California man charged with making threats against family of congressman and a journalist
A California man was arrested Tuesday after federal authorities said he sent threatening text messages to family members of a New York City-area U.S. congressman and a journalist.
Prosecutors allege that Robert Lemke, 35, of Bay Point, California, sent a Jan. 6 text to the brother of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and included a picture of a home in the brother’s neighborhood, according to a federal criminal complaint out of New York City.
The complaint did not name Jeffries, but the congressman later identified himself and his family as the targets of the suspect.
“Your brother is putting your entire family at risk with his lies and other words. We are armed and nearby your house,” Lemke allegedly said in the text to Jeffries’ brother. “You had better have a word with him. We are not far from his either. Already spoke to [Congressman-1’s son] and know where his kids are.”
The suspect believed disinformation that President Joe Biden did not win November’s election, authorities said.
“This is something that unfolded on Jan. 6th, directed at a family member of mine,” Jeffries told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Tuesday night. “This individual apparently had secured a phone number, secured an address, made it appear as though they were prepared to proceed violently either at the address of my family member and/or my own home address at the same time that the Capitol was being attacked.”
In the text to Jeffries’ brother, authorities said Lemke wrote: “your words have consequences. Stop telling lies; Biden did not win, he will not be president.”
He went on to say that he and others who opposed Biden’s win are not white supremacists and claimed “most of us are active/retired law enforcement or military.”
Lemke allegedly warned: “Don’t risk their safety with your words and lies.”
Also on Jan. 6, prosecutors said Lemke texted to a family member of an unidentified journalist, saying that person’s “words are putting you and your family at risk,” according to the criminal complaint.
“We are nearby armed and ready,” the suspect allegedly said in one text described in the document. “Thousands of us are active/retired law enforcement, military, etc. That’s how we do it.”
Lemke was arrested at about 6 a.m. PT and he’s expected to make his initial appearance in a federal courtroom in San Francisco, about 35 miles southwest of his home, on Wednesday, officials said.
“I just want to express my thanks and deep gratitude to the FBI, the NYPD, the Capitol police,” Jeffries said. “As well as all of the law enforcement authorities who clearly have taken this threat and all of the threats that have been directed at members of Congress and others seriously in a moment where we saw a violent attack on the Capitol incited and encouraged by Donald Trump.”
Members of Lemke’s family could not be reached for comment at several publicly listed phone numbers for them in Northern California on Tuesday afternoon. The Office of the Federal Public Defender was not immediately retained to defend hm, a supervisor with the agency’s San Francisco office said.
Lemke was apparently active on Facebook to express his support for Trump and other causes. Lemke’s Facebook account included a background image of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who pointed their guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators outside their home this summer, authorities said.
Shortly after the election, authorities said Lemke wrote on Facebook: “Folks. Be ready for war. rum has refused to cede. Evidence shows fraud occurred and the Supreme Court cases will be successful.”
Also on his social media, Lemke said he was a retired Air Force captain and Alameda County Sheriff’s sergeant, according to the criminal complaint.
However, the Air Force had no record of a Robert Lemke matching his description ever having served, the Pentagon said Tuesday afternoon.
The FBI contacted the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office earlier this month about Lemke and agents were told no one of that name had ever been employed by the department, Sgt. Ray Kelly told NBC News.
“That man never worked here,” Kelly said. “I talked to the FBI weeks ago. He made it up. It’s like me saying, ‘I worked at NBC with Tom Brokaw.'”
For weeks after the election, Trump made continuous baseless claims that he was cheated out winning the November election.
The former president’s misinformation campaign culminated in a deadly Jan. 6 riot when his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and delayed Congress formally accepting the Electoral College vote that delivered the White House to Biden. Five people died as a result of violence.
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Jonathan Dienst is a reporter for WNBC-TV in New York, leading its investigative reporting team and covering justice and law enforcement issues.