On Oct. 19, the actor tweeted in response to the president joking about violence against journalists. “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.” And Arnold, a onetime Trump pal who has become a passionate detractor, followed that up with a tweet that referenced the infamous photo of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a bloody rendering of Trump’s severed head: “Next time Kathy won’t be holding his fake head!”
Less than a week later, the Secret Service, acting on orders from its headquarters in Washington, deployed two men in black to Arnold’s home in Los Angeles, the actor said in an interview released Monday with Mother Jones magazine. Arnold also videotaped his hour-long sit-down with the agents.
"We go out on any and all tweets and Facebook posts or any type of threat,” one agent told the comedian, according to the magazine, which viewed the video in its entirety.
Sitting on a couch across from Arnold in the actor’s living room, the agents made sure to emphasize that they were not “the First Amendment police.” The actor, they continued, was “free to say whatever” he wanted to “within certain boundaries.” But when that free speech crosses a line, presumably in this case when Arnold tweeted a reference to Griffin’s photo, they have to investigate.
“In your type of case,” one agent said, “what we’re concerned with a lot, too, is the audience it can reach, that it could incite somebody to do something.” Arnold said the reference to Griffin’s photo was a “random throw-away” and he did not agree with the violence to which it alluded.
Arnold has 250,000 followers on Twitter and earlier this year hosted an eight-part series on Viceland about the hunt for the “Trump tapes,” called “The Hunt for the Trump Tapes.” His goal on the show was to dig up smoking-gun audio and video of the president saying and doing inexcusable things. (Arnold doesn’t in fact find anything during his search.)
According to the two agents interviewing Arnold, the Secret Service regularly investigates social media missives from famous people. “You’re a public figure,” one agent said. “But what we have to worry about is your type of audience and you say something inciting those that follow you.”
The Secret Service also asked to speak with Arnold’s wife, Ashley, reiterating their concern that her husband’s anti-Trump tweet could “motivate or incite” one of his followers to violent action against the president. Mrs. Arnold’s response? “That’s how we feel about Trump.”
Arnold, who continues to tweet about politics and critique the Trump administration, promised the agents that he would no longer post anything on social media that could be misinterpreted as a call to violence in the real world.