Jordan Thompson’s reaction to getting blocked by President Donald J. Trump on Twitter came in three waves.
First, there was confusion. Thompson, a New Hampshire resident, was dumbstruck as he checked his phone and then his computer before finally realizing that he had, indeed, been blocked by the president and thereby banned from viewing his timeline.
Then came the shock.
And, lastly, there was the baffled phone call he made to his grandmother, a politically-active Democrat, who Thompson said he knew would be amused by the strange news.
“She said, ‘Oh, ha-ha, you’re on the FBI watch list now,’” he recalled. “I knew she would get a huge kick out of that.”
Why was he blocked? Thompson said it happened around Memorial Day after he called out Trump for not condemning the fatal stabbing of two men on a train in Portland, Ore.
He isn’t the only one. The 18 year old is among a group of users who allege that they’ve been barred from interacting with the Republican leader online, after he presumably took umbrage with being criticized or mocked in 140 characters or less.
The president’s actions have raised concerns about whether or not he is violating people’s First Amendment rights. On June 6, lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sent Trump and his administration a letter demanding that he “unblock” followers like Thompson on Twitter, or face legal recourse.
The request came as Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters this week that Trump’s tweets should be taken as official statements from the president.
The institute argued that the account, @realDonaldTrump, operates as a “designated public forum” that’s subject to the First Amendment. Officials there said that by blocking people with whom he disagrees from interacting with him, Trump “suppresses speech in a number of ways.”
“When the government makes a space available to the public at large for the purpose of expressive activity, it creates a public forum from which it may not constitutionally exclude individuals on the basis of viewpoint,” the letter said.
Lawyers from the institute told the Globe that they don’t have an exact count of people who have been barred from following Trump on Twitter.
It was also unclear if Trump, himself, was actively using the “block” function to keep people from seeing his tweets, or if perhaps a member of his social media team was behind the seemingly targeted bans. Twitter did not immediately return a request for comment.
But Thompson envisions Trump sitting with his feet on his desk in the Oval Office, firing off divisive statements in a few dozen words — and then zapping access to anyone who gives him a hard time about it.
“I was saying to a friend yesterday that if it was the @POTUS account, I wouldn’t have cared, because it’s White House aides,” he said. “But from [the @realDonaldTrump] account, I know that it’s him. That’s him taking time out of his day to block people when he should be doing things that are presidential.”
As the Washington Post reported this week, for many, getting blocked by Trump has become something of a “badge of honor.” A hashtag was born — #BlockedByTrump — for users who have been banished. And some people have even gone as far as boasting in their Twitter profiles that they’ve been blocked, like an accolade one might include on a job resume.
“Sharing the tweets that prompted the president of the united states to block folks,” a description of the account says. “Get blocked? send us your ‘final straw’ tweet(s)!”
Mike Denison, a Boston artist, is part of the online group. He said he was blocked by Trump on Twitter Tuesday, the same day the Knight Institute sent its letter to the president.
While Denison had often hurled jabs at Trump online, the series of tweets that ended his access came in response to the president’s claims that certain media outlets were “fake news.”
“Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH,” Trump tweeted to his 32 million followers.
Denison replied, “All you needed was Russia.”
Then he sent a picture he drew of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arm in arm, dressed like The Joker and Harley Quinn.
“If you only relied on American democracy you would’ve had zero chance of winning,” Denison continued.
That’s when he said he was blocked.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Denison said.
These are some of the tweets that have gotten people blocked by President Trump, according to an account that tracks it.
If you only relied on American democracy you would've had zero chance of winning— Mike Denison (@mikd33) June 6, 2017
Trump is right. The government should protect the people.— Nick Jack Pappas (@Pappiness) June 5, 2017
That's why the courts are protecting us from him.