Mar-A-Lago. The Winter White House. The Confederate Capitol.
Located in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago is located in the easternmost town in Florida. The median income is just short of $125,000 and just over 3 times that of the rest of the state. Residents and property owners of Palm Beach have included figures such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bernie Madoff, Michael Jackson and recently — John Bon Jovi.
Completed in 1927, the home was financed by Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress of the Post Cereal company. It was named Mar-a-Lago Lake because the property extends from the Atlantic Ocean to what used to be known as Lake Worth (now the Intercoastal Waterway). The resort boasts 17 acres, 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces, 5 tennis courts, 3 bomb shelters and a 20,000-square-foot ballroom. It is the second largest mansion in Florida and the 20th largest in the United States.
Marjorie Post willed the property to the United States government as a Winter White House, but they found it too expensive to be maintained. They returned it to the Post Foundation less than a decade after her passing in 1973. Soon after, Donald Trump put a $15 million offer on the property. The Post family rejected it.
Refusing to walk away, and in true Trump style, he purchased the land between the resort and the ocean, launched a campaign threatening to build a home that would block Mar-a-Lago’s view of the beach, and laid waste to any remaining potential buyers. Standing as the lone buyer, Trump secured the property for $7 million in 1985.
What is now the Trump family’s resort and vacation home is located about 2 hours from Kennedy Space Center, two-and-a-half hours from Disneyworld and 3 hours from where George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin. Located in a permit required concealed carry state, Mar-a-Lago is also found in a state where close to 1/3 of its residents are gun owners. Trump and his children are amongst them.
In 2016, Trump claimed, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
It stands to Trumpian reason that shooting someone in the middle of Mar-a-Lago would cost him even less. Mar-a-Lago is positioned firmly in Stand Your Ground territory. Not only can you carry a firearm in public there, but you can get away with murder when you use it if you claim self-defense. The combination of concealed carry and Stand Your Ground should give all Americans pause, but it should be especially concerning to the visitors of Mar-a-Lago.
The Whiter White House is one of Trump’s residences. It is located in Florida, a state with one of the most notoriously faulty Stand Your Ground laws in the nation. Should Trump feel threatened for a moment, in his residence, he can easily claim that he had to use deadly force to defend himself. And there is no shortage of reasons for Trump to claim that he feels threatened.
There’s no shortage of people that would like to see Trump dead. A few have even been arrested for threats and attempts.
On June 18, 2016 a man named Michael Sanford was arrested at a Trump rally in Nevada for trying to grab a Las Vegas police officer’s gun in efforts to shoot Trump. He was arrested and sentenced to 12 months and none day in prison.
In December of 2017, another man was arrested for threatening the life of President* Trump.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
On Dec. 4, when Trump visited Salt Lake City to announce his decision to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National monuments, Dominguez reportedly told law enforcement he planned to kill Trump and any police that tried to stop him.
He is later accused of telling authorities, “I’m going to kill the sexist racist homophobic President Trump today. Nothing you can do to save President Trump nor stop me pigs.”
Dominguez’s alleged threats — utilizing FBI and Unified Police Department tip lines — began coming into police on Nov. 13. and ended Dec. 31, when South Jordan police arrested him near the South Jordan Megaplex Theater, which Dominguez had reportedly threatened to bomb.
In June of this year, a Pennsylvanian man by the name of Shawn Christy became the subject of a three-month multistate large-scale manhunt when he posted on Facebook that he promised to put a bullet “in the head of President Donald J. Trump.” He was arrested after crashing a stolen car and fleeing on foot earlier this month (September 2018).
In a court of law, Trump could easily claim that as a President that has already been subject to numerous assassination plots, his life and physical safety are constantly at risk.
This gives him the legal standing to argue that in any interaction with any person, he “reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.” This is one of the core requirements for the application of Florida Statute 776.012, one of two statutes that creates Florida’s Stand Your Ground legislation.
Imagine a scenario in which Trump invites the Democratic members of the Senate over to Mar-a-Lago for a meeting. Schumer, Feinstein, Harris, Warren — all of the usual suspects are present. Corey Booker is also there. He is drinking iced tea and eating from a fresh pack of Skittles. He is also skating on thin ice with the President*.
Labeled as explosive and rage-filled for his reactions to Trump labeling African nations as “shithole countries,” and considered a loose-cannon for releasing confidential documents related to Brett Kavanaugh, Trump is nervous around what he considers just another angry black man.
After making inflammatory and racially off-colored statement about sending military troops into Chicago, Booker gets up from the table and walks away. Trump follows him.
He tells Booker to stop, but Booker refuses. Trump continues to follow Booker into a hallway, out of sight of both Congress and security. Neither can be seen but a heated exchange can be heard by all. Then — gunshots.
The Senator is found on the ground with fatal bullet holes in his body. Trump is found holding a smoking gun.
He claims self-defense. He says that he believed Booker was enraged and about to inflict grave bodily harm on his seventy-two-year-old body. Trump could argue that he had no choice but to stand his ground to protect himself.
So the story might go.
Did Trump stand his ground, or did he commit murder? Was Cory Booker a threat to the President or was he the victim of a homicide? The merits of standing your ground would likely be argued in the public sphere. It wouldn’t matter though.
Trump occupies the seat of the Presidency. And while in the common dialogue, there is a notion that no one is above the law — there are actually quite a few individuals and organizational entities that are not subject to the same laws that average citizens are. Amongst them are government officials and law enforcement. The President and other individuals operating under the “color of law” enjoy certain protections that allow them to apply excessive and deadly force without having to invoke a law like Stand Your Ground.
Further, when in the presence of individuals granted these protections, regular citizens must forfeit their 4th Amendment right to due process. That’s worth repeating. In the presence of law enforcement and government officials, ordinary citizens forfeit their 4th Amendment right to due process. And it was the deliberate work of the Republican Party in the 1980s that made this happen. (For a detailed description of how it happened, click HERE.)
A series of SCOUTS rulings prompted by the Republican party is responsible for elimination of due process from the 4th Amendment. The final nail in the coffin of due process, though, was hammered in by a case called Graham v Connor (1989).
In this case, SCOTUS reasoned that it was legal for a police officer to beat and brutalize a black man having a diabetic episode because, according to the officer on the scene, Dethorne Graham looked “suspicious.” Because Dethorne Graham’s behavior could be seen as reasonably suspicious –it followed that it was also reasonable to allow him to go slam his head into a police car, break his bones, and leave him on the lawn outside his home.
The Supreme Court held that no jury could convict the Officer Connor of violating Grahams 4th Amendment rights because it was “objectively reasonable” for officers to assume that his behavior was out of the norm. And because the officer did not violate a Constitutional right of Dethorne Graham, no crime had been committed (See Tennessee vs Garner (1985) ).
Dethorne Graham was searching for orange juice to end his diabetic episode. The line at the store he went to was too long, so he left the store without buying anything and got into a friend’s car to search for juice elsewhere. This was the behavior that was deemed suspicious. This was the behavior that prompted police officers to beat, brutalize, and humiliate Graham while his friends stood beside helpless and begging the officers to give him some juice.
Due process was officially out. Objective reasonableness was officially in. And any behavior a police officer could argue was out of the ordinary could serve as a legal get out of jail free card for murder.
More specifically, the 4th amendment which reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” was replaced with Graham v Connor that stipulates “All claims that law enforcement officials have used excessive force — deadly or not — in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other ‘seizure’ of a free citizen are properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment’s ‘objective reasonableness’ standard, rather than under a substantive due process standard.”
As the nation’s more powerful law enforcement official, it would stand to reason that Trump could claim that he thought a Senator’s behavior was suspicious. And as a result, he had no choice but to apply excessive, even deadly force. But reason and reality are often not aligned. Trump would never have to invoke Graham v Connor (1989) because there are rulings that not only prevent individuals operating under the color of law from conviction, there are SCOTUS rulings that prevent them from ever seeing a courtroom in the first place. As the nation’s top law enforcement official, Trump would be protected by legal immunities for applying lethal force while on the job, as well.
Why? Because of Nixon.
As reported by the Strategic Institute of Intersectional Policy:
“In 1982, the court ruled on two cases involving a man named A. Ernest Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a contractor for the US Air Force. He discovered financial mishandlings relating to military contracts and reported them to legislators through a Congressional hearing. Some viewed Fitzgerald as a whistleblower. Others, including Richard Nixon, considered him a leak.
Nixon himself ordered for Fitzgerald to be fired and his aides carried out the order. Fitzgerald sued Nixon and the aides for removing him from his post in retaliation for his Congressional testimony.
SCOTUS used these cases as an opportunity to clarify the two types of immunity given to federal officials and other actors operating under the color of law. They are absolute immunity and qualified immunity.”
According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, “…qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional right. When determining whether or not a right was ‘clearly established,’ courts consider whether a hypothetical reasonable official would have known that the defendant’s conduct violated the plaintiff’s rights.” The right to be free from prosecution for crimes committed under the color of law was reaffirmed in the case of Harlow v Fitzgerald (1982).
Through the case of Nixon v Fitzgerald (1982), though, the Court affirmed that the President of the United States has absolute immunity from civil damages. Further, they held that criminal damages were only recoverable through acts of Congress. In other words, the President cannot be prosecuted for civil violations in a court of law. Should the President be accused of criminal violations, he or she is still immune from prosecution in a court of law. Guilt or innocence is to be determined through a political process, not a legal one. And the power to carry out that process resides with Congress.
SCOTUS held: “The President’s absolute immunity is a functionally mandated incident of his unique office, rooted in the constitutional tradition of the separation of powers and supported by the Nation’s history. Because of the singular importance of the President’s duties, diversion of his energies by concern with private lawsuits would raise unique risks to the effective functioning of government…The exercise of jurisdiction is not warranted in the case of merely private suits for damages based on a President’s official act.… A rule of absolute immunity for the President does not leave the Nation without sufficient protection against his misconduct. There remains the constitutional remedy of impeachment, as well as the deterrent effects of constant scrutiny by the press and vigilant oversight by Congress….”
This means that the only people that can hold the President accountable for criminal acts are in the House and the Senate. And only the Senate can issue a conviction.
If Trump applied deadly force to a Senator before the Midterm Elections, it would be up to the Senate Republicans to convict him. They currently hold a dangerous majority. Should the Democrats flip the Senate on November 6, Trump has already warned his base, “They will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently, and violently. There’s violence.”
With this statement, Trump may be setting the stage to blame the Democrats for any post-Midterm violence. It is not unimaginable, though, to think that Trump may be preparing his constituents for the argument that it is objectively reasonable to believe that the Democrats are violent, that he felt threatened by their behavior, and that he had to apply excessive — even deadly force — to one or more of them. It is not unimaginable in the current state of politics, that Trump could try to stand his ground back to a majority in the Senate.
If Trump applied deadly force under a false pretext of self-defense, it is entirely likely that he would use the language of Stand Your Ground, the rhetoric of Blue Lives Matter (Graham v Connor (1989)), and the absolute immunity granted to him by the Supreme Court to defend himself. And that returns us to the question evoked by the title of this article: Should Trump stand his ground against the Senate Democrats, who could stop him?
For more information on the Strategic Institute of Intersectional Policy, visit http://strategycampsite.org/v2/
To follow Dr. GS Potter on twitter, go to https://twitter.com/DocPotterGS
Author’s Note: This article is an exploration of the legal potentialities should the President* apply deadly force. This is not a call for deadly force to be used. On anyone. Anywhere. At any time. Ever.