A California man has pleaded guilty to threatening a journalist’s family over statements the journalist made following the 2020 presidential election.
Robert Lemke, 36, pleaded guilty Friday to making threatening interstate communications to a New York-based family member of a journalist.
“Robert Lemke was frustrated with the result of the 2020 Presidential Election,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a press release. “Rather than attempting to effect change through legal discourse or any of the other freedoms of expression that all Americans enjoy, he sent threatening messages to the family member of a journalist. Inevitably, elections result in frustrations for some—that is part of the political process—but trying to instill fear in others by threat will not be tolerated by law enforcement.”
Lemke sent the threatening messages on Jan. 6, 2021, the same day as the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump supporters.
“As the attack on the Capitol Building was ongoing, Lemke sent threatening text messages to a relative of the Journalist, stating: ‘[The Journalist’s] words are putting you and your family at risk. We are nearby, armed and ready. Thousands of us are active/retired law enforcement, military, etc. That’s how we do it,’” the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release said.
Prosecutors said that Lemke also made dozens of complaints to multiple journalists and their family members.
“From November 2020 through early January 2021, the defendant sent threatening electronic and audio messages to approximately 50 victims, including journalists and politicians, targeting those individuals as a result of their statements expressing that then-President Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release said.
The threats were disturbing. One of Lemke’s messages, sent on Jan. 9, read as follows:
You do understand not only your life, but your families is at risk,
right? We know everything. . . . You forget tens of thousands of
militia members are law enforcement and military all the way to the
upper brass and upper ranks. We have judges and prosecutors too.
Politicians. So don’t you find it silly to write such things with your
name on top when 200,000 plus members can access databases with
you and your family’s information that seems very stupid. We even
have people at [the News Organization’s] corporate security that
released stuff from your employee file.
Lemke also “sent a message describing a ‘news anchor,’ like Victim-7, who ‘went missing’ after ‘a struggle’ and was ‘believed to be abducted,'” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also said that Lemke “acquired and used at least three different phone numbers and various electronic accounts to mask his identity when sending threats to his victims.”
According to court filings, Lemke would sometimes pretend to have mistakenly texted his targets, although his intent would become clear once they texted him back.
“[O]n at least ten occasions [between November 2020 and January 2021], the defendant sent anonymous messages to journalists asking them to confirm receipt of an email or PDF document, or to meet at their home,” prosecutors said in an Oct. 8 filing. “Once the target victim responded, the defendant would shift to threatening the victim and their family members. The defendant made dozens of such threats over a span of approximately eight weeks.”
Prosecutors did not name any of the journalists, politicians, or family members who Lemke threatened.
The New York Daily News reported, however, that Lemke appears to have targeted CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter, a cousin of ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, and a CNN Business writer.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) confirmed that he was the congressman that Lemke had targeted.
Lemke’s Facebook page featured the now-familiar image of Mark McCloskey and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis attorneys who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor gun charges after pointing their weapons toward Black Lives Matter protesters walking past their home. Lemke’s profile also included a small picture of his face, partially obscured by the words “Trump 2020″ and “U.S. Air Force Veteran.” Officials have said there were no records to support Lemke’s claims of being an Air Force veteran and retired Alameda County Sheriff’s Office sergeant.
Lemke’s sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 14 before Judge Alvin Hellerstein. While the charge of making threatening interstate communications carries a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, Hellerstein will ultimately determine Lemke’s sentence.
You can read printed records of Lemke’s threatening text messages, below.
[Image via U.S. Dept. of Justice filing]
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