In the Wake of Fort Hood Shooting, Can a Rap Song Be a Threat?

Pentagon officials may have overlooked a serious threat against members of the military by a fellow soldier before the Fort Hood shooting rampage. Army Specialist Marc A. Hall has been in pretrial confinement since Dec. 17 for writing a rap song in which he talks about plans to shoot and kill fellow soldiers in his unit. Hall allegedly sent a package to the Pentagon in July that contained a CD with threatening rap lyrics for a song called “Stop Lossed,” says Kevin Larson, spokesperson for Fort Stewart, the Georgia military base where Hall was stationed.

“There are express threats that are contained within that song,” Larson says. “Even though no names are mentioned in the song lyrics, it’s very easy to identify who Hall is talking about because of the positions they hold.” Hall allegedly followed up the threats contained in the song lyrics with similar verbal threats made to multiple soldiers in his unit, Larson adds.

No one knows exactly what happened to the CD immediately after it was received by the Pentagon, Larson says. But Pentagon officials sent the disk to Hall’s military unit in September after holding onto it for several months. Hall wasn’t confronted about the rap until a few months later, after the shooting on the Fort Hood military base.

Five charges have been filed against Hall under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a catchall military-law provision that allows soldiers to be charged for conduct that brings discredit to the armed forces. Two of the charges involve threatening violence against fellow soldiers and threatening to shoot commanders. The remaining charges include wrongfully communicating to go on a rampage, wrongfully communicating to hurt someone if deployed, and distributing a song as the communication of a threat.

Declassified contacted Hall’s military attorney, Capt. Anthony Schiavetti, to comment on these charges, but Schiavetti did not respond before publication.  

Hall apparently wrote the song to express his anger over the Army’s stop-loss policy. Stop-loss is a program authorizing the military to temporarily halt soldiers’ separations and retirements during times of war and national emergency. Soldiers whose enlistment termination or retirement dates occur during a stop-loss window have extended involuntary commitments with the military. Hall had already served one tour in Iraq and was required to return again in December under stop-loss. In January 2010, the Army decided not to deploy units with stop-lossed soldiers; however, Hall’s deployment in late 2009 meant he was still subject to the program, says George Wright, Army spokesperson at the Pentagon. The Army has not officially eliminated stop-loss, but it’s not actively using the program either, Wright adds.

Iraq Veterans Against the War says Hall’s lyrics should be considered protected free speech, and it has sought to raise money to pay for his legal fees. “If he was that much of a threat, why didn’t anyone act sooner?” says David L. Hudson, an expert at the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan organization that examines First Amendment issues.

Others claim the song should be treated as a serious threat, regardless of the amount of time that passed between its release and official military charges. “The fact that he allegedly sent the song to the Pentagon is a bit alarming to me. That’s different than sending it to a record company. It doesn’t sound like it's being sent for entertainment purposes, but as a warning,” says Rodney Smolla, dean of Washington and Lee School of Law and a First Amendment expert.

Members of the military don’t have the same free-speech rights as the average citizen, Smolla explains. “Because of the importance of protecting the safety of his fellow troops and the stresses of combat and redeployment, the military has greater latitude to deal with these types of threats,” he says.

Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, says it’s important to protect free speech even when it’s speech that some find offensive, but he admits the current state of national security has made it difficult to balance the First Amendment and public safety. “It’s complicated today. No one wants to be the person that didn’t take action and some violent thing happened,” Policinski says. 

Hall has 140 days from his initial date of confinement to appear before a military judge and enter his plea. He’s currently incarcerated at Liberty County Jail near Fort Stewart. Here are the lyrics that have gotten him into so much trouble, which military officials provided to Declassified:

"Stop Lossed" by SPC Marc Hall

Now this is real days
When s--t hit the airwaves
Somebody gotta say
F--k you colonels, captains, E-7s and above Think you're so much bigger than I am I've been too good of an American Stop-lossed, Stop movement, Got me chasing If I do drugs, I'll get kicked out But if my time is out I can't get out So the good die young I heard it out your mouth So f--k the Army And everything you're all about

Like Obama says "Somebody be held responsible"
But some of y'all gonna be held in the hospitals whenever possible To pursue my own journeys in life, through my own main obstacles Since I can't pinpoint the culpable. They want me cause misery loves company I'm gonna round them all up Eventually, easily, walk right up peacefully And surprise them all Yes, yes ya'll up against the wall Turn around, I gotta a motherf--king magazine with thirty rounds On a three round burst, ready to fire down Still against the wall I grab my M-4 Spray and watch all the bodies hit the floor I bet your never stop loss nobody no more In your next lifetime of course, no remorse Yeah You don't stop till the Army is the only military branch That still got the stop loss in effect So the only thing I got to say Is prepare for the consequences When people want to get out, let them get out.