Man charged for 'enemy of the people' threats to Boston Globe

The front page of the Aug 16, 2018 edition of the Boston Globe newspaper.
The front page of the Aug 16, 2018 edition of the Boston Globe newspaper.PHOTO: AFP

BOSTON (REUTERS) - Federal authorities on Thursday (Aug 30) charged a California man with threatening to kill Boston Globe employees for the newspaper's role leading this month's defence of press freedoms by hundreds of US news organisations against attacks by President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors said Robert Chain, 68, called journalists "the enemy of the people" in a series of threatening phone calls that echoed the same words Trump has used to criticise unflattering news coverage through his campaign and years in office.

"Anyone - regardless of political affiliation - who puts others in fear for their lives will be prosecuted by this office," Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for Massachusetts and a Trump appointee, said in a statement disclosing the arrest.

"In a time of increasing political polarisation, and amid the increasing incidence of mass shootings, members of the public must police their own political rhetoric. Or we will," he said.

Prosecutors said Chain, who lives in Encino, California, was arrested on Wednesday charged with one count of making threatening communications to interstate commerce.

If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and a US$250,000 (S$340,000) fine.

Prosecutors said Chain made 14 threatening calls to the Globe from Aug 10 through Aug 22, including one on Aug 16 - the day the press freedom editorials ran - in which he threatened to shoot employees in the head at 4pm. That warning prompted police to take up positions outside the paper's Boston building.

"While it was unsettling for many of our staffers to be threatened in such a way, nobody – really, nobody – let it get in the way of the important work of this institution,” Jane Bowman, a Globe spokeswoman, said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether Chain had hired an attorney.

Globe officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The privately owned Globe on Aug 10 announced its plan for coordinated editorials defending press freedoms, which are enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Newspapers and other media outlets across the United States joined in on the Aug 16 campaign.

The editorials prompted Trump to lash out on Twitter, saying, "THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country... BUT WE ARE WINNING!"

He did not provide specifics on how news media organisations are bad for the United States.

Trump continued bashing news media organisations on Wednesday and Thursday, lashing out at NBC and a favourite target, CNN.

In June, five people were shot to death at the Capital Gazette newspaper's offices in Annapolis, Maryland. The 38-year-old man charged in the attack was motivated by a longstanding grudge against the paper, prosecutors said.

That defendant, Jarrod Ramos, last month pleaded not guilty to all charges, including five counts of first-degree murder.