Criminal Charges For Utah Man Who Made Threat of Terrorism in YouTube Comment Section

A Utah man is facing criminal charges after he used the comment section on YouTube to make a threat of terrorism toward the site’s employees.

Keyboard warrior

Photo by: Kelly Schott

35 year old David Levon Swanson of Orem, Utah was arrested following a series of hateful comments he made on YouTube videos that led the video site’s employees fearing for their safety. Some of Swanson’s comments including talking about the executives being murdered as well as them not “last[ing] much longer”. He later specified that he would “visit their campus in two weeks . . . [and] shoot any employees exiting”. That final comment, where he crossed the line from wishing death on someone to detailing what appeared to be an actual threat, could have been the final evidence needed for authorities to consider the threat tangible.

Threat of Terrorism

Utah Code 76-5-107.3 states “A person commits a threat of terrorism if the person threatens to commit any offense involving bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, and:

    • threatens the use of a [real or fake] weapon of mass destruction” or “acts with intent to:
      • intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government;
      • prevent or interrupt the occupation of a building or a portion of the building, a place to which the public has access, or a facility or vehicle of public transportation operated by a common carrier; or
      • cause an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies to take action due to the person’s conduct posing a serious and substantial risk to the general public.”

Making a threat of terrorism is punishable as a second degree felony, third degree felony, or a class A misdemeanor depending on which of the above described subsections were violated.

Which Amendment?

Swanson claimed following his arrest that he did not make a threat to shoot the employees with a gun. He stated that when he used the term “shoot” he meant it in reference to shooting a camera. In his alleged threat he stated that by shooting the employees, he was exercising his First Amendment rights. The First Amendment protects the freedom of religion, free speech, as well as the right to peacefully assemble. It also protects a person’s right to photography as long as they are taking pictures to send a message and that the pictures are going to be shared with an audience. Law enforcement read Swanson’s comment as a threat to use a gun to which he should have stated his right to use his Second Amendment right to bare arms. Either Swanson got his Amendment and their accompanying rights mixed up in his alleged threat of terrorism or his threat to shoot was meant merely to take candid photos of the employees.

Express or implied

If the comment to shoot the YouTube employees had been the only thing Swanson had blurted out online, there is a chance law enforcement may have understood that his intent was to take pictures, not kill people. Unfortunately, the other comments depicting death and murder of the employees painted his intent in a more distressing light. Utah Code 76-5-107.3 notes that regarding a threat of terrorism, “It is not a defense under this section that the person did not attempt to carry out or was incapable of carrying out the threat.” Additionally, A threat under this section may be express or implied.”Regardless of what Swanson actually intended to do, his history of violent speech online set him up to face criminal charges for any threat made.

Freedom to curb your online rants

While everyone including Swanson has the freedom to speak their mind, it does not mean that anything said out loud on online is okay. Harassment, threats of terrorism, or violent threats are all punishable under the law. Anyone facing criminal charges for something they said should consult with a defense attorney.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *