NEW YORK (AP) — A New York food delivery worker charged with threatening past and present political figures and Fox News personalities was ordered held without bail Friday after a prosecutor cited the man's criminal history and his “direct and unambiguous" threats.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Moroney said Rickey Johnson, 47, also known as Nigel Dawn Defarren, made multiple death threats in the past two weeks in videos online, including telling a congresswoman: “Ma'am, you are dead. You will be killed. Smile. I'm going to kill you."
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said Johnson threatened to kill several cable news broadcasters, current and former U.S. senators and members of the House “in rage-fueled posts on Instagram and in chilling private messages.”
The targets of the threats were not identified in court papers, but two law enforcement officials identified some of them as Fox News personalities and Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a frequent Fox commentator. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about alleged victims.
Moroney told U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein that Johnson, arrested Thursday night, told a broadcaster: “I’m going to take your life. I’m going to tell you before I do it like I’m doing right now." Moroney said the profanity-laced threat was representative of “direct and unambiguous" threats that prove Johnson was a danger.
Gorenstein agreed, citing the “disturbing nature" of the threats and Johnson's criminal history, including a five-year prison sentence for a drug conviction in 2004, for why he cannot be freed on bail before trial on charges of threatening interstate communications and threatening U.S. officials.
Moroney said Alabama authorities reported late Friday they plan to extradite Johnson to that state based on a 2004 arrest warrant. The prosecutor said he'd also been arrested in the past on burglary and stalking charges.
Johnson's court-appointed attorney, Zawadi Baharanyi, said her client was a U.S. military veteran who deserved bail, especially because he would be vulnerable to an outbreak of the coronavirus in New York City's federal lockups.
“These allegations certainly are concerning," she said, but the window of the online posts — Jan. 30 through Feb. 4 — was “a pretty narrow time frame" and the threats seemed to be “isolated communications on an internet platform."
She noted there was no allegation that he'd gone to anyone's home or workplace.
But Moroney said Johnson's internet postings, sent in a manner that made recipients sure to see them, were “more than just online rants.”
He said Johnson referenced seeing one on-air personality in the downtown Manhattan neighborhood where the broadcaster resided. This week, the prosecutor added, police officers saw Johnson take his bicycle on a subway and ride through that neighborhood.
The broadcaster and his colleagues are afraid, Moroney said, because the food delivery company that employs Johnson delivers to the building where they work.
Fox News said through spokespersons that any information would have to be released by federal prosecutors. Prosecutors declined to identify alleged victims.
Authorities said in a criminal complaint that Johnson railed against supporters of former President Donald Trump in one video, saying they kill police officers.
The complaint said Johnson posted public messages threatening to kill, among others, a U.S. senator, a member of Congress, a former House speaker and a governor.