The Secret Service opened a formal investigation of a Maine man whose social media posts showed “unusual interest” in President Joe Biden’s family, although he apparently didn’t make a serious threat of violence, according to the agency’s response to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act by The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project.

A senior Secret Service agent, John Mazza, conducted the investigation of the Twitter user in summer 2022, documents released to the Oversight Project show. (The Heritage Foundation, home to the Oversight Project, launched The Daily Signal in 2014.)

In July 2022, about 18 months after Biden became president, a regional Secret Service office requested that agents conduct a “preliminary protective intelligence investigation” targeting the Maine man, an Army veteran, for one or more posts on Twitter.

The reason? This person, whose identity was still unknown to the Secret Service at the time, “posted statements of unusual interest towards the Biden Family,” according to the documents obtained by Heritage’s Oversight Project:

What appears to have gotten the Secret Service’s attention? One of the man’s posts suggested, apparently jokingly, that he planned to “invade the White House and get pics of Biden in his ‘Depends,’” referring to a brand of adult diaper.

By contrast, some social media users who despise former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee to take on Biden in a rematch in November, routinely post messages about assaulting or assassinating him. Biden, a Democrat, has talked in public about wanting to rough up Trump.

The Daily Signal acquired the man’s name through the Oversight Project but isn’t publishing it because the man, who lives in a small town on the coast of Maine, was not charged with a crime by the Secret Service. In addition, attempts to reach him were unsuccessful and he hasn’t agreed to speak publicly about being investigated. 

In beginning the investigation in August 2022, the Secret Service inaccurately suggested that the man was focused on material from what the agency called the “iCloud hack” of presidential son Hunter Biden.

In fact, no such hack occurred. The material came from decrypted iPhone backups of what New York Post columnist Miranda Devine called the “Laptop From Hell” in the title of her 2021 book about the contents of the younger Biden’s laptop computer.

By law, the Secret Service is authorized to investigate and prosecute threats against the president and successors to the presidency (18 U.S. Code § 871). To prove that a threat is worthy of investigation, the Secret Service must show the existence of a threat to kill, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm upon the president of the United States, the president-elect, the vice president, or other officer next in the order of presidential succession.  

Documents released in response to the Oversight Project’s FOIA request, however, reveal that the Secret Service opened its investigation of the Maine man based only upon First Amendment-protected speech.

The Secret Service didn’t identify actual threats to Biden or his family, instead predicating the case on what it called the man’s “unusual interest” in the family. This “unusual interest,” however, appeared to be comprised of nothing more than obvious jokes that were critical of Biden.

Zero comments by the Twitter user suggested a serious intent to engage in violence, according to the Secret Service documents released to the Oversight Project. 

The New York Post’s initial reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop files was suppressed by Twitter, Facebook, and other social media in cooperation with government officials in the weeks before the 2020 election, in which Biden defeated Trump. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other liberal-leaning news outlets, however, later confirmed the authenticity of those laptop files, which also were in the possession of the FBI.

Kara Frederick, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, has warned about increasing government efforts to target Americans, especially conservatives, who speak out online.

In a commentary published by The Daily Signal in February 2022, about six months before the Secret Service opened this investigation, Frederick wrote that

the growing symbiosis between Big Tech and government, the constriction of digital life, the pernicious targeting and exploitation of the next generation, and the expansion of digital surveillance will accelerate the stratification of American society. If current patterns are not disrupted, conservatives will bear the brunt of [a] tech-enabled classification system implemented hand-in-glove with the government.

After scrutinizing other posts by the Maine man, which revealed no threats of violence against Biden or his family, that summer the Secret Service nevertheless deemed his posts sufficient to extend its investigation beyond the permitted preliminary investigative stage.  

The Secret Service investigation occurred about a year before entrepreneur Elon Musk bought Twitter and changed the name of the social media giant to X in July 2023.

The agency initially misidentified the Twitter user until developing more information. After reviewing public and law enforcement records, some of them not easy to obtain, the Secret Service determined that the user of the Twitter account was a man, initially thought to be a woman, who posted opinions on “conspiracy theories.”

And upon reviewing the man’s online blog, Mazza apparently didn’t find any threats of violence, the documents indicate.

In addition, email attachments to documents obtained by the Oversight Project in the FOIA request contain subpoena results, but the contents of those attachments were not provided.

The names of those email attachments reveal the extensive scope of the Secret Service investigation of the man, including technical information such as IP addresses.

The use of subpoenas indicates that the Secret Service conducted a criminal investigation of a U.S. citizen for activity on social media protected by the First Amendment. Here is detail from a document showing that the Secret Service executed and got results from one or more subpoenas in this case:

Eventually, the Secret Service sought the results of an interview with the Maine man, a photo of him, more results from corroborating interviews, investigative notes, and two different official forms used by the agency.

It is not clear whether the Secret Service ever interviewed the Army veteran or conducted the corroborating interviews.

Interestingly, contact information for Mazza, the senior Secret Service agent who conducted the investigation, was discovered in the contact files on first son Hunter Biden’s notorious abandoned laptop.

Mazza, now retired, was assigned at one time to the Secret Service division that provides protection to the vice president, the position Biden held from 2009 until 2017, as well as some of the vice president’s family members.

Hunter Biden’s possession of Mazza’s contact information in his laptop should have set off alarm bells. Such a situation is extremely irregular, a former Secret Service agent who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Daily Signal.

The former Secret Service agent speculated that the younger Biden may have gotten this contact information if Mazza had led one of the agency’s protective details and provided it to the president’s son or other relatives under protection.

Mazza, reached Friday by The Daily Signal, declined to comment for the record on the investigation and his involvement.

It’s not clear to what extent Secret Service investigations and subpoenas target other social media users for activity protected by the First Amendment without any stated evidence of a threat of violence against the president or his family.

Also not clear: whether the Secret Service continues to issue subpoenas to social media users merely for exhibiting “unusual interest” in the Biden family, or whether the Secret Service’s intent is to protect the family from journalistic inquiry and public scrutiny at all costs—including censorship and the legal process.

“In order to maintain operational security, the U.S. Secret Service does not discuss the means and methods used to conduct matters of protective intelligence,” Secret Service spokesperson Alexi Worley told The Daily Signal on Monday afternoon, after the initial publication of this report. “We can confirm that the Secret Service investigates all threats related to our protectees.”

Secret Service spokespersons last week had declined to comment before publication, saying they would need more context about the 2022 investigation before doing so.

Trump receives death threats almost daily via social media. It remains unclear whether the Secret Service fairly and impartially investigates actual threats against those it protects or instead has become a weaponized arm of the U.S. government.

In one example, in this January 2024 exchange on Mastodon, a sort of decentralized social network used heavily by liberals, a post by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor at UC Berkeley, sparks comments from two others about assassinating Trump.

Fred Lucas and Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.

This story was updated to include a comment from a Secret Service spokesperson.