On October 25, as federal agencies, including the Secret Service, were on a fierce hunt for the person who sent pipe bombs to the Clintons, the Obamas, billionaire George Soros, and other Donald Trump critics, two Secret Service agents paid a visit to comedian and actor Tom Arnold and questioned him to determine if he posed a threat to the president. And they delivered Arnold a warning that was also highly appropriate for the man they are duty-bound to protect: Tweets can encourage violence.
During a campaign rally a few days prior, Trump had praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for once body-slamming a reporter. Outraged, Arnold reacted by challenging Trump to a fight. He tweeted, "I say put up or shut up @ realDonaldTrump Me vs You. For America. First body slam wins. Any Rally. Any Time. Between now & the midterms. # FridayFeeling." And Arnold, a onetime Trump pal who became a passionate Trump detractor, followed that up with a tweet that referenced the infamous photo of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a bloody replica of Trump's head: "Next time Kathy won't be holding his fake head!"
For Arnold, a bad-boy provocateur who hosted a Viceland series called The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, this was all a joke. But not so for the Secret Service, which has the mission of investigating threats against the president. On October 24, the Secret Service office in Los Angeles, acting on instructions from Washington headquarters, reached out to Arnold's agent and arranged to send two agents to Arnold's home the next day.
Arnold recorded the hour-long encounter that took place in his living room. According to Arnold, the agents were aware he was filming the conversation with a security camera that was visible to them. He has allowed Mother Jones to review the full video and post a portion of it. (At Arnold's request, Mother Jones is not identifying the agents.) Asked about the visit to Arnold's house, a Secret Service spokeswoman said, "For operational security reasons, the Secret Service cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means, methods or resources we utilize to carry out our protective responsibilities."
Arnold and the two agents sat on a large L-shaped couch, with Arnold stretching out and propping his feet on an ottoman. The agents asserted that Arnold had not been singled out. "We go out on any and all tweets and Facebook posts or any type of threat," one said. "We don't just focus on -- it doesn't matter if you have 100 followers on Facebook or 500,000 followers...We have to do our due diligence." The two men had a list of routine queries for the actor: his height, his weight, his Social Security number. They asked whether he had ever been trained in martial arts. (No.) Did he have any intention of attending a Trump rally? (No.) Not even as a publicity stunt? (No.) Did he have any plans to fly to Washington to try to confront Trump? (No.) How does he typically behave when he gets angry in the workplace? (You put it into the performance.) When was the last time he fired a gun? ("I fired for movies.") Did he know how to make IEDs? (No.) If he saw Trump, would he have an "impulse" to swing at him?" ("I'm not a crazy person.") Did he have any ex-wives? (Three, including one named Roseanne.)
Arnold, who says he recognized that the agents were doing their jobs, courteously responded to all the questions, often in a stream-of-consciousness manner that would be familiar to any of his fans. He explained that he had known Trump for decades: They used to go to the Playboy Mansion together -- and at least once to Elton John's pediatric AIDS benefit. His break with Trump came, Arnold explained, when Trump began promoting the racist birther conspiracy theory about Barack Obama. Arnold detailed his previous addictions and his efforts to become sober. He explained his Griffin tweet as "a random throw-away" and insisted that he had been appalled by the Griffin photo shoot. "I would never be part of something like that," said Arnold, who grew up in Iowa. "I worked at a meatpacking plant on the killing floor for three years."
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