Groucho Marx said during an interview with Flash magazine in 1971, “I think the only hope this country has is Nixon’s assassination.” Yet he was not subsequently arrested for threatening the life of a president. In view of the indictment against Black Panther David Hilliard for using similar rhetoric, I wrote to the San Francisco office of the Justice Department to find out the status of their case against Groucho. The response:
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Dear Mr. Krassner:
Responding to your inquiry of July seventh, the United States Supreme Court has held that Title 18 U.S.C., Section 871, prohibits only “true” threats. It is one thing to say that “I (or we) will kill Richard Nixon” when you are the leader of an organization which advocates killing people and overthrowing the Government; it is quite another to utter the words which are attributed to Mr. Marx, an alleged comedian. It was the opinion of both myself and the United States Attorney in Los Angeles (where Marx’s words were alleged to have been uttered) that the latter utterance did not constitute a “true” threat.