A tweet about killing Muslims was not a threat under the legal definition, but instead, an expression of free speech, according to police in Bakersfield, California. The tweet came from a teenager, and police say that they are investigating, but don’t expect anything to come of it.
According to WBRC, a teenager, who as a minor has not been identified by name, from California tweeted the following.
“Gonna go kill some towel heads tomorrow in honor of 9/11, who’s with me?”
Bakersfield Police Sergeant Joe Grubbs said that the tweet fell within First Amendment protections, and was not a threat, because while it referred to killing Muslims, it did not name a specific individual as a target.
While the teenager, a recent high school graduate, isn’t giving any interviews, his mother spoke about the tweet in a short statement, according to BakersfieldNow, excerpted below.
“He knows he made a huge mistake, and he is very sorry. He has been taught right from wrong and would never do something like that. My child is not racist. We are not racists. The story has been twisted.”
Though the tweet about killing Muslims, and in fact the entire Twitter account, has been deleted, it lives on in retweets and quotes.
Muslims in the community have responded to the tweet, expressing forgiveness but suggesting that an apology would still be appropriate, and calling for clearer guidelines defining the difference between a credible threat and mere free speech.
Meanwhile, the anti-Muslim sentiment in the tweet is one drop in the bucket of similar statements on social media surrounding the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A gun shop owner commemorated the anniversary with the word “Muslim” as a coupon code, memes hinting that all Muslims should be held responsible for the attacks have spread, and a number of tweets and posts about killing Muslims have emerged.
Below are a sampling of some of the tweets about killing Muslims just in the past few weeks.
All of these tweets, however, share a certain plausible deniability that the California teen’s tweet did not: where they speak of killing Muslims, they either refer to a vague desire (a wish to kill someone is legally quite different than a plan or intent) or to military service (which allows the presumption or claim that the speaker is speaking of a more specific group, despite using the more general word ‘Muslims.’) Even the last tweet, which refers to killing Muslims with a crane, would be quickly written off in any legal proceedings, because it’s a clear reference to an incident that did take place on September 11 rather than a suggestion of an intended attack. According to USA Today, there’s no sign that event, which took place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was an attack, but rather the result of a storm that toppled a construction machine onto the Grand Mosque, killing 107 Muslims.
In short, though the internet is rife with anti-Muslim sentiment, this teen’s tweet is hardly the first to be written off as no threat under the legal definition. A number of Twitter users have called this a double standard, suggesting that if the situation were reversed, with a Muslim poster tweeting about killing, he would be detained and taken seriously.
However, religious leaders in the community are focusing on moving forward — though they say they’d like a chance to sit with the family and have an open discussion, they express forgiveness for the tweet about killing Muslims, and no desire to see the teenager punished.