Would the Secret Service Actually Die for Trump?
To be clear right off the bat (hi Mr. FBIs), I am not suggesting nor requesting that someone try to take Trump out. Frankly, as much as I loathe and despise the man, actually calling for a murder is a line that I’m not sure I could ever walk back from (which isn’t to say that if someone did something horrible to a close friend or family member, that I might not jump right the fuck over that line, taking matters into my own hands, never to look back). But his policies are hurting a lot of people and it’s surely possible that one of them, or one of their friends or family members, may decide to walk over that line. And if they did, I found myself wondering, if someone were to take a shot at the President*, would the Secret Service actually try to take that bullet?
To begin with, Secret Service agents are not, contrary to popular opinion, agents of the Department of Treasury - they used to be, but in 2003 they were rolled into the Department of Homeland Security. While I haven’t been able to definitively find the oath that the Secret Service agents take when sworn in, I suspect it’s the same one that their direct superior, the U.S. Secret Service Director takes, which US law requires all elected or appointed civil service officers to take:
“I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Here’s Julia Pierson being sworn in back in ‘13 by President Obama (…I miss him and Uncle Joe so. god. damned. much!):
A few months ago, Mental Floss did a write-up on the Secret Service and, among other things they made it clear that Secret Service agents are most certainly not sworn to die in furtherance of their duty to protect the President:
Despite Hollywood’s depictions of life in the Service, agents never have to explicitly “swear” to give up their life in order to protect the president. “They never utter that sentence,” [Robert] Kessler [a journalist] says. “It’s understood that something like that could happen, but they take every possible step to avoid it.”
Ok, so where we are so far is that Secret Service agents are not sworn to take a bullet but are sworn to faithfully discharge their duties (which, for the Secret Service, explicitly include protection of the President). But given Trump’s approval ratings, it’s safe to say that the majority of his agents probably fall into the “disapprove of him” category. And that’s probably doubly-so given the recent report that the agency is being financially stressed and over 1,000 agents have already hit their federal cap of salary and overtime for the year. Surely many Secret Service agents have disapproved of the subject of their protection over the years, and I have to assume they take their oaths and jobs seriously enough to put that aside. And triply so given that the Secret Services apparently sits “dead last, at number 305, in the overall rankings of the best places to work index within the federal government.”
But what if an agent more than just disapproves of the man? What if they look at another part of their oath, the part where they swear to protect the country against “enemies, foreign and domestic,” and decide that he qualifies as a domestic enemy? Back in January it was reported that a Denver Secret Service agent, Kerry O’Grady, had exactly that line of thought, posting on Facebook that she would not “take a bullet” for something she believes “to be a disaster to this country”:
She was, unsurprisingly, removed from the Secret Service in March. But she surely isn’t the only agent who not only disapproves of Trump but thinks he’s a disaster for this country, right? She’s merely the only one who had the gumption to state it publicly.
Faced in the horrifying moment, looking literally down the barrel of a gun, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a Secret Service agent. I suspect that even with the best of agents and the most beloved of Presidents, there is at least a chance that fear or self-preservation might kick in to create a moment of hesitation in the moment that can’t afford any hesitation. And that’s in the best of cases. Multiply that small chance by a group of agents who are miserable and overworked. Multiply that now increased chance by the odds that the agent with the ability to change a life-or-death historical moment likely dislikes the President*, if they don’t out-and-out hate him. And then add in the fact that some of them probably fall into the O’Grady camp of thinking that he’s an objective danger to our country. I’m no mathematician, and that’s not a legitimate equation in any event, but it sure feels to me like it’s far more likely than not that a Secret Service agent would not willingly give their life for this man.
… Which leaves me very torn. Because I think he is a despicable man, a vile leader, a danger to our country, and an active enemy of many of our own citizens. Would I be glad that Trump is no longer the Commander-in-Chief? Even though Pence is a monster in his own right, yes. Of course. But. In our imagined world where someone took that shot — a world where the agent who could’ve stepped in didn’t — in that world, we might see a literal societal civil war. The Deplorables are already marching with arms and feeling empowered and eternally wronged. If a “liberal” agent didn’t protect their guy, how would the armed Nazis react? That’s a terrifying world that I hope we never see.
But there is something else I was reminded of while going down this rabbit hole. Secret Service agents do not have testifying privilege. So there’s a way they definitely can save our country against this domestic enemy. They can keep their eyes on him as much as on the crowds. They can remember the terrible things he inevitably has and will continue to let them observe. And when called to testify, they can take the stand and deliver testimony that hopefully helps to take this man down in a legal and civil fashion.