(Reuters) – U.S. officials arrested a South Florida man on Friday for leaving racist and obscenity-laden voicemails with three Democratic members of Congress that defended U.S. President Donald Trump and directed ire at U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar.
John Kless, 49, of Tamarac, Florida appeared before a magistrate judge in the Southern District of Florida, charged with making threatening communications. Bail was set at $25,000.
Kless is suspected of recording threatening messages on Tuesday on the phones of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib and U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, according to a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors.
Booker is African-American and Tlaib a Palestinian-American who were referred to on the recording with racist slurs. Booker and Swalwell are seeking the Democratic nomination for president to challenge Trump in 2020.
The arrest took place amid other incidents of racial tension in the United States and a more extreme political discourse. Another Florida man is facing prosecution in New York on charges of mailing 16 apparent pipe bombs to Trump rivals including Booker and former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
Tuesday’s caller directed invective at Omar without naming her. The Somali-American first-term representative, along with Tlaib and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has drawn frequent criticism from conservatives.
The caller referred to recent comments by Omar about the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that Trump and other conservatives seized upon, framing them as dismissive.
Omar was speaking about repression against Muslims in America following the attacks when she referred to 9/11 as “some people did something.” Trump later tweeted a video of the comment interspersed with images from the events that killed 3,000 people. Liberals in turn criticized Trump’s tweet as Islamophobic and endangering Omar.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Diane Craft