In one of the messages, excerpts of which have been published by New Hampshire authorities, Mr Winegar told his target: “I got some advice for you. Here’s the advice, Donald Trump is your president. If you don’t get behind him, we’re going to hang you until you die.”
Another message saw him indulge multiple prejudices while making another threat. “And it really, really, it boils down to two camps,” he said to the unnamed target. “You either support our president, support liberty, and f*** this global homo, uh, vaccination Jewish agenda, or you’re not. In which case we’re going to f***ing kill you. Do you understand?”
Mr Winegar left the messages in December 2020, at the height of Mr Trump’s effort to delegitimise Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Around the same time, he also sent an email to a member of the New Hampshire state legislature in which he threatened to pull the legislator from his bed and hang him.
Mr Winegar was interviewed a few days after the voicemails were left, but flew to Brazil before he could be arrested and did not return to the US until 11 January this year, at which point he was apprehended.
Speaking after the sentencing, acting US Attorney John J. Farley said that Mr Winegar’s case “sends a clear message that threats of violence have no place in our political discourse”.
“While all citizens are free to express their political opinions,” he said, “it is unlawful to threaten to commit acts of violence against members of Congress or members of the state legislature … threatening to attack and kill six members of Congress and a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives to prevent them from carrying out their constitutional duties is a federal crime, not protected speech. Let’s hope that today’s sentence finally teaches Ryder Winegar that important lesson.”
Death threats against members of Congress have escalated since the 2020 election, with Democrats and opponents of Mr Trump disproportionately targeted.
Certain Republican members of Congress have themselves been condemned for promoting incendiary messages and images. Arizona Representative Paul Gosar was recently censured over a cartoon clip edited to show him stabbing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the back, while Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert has been criticized for Islamophobic comments about her colleague Ilhan Omar, who this week played an example of a death threat she received to a press conference.
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