A Palm Springs, Calif., man was arrested on Wednesday on a federal charge that he threatened to kill Rep. James McDermott (D) of Washington because of the congressman’s stance in last month’s debate over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts.
FBI agents arrested Charles Turner Habermann for making two late-night cell phone calls to the congressman’s Seattle office Dec. 9. According to an FBI affidavit, Mr. Habermann has a history of contacting elected officials and received a warning from California law enforcement officials in March 2010.
“Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, if any of them had ever met Jim McDermott, they would all blow his brains out. They’d shoot him in the head,” Mr. Habermann, 32, allegedly said in a recorded voice mail message on Mr. McDermott’s office telephone.
Habermann was arrested four days after a 22-year-old community college dropout shot Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head and then kept shooting, killing six people and wounding 13 others in Tucson.
The shooting Saturday unleashed a heated national debate over whether political rhetoric can trigger violence by unstable individuals. It also prompted an examination of how best to protect elected officials.
“You let that [deleted] [deleted] [deleted] know, that if he ever [deleted] around with my money, ever the [deleted] again, I’ll [deleted] kill him, okay,” Habermann said, according to a sworn FBI affidavit on file in federal court.
'I'll kill his family'
“I’ll round them up,” he added. “I’ll kill them. I’ll kill his friends, I’ll kill his family, I will kill everybody he [deleted] knows.”
Ten minutes later, Habermann called back and left another message. Just as in the first call, he began by offering his real name and his telephone number. Then he left a second, similar, message.
Habermann took issue with McDermott’s characterization of the issues in the tax debate. He said Democratic members of Congress were “stealing” money from “the wealthy” and giving it away to “losers.” He said McDermott would never get away with it.
“I’ll [deleted] hunt that guy down and I’ll [deleted] get rid of him,” Habermann said, according to the affidavit. “Do you understand that? I’ll get the [deleted] rid of him. I’ll pay people, I’ll pay my friends, I, I grew up in Chicago just like your [deleted] [deleted] [deleted] Jim McDermott did.”
Later in the message, Habermann adds: “I hate Jim McDermott. I hate his family. I hate his kids. I hate everybody. … I could round them all up, you know, I could look for them.”
Suspect says he was drinking
The following day, FBI agents arrived at Habermann’s home and confronted him with the recorded messages. According to the affidavit, Habermann admitted leaving the voice mail messages and a third message for a congresswoman identified only by the initials C.P. He told the agents he had been drinking alcohol prior to making the calls.
Habermann said he made the telephone calls to try to scare members of Congress into voting to extend the Bush tax cuts, but that he never had any intention of hurting anyone, the affidavit says.
It says Habermann has a $3 million trust fund.
Habermann also acknowledged that in March 2010 he had left voice mail messages for a member of the California Assembly. In one of those messages he allegedly said he wasn’t going to kill anyone, but that the assembly member should “watch his back.”
He also said that the Founding Fathers, if they were alive today, would kill President Obama and other officials, according to court documents.
Five days earlier, Habermann had met in the assemblyman’s office to discuss a pending health-care bill. He allegedly told the unidentified assemblyman that he was wealthy and did not want to support immigrants and Latinos.
'Agitated' and 'paranoid'
“Habermann was described as agitated, paranoid, uneasy and couldn’t keep still,” the affidavit says.
After the three encounters in March, officers with the California Highway Patrol interviewed Habermann. According to court documents, Habermann told them that he was intoxicated and had been smoking marijuana when he left the voicemails. He told the officers he used marijuana for his depression.
The officers gave him a warning.
Habermann is charged with threatening a federal official. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
“We are blessed to live in a country that guarantees and protects the freedom to disagree with our government and speak our minds. That protection, however, does not extend to threats or acts of violence,” US Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
“Those actions are intended to silence debate, not further it. They instill fear not just in the immediate victims, but in many who might hold the same views or take the same course,” she said. “Such threats are crimes.”