Secret Service agents visited actor and comedian Tom Arnold last month about his tweets criticizing President Donald Trump.
During the hour-long interview to determine if Arnold was a threat to the president, the comedian got a warning that many believe the president himself should receive: Be careful, because social media posts can incite violence.
“We’re not the First Amendment police,” one agent said, according to a recording. “You’re free to say whatever you want to say within certain boundaries… In your type of case, what we’re concerned with a lot, too, is the audience it can reach, that it could incite somebody to do something.”
Arnold—a fervent critic of President Donald Trump and host of Viceland’s The Hunt for the Trump Tapes—had recently posted a tweet calling for a one-on-one fight with Trump at one of his rallies. The tweet was in response to the president praising a congressman for body slamming a reporter.
This was followed by a now-deleted tweet referencing the photo of Kathy Griffin holding a mock severed head resembling Trump: “Next time Kathy won’t be holding his fake head!” Arnold wrote.
The Secret Service visited Arnold on Oct. 25, just as federal agents were searching for the person sending pipe bombs to CNN and prominent Democrats in the mail. Two agents from the Secret Service office in Los Angeles visited Arnold in his home, explaining “We go out on any and all tweets and Facebook posts or any type of threat,” regardless of follower counts.
Arnold recorded the interview (reportedly with the agents’ knowledge), and provided Mother Jones with the video.
According to Mother Jones, the agents asked general questions about Arnold’s intent (or lack thereof) to attend a Trump rally, how he handles anger, and if he’s skilled in certain areas like martial arts and building IEDs (he’s not).
They also explained that their concern arises with how others may respond to the tweet. Since Arnold is a public figure, he reaches a wider audience. And while he may be saying these things in a “comedian-type sense,” some followers may not see it that way.
“You see a lot of times when we’ve had previous attempts on the president’s life, they got motivated by somebody,” said one agent. “So that’s the worry.”
When speaking to Arnold’s wife, Ashley, the agents again explained, “We always are more concerned about who you could motivate or incite to that action.”
“That’s how we feel about Trump,” she responded, according to Mother Jones. The agents did not respond to the comment.
Trump has long referred to the media as the “enemy of the people,” and violence against the media has made headlines since his inauguration. The Washington Post reports that 49% of Americans feel Trump’s rhetoric encourages violence.
While the effect of his tweets is unknown, Arnold promised to avoid such tweets in the future, says Mother Jones.