Man Who Threatened to Kill Montana Senator Gets More Than 2 Years In Prison
A Montana man was sentenced on Thursday to two and a half years in prison after threatening to kill U.S. Senator Jon Tester in dozens of calls to the Democrat’s local office, federal officials said.
The man, Kevin Patrick Smith, of Kalispell, a city about 120 miles north of Missoula, pleaded guilty to one count of threats to murder a United States senator in April. A second charge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
As part of the sentence, which Judge Dana L. Christensen of U.S. District Court handed down during a hearing in Missoula, Mr. Smith will be on supervised release for three years after his prison term.
In a statement on Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana acknowledged that “public discourse is the cornerstone of a free society” and is constitutionally protected. “But there is a line,” it added. “And Kevin Patrick Smith crossed that line — repeatedly.”
Beginning on Jan. 30, Mr. Smith, 46, left multiple threatening messages on the voice mail of Mr. Tester’s office in Kalispell, according to a criminal complaint. In one message, Mr. Smith said to Mr. Tester: “You stand toe to toe with me. I rip your head off. You die.”
Mr. Smith also said he “would love to destroy” Mr. Tester and “would love to see your F.B.I. at my door,” according to the complaint. The threats and the frequency of the calls prompted an investigation by the bureau and the U.S. Capitol Police.
On Feb. 1, the complaint said, F.B.I. agents went to Mr. Smith’s home and asked if he intended to scare Mr. Tester or if he desired for him to change his politics. Mr. Smith replied that he was unsure but wished Mr. Tester “would just do things right,” according to the complaint.
Mr. Smith continued to leave threatening messages, about 60 in total, despite being warned by F.B.I. agents not to threaten public officials, prosecutors said. Mr. Smith was arrested on Feb. 22.
Mr. Smith acknowledged that he had made the threats “on purpose,” prosecutors said, and that he had done so because was upset with Mr. Tester’s political decisions.
Andrew Nelson, a lawyer for Mr. Smith, said in a phone interview on Thursday that “Mr. Smith honorably served in the military,” adding, “We respect and will adhere to the sentence the judge imposed.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Montana declined to comment further on the case. Mr. Tester’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Threats against politicians are surging, according to a New York Times review of more than 75 indictments of people charged with threatening lawmakers over the course of six years.
As violent political speech has become more prevalent, messages left on voice mail and in posts on social media have become more threatening.
On Thursday, an upstate New York man who threatened in a series of phone calls to harm Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia was sentenced to three months in prison.
An Alaska man was sentenced to 32 months in prison for leaving threatening voice mail messages for two U.S. senators last April.
Earlier this month, an Oklahoma man pleaded guilty to making death threats on social media against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other high-profile Republican politicians.
Lauren McCarthy, a planning editor for live coverage at The Times, is on temporary assignment as a breaking-news reporter.
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