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Context of 'August 17, 2009: Former Secret Service Agent Says Armed Protesters Create an Indirect Threat to President'

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The Secret Service, reacting to credible threats, grants presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) protection—the earliest by far any presidential candidate has ever been granted Secret Service protection. The protection is warranted, as the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies will thwart at least four assassination attempts on Obama’s life (see June-December 2008). [Time, 9/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections, US Domestic Terrorism

Secret Service officials blame the inflammatory campaign rhetoric of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK) for an upsurge in death threats against president-elect Barack Obama (D-IL) in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. During the campaign, Palin accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, citing his association with 1960s antiwar radical William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008). According to the Secret Service, “The attacks provoked a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling ‘terrorist’ and ‘kill him’ until the McCain campaign ordered her to tone down the rhetoric” (see October 15, 2008). The Secret Service says it has evidence that some white supremacists may have used Palin’s words as encouragement to issue credible and specific death threats. During the campaign, Obama’s wife Michelle, upset by one such report, asked her friend and campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett, “Why would they try to make people hate us?” A report by security and intelligence analysts Stratfor, coinciding with the Secret Service’s announcement, warns that Obama remains a high-risk target for racist assassins. The report finds: “Two plots to assassinate Obama were broken up during the campaign season and several more remain under investigation. We would expect federal authorities to uncover many more plots to attack the president that have been hatched by white supremacist ideologues.” McCain campaign aides blame Palin for engaging in heated rhetorical attacks on Obama, including direct accusations of him being un-American, without the knowledge or approval of McCain. Palin has retorted that these campaign aides are “jerks” who took her words “out of context,” saying: “I consider [their criticisms] cowardly. It’s not true. That’s cruel, it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news that’s not fair and not right.” Palin claims she was victimized by sexist reporters and news commentators during the campaign. [Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, John McCain presidential campaign (2008), William Ayers, Valerie Jarrett, Stratfor, US Secret Service, Sarah Palin

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

After today’s media reports that a man armed with an automatic rifle patrolled back and forth in front of the venue where President Obama gave a speech on health care reform (see August 17, 2009), MSNBC progressive host Rachel Maddow interviews former Secret Service agent Joseph Petro, a 23-year veteran of the force. Maddow notes that aside from the man with the automatic weapon, about a dozen armed people were outside the venue in Phoenix today. Petro says the Secret Service does not routinely plan for this kind of situation, because “it’s not something the Secret Service often encounters.” He adds: “You know, the Secret Service is protecting [sic] presidents for a long time. And there are a whole series of processes and procedures that they go through to create perimeters. And each of those perimeters become more and more difficult to penetrate, up right to the end where the agents are actually around the president. But I think this is less a Secret Service issue and more as an issue for all of us. You know, you said a few days ago that the possibility of American politics turning to violence or terrorism at the fringe is not all that theoretical. I would argue that the vitriolic political rhetoric we’re hearing from some seemingly responsible people is stimulating a lot of these foolish stunts, and they’re not very helpful. And I think they’re dangerous actually. And I think they’re dangerous for two reasons. One is, it’s hard enough to protect the president. The Secret Service and the local police are being distracted from that—from that duty to keep our president safe. And I think the second reason, and maybe even more serious, is the fact that it could incite or encourage one of those individuals at the fringe that you mentioned, from doing something really dangerous and perhaps violent against the president or some other person. So, I think it’s—this is not a helpful situation and maybe the politicians should look at lowering some of the rhetoric to try to create a more positive atmosphere.” Petro again calls the display of firearms at a presidential event a “stunt” and “irresponsible.” Maddow goes further, calling it “an implied threat of force.” Petro notes: “It’s not in the Secret Service’s interest to have this kind of these theatrics going on around. Clearly, those people are not dangerous to the president at that moment. You know, they’re outside the building. They’re a block away or, you know, they’re not going to—they’re not an immediate danger to the president. But what they’re creating is an atmosphere that is—that could become dangerous for the president. And that’s what would concern me, and I’m sure it concerns the Secret Service.” [MSNBC, 8/18/2009]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Barack Obama, Rachel Maddow, Joseph Petro

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

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