US military vet charged for threats to lawmaker in Capitol riot

Dozens of current and former US military are investigated for their role in the pro-Trump Capitol insurrection.

Tear gas is released into a crowd of protesters during clashes with United States Capitol Police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 US presidential election results [File: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

A California man disgruntled about the presidential election result was arrested Tuesday on charges alleging he threatened family members of a New York congressman and a journalist in text messages sent during the attack on the Capitol, authorities said.

Robert Lemke, 35, was arrested in Bay Point, California on charges filed in Manhattan federal court. He was scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court in Northern California on Wednesday.

A criminal complaint charging him with threatening interstate communications said he identifies himself on Facebook as a former captain in the US Air Force and a retired sergeant with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California.

It was not immediately clear who would represent him in court.

The identities of the member of Congress and the journalist were not revealed in court papers.

According to the criminal complaint, which outlines the criminal case against him, on January 6 Lemke sent text messages to the brother of a New York City congressman that included a picture of a home located in the brother’s neighbourhood.

“Your brother is putting your entire family at risk with his lies and other words. We are armed and nearby your house. You had better have a word with him,” one text said. “We are not far from his either. Already spoke to [the Congressman’s son] and know where his kids are.”

Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a release that Lemke was dissatisfied with the 2020 presidential election results and statements the US representative and journalist had made about it.

“Rather than peaceably disagree, Lemke allegedly threatened to harm those individuals’ families, demanding they retract their statements,” she said. “While in any election it is inevitable that some will be disappointed in the result, threats of violence cannot and will not be tolerated.”

William F Sweeney Jr, the head of New York City’s FBI office, said Lemke’s threats “crossed a bright line”.

The complaint also said the text messages included claims that the sender and his associates were not white supremacists and were “active/retired law enforcement or military”.

The Capitol occupation occurred as a joint session of Congress met to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Former President Donald Trump faces impeachment for incitement of the riot over a speech he gave to supporters.

The document includes a Facebook post from November 7 claiming Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris did not win: “Folks. Be ready for war. Trump has refused to cede. Evidence shows fraud occurred and the Supreme Court cases will be successful. We blockchained and watermarked ballots in 16 states. Trump will prevail.”

A text to one of the alleged victims said “Stop telling lies; Biden did not win, he will not be president.”

Authorities also said that Lemke on January 6 sent threatening text messages to the congressman’s sister-in-law, telling her to have her husband talk to his brother and stating: “calm your husband down . . . . We saw on the hidden camera, he was quite stirred up.”

The complaint alleged that a January 6 text message from Lemke’s phone to a relative of the journalist said the journalist’s words “are putting you and your family at risk”.

The text added: “We are nearby armed and ready. Thousands of us are active/retired law enforcement, military, etc. That’s how we do it,” the complaint said.

The statute under which Lemke is charged carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

Lemke is not the only military member or veteran charged in relation to the January 6 insurrection. An Associated Press review of records found at least 22 current or former members of the US military or law enforcement have been identified as being at or near the riot, with at least a dozen more under investigation.

Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt of San Diego was fatally shot by Capitol police as rioters attempted to breach the Capitol.

Army Captain Emily Rainey, 30, was the first to be investigated for attending the riot. She has since resigned as the military looks into her case.

Two police from a small Virginia town, Sergeant Thomas Robertson and Officer Jacob Fracker, were fired on Tuesday for being involved, as the FBI released further evidence against them.


Jacob Fracker and Thomas Robertson, off-duty Rocky Mount, Virginia police officers, gesture in a selfie during the storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC, on January 6, 2021 [Instagram via Reuters]

Fracker and Robertson are both former infantrymen. Fracker allegedly bragged about using House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s toilet, and said in a message to a friend “We did it haahah, it was f***** amazing. Flash bangs going off, CS gas, rubber bullets flying by. Felt so good to be back.”

Robertson has previously said the men did nothing wrong.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies