Colorado resident Lee Mulcahy discovered that there are limits to the discussion when it comes to political signage outside your home in this presidential election year.
The phrase “Fire Obama” is permissible and such placards adorn some yards. But “Kill Obama” is not, and Mulcahy, of Aspen, received a visit the other day from both local police and the U.S. Secret Service.
“We felt this was pretty serious -- anything that has to do with the president of the United States is serious, so we immediately contacted the Secret Service,” Blair Dweyer, a community relations specialist for Aspen police, told the Los Angeles Times.
Authorities say that several neighbors in the Rocky Mountain resort community’s Burlington Ranch area called to report the message painted in red -- not on a sign -- but on the front of a home under construction.
The Aspen Times reported that Mulcahy, a local artist who the newspaper described as “well-known in local circles for his written, verbal and artistic attacks on government and big business,” contacted police insisting he was not the culprit.
Mulcahy, a self-described tea party member who has offered his support for vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan on his Facebook page, later painted over the message, police said.
But the artist still got a visit from concerned officials. Police Officer Terry Leitch told the Aspen paper that the Secret Service agent “kind of stressed the point how people's perceptions of that [the anti-Obama message] would be.”
Mulcahy did not return phone calls seeking comment.
But a lawyer who serves as counsel for the Colorado Press Assn. told Aspen reporters that the anti-Obama message, no matter how blatant, is protected under free speech.
“It is a federal offense [a felony] to make a ‘true threat' against the president of the United States,” he wrote in an email to reporters. “However, the Supreme Court has held that statements of political protest, that are not intended to (or are not reasonably understood as) conveying a serious threat — one that would cause reasonable apprehension in the target of the threat — are not subject to criminal punishment.”
Still, the Aspen police switchboard lighted up with complaints about the sign, which many people said could be seen from a local bus stop for schoolchildren. Even the head of the local housing authority made a personal call to the Secret Service.
“This is a small town,” Dweyer told The Times. “When things like this happen, people take interest.”
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