Threat against Adam Schiff

An Arizona man is accused of leaving a voicemail threatening to kill the lead prosecutor in President Trump's impeachment trial.

Hi, and welcome to The Informant, a publication covering hate and extremism in America, written and edited by me, Nick R. Martin.

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Threat against Adam Schiff

SCHIFF THREATENED… A man in Arizona has been accused by federal authorities of threatening to kill Congressman Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Court records show that Jan Peter Meister, a 52-year-old registered sex offender, told investigators he drunkenly left the threatening voicemail at Schiff’s Washington, D.C. office after watching Fox News and googling the congressman’s phone number.

“I'm gonna fucking blow your brains out you fucking piece of shit,” Meister allegedly said in part of the obscenity-filled voicemail.

A spokesman in Schiff’s office declined to comment when I reached out over the weekend. Meister’s attorney, Brad Roach, didn’t return a call seeking comment on Monday.

KEY DETAIL: Originally, court documents only named the victim as “Congressman A.S.,” using initials instead of the full name. But in a court filing on Friday, Meister’s attorney included a summary of an interview his client had with federal investigators. That summary revealed the victim was Schiff.

From the court filing:

Agents explained that the call was to Congressman Adam Schiff.

MEISTER responded that he watches Fox News and likely was upset at something that he saw on the news. He stated that he strongly dislikes the Democrats, and feels they are to blame for the country's political issues.

THE GUNS: Federal authorities searched Meister’s home and found an AR-15-style rifle and two pistols as well as more than 700 rounds of ammunition.

THE CHARGES: Meister was charged with making interstate threats and being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. He faces up to five years in prison on the first count and 10 years on the second.

MEISTER’S PLEA: Not guilty.


The domestic terrorism debate

FIRST, THE NEWS… “Christopher Hasson Sentenced To More Than 13 Years In Domestic Terrorism Plot,” by HuffPost's Ryan J. Reilly: “Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson was sentenced Friday to more than 13 years on weapons charges, in a case that prosecutors say thwarted a white supremacist’s terroristic plot to murder a long list of prominent Democrats and journalists.

“Hasson, 50, of Maryland, pleaded guilty in October to four federal counts. But federal prosecutors said the charged conduct only represented the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the evidence against him. They labeled Hasson a ‘domestic terrorist’ shortly after his arrest and said he was plotting to ‘murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.’ They wanted a 25-year sentence.”

— NOW TO THE DEBATE: Hasson received a little more than half of what prosecutors were asking for. For drug and gun charges, that’s still a significant sentence. But it did little to quell the debate about whether the U.S. needs to designate domestic terrorism as a standalone crime.

As I explained last week, there is no such law on the books. The government does, however, have the ability to ask for people convicted of certain crimes to receive longer sentences in domestic terrorism cases, a tactic that was put to use in Hasson’s case.

After Hasson’s sentencing, I reached out to two former federal officials who have come down on different sides of this debate.

Jason M. Blazakis is a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and the former director of the Office of Counterterrorism Finance and Designations at the U.S. State Department. He has argued in the past that a new federal crime needs to be created for case like Hasson’s. Blazakis told me the 13-year sentence handed down on Friday demonstrates why:

If the government had the ability to charge him with domestic terrorism charges instead of merely applying the rhetoric of labeling him as a domestic terrorist federal prosecutors may have realized their objective of putting him behind bars for 25 years. The sentence, slightly more than 13 years, is insufficient for the crimes he aspired to carry out. Even the most hapless ISIS and AQ would-be material supporters routinely get sentences of 15-20 years. The sentence and the case of Hasson underscore yet again the need for a domestic terrorism law.

Mike German is a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and a former FBI special agent who went undercover to investigate neo-Nazis and militias. He has argued that the problem is not federal law but the priorities of federal law enforcement. In a lengthy email to me, he pointed to 2016 statistics (PDF) that showed people convicted of murder served a median of 13.4 years in prison, which is about what Hasson received. Here’s what else he said about the Hasson case:

I don't think Hasson got off easy by any means. I'm sure if you looked at similar sentences for possession of a silencer or possession of a firearm and illegal drugs they would rarely be so severe. So existing laws, including the terrorism sentencing enhancement, were more than sufficient to severely punish the conduct the government charged. I don't think we want to live in a society where the government can punish people for conduct they have not yet engaged in.

I believe the government's hyperbolic rhetoric around the Hasson prosecution was intended to make the case that a new [domestic terrorism] law was needed, but the facts demonstrate otherwise. Existing laws worked as intended to prevent a possible tragedy, and allowed the government to appropriately punish the defendant for the illegal conduct he engaged in.


Also on my radar…

A BIG SCOOP… “Hiding in Plain Sight: The White Nationalist Who Toiled Inside a Right-Wing Media Powerhouse,” a collaboration between Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt and the website Angry White Men.

NEO-NAZI ROBOCALLER… “FCC proposes $13 million fine against robocaller who used Mollie Tibbetts' death to spread white nationalist message,” by Anna Spoerre of the Des Moines Register: “The Neo-Nazi podcaster who allegedly used Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts' death to promote a white nationalist message in a 2018 robocall campaign could face nearly $13 million in fines, the Federal Communications Commission proposed Thursday.

FCC officials proposed a $12,910,000 fine against Utah resident Scott Rhodes, who they say made 827 robocalls between Aug. 28 and Aug. 30, 2018, to Brooklyn, Iowa, numbers. His message used slurs and urged residents to support the deportation of nonwhite immigrants.” READ the FCC’s 30-page proposal (PDF).

HATE IN HIGH PLACES… “The Ex-Leader Of An Anti-Immigration Group Is Creating The Office In Charge Of Fielding Civil Rights Complaints From Detainees,” by Hamed Aleaziz of BuzzFeed News: “The Trump administration has named a hardline former leader of an anti-immigration group to help set up a new role created by Congress to oversee complaints of civil rights violations in detention centers and help those affected by misconduct, according to an internal memo obtained by BuzzFeed News. …”

“Ken Cuccinelli, the controversial second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security, appointed Julie Kirchner, former leader of FAIR, a group that advocated for policies that restrict immigration, to help set up the office, according to the memo.”

BACKGROUND ON FAIR… From the Southern Poverty Law Center: “FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its advertisements have been rejected because of racist content. FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of nonwhites who enter the country.”

COUNTDOWN… “White Supremacist To Be Transferred,” by Eugene Weekly's Colin Houck: “Jacob Albert Laskey, the notorious white supremacist who gained attention in 2002 for an anti-Semitic attack on Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, is set to be transferred from the Oregon State Correctional Institution to federal custody on Feb. 7, after serving more than two years. He is to serve an additional six months in federal prison.

ANTI-LGBT ATTACKS… “Man accused of attacking and stabbing gay men across L.A. region,” by Matt Hamilton of the Los Angeles Times: “Prosecutors charged a Los Angeles man Thursday with carrying out at least three hate-crime attacks across the region targeting men who were gay or perceived to be gay, and detectives believe more people may have been harmed.”

RECRUITMENT… “White Supremacists Treated Trump’s New Jersey Rally as Fertile Recruiting Ground.”

DEPLATFORMING… “Kicked off Facebook, Canadian far-right groups resurface on the internet’s fringes”

ENTRENCHED… “White Nationalist State Department Official Still Active in Hate Movement”

HISTORICAL TIES… “The Long History of the Anti-Abortion Movement’s Links to White Supremacists”

GUILTY… “Idaho man found guilty of hate crime after beating transgender woman over bathroom use on Oregon coast”

INVESTIGATION… “NYPD, D.A. investigating alleged white supremacist group on Staten Island”

HE SAID WHAT? … “Billings legislator asked to resign after insisting Constitution says it's OK to shoot socialists”

CORRECTION… On Thursday, I made a mistake. I wrote that Las Vegas neo-Nazi Conor Climo is scheduled for a hearing on February 10, and I got the type of hearing wrong. It’s a change of plea hearing, not a sentencing. Mea culpa.