A man with a gun and a knife was detained by police early Wednesday near the Maryland home of Brett M. Kavanaugh after making threats against the Supreme Court justice, according to local and federal officials.
Roske was “upset” by the leaked draft of an opinion by the Supreme Court signaling that it is positioned to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 49-year-old decision that guarantees a person’s constitutional right to abortion, as well as the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Tex., according to an affidavit filed Wednesday in federal court.
“Roske stated that he began thinking about how to give his life a purpose and decided that he would kill the Supreme Court Justice …,” the affidavit said, adding that he allegedly planned to break into the justice’s home to kill him as well as himself.
The affidavit does not identify which justice Roske was threatening, but Supreme Court spokeswoman Patricia McCabe said in a statement that a man was arrested near Kavanaugh’s residence after making “threats against Justice Kavanaugh.” Efforts to reach Roske’s family were unsuccessful.
Roske appeared in court Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan and was represented by federal public defender Andrew Szekely. When asked if he understood the proceedings, Roske said: “I think I have a reasonable enough understanding, but I wouldn’t say I’m thinking clearly.”
When the judge inquired further, Roske said only that he was on medication and that he had taken that medication on Wednesday. He later clarified that he had “a clear enough understanding” to proceed. He consented in court to being detained before his trial and temporarily waived his right to a bond hearing.
Roske’s public defender declined to comment outside the hearing.
The leaked draft opinion to overturn the long-standing constitutional right to abortion came more than a month before the court is set to deliver its ruling. The publication of the draft laid bare divisions across the country regarding abortion access, the manner in which people protest, and views on the court’s reputation as an independent institution.
The high court decision is expected this month or in early July.
Asked about the incident near Kavanaugh’s home on Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland condemned any acts or threats of violence against Supreme Court justices.
He noted that the concern over increased security risks to the justices led him to offer additional resources last month to protecting members of the high court, and said he also met Tuesday with federal judges to discuss security concerns.
“Threats of violence and actual violence against the justices of course strike at the heart of our democracy,” Garland told reporters. “And we will do everything we can to prevent them and to hold people who do them accountable.”
Federal investigators allege that Roske traveled to Montgomery County from California with a mission: He wanted to kill a specific Supreme Court justice, one he thought would join opinions that would ease restrictions on guns, according to the affidavit.
He found his target’s address, according to the affidavit, and arrived in front of the justice’s home about 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Two U.S. deputy marshals spotted Roske exiting a cab in front of the home, where he looked at them before turning to walk down the street, according to the court documents detailing Roske’s alleged actions and motivations.
He wore black clothing and carried a suitcase and backpack with weapons and other supplies, including a Glock 17 with two magazines and ammunition, a tactical knife, pepper spray, a hammer, a screwdriver, a crowbar, zip ties and duct tape, along with other gear, according to court documents.
Not long after, according to court documents, the Montgomery County Emergency Communications Center received a call from Roske saying that he had suicidal thoughts and came to kill a specific Supreme Court justice.
He apparently told the call taker that although he had a firearm, it was unloaded and locked in his suitcase. The call taker then relayed that information to law enforcement, according to two individuals familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. He also said that he would be moving 20 yards away from the suitcase with empty pockets and no weapons, the individuals said.
Kavanaugh and his family were home at the time, according to another person familiar with the matter.
When Montgomery police were dispatched, Roske was still on the phone with 911, according to an affidavit.
Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said county officers got to the scene seven minutes after being dispatched. The suspect “complied with the officers’ directions and was arrested without incident,” Jones said. He termed the arrest a peaceful resolution to a dangerous situation.
A spokeswoman for the FBI office in Maryland said the office is “aware” of the arrest and “working with our law enforcement partners,” declining to comment further. Separately, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service confirmed that deputies with their agency, “along with the Montgomery County police apprehended an individual today near the residence of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.” The spokeswoman declined to comment further.
There are signs of enhanced security for the justices. A fence surrounds the high court, which remains closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. Law enforcement also has stepped up its presence outside many of the justices’ homes. Those who have traveled since the draft opinion was leaked are usually accompanied by bigger security details.
Threats to federal judges have risen dramatically in recent years. Five federal judges have been slain in the past 45 years, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Two years ago, the 20-year-old son of a federal judge in New Jersey was shot and killed at the front door of the family’s home. The man who fatally shot Judge Esther Salas’s son and wounded her husband had tracked down Salas’s address, church and other personal information online. In response, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation in December that would scrub personal information about judges from the internet and enhance their home security systems. A similar bill is pending in the House.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged the House to pass separate legislation to enhance security for Supreme Court justices and their families.
The bill passed the Senate just days after the publication of the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe. McConnell said the threat at Kavanaugh’s home early Wednesday “is exactly the kind of event that many feared that terrible breach of the court’s rules and norms could fuel.”
House Majority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he had “very positive” discussions about the bill with the Senate and is “hopeful that we can get agreement soon.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a statement that he was briefed on the incident and that it underscored why he pushed for extra security at the justices’ homes.
“I call on leaders in both parties in Washington to strongly condemn these actions in no uncertain terms,” Hogan said in the statement. “It is vital to our constitutional system that the justices be able to carry out their duties without fear of violence against them and their families.”
In recent weeks, there have been many demonstrations outside the homes of conservative justices, including Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the draft, Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch.
Protesters insist they are exercising their First Amendment rights, emphasize that their demonstrations are peaceful and reject any notion that they are trying to influence the justices. There have been no arrests during these demonstrations, spokespeople for Montgomery and Fairfax County police said.
Abortion rights advocates still planned to demonstrate outside the homes of Kavanaugh and Roberts on Wednesday night — as they have every Wednesday for several weeks — despite the incident Wednesday morning.
Lacie Wooten-Holway, a neighbor of the Kavanaughs who has been organizing demonstrations outside their home for months, said that although this incident was “scary,” it will not deter activists from making their voices heard.
Wooten-Holway, a 39-year-old mother, has faced backlash for demonstrating, including threats to her family and workplace and the presence of antiabortion activists outside her home on Mother’s Day.
These safety concerns have led Wooten-Holway, who has had an abortion and is a sexual assault survivor, to hire private security and to resign from her job. She plans to soon move her family out of their home for an extended period of time. But on Wednesday night, Wooten-Holway said she intended to again join the demonstrators.
“We are still planning on being peacefully downright impolite tonight,” Wooten-Holway said. “We will be out there tonight armed with only our voices, snacks, raincoats and the First Amendment, and a firm belief that we are doing the next right thing.”
Robert Barnes, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Razzan Nakhlawi, Erin Cox, Carol D. Leonnig, Rachel Weiner and Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.