A Florida man has been arrested for allegedly threatening to kill supporters of President Donald Trump and politicians who are allies of the president.
Police arrested Richard Szala, from Clearwater, a suburb of Tampa. Szala, a registered Democrat, reportedly threatened to kill seven prominent Republican politicians who are Trump allies, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), and Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Szala, 61, also allegedly threatened to kill Trump supporters, including his neighbor.
“We were going to plant signs and what have you, but I thought, you know what, in this environment, maybe not a good idea … and now, oh my God,” Szala’s neighbor John Clayton, a Trump supporter, told WFLA-TV. “No clue. Cause you have no idea who your neighbors are.”
Szala reportedly made online threats against the GOP politicians and Trump supporters on YouTube, according to Clearwater police.
Someone tipped off the Florida Fusion Center about the online threats early Wednesday morning, according to officials. The Florida Fusion Center says it “protects citizens, visitors, resources, and critical infrastructure of Florida by enhancing information sharing, intelligence, capabilities, and preparedness operations for all local, state, and federal agencies in accordance with Florida’s Domestic Security Strategy.”
Law enforcement did a search of the IP address, which led to Szala’s address in Clearwater.
“We got a credible tip from an information intelligence gather source about him posting threatening comments on YouTube,” Clearwater Lt. Michael Walek told WTVT. “His comments were directed to the Republican party, specific people in the Republican party. … He was threatening to shoot them.”
Szala allegedly claimed he was making empty threats and did not intend to carry out any politically inspired violence against Trump supporters.
“He admitted to making the statements out of anger and just shouldn’t have said it, didn’t mean it, but he still said it,” Walek added. “Anytime somebody threatens to shoot somebody and kill somebody because he’s upset with them, it’s inappropriate and not going to be tolerated.
“We take all written threats seriously. It doesn’t matter if it’s a political rant, a school, a neighbor, a friend…anytime you threaten somebody, we can establish probable cause you’re going to jail,” Walek said. “We don’t know if you’re joking. We don’t know what your actions are going to be.”
On Wednesday, Clearwater police went to Szala’s home after learning of the threats. Authorities seized his gun, phone, and computer. Szala was arrested and charged with making a false report concerning the use of a firearm in a violent manner. The arrest happened hours after the 2020 presidential election results started to roll in.
The investigation involved Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the FBI, and the Secret Service.
Szala was charged with harassment by phone in Illinois in 1989, according to public records.
A Clearwater man has been arrested after being accused of making online threats to kill President Trump supporters, prominent Republican politicians and his neighbor, according to police. https://t.co/iDNfVFvnG0 pic.twitter.com/ZRMrjQBIjT
— Spectrum Bay News 9 (@BN9) November 5, 2020