How Do You “Make” a Terrorist Threat?

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Prosecutors have accused Olutosin Oduwole, a student at Southern Illinois University, of planning a Virginia Tech-style massacre on his campus. He has been charged with “attempting to make a terrorist threat,” according to today’s Washington Post. Police say Oduwole’s abandoned car contained a note that demanded $50,000 — to his PayPal account! — to avert a “murderous rampage” at a “highly populated university.”

If SIU really was Oduwole’s target, he doesn’t think too highly of it. According to the Post, the note “suggested the shooting would target a “prestigious” university, but that word was crossed out.” (If you want to learn more about Mr. Oduwole, the AP thinks it has found his myspace.com page here).

So yesterday, on his 22nd birthday, Oduwole pleaded not guilty to making a terrorist threat. But how do you “make” a terrorist threat? Is it enough to just have a note in your car? The ATF has noted that Oduwole was legally entitled to the guns he ordered online. His friends (“hundreds” on facebook.com according to the AP) say this is all a big misunderstanding because Oduwole likes violent rap music and guns. What are the laws about planning to make a terrorist threat? Does the first amendment protect threatening writing if you never show it to anyone? And, if Oduwole actually did write the note, what could drive an apparently popular, happy young man — the president of his fraternity, the kid with hundreds of friends — to even consider writing something so stupid?

— Nick Baumann

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As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

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