The California man who threatened journalists and their family members in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Robert Lemke, 36, sent threatening messages to around 50 victims, including journalists and politicians, according to federal prosecutors.
He chose his targets “because of their statements expressing that then-President Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election,” the Department of Justice said in a press release Monday. He told a family member of one journalist that he and others were “nearby, armed and ready” to take action against them.
Lemke also sent threatening messages on Jan. 6, as supporters of Donald Trump overran the Capitol building in an attempt to stop Congress from counting the Electoral College votes and certifying Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.
As that attack was ongoing, Lemke sent threatening text messages to a family member of a 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.”
That day, Lemke also targeted a New York city-based member of Congress, sending a message to the representative’s brother that included a picture of a home in the same neighborhood as the Congressman.
“Your brother is putting your entire family at risk with his lies and other words,” Lemke’s message said. “We are armed and nearby your house. You had better have a word with him. We are not far from his either. Already spoke to [the Congressman’s son] and know where his kids are.”
“[Y]our words have consequences,” Lemke also said in the message. “Stop telling lies; Biden did not win, he will not be president. We are not white supremacists. Most of us are active/retired law enforcement or military. You are putting your family at risk. We have armed members near your home. . . . Don’t risk their safety with your words and lies.”
According to prosecutors, Lemke was not affiliated with law enforcement or the U.S. military, despite having claimed to be in some of his threats.
CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon spoke at Lemke’s sentencing hearing Monday, according to a New York Daily News report.
“I am tired of looking over my shoulder. I am tired of being suspicious of even friendly faces in public,” Lemon said in what the Daily News described as an “emotional” statement to the court. “I am tired of being called fake news … I am tired of being called names like ‘f—-t’ and ‘n—-r’ in public by people like Robert Lemke.”
“I am exhausted. We are exhausted and tired,” Lemon also said, after recalling receiving messages targeting him and his fiancé, according to the Daily News.
Lemon criticized what he characterized as Lemke’s efforts to blame other people for his actions.
“It is insulting to me that Robert Lemke thinks that he is a victim. … ‘Trump made me do it. The media made me do it,” Lemon said. “He’s a grown man!”
Stelter described messages he received from Lemke about his family, including a picture of the grave of Stelter’s father, who is buried in Maryland. Another message described the “nice dense trees” behind the home of Stelter’s mother, the Daily News reported.
“He was saying my family was in danger because I was telling the truth on TV,” Stelter said in court, according to the story.
“Intimidating a person to shut them up is intolerable,” Stelter also said. “The press cannot be truly free if it is subject to threats and harassment.”
Lemke told the court that he still supports Trump and believes he won the election.
“I wholeheartedly believed I was a voice for those being silenced after the election, and was sincerely defending not only the election itself against fraud, but what I believed was the silenced voice of the voters for Donald Trump,” Lemke wrote in a letter to the court before his sentencing, according to the Daily News report. “I now understand I could have done them all: Defended the election and become a voice for silenced voters, while still being persistent and heard, yet compassionate and respectful.”
Lemke also said that his threats were “rude” and “immoral,” his actions “reckless and hateful,” and that the letters and speeches from his targets “have changed [his] life permanently for the better,” according to the Daily News.
Hellerstein made it clear that Lemke was not being punished for his political views.
“His sentence has nothing to do with his opinions,” Hellerstein reportedly said. “He is not a victim. There is a difference between speech and criminal threats.”
Lemke’s victims also included relatives of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, the Daily News reported. He also threatened Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the mayor of a major American city and the CEO of a nonprofit, according to prosecutors.
Lemke pleaded guilty in October.
[Images via YouTube screengrabs]
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