A top FBI officials says death threats against public officials posted on Facebook by a Nanuet man are a crime and are not protected as free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
“The defendant is alleged not only to have threatened to kill elected officials," said George Venizelos, assistant director in charge of the FBI in New York. "He did the virtual equivalent of standing in the town square with a megaphone, using his Facebook page to exhort others to carry out these assassinations. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but making overt threats is not protected speech, it’s a crime.”
Nanuet resident Lawrence Mulqueen, 49, was arrested Thursday after an investigation by Clarkstown Police and the FBI and a cache of weapons was seized from his residence. Mulqueen has since been indicted on state and federal charges as a result of the investigation.
Mulqueen is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in White Plains federal court today.
At the state level, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said Mulqueen has been indicted by a Rockland County grand jury on a charge of criminal possession of a weapon. Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Mulqueen is charged in a federal complaint with threatening to kill federal officials and transmitting threats in interstate commerce.
“As alleged, Lawrence Mulqueen maliciously abused the power and reach of Facebook to call for murder -- making bloody, incendiary death threats against federally-elected officials and others," Bharara said. "He even provided his like-minded Facebook friends with a virtual ‘how to’ on the most effective weapons to use in making good on those threats, as described in the Complaint. The internet is a forum for free expression, but it does not give anyone carte blanche to break the law.”
Investigators say Mulqueen posted numerous messages to his page on the online social networking site Facebook, threatening to kill members of the United States Congress, state and local elected officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and others. Among his postings, investigators said Mulqueen posted on Feb. 20 that he “[could] not wait to start killing” multiple United States Senators and Members of the United States House of Representatives, as well as a Governor and Mayor, adding that their “dirt nap [was] coming very soon.”
Investigators said Mulqueen's postings instructed people who commented on his posts to secure a “high powered rifle,” and recommended a particular Italian-manufactured shotgun as “very light and . . . semi- automatic, [with] no need to pump or reload.” He added that readers should “[u]se blades when you can to conserve bullets.” In other posts, Mulqueen commanded readers to seek out and kill other individuals, including at least one political activist.
“In our fast-paced world of status updates and tweets, behavior of this type must be treated seriously and investigated promptly to ensure that all threats or indications of potential violence are mitigated and do not escalate," Zugibe said. "Overt threats of the sort made by this defendant against our elected leaders are especially troubling and must be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law."
The investigation into Mulqueen, police said, began as a result of a long-running and escalating landlord-tenant dispute. No one was injured in the dispute.