Making a threat against a federal official — whether it’s a worker at a Social Security office or the president, even without any intent to follow through — is a federal crime. Only a few dozen threats each year result in prosecutions, often because it’s impossible to identify a suspect, Justice Department officials tell the Associated Press. A review of threat prosecutions after the shootings of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and U.S. District Judge John Roll in Tucson shows that it typically takes much more than posting warnings on obscure Internet sites — of the kind left by the defendant in that attack, Jared Loughner — to cause action by authorities.
The people actually charged with threatening federal officials have taken the time to write, call, e-mail, or appear in person to put their names behind their warnings. Each year, hundreds of threats make their way to the Justice Department, say data compiled by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, based at Syracuse University. Justice officials said many cases reach them before a suspect has been identified because investigators need subpoenas or other legal help in trying to trace a threat to its source. Last year, prosecutors brought fewer than 100 criminal cases involving threats. Prosecutors declined to press ahead on 600 others.