An Indiana man is accused of threatening to kill Donald Trump, The Chicago Tribune reports, allegedly boasting on Facebook that he had a bullet chambered and was ready to “blow his [Trump’s] head off.”
On March 28, 2019, Donald Trump visited Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a rally. About 145 miles away — in Hobart, Indiana — lived 20-year-old Steffon Gonzalez. Gonzalez allegedly boasted on Facebook that he intended to use the president’s visit to the nearby location to kill him.
Specifically, Gonzalez allegedly wrote that he was standing outside the president’s location with a rifle and a bullet to “blow his head off.”
The Secret Service was tipped off, and agents made their way to an address in Hobart, where they found Gonzalez. It remains unclear, as of this writing, if Gonzalez was ever actually in Grand Rapids — or whether or not he ever possessed a gun.
Authorities searching Gonzalez’s home allegedly found an unknown number of 9 mm rounds — as well as an unknown amount of gunpowder in a plastic bag — in his bedroom. The criminal affidavit against Gonzalez says that he wasn’t the only person with access to his room.
Gonzalez allegedly denied any knowledge of the purported threat. He claimed that his Facebook account was likely hacked, and that he logs into Facebook from multiple locations, which may have compromised the security of his account.
Steffon Gonzalez made the threats against the President on Facebook on March 28, the same day President Trump was in Grand Rapids for a campaign rally. https://t.co/vSsaXJUkt1— Meghan Anne Bunchman (@MeghanBunchman) April 19, 2019
“Gonzalez denied making any threats to the president,” per the affidavit.
Gonzalez’s girlfriend and family members denied having any knowledge about any of Gonzalez’s Facebook posts, or about any alleged threats against the president.
Denials aside, Gonzalez has been arrested, and has been hit with federal charges of making threats against the president and obstruction of justice, per U.S. News & World Report. He had also been charged with felony intimidation in an Indiana court.
The obstruction of justice charge is due to Gonzalez’s alleged efforts to cover up having threatened the president, including having allegedly attempted to delete his Facebook account. The charge of threatening the president carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, according to FindLaw.
Threatening the president (or other government officials) is a difficult crime to prosecute, according to FindLaw, because such threats happen frequently. Sometimes the threat is intended as a joke — such as Groucho Marx saying, in 1971, that he hoped Nixon would be assassinated. Sometimes the threat is oblique, and sometimes the person making the threat doesn’t fully understand what they’re saying or doing. For these reasons, prosecutors are reluctant to go after individuals except when the threat is “credible.”
Even so, if the case is brought to trial, the jury will have the ultimate say as to whether or not the threat was credible.