A criminal case against a white supremacist accused of violently threatening a Black activist running for office and prompting him to drop out of the race just may test the limits of what is considered trolling and what’s deemed a criminal threat, several media outlets reported.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson refused to release Daniel McMahon into the custody of his father Monday after determining he is mentally unstable, potentially capable of obtaining firearms and prone to praising mass shootings, according to The Associated Press.
“He is cheering on mass shooters. That is what really bothers me,” Wilson said in a Tampa courtroom of the 31-year-old Brandon, Florida, man. “This is a red flag.”
McMahon is accused of threatening a Black activist in Virginia identified by the Daily Progress as a deacon and activist Don Gathers and causing Gathers to drop out of the race.
“The campaign signs had been printed. The launch party was scheduled. And the African American activist was ready to join the race for Charlottesville City Council,” The Washington Post reported Sept. 19.
Just one day after Gathers announced his intention to run on Jan. 7, he decided to not to kick off his campaign instead, the Post reported.
Federal prosecutors have argued that’s because of threats McMahon sent him.
“As alleged in the indictment, this defendant was motivated by racial animus and used his social-media accounts to threaten and intimidate a potential candidate for elective office,” U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, of the Western District of Virginia, said in a statement. “Although the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to broadcast hateful views online, it does not give license to threats of violence or bodily harm.”
Attorney Nicholas Matassini however, argued that McMahon’s statements were only political speech.
“It’s protected by the law,” he told the court. “I don’t think it exhibits any manifest danger to the community.”
Siobhan Maseda, a detective for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office who assisted in McMahon’s arrest, told the AP that McMahon’s mother alleged her son doesn’t like Black people, Jewish people or gay people and that she worried he exhibited characteristics of mass shooters.
Former Justice Department attorney Justin Levitt told The Associated Press he doesn’t know of any similar recent cases and that the Justice Department only prosecutes conduct that rises to the level of an actual threat of violence or something similarly serious.
“There can be some dispute about what that actually entails on the margins. That’s why you don’t see these kinds of cases very often,” Levitt said.
If convicted, McMahon, who is charged with cyberstalking and transmitting threats in interstate commerce, faces up to five years in prison on each charge, according to the Post.
McMahon, who was also charged with bias-motivated election interference charges, faces up to one year in prison on each charge if convicted.