Politics

Florida man charged with threatening Cory Booker, Rashida Tlaib, Eric Swalwell

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, was among the members of Congress threatened by Tamarac’s John Kless, according to a criminal complaint in federal court.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, was among the members of Congress threatened by Tamarac’s John Kless, according to a criminal complaint in federal court. AP

Federal authorities have arrested a South Florida man and accused him of leaving menacing, racist and homophobic messages on the office voicemails of several Democratic members of Congress, two of whom are running for president.

John Kless, 49, has been charged with making threatening communications after U.S. Capitol Police say he called up the Washington offices of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Eric Swalwell Tuesday and unleashed foul, profanity-laced rants peppered with death threats. Police say they’d also recently investigated Kless for threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Kless, of Tamarac, was arrested Friday and made his initial appearance in court, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He was released on bond with a GPS monitor and a requirement that he stay away from guns and the people he threatened.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Kless called Swalwell’s office Tuesday and warned that taking guns from Americans would be his “death bed.” Swalwell, a California congressman who frequently appears on cable news, is running for president on a gun-safety platform and recently held a guns town hall in Broward County attended by some parents of students slain last year in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, located about six miles from Kless’ apartment.

“I couldn’t think of coming anywhere else,” Swalwell told a crowd of several hundred that came to his kickoff event Tuesday, April 9, 2019, at the BB&T Center, about 13 miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“The day you come after our guns, motherf***er, is the day you’ll be dead,” Kless said, according to the complaint.

A readout of the message Kless allegedly left for Booker, a black senator from New Jersey, included racial slurs and a defense of the white supremacist found guilty of murder after he drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville in 2017. In his message to Tlaib, police say Kless referred to the Muslim congresswoman from Michigan as a member of the Taliban.

Police say they were highly alarmed due to the fact that Tlaib is scheduled to visit Florida this weekend.

Kless, according to police, also made apparent references to Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Muslim congresswoman who has been the subject of numerous death threats since her swearing-in this January. Kless, according to court documents, said he’d like to throw Omar off the Empire State building.

Kless, according to public records, was registered without party affiliation as recently as August.

Police say he made the phone calls from his own cellphone. A number listed in the complaint went straight to a voicemail recorded by a man who identified himself as John.

Court documents show that Kless plans to hire his own attorney. The Miami Herald has not been able to reach Kless or anyone who could speak on his behalf.

Kless’ arrest comes six months after the FBI arrested South Florida man Cesar Sayoc in Broward County and charged him with sending pipe bombs through the postal service to leading Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump. Sayoc pleaded guilty last month.

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