Robert Lemke sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for threats against journalists and politicians
A California man who pleaded guilty to threatening dozens of people, including congressmen and journalists, for saying former President Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 elections, was sentenced to three years in prison on Monday.
The man, Robert Lemke, 36, sent text and voice messages to around 50 people between November 2020 and the beginning of January. Several of the messages warned elected officials and reporters not to tell 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 borough of New York, said Monday that Mr. Lemke had targeted his victims “for the perceived misdemeanor of the allegation of fact”.
“Instead of trying to make changes through the legal forms of expression we Americans still enjoy, Lemke has tried to suppress freedom of expression, intimidate and scare others through threats of violence,” Williams said in a statement.
Julia L. Gatto, Mr Lemke’s lawyer, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
On January 6, the same day that Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Lemke sent messages to the brother of New York MP Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat.
“Your brother is putting your entire family at risk with his lies and other words,” said one of the messages, according to federal court documents. “We are armed and near your house. You’d better talk to him. We are not far from him either. “
Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat of Illinois, was also threatened, according to a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein. She said that after speaking in the Senate on January 6th about the importance of confirming the election result, she received a text from Mr. Lemke.
Understand the US Capitol Riot
On January 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
The letter said Mr. Lemke texted her that the uprising that day was the “tip of the iceberg” and described himself as part of the “underground communications networks” of retired military and law enforcement agencies.
“We’re watching,” he said, according to the letter. Ms. Duckworth told the judge, “At that moment – and for weeks after – I was afraid for my family.” She added, “We were forced to turn our house into a bunker.”
That month, Mr. Lemke was arrested by federal authorities in California. He pleaded guilty in October of making interstate threats.
Prosecutors said Monday that he used “various electronic accounts” and at least three phone numbers to hide his identity when sending threats. They also said that despite his claims, he was not affiliated with law enforcement or the military.
Mr. Lemke’s attorney, Ms. Gatto, described him in court documents as a restless man with a history of mental illness and alcoholism but no history of physical violence. She said he was spurred “by seditious rhetoric” on social media, politicians and news broadcasts.
“Mr. Lemke was consumed by the story that Donald Trump’s election was stolen,” wrote Ms. Gatto in a judgment memorandum demanding that Mr. Lemke be sentenced to the eleven months that he had already served in federal prison.
“Mr. Lemke sincerely regrets his actions,” wrote Mrs. Gatto.
Mr Lemke’s case is one of several in which Mr Trump’s supporters have been accused of threatening public figures for rejecting the false story that Mr Trump won the election.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has not publicly identified most of the people threatened in Mr Lemke’s case.
But Rep. Jeffries’ office confirmed in January that Congressman and his brother Hasan Jeffries, a history professor at Ohio State University, were targets. One person who was informed of the investigation also confirmed to the New York Times that the person referred to as “Journalist-1” in the complaint was George Stephanopoulos, a moderator for ABC News.
Mr. Lemke, of Bay Point, Calif., Told Professor Jeffries that he was part of a group of “active / retired law enforcement or military personnel” who, according to court documents, had “armed members near your home.”
Key figures from the January 6 inquiry
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Mark meadows. Trump’s chief of staff, who initially provided the panel with a plethora of documents demonstrating the extent of his role in the effort to get the election canceled, is now refusing to cooperate. The House of Representatives voted to recommend that Mr. Meadows be detained under criminal contempt of Congress.
Fox News anchor. Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade texted Mr. Meadows during the January 6 riot asking him to convince Mr. Trump to make an effort to stop him. The texts were part of the material that Mr. Meadows had given the panel.
Professor Jeffries said in an email that he was satisfied with the verdict and declined to comment beyond a letter he sent to Judge Hellerstein.
The letter stated that the texts had evoked “a noticeable feeling of fear” in his home.
“I could see it in my 11-year-old daughter’s eyes as she wondered if the strange creak in the house was actually someone trying to break in and harm us,” wrote Professor Jeffries.
Mr. Lemke “turned the world of a family upside down” and “shook us to the core,” he said.
Mr Lemke sent a similar text to a relative of Mr Stephanopoulos, in which he said that the journalist’s words would “endanger you and your family”.
“We are nearby, armed and ready for action,” wrote Lemke, according to the public prosecutor. “Thousands of us are active / retired law enforcement, military, etc. That’s how we do it.”
Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief correspondent, said in an article published Monday that he and a colleague, moderator Don Lemon, were among the journalists Mr Lemke threatened. Mr. Stelter described a message he received from Mr. Lemke that contained a photo of his father’s grave.
He said Mr. Lemon started “choking” while telling Judge Hellerstein that “people like Robert Lemke” called him “hideous names”, including homophobic and racial slurs.
“I’m tired of looking over my shoulder,” said Mr. Lemon, according to Stelter’s report. “I’m tired of being suspicious of even friendly faces in public.”
Mr. Stelter also spoke about the threats on October’s Reliable Sources show, thanking the prosecutor and the FBI and hoping the case was “really a testimony” that attempts to silence journalists would not be tolerated.
“Threats and harassment hinder a free press,” said Stelter. “It’s the kind of harassment journalists feel every day. It is ubiquitous. “