Kathy Griffin's Latest Stunt Is Not a Threat of Violence Against Trump

Tasteless? Sure. Illegal? No.


Screenshot via Griffin / Twitter

In a recent (some would say desperate) grab for attention, infrequently funny comedian Kathy Griffin posed for photos while holding the (fake) severed head of President Trump. She has now been fired from her job of co-hosting CNN's New Year's Eve show.

Was the stunt obnoxious? Sure. Counterproductive, as far as anti-Trump statements go? Probably. An illegal threat of violence? Of course not.

But this did not stop several conservatives on Twitter—who apparently are wary of online lynch mobs only when the target is someone they find sympathetic—from demanding some kind of investigation. Katie Pavlich cc:ed the Secret Service in a tweet about Griffin. A Breitbart writer suggested the stupid stunt was "likely a crime."

It's true that threatening the president is a crime. But there's a difference between a true threat—a statement likely to be interpreted as a real, actual threat to harm the president—and hyperbole, satire, and humor. South Park character Mr. Garrison murdered Donald Trump (the president of Canada) in season 19 of the show, but this was clearly not an illegal threat of violence. HBO's Game of Thrones beheaded a George W. Bush dummy, but again, this is not direct and unambiguous enough to count as some kind of call to violence against the leader of the free world.

Similarly, Griffin's photo shoot clearly falls under protected speech. She would have had to actually threaten to kill the president, or call on other people to kill the president, in order to violate the law.

So the stunt wasn't illegal. It was tasteless, and all are welcome to condemn Griffin (who has by now apologized unconditionally) and even to demand that her employers—CNN and, um, Squatty Potty—fire her. But if you take up a pitchfork here, you may look a little foolish the next time you complain about political correctness run amok, or easily offended millennials, or safe spaces. If you care more about Trump's feelings than his very bad policies, you are the snowflake.