Police arrested a Florida man on Friday on suspicion of leaving racist, homophobic and Islamophobic messages filled with death threats on the voicemails of several Democratic members of Congress.
John Kless, 49, of Broward County, is accused of leaving expletive-strewn death threats in voicemails at the Washington, DC, offices of California Representative Eric Swalwell, Detroit Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. In the messages, he allegedly threatened and expressed his hatred for Ilhan Omar.
Tlaib and Omar are the first Muslim women in Congress. Booker, who is an African American, and Swalwell are running for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.
Kless allegedly said in his racist message to Booker that “you government officials will be in the graves where you … belong”. He also allegedly defended the white supremacist who rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters at the August 2017 Unite the Right rally and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer, US media reported.
Kless is said to have racially abused Omar, a Somali-American former refugee, referencing a recent controversy in which she was accused of downplaying the September 11, 2001 attacks, an allegation she and her supporters, including top Democrats, deny. He allegedly said in one of the messages that he would like to throw Omar off the Empire State Building, according to local media.
Kless, who reportedly defended President Donald Trump in the messages and warned the politicians to stop criticising the president, has been charged with making threatening communications.
Many analysts have pointed to the US president’s heated rhetoric as the catalyst for a toxic atmosphere encouraging such behaviour – an accusation the White House has rejected.
Last year, the Anti-Defamation League said all perpetrators who carried out at least 50 “extremism-related murders” were linked to the far right.
That total marked the largest number of people killed by the far right since 1995, the watchdog said.
Trump recently tweeted out a video of Omar featuring footage of the World Trade Center burning juxtaposed with her comments, taken out of context to portray her attitude to the 9/11 attacks as glib. Omar said she experienced an increased number of death threats after the video was shared.
The president’s language was also criticised following an anti-Semitic massacre in Pittsburgh last year – and during a week-long mail bombing spree that saw another Florida man target high-profile liberal political figures, Trump critics and the news outlet CNN.
Prosecutors say Kless used homophobic slurs in his message to Swalwell – who supports same-sex marriage rights and gun control and is also vying for the presidency.
“The day you come after our guns … is the day you’ll be dead,” Kless is alleged to have warned the politician.