Man arrested after allegedly making racist death threats against Democrats, officials say

Kless is said to have threatened (from left) Ilhan Omar, Cory Booker and Rashida Tlaib.
Kless is said to have threatened (from left) Ilhan Omar, Cory Booker and Rashida Tlaib.PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AFP

MIAMI, Florida (WASHINGTON POST) - A Florida man was arrested and charged on Friday (April 19) with allegedly making a series of threatening phone calls to Democratic officials, in which he ranted in explicitly racist terms about Muslims, black people and Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar.

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 US Attorney for Southern Florida, said Kless was expected to be released on a US$25,000 (S$34,000) bond on Friday afternoon.

She said that some weapons owned by him had been seized but declined to give specifics.

Officials said that Kless made a series of disturbing phone calls on Tuesday, beginning, at 7am with a phone call to the office of Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, who recently announced a 2020 presidential campaign.

"The day you come after our guns," Kless said a voice mail, "is the day you'll be dead," according to the federal court complaint filed against him.

He ranted about 9/11, "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 death bed... along with all the rest of you Democrats."


About 10 minutes later, he left a message for Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, officials said.

She and Omar are the first Muslim women 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.

Prosecutors said he called Tlaib "Taleban," 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. Alright?... '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 both Muslim and black racial epithets against former president Barack Obama, as well.

The arrest comes amid complaints from Omar's supporters that the right-wing fixation on her statements about 9/11 could amount to an incitement of violence.

The latest controversy over Omar stems from comments she made in March that were resurfaced earlier this month. During a speech about Islamophobia, Omar had 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 Republican Representative Dan Crenshaw, Donald Trump Jr and, eventually, President Donald Trump, to attack Omar.

Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade questioned whether she had dual loyalties in a comment that was widely denounced, though he later said he didn't mean it as a personal attack.

Trump tweeted a video of the Twin Towers burning spliced with Omar's remarks on repeat.

Prosecutors said Kless' last threatening phone call of the day on Tuesday was made to Democratic Senator Cory Booker.

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 Representative Nancy Pelosi's office where he ranted about people taking away his guns, abortion, illegal immigration and Muslims in Congress, the court complaint said.

Kless did not immediately 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.