Is there any legal jeopardy today in a Western democracy for saying that it would be right to assassinate an unspecified evil leader, for instance, one engaging in a genocide like the Holocaust? I live in a Western democracy, i.e., western Europe or North America. Whatever you think of particular leader here, we are not experiencing a literal Nazi-scale Holocaust. So nothing here implies harm to any Western nation or its leaders today.

Furthermore, there are Western nations that pursue and assassinate leaders of terrorist organizations, using a "decaptitation strategy" to weaken them. Therefore, it would seem safe to agree with policies that one's own government is employing.

But there could still be legal jeopardy through some channel that I am not aware of. That is my question.

I see here a reference to a law which might bear on this, but the interpretations given there are are very broad, and free speech considerations might tip the scales in favor of permitting what I am suggesting.

To clarify, I am not asking these things:

  • I am not asking whether a truly evil leader or regime would tolerate such talk. Clearly they would not. Of course my nation's leadership could change, putting someone in jeopardy in the future.

  • I am not asking whether assassination of an evil leader would be politically expedient. Historians and political scientists argue endlessly over whether removing Hitler would have allowed a more skilled military leader to assume power, whether it would have shortened WWII, etc., or whether the "decapitation strategy" works at all.

  • I am not asking if assassination is ethical.

My focus here is only on legal jeopardy in saying that truly evil leaders like Hitler or Stalin should be assassinated.

  • 1
    Have you ever heard of "imminent lawless action"?
    – Trish
    Feb 13, 2022 at 17:27
  • 2
    How is that relevant, given the question that was actually asked?
    – user6726
    Feb 13, 2022 at 17:48
  • 2
    Read the Brandenburg v Ohio case or listen to Popehat (link above) and you understand: unless you advocate Imminent lawless action, in the US, that's all Freedom of Speech
    – Trish
    Feb 13, 2022 at 17:53
  • 1
    How come you won't mention Hitler by name? Is it against the Stack Exchange rules?
    – Some Guy
    Feb 14, 2022 at 15:32
  • 1
    @SomeGuy Perhaps it's in deference to Godwin's Law. Feb 14, 2022 at 19:52

2 Answers 2


In the United States, at least, it's quite clear that merely arguing that the assassination of a leader would be a good policy decision is protected by the First Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court addressed this question in Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U.S. 378 (1987). McPherson was a clerical employee in a sheriff's office when someone attempted to assassinate President Reagan. During a conversation about Reagan's attempts to cut food stamps and Medicaid, she told a co-worker, "If they go for him again, I hope they get him." The sheriff fired her for the remark, and she sued, alleging First Amendment retaliation. The trial court held that her remarks were not constitutionally protected, but the Supreme Court disagreed:

The statement was made in the course of a conversation addressing the policies of the President's administration. It came on the heels of a news bulletin regarding what is certainly a matter of heightened public attention: an attempt on the life of the President. While a statement that amounted to a threat to kill the President would not be protected by the First Amendment, the District Court concluded, and we agree, that McPherson's statement did not amount to a threat punishable under 18 U.S.C. § 871(a) or 18 U.S.C. § 2385, or, indeed, that could properly be criminalized at all. ... The inappropriate or controversial character of a statement is irrelevant to the question whether it deals with a matter of public concern. ... Debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.

Note also that this case arose in the context of public-employee discipline, where First Amendment rights can be quite seriously curtailed. If the First Amendment protects the statements in that setting, imposing criminal penalties for the same speech is generally going to be out of the question.

  • 1
    I marked this one as the accepted answer before answer #2 below was posted, but my comment to that effect was not saved here; no idea why. Thank you for your answer. Feb 15, 2022 at 3:33

Threatening the president of the United States is a crime under United States Code Title 18, Section 871.

The two subquestions that I think seem most relevant to your question are:

  1. Does "saying that it would be right to assassinate" someone constitute a threat to assassinate that person?

  2. Does making a conditional statement about whether an assassination should be performed on a political leader with certain qualities, without specifying which leader the statement refers to, count as referring to the President of the United States?

It seems that the answer to the first and possibly also the second is "no". Therefore, in theory, it may be legal even to say that one hopes for or thinks it would be a good thing for the current president of the United States to be assassinated.

"Advocating assassination" and "saying that assassination would be right" seem to be legally distinct; the first may be a crime (depending on the target); the second by itself appears not to be a crime

In the case of speech that directly refers to the U.S. president, protection does not extend to "advocating assassination", the wording you use in your title, if we understand "advocacy" as speech that calls for or encourages others to take the action of assassinating the current president of the United States. A simple example of unprotected advocacy of assassination would be an imperative statement to one's readers or listeners to "Assassinate [X]" or "Kill [X]" (made in a context where it could plausibly be interpreted as expressing a genuine intention). The post "ASSASSINATION THREATS AGAINST THE PRESIDENT: WHAT LANDS YOU IN PRISON?" from The Reeves Law Group gives some examples of threats of this type that led to convictions.

I am unsure whether threatening or advocating the assassination of any unspecified political leader conditional on circumstances that could apply to a president of the United States might be considered a threat to the president of United States or not. (E.g. saying "I will kill any leader that does [X]" or "Kill any leader that does [X]", where "does [X]" is something that either applies currently or could apply in the future to the US president.)

The Wikipedia article on Threatening the president of the United States cites the following two cases which appear relevant:

The posting of a paper in a public place with a statement that it would be an acceptable sacrifice to God to kill an unjust president was ruled not to be in violation of the statute.[74] The statute does not penalize imagining, wishing, or hoping that the act of killing the president will be committed by someone else.[75]

  1. United States v. Marino, 148 F Supp 75 (DC Ill 1957).
  2. United States v. Daulong, 60 F Supp 235 (DC La 1945).

The text publicly posted by Marino, which was found not to be criminal, was "There can be slain no sacrifice to God more acceptable than an unjust President".

It was apparently decided that it was not criminal for reasons related to both subquestion 1) and 2) that I identified above:

There is in the quoted words no expression of intent on the part of the defendant to injure the President or anyone else, or in fact to do anything whatsoever. Considered as a general observation, the alleged assertion is not pleasant and makes little sense; but it is not a "threat". Further, it is not at all clear to what President the statement refers. Under the Statute, the threat must be against the then President of the United States, Metzdorf, supra. The indictment alleges no innuendo connecting it with the present President, and certainly none is apparent. The statement could relate to any president, past or future, of any country.


In the case of Daulong, he apparently was reported as stating that if someone did not kill the President, he "had a notion" to do it himself, and that he "hoped somebody gets" the President tonight, and if somebody did not he "felt like" going up there and doing it himself.

Here are quotations from the opinion on why this was found not to be criminal:

If the defendant had simply said that someone should or ought to kill the President, with no declaration or other indication that the speaker intended or would commit the act, it seems clear that this would not amount to a threat [...]

The statute does not penalize the imagining, wishing or hoping that the act will be committed by someone else. It was intended to prevent persons, whether with serious intention to carry them out or not, from making actual threats against the Chief Executive, even without communicating them to him, as being calculated to inspire or encourage the hearers to attempt such acts.


Therefore, my understanding is that as long as a statement does not express a purpose to carry out assassination (either personally, or by encouraging others to do so), but restricts itself to commenting on whether an assassination in such circumstances should occur or should be hoped for, it would not be a threat and so would not be criminal.

  • 1
    I definitely was not thinking of the current or any past president of the US. So the speech I am asking about seems permitted, especially if it was at least as vague as the one quoted above. (And this is not real legal advice here, as the disclaimer at the top says.) Thank you. Feb 15, 2022 at 3:38
  • So something along the lines of "I hope [Politician] dies horribly sometime soon", or even "I hope someone kills [Politician] horribly", is protected (as I'm neither expressing an intention to do it myself nor asking others to do it for me), whereas "I'm going to kill [Politician] horribly" is unprotected (since I'm expressing an intention to do it myself) and "hey, guys, go kill [Politician] horribly" is unprotected (since I'm asking others to do it for me)?
    – Vikki
    Feb 15, 2022 at 8:33

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