They are the stoic men and women of the Secret Service. Guarding presidents and dignitaries, keeping them safe, even if duty calls one of them to do as he or she is trained and step in front of a bullet.
The best of the best, they are immortalized in Hollywood dramas such as "In the Line of Fire."
But now that pristine image is being challenged by a lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 100 current and former black agents which alleges they were discriminated against in promotions.
Desmond Hogan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in their suit against the Secret Service, says "we have, through the evidence we've developed in this case, demonstrated that there is a pattern of discrimination in the promotion process of the Secret Service."
The Secret Service flatly rejects the allegations, but the lawsuit has led to the discovery of troubling internal e-mails circulated among senior Secret Service managers.
One video e-mail attachment depicts an interracial couple — a black man and a white woman — lying on the ground kissing, and then rolling over onto a white sheet. The shot then reveals a group of Ku Klux Klan members surrounding the couple and a burning cross.
That video, according to court documents, made the rounds among senior Secret Service agents.
One of the agents who was recently on the detail of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is under investigation for allegedly forwarding a January 2005 e-mail that included a crude sexual joke about blacks and American Indians.
That agent has since been promoted. It is unclear what disciplinary action, if any, he will face.
Other messages target prominent black Americans, from activists to entertainers.
A 2003 e-mail sent to several senior agents jokes about the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his wife being killed, saying their deaths "certainly wouldn't be a great loss."
Another white senior supervisor, apparently bitter towards the Rev. Al Sharpton and angry at Ruben Studdard for winning "American Idol" in 2003 over Clay Aiken, allegedly wrote, "Reverse discrimination and political correctness are destroying virtually every aspect of American life."
"I think these e-mails confirm what our statistics show," Hogan said. "They confirm the anecdotes that have been told to us by our clients and others, that there is a culture of racism at the Secret Service."
It's not just e-mails — a noose was recently discovered at a Secret Service training facility outside of Washington, D.C. The service thus far has declined to release pictures of the noose.
24-year veteran Secret Service Agent Ray Moore is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. He agreed to an interview with ABC News.
"I firmly believe that I have been discriminated against, and I know that I've been discriminated against, and I know other African-American agents have been discriminated against because of the system that the Secret Service has in place of hiring, promoting, evaluating, transferring," he said.
Moore said he is not surprised by the e-mails or the noose. Not surprised, but he is angry.
"I don't see anything funny about making a joke about the possible assassination of Jesse Jackson and his wife. I never see the humor in sharing anything about the Klan," he said. "So, there's nothing funny about any of these e-mails. These are not jokes."
What is "the most dismaying," Moore said, is that the e-mails were allegedly circulated among people in the upper levels of the Secret Service.