Last week, at 7 a.m., Congressman Eric Swalwell, a pro-gun control Democrat from California, got a message on his voicemail.
“Fuck you, Eric cocksucker,” it began. It gets worse from there.
Besides calling Swalwell a “motherfucker” and a “communist fuck bag,” the caller promised that “the day you come after our guns, motherfucker, is the day you’ll be dead.” He added: “Same with that towel head Taliban-fucking whore.”
Then, at 7:09 a.m., Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who happens to be one of the first Muslim women in Congress, got a voicemail of her own.
“Hey, Taliban. You got fucking nerve, bitch. Tell your Taliban friend to shut the fuck up about 9/11. This ain’t Trump’s fault, bitch. It’s all your people’s fault. You’re the motherfuckers who drove the planes into the buildings, bitch.”
He told her she was an “abomination,” “just like faggots.” And as for “that other little whore,” he’d “like to take that bitch and throw her right off the Empire State Building.”
Then, at 7:30 a.m., senator and presidential hopeful Cory Booker, a black Democrat from New Jersey, got the finale.
“Yeah, I got a comment for you, you stupid fucking [n-word],” the voicemail began. “Do you think that [it’s] Trump who’s the bad guy here? …After that fucking Taliban bitch said that shit about 9/11? …We’re going to have a war in this country, motherfuckers. You’re going to be the motherfuckers that pay.”
According to a complaint filed in Southern Florida District Court, these calls were made by a 49-year-old Floridian named John Kless. Back in February, he’d allegedly gotten into some unspecified trouble with the law for making a series of “profane/harassing” phone calls to Congress. They were mostly about “taking away his guns, abortion, illegal immigration, and Muslims in Congress," according to court documents.
The latest were definitely of a similar ilk, but they had one more subject in common. Even though she was never named, Kless had (in wildly offensive ways) referenced and threatened Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
The voicemails seem to refer to a video tweeted by President Donald Trump last week. It showed a quick clip of Omar’s speech in March to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in which she referred the 9/11 terrorist attacks by saying “someone did something.” (The video was accompanied by spooky music with footage from the attacks spliced in.)
Lots of people sharing the clip have called it evidence of some kind of flippancy on Omar’s part in trivializing an American tragedy. Trump’s caption for this video was “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”
It bears saying here that “someone did something” can quite accurately – if vaguely – describe any moment in human history, but her full quote offers a little more context. Omar said that many Muslims had been treated as “second-class citizens” after the attacks, unfairly lumped in with a group of terrorists and regarded with suspicion, derision, and contempt for something they didn’t do.
“CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties,” she said.
Kless’ calls are just the latest in a string of threats against Omar. Earlier this month, a 55-year-old New Yorker named Patrick W. Carlineo Jr. was charged after calling her office to say she was a terrorist and promise to “put a bullet in her skull.” Then, after Trump tweeted the video, Omar claimed that the number of threats against her life had spiked to a daily occurrence, many of them directly referencing the clip.
“The president is inciting violence against a sitting congresswoman – and an entire group of Americans based on their religion,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted in the aftermath.
As it happened, Tlaib was supposed to speak in Florida the same week Kless left the voicemails. Police contacted his cellphone company to get his information and arrested him that same day.