the presidency and gave his acceptance speech in New York City. Benson deleted his tweets in the morning, clearly realizing that he went too far, but by then the Secret Service had already flagged his comment.
2. Threatening the President Is a Class E Felony
Making threatening comments against the president of the United States is a violation of United States Code Title 18, Section 871. This law does not just apply to the president, though; it also applies to the vice president, the president-elect, and the vice president-elect, and anyone in the presidential line of succession.
Under the law, any person who makes such a threat will be fined, imprisoned for up to five years, or both.
The law states that the threat must be made “willfully,” which the court has generally interpreted as meaning making the comment intentionally and with the apparent goal of carrying the threat out. They also must comprehend the meaning of the words.
3. He Says He Was Just Letting Off Steam
A remorseful Zachary Benson has said that he was not actually planning to assassinate President-Elect Donald Trump and that he was merely letting off steam after being angry with the election result.
He also told Secret Service agents that he had been drinking that night, according to Law Newz.
Over the years, there have been some cases where an apparent threat against the president was later determined to be free speech. For example, there was the case of Walter Bagdasarian, who was charged with writing online that he wanted to shoot President Barack Obama. He wrote, among other things, “shoot the n*gger.” Secret Service agents found weapons in his home, and he was convicted of violating United States Code Title 18, Section 871. But in 2011, a federal appeals court reversed that conviction, saying that what he said was protected under the first amendment, according to TIME.
Another similar case was that of Brian Dean Miller, a man who made the following threat against President Obama in a Craigslist post: “People, the time has come for revolution. It is time for Obama to die. I am dedicating my life to the death of Obama and every employee of the federal government. As I promised in a previous post, if the health care reform bill passed I would become a terrorist. Today I become a terrorist.”
For that comment, Miller was ultimately sentenced to 27 months in prison, CBS News reports.
4. He Was Charged With Threatening the President
Benson was ordered to appear in court on November 17th, and he was ultimately charged with making threats against the president in violation of United States Code Title 18, Section 871, according to The Hill.
He was ordered held on a $20,000 unsecured bond and will go on to face a federal grand jury, although no date has been set.
Under United States Code Title 18, Section 871, Benson will receive a fine of some sort. Even in the case of Walter Bagdasarian, who was not charged for writing online that he wanted to shoot President Obama, the man hardly got off without any punishment: he was ordered to pay a $500 fine, spend 60 days in a corrections home, and then be put under supervised release with a probation officer for two years, according to NBC News.
5. This Comes After a Tech CEO Threatened to Shoot Trump
This is the second example we’ve seen this week of a person being investigated by the Secret Service after making threatening comments against President-Elect Donald Trump on social media.
Earlier this week, Matt Harrigan, the CEO of a cybersecurity company, stepped down from his position after comments he made about Trump went viral. On Facebook, Harrigan said that he planned to assassinate Trump, and the comments appeared to be serious.
Harrigan wrote, “I’m going to kill the president. elect.” In another comment he added, “Bring it, secret service.”
According to ABC 10 News, the Secret Service interviewed Harrigan for two hours at his California home. They have not yet commented on whether he will be charged for threatening the president-elect. Harrigan says that he was drunk when he made the statements and that he was simply making a distasteful joke.