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1529. True Threats -- Secret Service Protectees

In Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705 (1969), the Supreme Court limited the applicability of 18 U.S.C. § 871 to situations involving the communication of a "true threat." At a political rally Watts had said, "If they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want to get in my sight is L.B.J." This, the court held, taken in context amounted to mere indulgence in political hyperbole, and such speech is within the protection of the First Amendment. Following the principle announced in Watts, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in Alexander v. United States, 418 F.2d 1203 (D.C. Cir. 1969), held that neither idle talk nor mere jest qualify as a true threat. But see R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992)(threats of violence are one of the categories of unprotected speech).

[cited in JM 9-65.200]

Updated January 17, 2020