The Time David Letterman Got A Death Threat On An Al-Qaeda Message Board

When someone is always in the public eye, chances are they have had more than their fair share of unwanted attention. Whether it's a series of stalkers like actor Nicholas Cage had or one disturbed woman who was convinced she was the wife of Guns N' Roses front man Axl Rose, there's plenty of evidence out there that shows that being a celebrity can be a scary thing at times.

David Letterman was pretty familiar with the stalking and death threats that sometimes come with being in the spotlight. The Independent Record (via the Associated Press) reports that a former employee of Letterman's plotted to kidnap the late-night host's infant son in 2005. Kelly Frank was working for Letterman at his Montana ranch when he was arrested and imprisoned in a plot to kidnap and hold the child for a $5 million ransom. It earned him a 10-year prison sentence.

The Hollywood Reporter tells how Letterman was also the victim of an extortion plot in 2009. Robert Halderman, who was a producer, demanded $2 million in exchange for keeping quiet about Letterman's extra-marital affairs. That crime led to Halderman getting 1,000 hours of community service and six months behind bars. 

Those examples are both terrifying and frustrating, perhaps even more so because they came from people that were known to the victim. But there was an additional time that Letterman fell prey to unwanted attention. In that particular instance, a man offended by one of Letterman's jokes was so angered that he made a call for a violent attack against him.

The call for violence originated on an Al-Qaeda message board

Letterman was performing on his popular late-night show in August 2017, his sarcastic wisecracks and jabs against fellow celebrities generating the laughs he had received for decades from his live audience. Letterman, like his counterparts on the other networks, would weave in jokes about current events throughout his monologues and during interviews with his guests. One joke that night led to Letterman being called out and threatened on an Al-Qaeda message board.

Earlier that summer, an airstrike in Pakistan killed leading Al-Qaeda official Ilyas Kashmiri. The BBC reports that he was one of the top five members of the terrorist group wanted by Pakistani and United States officials. During his show that August, Letterman made a joke about Kashmiri's death and followed it up by drawing a line across his throat with his finger (per Reuters). This action by Letterman prompted a man to incite horrific violence against him. The outlet cites a report from the U.S. State Department that detailed the threat, issued on the message board by a militant member of the Muslim community. The post was a call for violence against Letterman, asking Muslims in the United States to "cut the tongue of this lowly Jew and shut it forever." According to the source, Letterman is not Jewish.

Letterman doesn't let the threat stop his sense of humor

Less than a week later, Letterman was doing his thing on a Monday night when he couldn't help but inject his off-brand humor into the situation. According to Entertainment Weekly, Letterman's opening monologue and "Top Ten List" made multiple references to the incident, showing that even the threat of losing his tongue couldn't keep him down. At one point, Letterman laughed and said "You people, to me, are more than an audience; you're more like a human shield. I'm so sorry I'm a little late coming out. Backstage, I was talking to a guy from CBS, we were going through the CBS life insurance policy to see if I was covered for jihad."

"Top 10 thoughts sent through my mind after hearing about the threat" was sure to get a great audience reaction that evening. And judging by the laughter after each item on this list was read to the studio crowd by Letterman, it was among one of his best received. Among the top 10 were "Should I wear my Kevlar hairpiece? "Why is the staff in such a good mood?" "Someone wants to silence me? Get in line," and "This seems like Leno's handiwork."

Even though it could be argued that it was Letterman's sometimes irreverent sense of humor that created the situation, it could also be argued that the same sense of humor was how he and his fans were able to cope with it. And to this day, Letterman still has his tongue intact.