WASHINGTON – FBI agents arrested a Yakima County man Tuesday for allegedly threatening to kill U.S. Sen. Patty Murray because of her support for the health care reform bill.
Charles Alan Wilson, 63, was arrested without incident in Selah, where he lives, after investigators connected him to a series of profanity-laced phone message left on the voicemail at Murray’s office shortly after the Washington state Democrat voted in favor of the health care bill.
In the calls, Wilson allegedly said that Democrat Murray had a “target on her back” because of her health care vote, warned of a “growing hatred” in the nation and said it would be only a matter of time before someone would breach her security and put a “(expletive) gun to your head and blow your (expletive) brains out.”
Threatening a public official is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“Free speech is the cornerstone of our democratic process, and we are a country of vigorous debate,” Todd Greenberg, the assistant U.S. attorney for Western Washington, said in a statement. “However, threats of violence have no place in that debate. The threats here crossed the line, and violate the law.”
Wilson was scheduled to make his initial appearance in a U.S. District Court in Yakima late Tuesday and then be transferred to Seattle.
In a statement, Murray’s office said it originally notified the Capitol Police Department about the threatening phone calls and then was referred to the FBI.
“As this is an ongoing FBI investigation, Sen. Murray or her office will not make additional comments,” the statement said.
The allegations against Wilson come just days after House Democratic leaders said that at least 10 of their members had received threats since the health care vote, and some had sought additional security protection. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, said he had received two threatening phone calls since he voted for the health care bill.
Virginia Republican Rep. Eric Cantor also said he had received threats. Cantor, the House Republican whip, said Democrats were using the reports of threats against their members as a “political weapon” against Republicans.
Washington state Republicans on Tuesday were quick to condemn the threats against Murray.
“The Washington State Republican Party strongly condemns the threats against Sen. Murray,” said state party chairman Luke Esser. “Threats of violence have no place in our political process.”
Mary Lane, a spokeswoman for Republican Dino Rossi, who is considering whether to run against Murray this fall, said Rossi was “horrified by this awful news, prays for Sen. Murray’s safety and condemns threats made to any public official.”
In a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Wilson allegedly threatened to assault and murder a federal official, Murray, with “intent to impede, intimidate and interfere with such official while engaged in the performance of official duties and with intent to retaliate against such official on account of the performance of official duties.”
Wilson had allegedly called Murray’s office numerous times over the past several months, and while he used vulgar and offensive language, he did not make overt threats against the senator, the complaint said.
Almost immediately after the health care vote the calls turned threatening, the complaint said.
“Now that you’ve passed your health care bill, let the violence begin,” Wilson allegedly said in one call. In another, he allegedly said he wasn’t a member of the tea party or the Republican or Democratic parties, but said Murray was a “marked person” for the rest of her life.
FBI agents used phone records to track down Wilson because the calls had come from a blocked number.
Wilson told FBI agents that he regularly carries a gun with a concealed weapons permit and that he was “extremely angry” about the passage of the health care bill, the complaint said. A .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver is registered to him, agents said.
In a conversation with agents, the complaint said Wilson indicated he regularly placed phone calls to Murray and Washington state’s other senator, Democrat Maria Cantwell. Wilson called Murray and Cantwell the “Pike Street whores,” a reference to a well-known street in Seattle.
“They need to be strung up and I mean put (in) the gallows,” Wilson told the agents. “I will take no prisoners.”
Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008