Monday, May 9, 2016
The Justice Department announced today that Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison for calling two mosques in Pinellas County, Florida, and threatening to firebomb them and shoot their worshippers.
Schnitzler pleaded guilty on Feb. 12, 2016, to obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs for issuing the threats. He was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore of the Middle District of Florida.
As part of his plea, Schnitzler admitted that on Nov. 13, 2015, he intentionally obstructed members of the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County from practicing their religion when he left voicemail messages threatening the safety of the mosques’ congregants. Schnitzler claimed that his threats were prompted by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Among other things, Schnitzler also admitted that in one of the voicemails he threatened to “personally have a militia” report to one of the mosques and “firebomb you, shoot whoever is there on sight in the head. I don’t care if they’re [expletive] two years old or a hundred.”
In response to the threats, both mosques requested increased law-enforcement presence at their locations and took extra safety precautions for congregants.
“Criminal threats of violence that target people and communities because of their religious beliefs threaten the core values that define a fair and just society – equal protection and mutual respect for all,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “When individuals commit religion-based hate crimes, we will hold them accountable for their actions and ensure they face justice.”
“This prosecution sends a clear message to anyone who contemplates the use of threats or intimidation to interfere with the right of individuals to worship as they choose, without fear,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect this important First Amendment right.”
The FBI investigated the case with the assistance of the St. Petersburg Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel George and Daniel Irick of the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorney Gabriel Davis of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.
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