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Written by: Ed Shanahan
A Long Island man was charged Monday with threatening violence against LGBTQ groups and leaders in dozens of hate-filled letters, including one warning of an attack that would make the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida “look like a cakewalk.”
The man, Robert Fehring, 74, of Bayport, New York, sent the letters over the course of eight years starting in 2013, according to a federal criminal complaint in which he was charged with making threats via the US mail.
A search of his home last month by FBI agents turned up two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, an American flag-patterned machete and a DVD titled “Underground Build Your Own Silencer System,” the complaint says.
Investigators also found a stamped envelope addressed to a lawyer who had worked on LGBTQ-related cases, the complaint says. Inside were the remains of a dead bird.
“The defendant’s hate-filled invective and threats of violence directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community have no place in our society,” Breon Peace, the US attorney in Brooklyn, said in a statement announcing the charges.
Fehring’s lawyer, Glenn Obedin, said in a statement that his client “respects the legal process, and asks that the process be allowed to play itself out to its appropriate and lawful conclusion.”
David Kilmnick, the president of the New York LGBT Network, which operates four community centres on Long Island and in Queens and runs the annual Long Island Pride event, said he had mixed feelings about Fehring’s arrest.
Most of the letters that Fehring is charged with sending went to Kilmnick, his group and other LGBTQ organizations and leaders on Long Island.
Kilmnick said he was glad someone had finally been charged with making the threats. But he also expressed frustration over the failure of the Suffolk County, New York, police — which had investigated some of the letters in recent years — to make an arrest sooner.
“There is no reason why we had to live through this fear and anxiety for the past eight years,” Kilmnick said.
In a statement, the Suffolk County Police Department said that its Hate Crimes Unit investigates every report that it gets.
Its investigation into the threats attributed to Fehring by federal authorities “became part of a larger FBI investigation that our department fully cooperated with,” the statement said. The department referred all other questions to the FBI, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the complaint, investigators identified at least 60 letters from Fehring, postmarked from June 2013 to September of this year, in which he said he would use guns and explosives to attack LGBTQ groups and people. Copies of some of the letters were found during the FBI’s search of his home, the complaint says.
A May 20 letter addressed to the executive director of a group involved in planning LGBTQ events warned of a major attack on New York City’s Pride March this year, the complaint says.
In the letter, according to the complaint, Fehring said that “we” would use radio-controlled devices at “numerous strategic places, and firepower aimed at you from other strategic places.”
“This will make the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” he wrote, the complaint says. In June 2016, Omar Mateen fatally shot 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Kilmnick said that the first threatening letter sent to his group, in 2013, warned of violence that would make the Boston Marathon bombing pale in comparison.
The other letters that Fehring is accused of sending, according to the complaint, include one this year threatening to shoot a high-powered rifle at a Long Island Pride event in June; another warning a local Chamber of Commerce member that ambulances would be needed if the group allowed an LGBTQ event to proceed; and a third describing a Brooklyn barbershop as a “perfect target for a bombing.”
If convicted, Fehring, whom Newsday identified as a retired high school teacher, band director and track coach, faces up to five years in prison.
Court records show that he sued the Suffolk County police unsuccessfully after being taken into custody in 2010 after an off-duty officer saw him hide a shotgun under a raincoat and bring it into a Long Island office building.
After an initial appearance in US District Court in Central Islip, he was released on a $100,000 bond, confined to home detention and ordered to wear a monitoring device, officials said.
Kilmnick expressed outrage over Fehring’s release given the nature of the threats he is charged with making and the weapons that were seized from his home.
“This guy should not be out on bail,” Kilmnick said.
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