A Florida man was arrested Friday and accused of making threatening phone calls to Democratic officials in which he allegedly ranted in racist terms about Muslims, black people and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)
John Kless, 49, of the Fort Lauderdale area, was charged with making an interstate threat, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos, a spokeswoman for Fajardo Orshan, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said Kless was expected to be released on a $25,000 bond Friday afternoon and that some weapons he owned had been seized, but declined to give specifics.
Officials said that Kless made a series of disturbing phone calls on Tuesday, beginning at 7 a.m. with a call to the office of Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California who recently announced a 2020 presidential campaign.
“The day you come after our guns,” Kless said in a voice mail, “is the day you’ll be dead,” according to the federal court complaint filed against him. He ranted about 9/11 and “illegals coming in," and used the n-word to describe people on welfare, prosecutors said.
“You’re gonna die,” Kless continued, according to the complaint. “You’ll be your deathbed ... along with all the rest of you Democrats.”
About 10 minutes later, he left a message for Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), officials said. She and Omar are the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress.
Prosecutors said he ranted at length about Omar, focusing in particular on the way she had referred to the 9/11 terrorist attacks at a recent event, and using multiple racial epithets to describe both her and Tlaib. He called Tlaib “Taliban” and Omar a “towel head."
“You know what, she’s lucky she’s just getting death threats,” he said, according to the complaint. “So are you. All right? ... 'Cuz the day when the bell tolls ... and this country comes to a war, there will be no more threats.”
Prosecutors said he added that there were “millions of us who hate you ... for what you done on 9/11,” and used Muslim and racial epithets against former president Barack Obama as well.
The arrest comes amid complaints from Omar’s supporters that a fixation on her statements about 9/11 could amount to an incitement of violence.
During a speech in March about Islamophobia, Omar referred to 9/11 in a way that some felt was dismissive. She said that just because “some people did something,” it didn’t mean that all Muslims should lose their civil liberties.
But that phrasing became an opening for conservatives — such as Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), Donald Trump Jr. and, eventually, President Trump — to attack Omar. In a comment that was widely denounced, “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade questioned whether she had dual loyalties, though he later said he didn’t mean it as a personal attack. Trump tweeted a video of the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center spliced with Omar’s remarks.
Prosecutors said Kless’s last threatening phone call on Tuesday was made to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is running for president. He called Booker the n-word and other racial epithets, continued to rant about Omar’s 9/11 remark and made several violent threats, according to a transcript included in the indictment.
“We need to kill all you,” he said, according to the transcript.
Kless had previously made a harassing phone call to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in which he ranted about abortion, illegal immigration, Muslims in Congress and people taking away his guns, the court complaint said.
Kless did not respond to a request for comment left on his voice mail.
Omar has said the number of threats against her spiked after Trump tweeted the video about her, including many that directly referred to the video.