In yet another story of a conspiracy-addled right-wing Trump fanboy unraveling in the waning days before the inauguration and allegedly turning to criminal threats and other craziness, we bring you the case of 35-year-old Bay Point resident Robert Lemke.
Lemke was arrested by the FBI on Tuesday and will be making his first appearance in federal court in Northern California — possibly in San Francisco — on Wednesday, to face criminal charges brought by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. Lemke has been charged with making threats against an unidentified New York City congressman and several of his family members in what sounds like an intimidation campaign borne out of feverish online forums full of desperately disappointed Trump supporters and QAnon dupes.
As the Associated Press reports, on the day of the siege on the Capitol by right-wing and white-supremacist rioters — a day when President Trump incited rioting and encouraged supporters to revolt against a fair election that he had convinced them, through repeated lies, was stolen from him — Lemke was privately sending text messages to this congressman's family, as well as to a the family member of a New York-based journalist.
The criminal complaint, seen below, details how Lemke allegedly texted the brother of the congressman on January 6, sending photo of a house in his neighborhood, saying, "Your brother is putting your entire family at risk with his lies and other words. We are armed and nearby your house. You had better have a word with him."
Subsequent texts referred to the congressman's son, saying that this online cabal knew where he went to school, and making clear that this group was "active/retired law enforcement or military" and "not white supremacists."
Attention Media: There is very false information on social media that a Robert Lemke worked for the Alameda County Sheriff. This information has proven to be untrue by the FBI and our agency. Please make sure to correct this information. pic.twitter.com/e60VLg8jWJ— Alameda County Sheriff (@ACSOSheriffs) January 26, 2021
Lemke has also apparently lied about his past, saying he is a former captain in the U.S. Air Force and a retired sergeant with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California — though the Alameda County Sheriff's Office quickly denied any past association with him, as seen in the tweet above.
"Stop telling lies; Biden did not win, he will not be president," Lemke reportedly said in his texts, which he also sent to the congressman's sister-in-law, and to a relative of an unnamed journalist. He allegedly said this journalist’s words "are putting you and your family at risk," adding that his group was "nearby armed and ready."
While the complaint does not name the congressman or the journalist who were targeted, given that this was a New York City congressman who clearly was an outspoken critic of Trump, we can take a couple guesses. It was likely either Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) — who tweeted from the Capitol on Jan. 6, "Blood will be on the hands of those perpetrating the big lie that Trump won." — or Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan), who presided over Trump's first impeachment and who said that day, "Trump and his enablers are directly responsible for this violence."
A Facebook post that Lemke posted on November 7, the day that Biden declared victory in the election and when it became clear that Trump had no path to Electoral College victory, is a clue to his state of mind over the past two months.
It reportedly read: "Folks. Be ready for war. Trump has refused to cede. Evidence shows fraud occurred and the Supreme Court cases will be successful. We blockchained and watermarked ballots in 16 states. Trump will prevail."
Frighteningly, cases like this have likely been playing out across the country in the last few weeks — with Trump zealots going to varied lengths to repeat and defend his lies to anyone who'd listen, but also perhaps taking their delusions to extremes.
In a statement Tuesday, William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of New York City’s FBI office, said that Lemke’s threats "crossed a bright line." And Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, "Rather than peaceably disagree, Lemke allegedly threatened to harm those individuals’ families, demanding they retract their statements. While in any election it is inevitable that some will be disappointed in the result, threats of violence cannot and will not be tolerated."
Once so we have a case where a rabid Trump supporter was right here in the liberal bubble of the Bay Area, and was caught up in the same online fury of falsehoods as the rest of the president's base, fomenting insurrection and civil war. And likely all of this happened virtually — the stalking, the sharing of personal information like family members' addresses, phone numbers, and kids' schools — in some Telegram chat group or on Parler, where the Trumpers were encouraging each other to participate in intimidation campaigns against Democrats in a misguided last-ditch effort to overturn the election result.
But all of this is going to fade away now that people get used to Biden being president, right?
Top Image: John Hess, a Donald Trump supporter, holds a sign while protesting at the Washington State Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Olympia, United States. One Donald Trump protester held a sign at an otherwise quiet capitol campus. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)