A Long Island man was charged Monday with threats of violence against LGBTQ groups and leaders in dozens of hate letters, including a warning about an attack that would result in the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida “looks like a walk in the park.”
The man, Robert Fehring, 74, of Bayport, NY, sent the letters over an eight-year period from 2013, according to a federal criminal complaint in which he was accused of making threats by US mail.
A search of his home last month by FBI agents uncovered two loaded shotguns, hundreds of cartridges, two stun guns, an American flag machete and a DVD titled “Underground Build Your Own Silencer. System ”, indicates the complaint.
Investigators also found a stamped envelope addressed to a lawyer who had worked on LGBTQ-related cases, according to the complaint. Inside were the remains of a dead bird.
“Hateful slurs and threats of violence by the accused directed against members of the LGBTQ + community have no place in our society,” said Breon Peace, the American lawyer in Brooklyn, in a statement announcing the charges .
Mr Fehring’s attorney, Glenn Obedin, said in a statement that his client “respects the legal process and requests that the process be allowed to proceed to its proper and legal conclusion.”
David Kilmnick, president of the New York LGBT Network, which operates four community centers in Long Island and Queens and hosts the annual Long Island Pride event, said he had mixed feelings about Mr. Fehring.
Most of the letters Mr. Fehring is responsible for sending have gone to Mr. Kilmnick, his group, and other LGBTQ organizations and leaders on Long Island.
Mr Kilmnick said he was glad someone was ultimately charged with making the threats. But he also expressed frustration at the failure of the Suffolk County, NY Police Department – who had investigated some of the letters in recent years – to make an earlier arrest.
“There’s no reason we’ve had to go through this fear and anxiety over the past eight years,” said Mr. Kilmnick.
In a statement, the Suffolk County Police Department said its hate crimes unit investigates every report it receives.
Its investigation into threats attributed to Mr. Fehring by federal authorities “is part of a larger FBI investigation with which our department has fully cooperated,” the statement said. The department referred all other questions to the FBI
In a statement on Tuesday, an FBI spokeswoman said: “We thank our partners in the Suffolk County Police Department for their full cooperation in this investigation.”
Also on Tuesday, Suffolk County Police charged Mr Fehring with criminal mischief and robbery as hate crimes in connection with the theft of pride flags off a roadside in Sayville in July. Investigators found 20 of the flags during the search of his home, according to the federal complaint.
Mr. Kilmnick did not applaud the new charges.
“Frankly, it insults and trivializes our lives and all the direct and personal threats that they have been fully aware of for over eight years,” he said.
According to the federal complaint, investigators identified at least 60 letters from Mr. Fehring, stamped from June 2013 to September this year, in which he said he would use guns and explosives to attack groups and people. LGBTQ. Copies of some of the letters were found during the FBI’s search of his home, according to the complaint.
A May 20 letter to the executive director of a group involved in planning LGBTQ events warned of a major attack on the New York Pride March this year, according to the complaint.
In the letter, according to the complaint, Mr. Fehring said “we” would use radio controlled devices at “many strategic locations and firepower directed at you from other strategic locations”.
“It will make the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shoot look like a cake,” he wrote, according to the complaint. In June 2016, Omar Mateen shot dead 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Mr Kilmnick said the first threatening letter sent to his group, in 2013, warned of violence that would make the Boston Marathon bombing pale in comparison.
Other letters Mr. Fehring is accused of sending, according to the complaint, include one this year threatening to fire a high-powered rifle at a Long Island Pride event in June; another warning to a local Chamber of Commerce member that ambulances would be needed if the group allowed an LGBTQ event to take place; and a third describing a Brooklyn barber shop as a “perfect target for a bomb attack.”
If convicted, Mr Fehring, who Newsday has identified as a retired high school teacher, conductor and track coach, faces up to five years in prison.
Court records show he pursued Suffolk County Police unsuccessfully after being taken into custody in 2010 after an officer on leave saw him hiding a shotgun under a raincoat and the bring in a Long Island office building.
After an initial appearance in Federal District Court in Central Islip on Monday, he was released on $ 100,000 bail, confined to house arrest and ordered to wear a monitoring device, officials said.
Mr Kilmnick expressed outrage at Mr Fehring’s release given the nature of the threats he is accused of making and the weapons that were seized from his home.
“This guy shouldn’t be out on bail,” said Mr Kilmnick.