A message Senator Lisa Murkowski received on September 2, 2021, went far beyond a typical voicemail from an unhappy constituent – the man on the other end was threatening the lawmaker’s life.
“I will find out everything, where you’re at. I will find out all your properties and I will burn everything you hope to have, and I will burn everything you own,” the man said, according to an affidavit. He went on to ask if Murkowski had seen what a “50 caliber shell” does to a “human head,” federal prosecutors said.
The message was one of 17 threatening voicemails the man left for Ms Murkowski and fellow Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan over a five-month period, according to prosecutors.
The caller was identified as 65-year-old Jay Allen Johnson of Delta Junction, Alaska, a rural town about 95 miles southeast of Fairbanks. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of threatening to murder the senators, federal prosecutors announced Friday. He will also pay a $5,000 fine.
“Nothing excuses this conduct, threatening our elected officials, an act that attacks our very system of governance,” US Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr. of the District of Alaska said in a statement. “The erosion of civility in our political discourse will never justify threats or acts of violence.”
Mr Johnson’s attorney and the offices of Murkowski and Sullivan did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment late Sunday.
Mr Johnson is the latest individual to face charges for threatening the lives of lawmakers in the wake of the 2020 election. In January 2021, a California man, who wrongly believed Donald Trump’s election win was stolen, was charged with unlawful possession of unregistered destructive devices after he allegedly built five pipe bombs in preparation to go to “war” with Democrats. The case is ongoing.
In December, a Proud Boys supporter from Queens was sentenced to 33 months in prison for threatening to kill Senator Raphael Warnock. The man posted messages on Parler, a conservative social media platform, including some claiming he had a gun and “a bunch of guys all armed and ready to deploy,” prosecutors said.
Mr Sullivan’s office received 13 threatening messages from Johnson from April 2021 to September 2021, according to the affidavit. In some of the voice mails, Mr Johnson said he was going to get his “.50 caliber out” and pay for the rounds through a GoFundMe page, adding he is coming “with a vengeance,” court documents show. On several occasions Mr Johnson identified himself in the messages, prosecutors said, and claimed the senator was ruining the country.
Murkowski’s office also began receiving threatening messages from Mr Johnson in April 2021, according to the affidavit. In a September 29 voicemail, Mr Johnson said he was going to hire an assassin to kill her, prosecutors said. On other occasions, Mr Johnson said Ms Murkowski was responsible for undocumented workers coming into the country.
“Your life is worth $5,000, that’s all it’s worth,” Mr Johnson said in one message, according to court records. “And as you let in these terrorists, and assassins, guess what . . . I’m going to use them to come and assassinate [you].”
Law enforcement traced the cellphone used to make the calls to Mr Johnson, prosecutors said. FBI agents arrested him on October 4.
Mr Johnson pleaded guilty to two counts of threatening to murder the senators on January 3, court records show.
In an April 2 sentencing memorandum, Mr Johnson’s attorney, Jason A. Weiner said that his client’s “health is poor,” and wouldn’t have been able to carry out the threats. He added that Mr Johnson was taking pain killers for his various ailments from him. Mr Weiner said his client of him was also self-medicating with alcohol to cope with the pain and with his post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety of him “from his turbulent childhood of him.”
“Mr Johnson was not himself,” Weiner wrote. ” . . . Hopefully the Court can see that at least some of Mr Johnson’s behavior was due to medications prescribed for pain, alcohol that he used to further treat pain, and isolation that was unusually prevalent during the summer of 2021 as a result of the pandemic.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Antony Jung, from the Anchorage field office, said in a statement that threats against public officials that could result in violence must be investigated.
“Those performing their official duties should be able to do so without fear for their safety,” Mr Jung said.