WASHINGTON — FBI agents arrested a Washington state man Tuesday and accused him of threatening to kill Sen. Patty Murray because of her support for a health care bill.
Charles Alan Wilson, 63, was arrested without incident in Selah, Wash., where he lives, after investigators connected him to a series of profanity-laced phone messages left at Murray's office shortly after the Washington state Democrat voted in favor of the health care bill.
The messages reportedly said that Murray had a "target on her back" because of her vote, warned of a "growing hatred" in the nation and said it would be only a matter of time before someone would breach her security and put a "(expletive) gun to your head and blow your (expletive) brains out."
Threatening a public official is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
"Free speech is the cornerstone of our democratic process, and we are a country of vigorous debate," Todd Greenberg, the assistant U.S. attorney for western Washington state, said in a statement. "However, threats of violence have no place in that debate. The threats here crossed the line, and violate the law."
Wilson was scheduled to make his initial appearance in a U.S. District Court in Yakima late Tuesday and then be transferred to Seattle.
In a statement, Murray's office said it originally notified the Capitol Police Department about the threatening calls and was referred to the FBI.
"As this is an ongoing FBI investigation, Senator Murray or her office will not make additional comments," the statement said.
The allegations against Wilson come just days after Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives said that at least 10 of their members had received threats since the health care vote and some had sought additional security protection.
Virginia Republican Rep. Eric Cantor also said he'd received threats. Cantor, the House Republican whip, charged that Democrats were using the reports of threats against their members as a "political weapon" against Republicans.
Washington state Republicans on Tuesday condemned the threats against Murray.
"The Washington State Republican Party strongly condemns the threats against Senator Murray," state party Chairman Luke Esser said. "Threats of violence have no place in our political process."
According to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Wilson allegedly called Murray's office numerous times over the past several months, and while he used vulgar and offensive language he didn't make overt threats, the complaint said.
Almost immediately after the health care vote the calls turned threatening, according to the complaint.
"Now that you've passed your health care bill, let the violence begin," Wilson is accused of saying in one call. In another, he allegedly said he wasn't a member of the tea party or the Republican or Democratic parties, but that Murray was a "marked person" for the rest of her life.
FBI agents used phone records to track down Wilson because the calls came from a blocked number.
Wilson told FBI agents that he regularly carries a gun with a concealed weapons permit and that he was "extremely angry" about the passage of the health care bill, the complaint said. A .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver is registered to him, agents said.
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