Wednesday June 12, 2019
US House Representative Ilhan Omar listens to remarks during a congressional Iftar event on May 20, 2019 (AFP Photo/ALEX WONG)
Miami (AFP) - A Florida man pleaded guilty Tuesday to making death threats against three Democratic lawmakers and leaving them voicemail messages insulting Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
A July 20 hearing for John Kless, 49, has been scheduled at which Judge Rodolfo Ruiz could sentence him to up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Kless is charged with making threatening communications.
Prosecutors say that on April 16 Kless left expletive-strewn voicemails including death threats at the Washington offices of California Representative Eric Swalwell, Detroit Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
Tlaib and Omar are the first Muslim women to hold seats in the US Congress.
Kless is said to have racially abused Omar, a Somali-American former refugee, alluding to a controversy in which she was accused -- falsely, according to her defenders -- of downplaying the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Kless reportedly defended President Donald Trump in the messages and warned the lawmakers to stop criticizing him.
Some analysts say the US president's heated rhetoric created a toxic atmosphere encouraging such behavior, accusations the White House has rejected.
In April Trump tweeted a video of Omar featuring footage of the World Trade Center burning and juxtaposed with her comments, taken out of context to portray her attitude to the 9/11 attacks as glib.
Prosecutors say Kless used homophobic slurs in his message to Swalwell -- who supports same-sex marriage rights and gun control, and is also vying for the presidency.
"The day you come after our guns... is the day you'll be dead," Kless is alleged to have warned the lawmaker.