LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles man who authorities said kept a small arsenal in his home was charged with making a series of phone calls threatening to kill journalists at The Boston Globe for what he allegedly called “treasonous” attacks on President Donald Trump.
Robert Chain, 68, was arrested Thursday at his home in the Encino neighborhood. A neighbor said more than 30 heavily armed agents showed up and took him away in his boxer shorts.
Chain later appeared in federal court, where prosecutors unsuccessfully asked a judge to detain him, in part because more than 20 guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were seized from his house, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Rosenbaum said.
Magistrate Judge Paul Abrams said Chain could be freed after he, and his wife, who is a lawyer, signed papers guaranteeing to pay $50,000 if he violates any terms of his release, which include surrendering his passport and any other guns.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to keep him in custody for a night,” Abrams said.
Chain, who repeatedly pulled at his long, dark hair that was dyed magenta at the ends, thanked the judge in a deep gravelly voice.
Chain is charged with making 14 calls to the Globe newsroom between Aug. 10 and Aug. 22. They started after the Globe appealed to newspapers across the country to condemn what it called a “dirty war against the free press,” prosecutors said.
On Aug. 16, the day scores of editorials were published Chain told a Globe staffer that he was going to shoot employees in the head at 4 o’clock, according to court documents. That threat from a blocked phone number prompted a police response and increased security at the newspaper’s offices.
Chain said he would continue threatening the Globe until it stops its “treasonous and seditious” attacks on Trump, according to a court complaint.
Several times, he called Globe employees the “enemy of the people,” a characterization of journalists that Trump has used repeatedly, including in a tweet on Thursday before the charges were announced.
Chain, who is retired from the international sales and trade business, has no criminal record and Rosenbaum acknowledged there was no evidence that he had planned to go to Boston.
Chain is slated to appear in a federal court in Boston on Sept. 24 to face a single charge of making a threatening communication in interstate commerce. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Newsrooms have received threats for years and rarely do they result in charges. However, sensitivity has been heightened since a gunman with a long-running grudge against the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, killed five employees there in June.
Federal officials pledged to continue to go after anyone who puts others in fear of their lives.
“In a time of increasing political polarization, and amid the increasing incidence of mass shootings, members of the public must police their own political rhetoric. Or we will,” Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said.
Jane Bowman, a spokeswoman for the Globe, said the newspaper is grateful for law enforcement’s efforts to protect its staffers and track down the source of the threats.
“While it was unsettling for many of our staffers to be threatened in such a way, nobody – really, nobody – let it get in the way of the important work of this institution,” she said in an email.
A neighbor who lived across the street from Chain and only knew him as “Rob” said he had a bombastic personality and could frequently be heard yelling while watching television.
Tim McGowan said he knew nothing of Chain’s political leanings and assumed he was an old hippie because he wore his hair in a “man bun” and frequently walked around in just shorts.
McGowan said he couldn’t imagine Chain following through with violence, “but I could see him making the threats because he’s such a loudmouth.”
McGowan said he was startled awake by three loud bangs at 6 a.m. Thursday. When he looked outside, he saw about 30 heavily armed officers and a tank-like vehicle. Chain eventually emerged from the house in handcuffs, wearing only boxer shorts.
Durkin Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.