Charles D. Wilson
An Indiana man who ran out of unemployment benefits five months ago appeared in court Friday on charges that he made violent threats against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner over the House’s failure to pass an emergency extension.
Brandon James Thompson, 32, could face as many as 20 years in prison if convicted on the federal charges. Thompson, who lives in New Castle and is on house arrest, appeared before a federal magistrate in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Prosecutors allege Thompson made repeated threats through email and phone calls against the Republican congressman from Ohio concerning the unemployment extension and other issues.
“You want to play with 2.7 million people’s lives I’m gonna take yours you’ll never see it coming with my sniper rifle,” said a message Thompson allegedly sent under an assumed name April 1 through the contact feature on Boehner’s congressional website. He allegedly sent the message using a neighbor’s wireless Internet router.
Boehner’s wife told U.S. Capitol Police on May 1 that she had received a voicemail on her personal cellphone threatening her husband over Congress’ failure to extend unemployment insurance. She received another message on May 6 saying she should tell Boehner to “redo the unemployment extension.”
The complaint doesn’t detail how Thompson allegedly obtained her cellphone number.
Chief Federal Defender Monica Foster, whose office is handling Thompson’s defense, said she believed there were “extenuating circumstances” because Thompson has been unemployed for over a year and his benefits ran out in January. Court records show he had been receiving $341 a week.
In a letter to Boehner last month, seven House Republicans wrote that since the program expired, “many more people have lost benefits each week, bringing the number of long-term unemployed Americans without government assistance to greater than two million.”
A spokesman for Boehner declined to comment Friday.
“I think that our elected politicians inside the Beltway have really no idea how people are suffering in Middle America,” Foster said. “And I think that the level of discourse that our politicians have stooped to in Washington leads the general public to think that that’s an acceptable way to behave.”
Court documents said Thompson has a gun permit but also has a temporary protective order against him and has been under five such orders since 2001. However, he has no criminal record.
Investigators said Thompson acknowledged making the threats.
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said threats of violence are not protected free speech. “People who are inclined to make them need to know that they violate the law and they will be aggressively pursued,” Hogsett said in a statement.