(Adds defendant ordered released on bond, Sept. 24 appearance in federal court Boston)
By Scott Malone
BOSTON, Aug 30 (Reuters) - A California man has been charged with threatening to kill Boston Globe employees in retaliation for the newspaper’s role in leading an editorial defense of press freedoms by hundreds of U.S. news organizations against attacks by President Donald Trump.
In a case unsealed on Thursday, federal prosecutors said Robert Chain, 68, called journalists “the enemy of the people” in threatening telephone calls that echoed the phrase Trump has used to criticize unflattering news coverage through his campaign and time in office.
“In a time of increasing political polarization, and amid the increasing incidence of mass shootings, members of the public must police their own political rhetoric. Or we will,” Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts and a Trump appointee, said in a statement on the arrest.
Prosecutors said Chain, a resident of Los Angeles, was arrested on Thursday on a felony count of making threats in interstate communications. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors said Chain made 14 threatening calls to the Globe from Aug. 10 through Aug. 22, including on Aug. 16 - the day the press freedom editorials ran - when he threatened to shoot employees in the head at 4 p.m. That prompted authorities to station police outside the paper’s Boston building.
“While it was unsettling for many of our staffers to be threatened in such a way, nobody – really, nobody – let it get in the way of the important work of this institution,” Jane Bowman, a Globe spokeswoman, said in a statement.
At a hearing in Los Angeles on Thursday, a federal magistrate ordered that Chain be released on $50,000 bond and to appear in federal court in Boston on Sept. 24, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Angeles.
It was not immediately clear whether Chain had hired an attorney.
The Globe announced its plan on Aug. 10 for coordinated editorials defending press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Newspapers and other media outlets across the United States joined in on Aug. 16.
The editorials led Trump to lash out on Twitter, saying: “THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country....BUT WE ARE WINNING!” He did not provide specifics.
Trump continued bashing news media organizations on Wednesday and Thursday, lashing out at NBC and CNN, and again using the phrase “enemy of the people.”
In June, five people were fatally shot at a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, allegedly by a man with a long-standing grudge against the paper, prosecutors said.
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney