A Florida man admitted Friday that he threatened to firebomb or shoot up two mosques in two anti-Islamic diatribes that he left on voice mail.
Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, pleaded guilty to obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs, a hate crime. His expletive-laced screed, which was left on the voice mails of the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, Fla., on Nov. 13, was inspired by the terrorist attacks in Paris that night, prosecutors said.
“Yes, I’m a red-blooded American watching the news in France,” Schnitzler said, according to his plea agreement. “I’m over this [expletive]. I’m calling all mosques in Pinellas County. I’m bringing it to you, baby. I’m tired of this [expletive]. Guard your children. I don’t care if you’re extremists or not.”
Schnitzler also said he would “personally have a militia that’s going to come down to your Islamic Society of Pinellas County, firebomb you, shoot whoever is there on sight in the head.” Federal prosecutors said both mosques requested extra law enforcement and increased security after the messages were left.
Bryant Camareno, Schnitzler’s attorney, said that Schnitzler suffers from anxiety and depression and that the night he left the voice mails, he was watching news about the attacks in France without having taken his medication.
“He realized immediately what he did was wrong,” Camareno said. “I can only emphasize that he is remorseful. He feels bad because it disrupted the lives of parents and children at the two different centers.”
Attacks and threats against Muslims were reported throughout the country in late 2015 in the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., which sparked heated political rhetoric about Muslims entering the United States. A mosque in Northern Virginia, for example, received an anonymous threat in December saying, “We are checking if one Jew has been killed in California. You all will be sorry. You all will be killed,” the mosque’s religious leader said.
In announcing Schnitzler’s plea, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said, “Criminal threats of violence against people or places of worship have no place in our society, and as proven today, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit religion-based hate crimes.”
Camareno said Schnitzler, a Catholic, lives alone in the Tampa area. He said Schnitzler has a job, though he did not know what it was, and he holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature, though he did not know from which school. He said Schnitzler faces a maximum penalty of 20 years at his sentencing, though he calculated that federal guidelines will probably call for a term between 15 and 27 months.
“It was one night,” Camareno said. “It was two phone calls that will forever change his life.”