In this great nation of ours, when it comes to the issue of responsibility in exercising the God-given right to free expression, Johnny Depp has clearly crossed a line.
Interestingly, though, the actor may soon discover that he additionally ventured into territory that has the potential to place him in legal jeopardy.
While out promoting his latest film at the Glastonbury arts festival in the U.K., Depp let loose with a not-so-veiled threat on the life of the president of the United States.
In an unintelligible accent, he asked the crowd, "Can you bring Trump here?"
After groans from the audience subsided, Depp said, "I think he needs help," drawing sick laughter from the left-leaning overseas crowd.
Telegraphing that he knew he was about to make an incendiary comment, Depp said, "This is going to be in the press, and it will be horrible. But I like that you’re all a part of it."
Depp then uttered speech that was patently menacing, saying, "You misunderstand completely. When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? I want to clarify: I’m not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it’s been awhile, and maybe it’s time."
The words Depp chose to use were intended to be a reference to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth.
This was inarguably reprehensible behavior, but that a well known celebrity would, while overseas, deliver such remarks is flat-out appalling.
When it comes to President Donald J. Trump, Depp is not the first celebrity to engage in extremely vile and grossly violent expression.
- Mickey Rourke spoke of wanting to be alone with then-candidate Trump and "give" him a "Louisville slugger" baseball bat.
- Former Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore talked about suffocating then-candidate Trump with "the pillow they used to kill Scalia."
- George Lopez tweeted a cartoon image of former Mexican president Vincente Fox holding the decapitated head of then-candidate Trump.
- In a music video, Marilyn Manson depicted the then-candidate as having been decapitated, and portrayed him further as lying on a concrete floor in a pool of his own blood.
- Moby released a music video with a giant robotic Trump figure that is subsequently destroyed in an explosion.
- Madonna told a crowd at the Women’s March on Washington that she had "thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House."
- Robert De Niro confirmed to ABC’s "The View" that he would like to punch Trump in the face.
- Snoop Dogg released a music video that placed the president in the role of clown who is later murdered by the rapper.
- Kathy Griffin released photos of her holding up a faux bloody decapitated head of Trump.
- The Public Theater in New York City staged a warped version of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," which displayed the president being stabbed to death by a band of angry senators.
In Depp’s case, the actor later apologized for his remarks. His mea culpa, however, took the form of a highly scripted self-serving statement given to People magazine, which read as follows, "I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump. It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone."
The timing of Depp’s threatening statement is particularly contemptible, since he presumably knew that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., had been shot and that the Republican congressman, along with other GOP congressional members, had been targeted for assassination.
Depp’s statement begs the question of whether on not the actor committed an illegal act. The United States Code in Title 18, Section 871 makes the threatening of the president of the United States a felony. Anyone who "knowingly and willfully" makes "any threat to take the life of . . ." the president can be sentenced for up to five years and/or fined.
Depp’s case would be investigated by the U.S. Secret Service. Law enforcement professionals there would have to determine whether the statements made could be considered a genuine threat.
There was a conviction under the statute for the following statement, "President Wilson ought to be killed. It is a wonder someone has not done it already. If I had an opportunity, I would do it myself."
There was also a conviction for the remark, "I wish Wilson was in hell, and if I had the power I would put him there."
Another conviction under the statute was handed down for the display of posters that urged people to "hang [President Franklin] Roosevelt."
In 2007 a university teaching assistant was convicted for posting messages on a financial website that called for "the assassination of GW Bush" and urged readers to "Rape and kill Laura Bush."
In 2010, a man was sentenced to 33 months in prison for posting a poem on a white supremacist website about assassinating the president, and another individual was sentenced to 27 months in prison for posting to Craigslist a specific statement that it was time for the president "to die."
Typically, if a statement is artistic in nature, courts have deemed such speech to be protected under the First Amendment. The question for the Secret Service would be whether Depp’s statement indicated an intent to do harm to the president.
Relevant to whether the president needs protection in this case is the fact that Depp has recently been accused of violent behavior toward his former wife, Amber Heard. She and Johnny divorced last year, but scandalous allegations against Depp recently resurfaced because of the actor’s legal dispute with his former management company. Depp‘s previous business managers allege that the actor physically abused Heard and knowingly tried to cover it up on at least one occasion.
Recently filed court papers reveal that Depp’s former management team "knew he abused his ex-wife" and they were aware that he had "sometimes gotten physical" with her.
A week after Heard filed for divorce in 2016, she requested a domestic violence restraining order against Depp, claiming that he had been abusive on several occasions, including an incident that left her in fear for her life. Photos of her were released with a huge bruise around her eye.
Depp denied the alleged abuse; however, it is still relevant to the Secret Service’s determination of the seriousness and level of Depp’s threat.
Notwithstanding the possibility of a celebrity justice pattern, Depp’s recent statements should generate a thorough investigation.
In any event, Depp will hopefully be held accountable in the court of public opinion, with the attendant exacting of a suitable cost at the almighty box office.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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