WNBC – 2004-09-22 22:50:13
TRENTON, N.J. (September 22, 2004) — Threatening comments made about President Bush by a Hopewell Township woman whose son was killed in Iraq are under review by the Secret Service.
Federal officials said they are examining comments made in online postings of interviews with Sue Niederer, who was arrested last week during a Republican campaign rally in Mercer County when she interrupted a speech by first lady Laura Bush.
In portions of an interview posted online in May on the Web site Counterpunch.org, Niederer said she wanted to “rip the president’s head off” and “shoot him in the groined area.”
The comments caught the attention of a Secret Service analyst and are under review, Special Agent Tony Colgary told The Times of Trenton for Wednesday’s editions. It is a federal crime to threaten to kill the president.
Niederer told the newspaper that she was upset about her son’s death when she gave the interviews. She insisted that she did not want to kill or shoot the president. “Absolutely not,” she said. Reached by phone Wednesday, Niederer declined to comment on the controversy.
Niederer is being assisted by a volunteer lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of ACLU New Jersey.
Lawyers Say Mother’s Angry Comments Are ‘Protected Speech’
According to Jacobs, Niederer’s comments on the Web site are protected by court precedent dating back to a 1969 case. In Watts v. United States, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man who three years earlier had claimed at a public gathering that he would “set his sights” on President Lyndon Johnson if he was drafted.
The court ruled that while the nation has a valid interest in protecting the president, the 1917 statute on which the case was based “must be interpreted with the commands of the First Amendment clearly in mind. What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech.”
Jacobs said Niederer’s comments fall under the same parameters. “It’s political hyperbole,” she said. “This woman obviously has no intention of threatening the president’s life, and it’s obvious from her statements.”
No Comment from the Secret Service
A phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment from the Secret Service was not immediately returned on Wednesday.
Niederer’s son, Army 1st Lt. Seth Dvorin, was killed in February while trying to disarm a bomb in Iraq. The 24-year-old had just returned to Iraq after spending two weeks with his family. Niederer had refused to leave the rally with Laura Bush at a Hamilton firehouse last Thursday and was eventually escorted from the site.
She wore a T-shirt that bore the words “President Bush, You Killed My Son” and a picture of her son. Police dropped charges of trespassing against her the next day.
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