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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