By Michael Gordon, The Charlotte Observer
Careful what you post online about President Donald Trump. Be doubly careful what you say if the Secret Service knocks on your door to discuss it.
On Nov. 28, Mark Rosenberg “made threatening comments about the President of the United States” on his Facebook page, a court document says. A week later, the Lincolnton man did not respond kindly when two Secret Service agents came to his home to question him about his anti-Trump post.
“I have First Amendment rights,” the 65-year-old told them, according to the document. “Get the f*** off my property.”
Now, Rosenberg has been charged with interfering with government officials in the performance of official duties. That’s a misdemeanor — and Rosenberg has agreed to plead guilty. But he still must show up in federal court in Charlotte next month to face the charge before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Cayer.
Why a post on Facebook got this far is unclear. Rosenberg did not respond to phone calls or emails this week seeking comment. His Facebook page no longer includes the Nov. 28 post or very little else. It’s unclear what the post said.
On Wednesday morning, the page had featured a series of pre-Nov. 28 links to petitions tied to progressive political issues. By Wednesday afternoon, they had all disappeared.
Rosenberg’s attorney, Mark Foster of Charlotte, told the Observer that his client had gone “off grid” because of the controversy. Foster also downplayed the Facebook post that had drawn Secret Service scrutiny.
“It was nothing,” he said, declining further comment.
The internet has long served as an estuary for rants — about sports, culture and especially politics. It now falls to a wing of the Secret Service to determine whether any of the posts indicate legitimate threats to the president.
In 2000 the agency created its “Internet Threat Desk” to separate online rhetoric from reality. It expanded the operation in 2009 following a surge in threatening Tweets and other online posts directed at then President Barack Obama.
The agency eventually set up its own handle, @secretservice, to make it easier for online users to help agents flag worrisome comments.
In 2013, a Charlotte man was sentenced to six months in prison after he threatened Obama on his Twitter account. Prosecutors said Donte Jamar Sims, 22, sent out a series of Tweets timed to the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, including this one: “Well Ima Assassinate president Obama this evening ! … Gotta get this monkey off my chest while he’s in town.”
Online threats directed at the occupant in the White House did not slow with the 2016 election of Donald Trump, by far the country’s most active social media president ever and one of its most divisive.
Less than a month after Trump’s inauguration, more than 12,000 Tweets had gone out calling for the president’s assassination, according to published reports at the time. Last January, a Utah man was arrested and charged with making online threats to kill Trump and police during a presidential visit to the state.
The difference between unbridled online political commentary and actual threats remain a matter of significant debate. In a 2015 article for The Atlantic, author and journalist Ronald Kessler, who has written several books on the Secret Service, says agents consider the background and posting habits of potential targets in assessing whether their writings indicate something more.
Sometimes, he said, agents visit the posters to discuss what they wrote and to see how the authors react.
According to public records, Rosenberg has no criminal record. He is registered as an unaffiliated voter.
Throughout the Dec. 5 interview with the Secret Service agents outside his home, however, Rosenberg “used profanity and waved his arms … and stated several times that the agents had no business being there,” a court document tied to his plea agreement says.
He admitted authoring the threatening Facebook post, the document says, then followed that up in the interview by again making “threatening comments toward the President.”
He is scheduled to be in court on April 10.