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Wednesday, September 15,2010

Truscott & Obama

How a leading Michigan Republican became associated — however innocently — with a prayer to add the president to the list of deceased celebrities

by Neal McNamara

There may be an object lesson here for users of Facebook.


One of about 1.1 million Facebook users “like” a page that urges the Lord to take Barack Obama. One of them is prominent Michigan Republican spokesman John Truscott — who swears he didn’t know that his Facebook page was linked to the so-called prayer.


Truscott, who heads The John Truscott Group, which has offices in Grand Rapids and Lansing, was a fan on Facebook of a page that says “Dear Lord, this year you took my favorite actor, Patrick Swayzie (sic). You took my favorite actress, Farah Fawcett (sic). You took my favorite singer, Michael Jackson. I just wanted to let you know, my favorite president is Barack Obama. Amen.”


Truscott was most recently the spokesman for the failed gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Rep Pete Hoekstra; he was press secretary for former Gov. John Engler and worked for the campaign of former President George W. Bush.


When asked last week about why he belonged to such a page, Truscott responded that he did not know.


“I did not know I had a link to those pages.  I remember seeing it when a young relative sent it to me. I have never opened on those pages,” Truscott wrote in an e-mail.


Since then, Truscott has changed his settings to make his profile private, making it impossible to see which groups he is part of. He has not responded to a query Friday asking whether he was still a member of the page.


Truscott said he might have “liked” the page, but didn’t know that action would make him a member. He was also a fan of a page called “Not having Obaaama (sic) as president.”


“It was a long time ago.  I may have hit ‘like’ — not sure, but I know I never went on it.  Actually, I've never logged into any of the pages in my ‘like’ category.  I don't have the time.  People send me messages all the time — sometimes I just hit like.  You're really making a big deal out of absolutely nothing at all.”


The way Facebook works, if one of your “friends” likes a page, it gets displayed in your news feed. If you were to hit the “like” button below your friend’s post, you would become a member of that page, too.


Facebook spokesman Simon Axten would not comment directly about the prayer page, but said that, “Specifically, we're sensitive to content that includes pornography, direct statements of hate, and actionable threats of violence.  The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving people the freedom to express their opinions and viewpoints — even those that may be controversial to some — and maintaining a safe and trusted environment.”


The page itself is not a direct death threat — more of a hope, or wish, for death. A law enforcement official said that a death “hope” is not necessarily illegal, and differs from a direct death threat. The U.S. Secret Service is the agency that investigates death threats against figures like the president. Spokesman Malcolm Wiley said that the agency investigates death threats, whether on a social media website or in public. He could not say whether social media death threats had been made against Bush or Bill Clinton.


“A threat is a threat. No matter how we receive a threat we investigate it,” he said. “People think when they sit at keyboard, they're anonymous. They’re not as anonymous as they think they are.”


Social media death threats are quite common. The Secret Service investigated a couple of Twitter posts last March (by two separate users) who called for Obama’s assassination.


This Facebook “prayer” page has previously been reported on by CNN and ABC News, and different versions have appeared hoping for the deaths of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. According to Facebook, the Obama prayer page was created by Hunter Hott of Marysville, Ohio. The comments on the page range from Clint Eastwood movie recommendations to Islamopobic statements; despite its name, the page appears to have a healthy dose of Obama supporters on it, defending the president’s actions and reporting offensive content.


Truscott was asked what he thinks the point is of the prayer page, to which he said the premise of the question was “ridiculous.” He was also asked whether he hates Obama — personally or politically — and why.


“I don’t hate the president,” he responded. “I just disagree with him.”

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