The FBI arrested a California man Thursday for making death threats against the Boston Globe over the newspaper’s editorial in support of the free press, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Robert Chain of Encino, California, was charged with making threatening communications in interstate commerce. Between Aug. 10 and Aug. 22, Chain allegedly made approximately 14 threatening phone calls to the newsroom, including a threat that he would kill Globe employees.
The calls came in response to a campaign spearheaded by the Boston Globe this month in which more than 400 newspapers published coordinated editorials denouncing President Trump’s constant attacks on the press, such as calling journalists “the enemy of the people” and labeling legitimate publications “fake news.” The Globe’s editorial, titled, “Journalists Are Not the Enemy,” warned that the “relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences” for our democracy.
On Aug. 16, the day the Globe published its editorial, Chain allegedly called the newspaper and warned that he would travel to Boston to shoot newspaper employees in the head that afternoon. In response to that phone call, local law enforcement set up a police presence around the Boston Globe’s building to protect its staff. In one of his calls, Chain also allegedly referred to the Globe as “the enemy of the people,” echoing Trump’s epithet. (President Trump again called the media the “enemy of the people” on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.)
According to the FBI, Chain told the Boston Globe he would keep harassing the newsroom as long as it kept “attacking the president, the duly elected president of the United States, in the continuation of your treasonous and seditious acts.”
The Globe’s campaign provoked outrage from President Trump. On Aug. 16, President Trump blasted the newspaper editorials in a series of tweets, claiming that “the Globe is in COLLUSION with other papers on free press” and that “THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY.” By contrast, the Senate responded to the editorials by unanimously passing a resolution affirming that the media “is not the enemy of the people.”
In the statement announcing Chain’s arrest, Harold H. Shaw, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston division, said, “Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but threatening to kill people takes it over the line and will not be tolerated.”
While Chain ultimately did not carry out his alleged threats against the Boston Globe staff, violence against journalists is a grim reality, both in the United States and abroad. In June, a gunman opened fire on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five employees and injuring two others. Law enforcement confirmed that the mass shooting was a “targeted attack” on the newspaper by a man with a yearslong vendetta against the publication. The Washington Post reports that 2017 was the most dangerous year ever for journalists around the world, and data published by press-freedom organizations indicates that threats to journalists are increasing.
Chain will appear in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon and will be transferred to Boston at a later date.