Girlfriend: Fla. man didn't want to hurt Obama

August 8, 2008 7:00:58 PM PDT
Two people closest to a man charged with threatening to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Friday he has no violent tendencies and would never have seriously threatened violence against anyone. In fact, they say, Raymond Hunter Geisel came to Florida from Maine earlier this year in hopes that taking a bail bondsman training course would put him on a pathway to a law enforcement career or some other vocation in which he could help people.

"He'd never hurt a person. It would be completely against his character," said Geisel's girlfriend, 35-year-old Susanne Kynast, in a telephone interview from the sailboat home they share in the Florida Keys. "He is so much for life. It's absolutely horrifying."

A mentor and Catholic Charities caseworker who took Geisel into his home in Hampden, Maine, four years ago made similar comments, noting that Geisel was just emerging from an severely abusive home environment to make his way in the world.

"He's basically a 22-year-old who's a teenager. He says things that are inappropriate," Richard Peer, 58, said in a separate telephone interview. "In my heart, I know he didn't mean it. He would be more likely to save a life than do to the other."

Geisel faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted of threatening Obama. The Secret Service arrested him last Saturday after another student in the bail bondsman training course told agents she heard him refer to Obama with a racial slur and then say, "If he gets elected, I'll assassinate him myself."

Another student told agents Geisel also said that he "hated George W. Bush and that he wanted to put a bullet in the president's head," according to court documents. But Geisel has not been charged with threatening the president.

Arraignment on the Obama threat charge is set for Aug. 18. Geisel denied in writing to the Secret Service that he threatened either Obama or Bush, and no evidence has emerged that he took any steps to carry out an assassination.

A search of Geisel's hotel room and 1998 Ford Explorer in Miami turned up a loaded 9mm handgun, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, body armor, knives, a machete and other military-style gear. The Explorer was wired with flashing emergency lights.

Kynast, a native of Germany who has lived in the U.S. for 16 years, said the couple hauled her boat to the Keys town of Marathon in January and Geisel later found out about the bail bondsman course. Kynast said he saw it as an entry into law enforcement.

"He always wanted to be a police officer to help people. He wanted to help people who were victims of abuse," Kynast said.

Peer and Kynast said Geisel's difficult upbringing made it hard for him to socialize with people and build trusting relationships. Kynast suggested that he may have mistook Obama's name for that of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in making his alleged threat.

"Raymond is so nonpolitical, he didn't even realize it. It all comes down to one letter in a name. It would have been a natural mistake for him to have made," she said.