A Californian who pleaded guilty to threatening dozens of people, including members of Congress and reporters, for claiming former President Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election was sentenced Monday to three years’ imprisonment. jail.
The man, Robert Lemke, 36, sent text and voice messages to around 50 people between November 2020 and early January. Several of the messages warned elected officials and reporters to stop telling the public that Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the election, and said Mr. Lemke and others were “armed,” federal prosecutors said.
Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Monday that Mr. Lemke had targeted his victims “for the perceived offense of laying out the facts.”
“Rather than trying to effect change through the legal forms of expression that all of us Americans still enjoy, Lemke sought to suppress free speech, intimidate and instill fear in others. by threats of violence, “Williams said in a statement.
Julia L. Gatto, lawyer for Mr. Lemke, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
On January 6, the same day Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Lemke sent messages to New York’s representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat brother.
“Your brother is putting your whole family at risk with his lies and other words,” one of the posts read, according to federal court documents. “We are armed and close to your house. You better talk to him. We’re not far from his either.
Illinois Democrat Senator Tammy Duckworth has also been threatened, according to a letter she wrote to Judge Alvin Hellerstein. She said after speaking in the Senate on January 6 about the importance of certifying election results, she received a text from Mr. Lemke.
Understanding the U.S. Capitol Riot
On January 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
The letter stated that Mr. Lemke texted him that the insurgency of that day was only the “tip of the iceberg” and that he described himself as part of the “underground communications networks. “retired soldiers and law enforcement.
“We are watching,” he said, according to the letter. Ms Duckworth told the judge that “by then – and for weeks after – I was terrified for my family. She added: “We had to turn our house into a bunker.”
Mr. Lemke was arrested by federal authorities in California that month. He pleaded guilty in October to making threatening interstate communications.
Prosecutors said Monday he used “various electronic accounts” and at least three phone numbers to hide his identity when sending threats. They also said that, despite his allegations, he was not affiliated with law enforcement or the military.
Mr Lemke’s lawyer Ms Gatto described him in court documents as a troubled man with a history of mental illness and alcoholism, but no history of physical abuse. She said he was “spurred on by inflammatory rhetoric” on social media, from politicians and in news reports.
“Mr. Lemke was consumed with the tale that the election was stolen from Donald Trump,” Ms. Gatto wrote in a sentencing memorandum, which called for Mr. Lemke to be sentenced to the 11 months he had already served in a federal prison.
“Sir. Lemke has real remorse for his actions,” Ms. Gatto wrote.
Mr. Lemke’s case is one of many instances in which Mr. Trump’s supporters have been accused of threatening public figures for rejecting the false account that Mr. Trump won the election.
Federal prosecutors have not publicly identified most of those at risk in Mr. Lemke’s case.
But Representative Jeffries’ office confirmed in January that the congressman and his brother, Hasan Jeffries, a history professor at Ohio State University, were targets. A person briefed on the investigation also confirmed to The New York Times that the person named in the complaint as “Journalist-1” was George Stephanopoulos, an ABC News anchor.
Mr Lemke, of Bay Point, Calif., Told Professor Jeffries he was part of a group of “law enforcement or serving / retired military personnel” who had “armed members near you “, according to court documents.
Key figures from the January 6 survey
Professor Jeffries said in an email he was satisfied with the sentence and declined to comment beyond a letter he sent to Judge Hellerstein.
The letter said the texts created “a palpable sense of fear” in him.
“I could see it in my 11 year old daughter’s eyes as she wondered if the weird crackle in the house was actually someone trying to break in and hurt us,” wrote Professor Jeffries.
He said Mr. Lemke had turned “the world of a family” and “shook us to the core”.
Mr Lemke sent a similar text to a relative of Mr Stephanopoulos, claiming that the journalist’s words “put you and your family in danger”.
“We are nearby, armed and ready,” Lemke wrote, according to prosecutors. “Thousands of us are active / retired law enforcement, military and so on. This is how we do it. “
Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent, said in a report on Monday that he and a colleague, presenter Don Lemon, were among the reporters threatened by Mr. Lemke. Mr Stelter described a message he received from Mr Lemke which included a photo of his father’s grave.
He said Mr Lemon began to “choke” when he told Judge Hellerstein that Mr Lemke called him “horrible names”, including homophobic and racist slurs.
“I’m tired of looking over my shoulder,” Mr. Lemon said, according to Mr. Stelter’s account. “I’m tired of being suspicious of even friendly faces in public. “
Mr Stelter also discussed the threats Monday on his “Trusted Sources” show, where he thanked prosecutors and the FBI and expressed hope that the case “is really a statement” that trying to silence reporters would not be tolerated.
“Threats and harassment hamper press freedom,” said Mr Stelter. “This is the type of harassment journalists experience on a daily basis. It’s ubiquitous. “