He’s the nation’s first African-American president. He’s infuriated many people with his policies on key issues, such as health care and taxes. He’s also a target of terrorists.
Because of some of these factors and others, some say the U.S. Secret Service has handled more death threats against President Barack Obama than anyone who’s sat in the Oval Office.
"The incidents of threats against (Obama) are greater than for any other president in modern times," civil rights legend Julian Bond recently said on "The Colbert Report."
PolitiFact Georgia received a request from a reader on Twitter to examine the accuracy of such claims. We tried to reach Bond, but our efforts were unsuccessful. We tried him through the American Program Bureau, a company that has arranged interviews and speeches for Bond. We emailed Bond at American University, where he is an adjunct professor in the School of Public Affairs. We called the university’s communications department, which said it would try to contact Bond for us.
Bond, 73, is the former chairman of the NAACP and a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He is a former Atlanta resident and member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Bond has taught college courses and was the narrator of the award-winning "Eyes on the Prize" television series about the civil rights movement.
Others have made similar claims about threats to Obama. And they seem to come from a single source.
A U.S. Secret Service spokesman told us the agency does not discuss the number of threats against any president. But the most recent director left some bread crumbs that we followed.
In August 2009, an author who’s written about the Secret Service estimated that the number of threats against Obama had increased by 400 percent in comparison with his White House predecessor, George W. Bush.
But that December, then-Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told a congressional committee that the number of threats against Obama had not -- again, had not -- increased by 400 percent.
"The threats right now ... is the same level as it has been for the previous two presidents at this point in their administrations," Sullivan said.
He told the committee he’d discuss specifics in private. The Secret Service doesn’t like to discuss threats against a president because it doesn’t want copycats to get any ideas.
Sullivan told U.S. News during an interview in March 2010 that the threat level had not increased since Obama became president. Sullivan retired last month.
In 2012, some news outlets reported that there had been a spike in threats against Obama. One report from WLS-TV, an ABC affiliate in Chicago, used the 400 percent increase figure that Sullivan had said was inaccurate. The station later added that it is believed that Obama is the most threatened president in U.S. history. But the report cited no sources.
PolitiFact has occasionally dealt with claims in which the federal government cannot discuss specifics. For example, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., claimed during the 2012 presidential campaign that GOP nominee Mitt Romney went 10 years without paying taxes. Reid said he got the information from a Romney business associate who wished to remain anonymous. Although the Internal Revenue Service can’t release Romney’s taxes without his permission, PolitiFact believed the burden of proof was on Reid since he made such a serious claim and rated it a Pants On Fire!
To recap, Bond said "the incidents of threats against (Obama) are greater than for any other president in modern times."
But a former Secret Service director has twice said there has not been an increase. The Secret Service is, well, secret, so they won’t discuss the number of specific threats against Obama.
There’s no concrete evidence that Bond and others have produced to back up their claim.
We rate Bond’s claim False.
"The Colbert Report," interview with Julian Bond, March 6, 2013.
Julian Bond biography.
PolitiFact, "Harry Reid says anonymous source told him Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years," Aug. 6, 2012.
Politico, "Secret Service: Threat level against Obama no greater than under Bush, Clinton," Dec. 3, 2009.
The Telegraph, "Barack Obama faces 30 death threats a day, stretching U.S. Secret Service," Aug. 3, 2009.
WLS-TV, "Secret Service demands up as Obama takes 2nd term," Nov. 27, 2012.
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