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Start-up CEO resigns after threatening to assassinate Trump: 'What I said was incredibly dumb'

Start-up CEO resigns after threatening to assassinate Trump: 'What I said was incredibly dumb'
“The thing I want to get across most is I want to apologize,” said Matt Harrigan, who stepped down this week as CEO of PacketSled. (David Brooks / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The head of a San Diego cybersecurity start-up has resigned from his job and apologized for his alcohol-fueled election-night rant on social media about assassinating President-elect Donald Trump.

PacketSled Inc.'s Matt Harrigan said Tuesday that his Facebook comments about shooting Trump were meant as a joke.

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"The thing I want to get across most is I want to apologize," said Harrigan, his voice cracking. "What I said was incredibly dumb, perhaps the dumbest thing I have ever said. I really only have myself to blame for this."

Harrigan, 42, resigned Tuesday as chief executive of PacketSled, a 25-employee start-up that he founded in 2013.

He called the resignation a joint decision by the company's board and himself. "That is the price I pay for the comments that I made," he said.

Since his posts went viral, Harrigan has received death threats. He has turned off his mobile phone and email. Some on social media have revealed the address of his home and posted pictures. He and his family, including two young children, have been staying elsewhere.

As election night unfolded last week, Harrigan posted on Facebook that he was going to kill Trump. When a friend responded, "You just need to get high," Harrigan wrote, "Nope, getting a sniper rifle and perching myself where it counts. Find a bedroom in the White House that suits you…. I'll find you."

When warned by a Facebook friend that he might get a visit from federal authorities, Harrigan replied "Bring it Secret Service."

Matt Harrigan, CEO of cyber security firm PacketSled, has resigned after writing a Facebook post threatening to kill President-elect Donald Trump with a sniper rifle.

Harrigan said in an interview that he was intoxicated when he posted the comments.  He believed they were so uncharacteristic of him that his Facebook friends would recognize them as humor.

"I took a stab at what I thought was something that my friends would know was totally over the top – up to the level of absurdity," he said. "It unfortunately made it outside that circle of people."

Harrigan believed his Facebook page could only be viewed by friends that he had approved for access. He declined to speculate on how his posts ended up on other social media websites that can be viewed by anyone.

"There were a few people who liked the post and did the smiley face thing and made commentary to that effect," he said. "So it didn't occur to me that it would go anywhere other than that. It was never intended to be serious."

Harrigan discovered on Sunday that the posts had shown up on Twitter, when he received thousands of messages. Later his comments were posted on Reddit, another social media website. He thinks there was an orchestrated effort to spread his posts to a wide audience.

"It made its way to Twitter with just some screen shots of the really bad parts," he said. "And the forces that be decided to make it viral."

Harrigan is well known in the cybersecurity community. He is credited with inventing the practice of network penetration testing in Kevin Poulsen's New York Times best selling book "Kingpin."

He founded PacketSled to provide root-cause cybersecurity software that detects where a cyberattack is coming from, what files are being targeted and which devices are being affected.

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Harrigan said he invited the U.S. Secret Service to meet at his home Monday. He offered a list of references and filled out a lengthy questionnaire, among other things. He is fully cooperating with authorities.

"I invited them to look around my home and know that I am a perfectly normal person and don't have any crazy tendencies or anything like that."

He continued, "That is the thing I feel terrible about — that anybody who doesn't know me would see that and think I was serious."

A special agent for the Secret Service in San Diego said on Monday that the agency was aware of Harrigan's social media posts but declined further comment.

Threatening a presidential candidate can lead to prosecution.  In 2009, Walter Bagdasarian of La Mesa was convicted of threatening then-candidate Barack Obama in an online message board. The conviction was later overturned by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Though he didn't vote for Trump, Harrigan said he hopes Trump is a successful president.

"He has my full support as an American citizen," said Harrigan. "Where I am at right now is that I want to make sure everybody understands that I am deeply sorry that this has happened. It doesn't reflect my view of the world or Donald Trump or anybody."

Asked about his plans for the future, Harrigan said he isn't sure what he will do. "I am going to take some time to reflect and try to do things that are more healing in nature rather than divisive," he said.

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