California man arrested after allegedly using Trump’s anti-press rhetoric in threats against Boston Globe

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

A California man will appear in federal court Thursday afternoon after allegedly threatening to murder Boston Globe employees during numerous rants in which he echoed President Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric by describing journalists as the “enemy of the people.”

Robert D. Chain of Encino, CA, was arrested Thursday morning and is “charged with one count of making threatening communications in interstate commerce,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said in a press release.

Chain is accused of making roughly 14 threatening phone calls to the Globe in retaliation for the paper’s effort to organize hundreds of newspapers to publish simultaneous editorials “on the dangers of the [Trump] administration's assault on the press.”

CNN reported of the allegations:

According to court documents, on August 16, the day the editorial campaign was published in newspapers around the country, Chain made a call to the Globe's newsroom in which he said, “You're the enemy of the people, and we're going to kill every f***ing one of you. Hey, why don't you call the F, why don't you call Mueller, maybe he can help you out buddy. ... I'm going to shoot you in the f***ing head later today, at 4 o'clock.”

In another call allegedly made on August 22, Chain was asked why he was calling. According to court documents, he responded, “Because you are the enemy of the people, and I want you to go f*** yourself. As long as you keep attacking the President, the duly elected President of the United States, in the continuation of your treasonous and seditious acts, I will continue to threats, harass, and annoy the Boston Globe.”

The language Chain is alleged to have used mirrors the president's own descriptions of the press.

Trump frequently calls journalists the “enemy of the people” as part of a years-long effort to undermine the media and convince his supporters not to believe reporting when outlets question his administration. He did so Thursday morning, in a tweet published just hours before the news about Chain’s arrest broke:

Trump’s campaign to undermine the press has succeeded in convincing his supporters to close their eyes and ears to journalists and instead believe what he tells them. A majority of Republicans said they believe the media is “the enemy of the people” rather than “an important part of democracy” in a poll earlier this month. Forty-four percent of Republicans said in a separate poll that the president should have the power to close news outlets that engage in “bad behavior.”

This sentiment endangers our democracy by making it difficult for a sizable portion of the country to get accurate information about political affairs. But journalists and journalism advocacy organizations have also warned that the president’s vitriolic rhetoric is putting reporters in physical danger.

Chain is not the first person to be charged with threatening journalists using Trump’s talking points. In January, a Michigan man was arrested after making nearly two dozen phone calls to CNN, describing the network as “fake news” and saying he was coming to its headquarters to kill employees.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling warned in a press release: “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.”

But who will police the political rhetoric of the president?