A federal judge revealed today that Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), a former GOP presidential candidate, was the target of an offensive and threatening Twitter user.
In a ruling first reported by the Legal Times, Royce Lamberth, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, decided that a man identified in court papers only as “Mr. X” could not quash a federal grand jury subpoena issued to Twitter to reveal his identity.
Mr. X “professed desire to engage in sadomasochistic activities” with Bachmann, Lamberth said in the Dec. 9, 2011, decision that was made public today. The Twitter user wrote he wanted to use a “Vietnam era machete” in a sexual act with the Minnesota Republican.
Lamberth said, “Mr. X’s body of tweets is extremely crude and in almost incomprehensibly poor taste,” and he compared the user’s language to the “most obscene aspects of Andrew Dice Clay, but without even the infinitesimal modicum of artistic creativity that Mr. Clay managed to possess.” The judge then noted that Mr. X’s account had 736 followers at the time of ruling, adding that it was a number “that will certainly and regrettably grow once this Order is released to the public. A sad state of affairs indeed.”
Lamberth said that the Twitter user has a right to anonymously post on Twitter, but not if the government has a “compelling interest” in finding out his identity.
“The anonymity of a threatening communication introduces an element of ambiguity that renders an assessment of the threat’s legitimacy difficult,” Lamberth wrote.
He added, “The grand jury ought to know if Mr. X has a history of making threats to political candidates in other forums or engaged in other sinister behavior toward Ms. Bachmann, or happens to actually own a Vietnam-era machete.”
Lamberth said he doubts an indictment will result from the grand jury’s inquiry. Still, he said the government has a right to investigate whether the Twitter user has committed a crime.
He referenced past federal court rulings that have held that any threat against a president or a presidential candidate must be investigated to determine its legitimacy.