California man arrested for threatening shoot The Boston Globe journalists

California man arrested for threatening shoot The Boston Globe journalists

A California man is facing federal charges for allegedly threatening to shoot Boston Globe employees, whom he called “the enemy of the people,” after the Globe’s editorial board launched a national newspaper campaign in support of the free press and the First Amendment.

Robert Darrell Chain, 68, of Encino, California, was arrested by an FBI SWAT team Thursday without incident at his home. He is charged with a single count of making a threatening communication in interstate commerce.

Chain is scheduled to appear in a Los Angeles courtroom Thursday and will eventually be arraigned in US District Court in Boston at a later date, federal prosecutors said.

A law enforcement official briefed on the case said investigators are searching Chain’s home and have found weapons inside.

According to prosecutors, when the Globe called for newspapers around the country to use their opinion pages to counter President Trump’s description of the news media as an “enemy of the people,’’ Chain started calling the Globe and making threats to newsroom employees.

“In the calls, Chain referred to the Globe as ‘the enemy of the people’ and threatened to kill newspaper employees,’’ prosecutors wrote in a statement. “In total, it is alleged that Chain made approximately 14 threatening phone calls to the Globe between August 10 and August 22, 2018.”

On Aug. 16 when the Globe and newspapers around the country published their editorial and opinion pieces, Chain allegedly called the Globe newsroom and “threatened to shoot Globe employees in the head ‘later today, at 4 o’clock.’ ”

An affidavit filed in the case said Chain owns several firearms, including a new 9mm carbine rifle that he bought in May.

In response to the threats, Boston police stationed officers at 1 Exchange Place, the downtown office building where the Globe’s editorial offices are located.

Chain faces a maximum sentence of up to five years and a fine of $250,000, according to US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office, which is prosecuting.

One of Chain’s neighbors in California, who asked that her name not be used so that she can avoid any political attention, said Thursday that the allegations shocked her.

She knew Chain as a gentle neighbor, who liked to garden and fed stray cats in the neighborhood. He lived there with his wife, a lawyer, but he appeared to be retired. She believes he has two adult sons, who do not live there. The woman said Chain would take neighborhood walks because he had a heart condition.

“The person I know is the one who helps you, watches to see if everyone is OK,” she said, describing a recent incident in which Chain knocked on her door to remind her to move her car before the street cleaners arrived.

They never talked politics, she said, and she did not know he had guns. She was in his living room recently. “He has been really helpful to us,” she said. “I’m in shock right now.”

The woman said she was awoken around 6 a.m. Thursday by what sounded like gunshots and what she believes were smoke bombs. She looked out her window to see FBI agents surrounding the home. They remained there hours later, and TV news trucks arrived.

Pamela Meyer, another neighbor, agreed that Chain was friendly in a neighborly way, but she had also seen him have outbursts that made her feel uncomfortable.

Several years ago, he confronted another neighbor who was having a party because one of the party guests blocked in front of his driveway. The neighbor had to pin Chain down to the ground, and police were called.

Other times, Meyer said, she could hear him screaming at the television from his living room window, over issues as mundane as a sports game. He was shouting in celebration the day Trump won the presidential election.

“He rants,” she said. “He’ll just shout things out, whatever is upsetting him.”

Meyer said Chain never tried to push his politics on other people, and he was never critical. But he was opinionated, she said.

“He just has a trigger, whatever is on his mind at the moment,” she said. “I think he was a person prone to excesses.” She added, “I’ve always wondered if there was something a little not-right with him.”

Lelling, a Trump appointee, noted in a statement that his office has already filed criminal charges against a man who threatened to bomb a minority commencement ceremony at Harvard University and a man who separately offered a bounty for the murder of a federal law enforcement officer.

“Anyone — regardless of political affiliation — who puts others in fear for their lives will be prosecuted by this office,’’ Lelling said in a statement. “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.”

The head of the Boston FBI office, Special Agent in Charge Harold H. Shaw, said Chain’s alleged actions should not be dismissed as a harmless prank.

“Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but threatening to kill people, takes it over the line and will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement, adding that the arrest of Chain should be considered a warning.

“Making threats is not a prank, it’s a federal crime. All threats are taken seriously, as we never know if the subject behind the threat intends to follow through with their actions,’’ he said. “Whether potentially [a] hoax or not, each and every threat will be aggressively run to ground.”

According to Shaw, Chain’s alleged actions were investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force units in the FBI’s Boston and Los Angeles offices. Jane Bowman, a spokeswoman for the Globe, issued a statement:

“We are grateful to the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office, the Boston Police, and local authorities in California for the work they did in protecting the Globe while threats were coming in, for investigating the source, and for making this arrest. We couldn’t have asked for a stronger response.

“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.”

The affidavit in the case said many of Chain’s calls were profane, lewd, and peppered with antigay slurs.

During one call on Aug. 13, he said, “We are going to shoot you [expletive] in the head, you Boston Globe [expletive]. Shoot every [expletive] one of you.”

He allegedly said on Aug. 16, “You’re the enemy of the people, and we’re going to kill every [expletive] one of you. Hey, why don’t you call the F, why don’t you call Mueller, maybe he can help you out buddy.

Still there [expletive]? Alright, why, you going to trace my call? What are you going to do [expletive]? You ain’t going to do [expletive]. I’m going to shoot you in the [expletive] head later today, at 4 o’clock. Goodbye.”

The affidavit quoted him as saying during another threatening rant on Aug. 22 that “you are the enemy of the people, and I want you to go [expletive] yourself.

As long as you keep attacking the President, the duly elected President of the United States, in the continuation of your treasonous and seditious acts, I will continue to threat[en], harass, and annoy the Boston Globe, owned by the New York Times, the other fake news.”

The New York Times no longer owns the Globe, having sold the paper in 2013. The affidavit also shed light on how investigators traced the calls to Chain, who court records show lives with his wife.

Chain allegedly made a first batch of threatening calls, totaling about a dozen, to the Globe between Aug. 10 and Aug. 17, and each of those calls was listed on the newspaper’s caller identification logs as “blocked,” the affidavit said.

However, records obtained from Verizon, the Globe’s service provider, and Charter Communications led investigators to Chain’s landline, which he’s had since November 2000.

“Toll records . . . showed that calls were made from that phone to the Boston Globe main telephone number on the same dates and times as the threatening calls made by the blocked number,” the affidavit said.

On Aug. 22, the filing said, Chain allegedly made two more threatening calls from his wife’s cellphone number, and that number wasn’t blocked.

“Toll records from Verizon Wireless [for that number] confirmed two calls placed to the main number of the Boston Globe on August 22, 2018,” the affidavit said.

“As a result of these threatening calls, Boston Globe employees reported feeling threatened and scared,” the affidavit said.

“The Boston Globe reported the calls to law enforcement and contracted with a private security firm to protect its employees. In response to the August 16, 2018 call in which CHAIN threatened to shoot Boston Globe employees at 4 p.m. that day, marked law enforcement units from the Boston Police Department came to the Globe’s office and patrolled the building to ensure the safety of the occupants,” the affidavit said.

Chain had some legal problems in the past. He was ordered to pay around $22,000 in 2014 to the federal government in 2012 for failing to pay off his student loans dating back to the 1980s, according to records filed in federal court in California.

He and his wife, Betty, filed for bankruptcy protection three times in the late 1990s, according to court records. Betty could not be reached for comment.

Alexandra Ellerbeck, North America program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, welcomed the news of Chain’s arrest.

“Journalists should never face violence for doing their jobs, yet in the United States multiple news outlets have reported direct threats of violence,” Ellerbeck said in a statement.

“It is crucial that in this hostile climate, newsrooms and law enforcement take threats against reporters seriously. We are glad that they appear to have done so in the case of the threats against the Boston Globe.”