A California man has been charged with making death threats against U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) because of his stance on tax legislation pending before Congress.
Charles Turner Habermann of Palm Springs, Calif., was arrested on Wednesday morning. He was scheduled to make his first court appearance in Riverside, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon.
Federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle filed a criminal complaint on Wednesday alleging that Habermann, in two expletive-laced voicemail messages left at McDermott’s office on Dec. 9, threatened to kill the congressman, his friends and family.
“We are blessed to live in a country that guarantees and protects the freedom to disagree with our government and speak our minds,” U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a prepared statement on Wednesday. “That protection, however, does not extend to threats or acts of violence. 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. Such threats are crimes, and the individuals who make them must held accountable.”
The charges came less than one week after Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in a rampage in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 13, including the congresswoman. Chief U.S. District Judge John Roll was among those killed. Giffords was expected to survive, although her condition remained critical on Wednesday.
On Monday, federal prosecutors in Arizona charged Loughner with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of attempting to kill a member of Congress.
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for Durkan, said the timing of Habermann’s arrest was purely coincidental. “This case was investigated and the decision was made to charge this case before the events in Arizona,” she said. “Law enforcement was moving to execute the arrest this week.”
The charges were brought in the Western District of Washington, but Habermann is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bristow in the Central District of California. It was unclear at press time whether Habermann had retained an attorney.
In the complaint, prosecutors said a member of McDermott’s staff alerted them to the messages on Dec. 10. In the messages, left at about midnight, Habermann chastised McDermott for his views on legislation extending the Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment insurance, which were being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives at the time. The legislation was passed and was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 17.
In the first message, Habermann said, according to the complaint: “Uh, I, I, I’d like to remind you McDermott that if you read the constitution all the money belongs to the people. None of it belongs to Government Okay! So, if Jim McDermott says they’re spending money on a tax cut, he’s a piece of human dog shit, okay. He’s a piece of human filth. He’s a liar, he’s a communist, he’s a piece of fucking garbage. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, if any of them had ever met uh, uh Jim McDermott, they would blow his brains out. They’d shoot him, in the head. They’d kill him because he’s a piece of, of, of disgusting garbage.”He later says: “And you let that fucking scum bag know, that if he ever fucks around with my money, ever the fuck again, I’ll fucking kill him, okay. I’ll round them up, I’ll kill them, I’ll kill his friends, I’ll kill his family, I will kill everybody he fucking knows.”
In the second message, he says, “Your congressman, Jim McDermott is a piece of garbage. And I’ll tell you something right now, garbage belongs in the trash that’s exactly where he’s gonna end up.”
Prosecutors said that FBI agents interviewed Habermann on Dec. 10 and he admitted leaving both messages plus another threatening call that same night to another congresswoman, referred to in the complaint as “C.P.”
He told the FBI he had been drinking but was still “functioning” when he left the messages.
“As for his motivation for leaving the voicemail message, Habermann said he was calling politicians to let them know that what they were doing and saying regarding spending taxpayer’s money was wrong,” the complaint says. “He said he was trying to scare them before they spent money that didn’t belong to them.”
He also said he never intended to hurt anyone and that he was too afraid of losing his $3 million trust fund to commit a crime.
Habermann was investigated in March 2010 in a separate but similar incident involving an unnamed California legislator, the complaint says. In that case, Habermann arrived at the legislator’s office to discuss the federal health care bill but was escorted out.
“During the meeting Habermann began ranting about the current federal health care bill and how Habermann was ‘very well off’ and did not want to support immigrants and Latinos,” the complaint says. “Habermann was described as agitated, paranoid, uneasy and couldn’t keep still.”
Later, he told California Highway Patrol officers that he had been intoxicated and had smoked marijuana when he left two follow-up voicemail messages at the legislator’s office. He was given a warning about his conduct.
Habermann could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at email@example.com.