Eli Martinez was in bed last Thursday morning when agents showed up at his home in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
His father, who answered the door, woke up the 20-year-old and told him the Secret Service was waiting for him.
“I thought he was kidding or I was dreaming,” Martinez told Mashable.
Days earlier, Martinez had tweeted what he claims was a joke about killing Donald Trump.
Martinez said the agents “questioned the hell” out him — about his personal, medical and employment history, if he was a U.S. citizen and if he’d ever purchased weapons. They wanted to determine if he was a real threat to Trump’s life or if he was just another Twitter user thoughtlessly sending a tweet they’d come to regret.
Martinez’s experience mirrors those of other users who spoke to Mashable. If you send a tweet about taking out any presidential candidate, you can expect a visit from the Secret Service.
Though a Secret Service spokesperson declined to comment
on specific threats against Trump or any other candidate, he cited two laws outlining the duties of the agency and how it handles threats against candidates.
“If you see anything that applies on Twitter, we’re going to investigate it,” the spokesperson said.
Under one of those laws, anyone who “knowingly and willfully threatens to kill, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm” upon a candidate can expect a visit, face fines and up to five years in jail.
This practice isn’t new to the 2016 election. In 2009, the Secret Service expanded its “Internet Threat Desk” to handle an increase of threats against President Obama. In 2012, the Secret Service asked Twitter users to report suspicious tweets. A campaign adviser for Trump was spotted flagging threatening tweets in October.
While some users may send the tweets as jokes, it’s clear the federal government isn’t laughing.
One user tweeted a photo in December showing agents outside his window. He claimed he was “raided” after tweeting, “Ima shoot Donald the next time I see him.”
A man in Detroit said agents met with him about his tweet referencing the assassination of Trump, Jeb Bush, George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Snyder. The user said he sent the tweet “jokingly.”