Actor Johnny Depp has caused controversy after he appeared to threaten US President Donald Trump at the Glastonbury Festival. “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” he asked the crowd.

It is a crime in the US to make threats against the president, so could his remarks get him into trouble?

What did he say?

As he introduced a screening of his film The Libertine, Johnny Depp asked the audience: “Can you bring Trump here?”
After receiving jeers from the crowd, he added: “You misunderstand completely. When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”

The comment seemed to be a reference to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth in 1865.

“I want to clarify,” he added. “I’m not an actor. I lie for a living [but] it’s been a while. Maybe it’s about time.”


Under the United States Code (Title 18, Section 871), threatening the US president is a class E felony. Anyone who “knowingly and wilfully” makes “any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm” upon the US president could be sentenced to up five years and/or be fined. It also includes the vice-president and presidential candidates.

The US Secret Service is the agency tasked with investigating suspected cases. And US media reported that the service was aware of the actor’s comments.

But, when it comes to statements made by artists, courts have usually declared the cases to be protected speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Stanford University Law Professor Nathaniel Persily told USA Today newspaper: “People are allowed to wish the president dead,” up to the point they express a real intent to harm him. “To threaten someone you need words that encourage some sort of action.”