The 2021 New York City Pride celebration, one of the events a Long Island man is accused of threatening. Photo by Bill Tompkins/Getty Images.
A New York man has been charged with threatening violence against New York City’s Pride March and other LGBTQ+ events and groups, including an attack that he said would make the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub “look like a cakewalk.”
Robert Fehring, 74, of Bayport on Long Island, had been sending threatening letters since at least 2013, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. He was arrested Monday and charged with making the threats through the mail. He appeared in federal court and was released to home detention on a $100,000 bond, CNN reports. He will be monitored electronically as he awaits trial.
His threats, as detailed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, include a letter sent to an organizer of the 2021 New York City Pride March, saying, “There will be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places, and firepower aimed at you from other strategic places” at the march. “This will make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” the letter continued. The Pulse shooting left 49 people dead and dozens wounded.
That letter called LGBTQ+ people “f****** scum” who would be waltzing their “fruity, freaky, faggot a****” along the parade route, according to the criminal complaint.
Another letter was addressed to the owner of a barbershop in Brooklyn, apparently gay, who had been featured on local TV news. “Men having oral and anal sex with each other is as twisted and beyond comprehension as it gets,” the letter said, and it also used a racial slur. “Your shop is the perfect target for a bombing and/or graffiti and/or a shattered window front….or beating the scum that frequents your den of shit into a bloody pool of steaming flesh,” it went on.
Other letters threatened LGBTQ+ groups and elected officials on Long Island. One addressed to a Pride organizer in East Meadow read, “We were right there you…FREAK!!! They couldn’t get a shot off at you, slithering around the back stage area like a snake. Too many cops. Very disappointed. But your time has come. . .. They are out to KILL you….and your boyfriend. You are being watched. No matter how long it takes, you will be taken out…. high-powered bullet…. bomb….knife…. whatever it takes.”
The FBI identified Fehring from DNA samples on envelopes, and members of the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force searched his home in November. They recovered copies of numerous letters, two loaded shotguns, multiple rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, Pride flags that had apparently been stolen, a machete with an American flag pattern on it, a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ rights lawyer that contained a dead bird, and a DVD titled Underground Build Your Own Silencer System.
When officers interviewed Fehring, the complaint says, he “stated, in sum and substance and in part, that he authored certain letters that law enforcement officers encountered in the investigation and that he stamped the envelopes containing those letters with the Confidential Stamp to ensure the letters were taken seriously, reached their intended recipient and were not intercepted by a secretary. He further acknowledged ownership of the recovered shotguns and expressed animosity toward the LGBTQ+ community, stating in part that there is ‘a sickening overdose of that stuff being shoved down everyone’s face on the paper, on the TV, and all over the place and I’m not a fan of the homosexual, homosexuality thing.’”
“As alleged, the defendant's hate-filled invective and threats of violence directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community have no place in our society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in the press release. “This Office is firmly committed to protecting the civil rights of all members of every community in this district, including the LGBTQ+ community and other minority communities.”
The release advises anyone who’s received similar threats to call (800) CALLFBI, and if the situation is an emergency, to contact local police.
David Kilmnick, president of the New York LGBT Network and recipient of some of the threats, expressed relief that Fehring had been arrested but frustration that it took so long. “There is no reason why we had to live through this fear and anxiety for the past eight years,” Kilmnick told The New York Times. He also said Fehring should not have been released.
Fehring, now retired, was a high school teacher, band director, and track coach in Bellport, also on Long Island, Newsday reports. He faces five years in prison if convicted.
Fehring’s lawyer, Glenn Obedin, released a statement saying Fehring “respects the legal process, and asks that the process be allowed to play itself out to its appropriate and lawful conclusion,” according to the Times.