Manhattan man charged with threatening lawmakers, cable news personalities
NEW YORK - A Manhattan man threatened to kill a governor, current and former members of Congress and several cable news personalities, targeting them via live Instagram videos and private Facebook messages, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Rickey Johnson, 47, who also goes by Nigel Dawn Defarren, was arrested Thursday night and made his initial court appearance Friday. He is charged with making threatening interstate communications and threatening United States officials. A judge ordered that he remain detained.
A criminal complaint detailing the allegations does not identify the lawmakers or their political affiliations, nor the news networks that employ the broadcasters. It refers to the victims only by job titles, including a former House-speaker, a sitting governor, and a current U.S. senator and U.S. representative. None holds office in New York, the complaint says.
A spokesman for the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the targets of Johnson's alleged threats.
The arrest comes amid an alarming rise in politically charged threats aimed at public officials and members of the news media - and just weeks after a mob of rioters, many who've said they were inspired by then-President Donald Trump, breached the U.S. Capitol in a failed bid to block the certification of President Biden's election victory. The attack resulted in five deaths, including that of a Capitol Police officer. Two other officers died by suicide after the assault, which left numerous law enforcement personnel seriously injured.
It was not clear from Johnson's criminal complaint whether he is affiliated with a political party or another movement, although it says that in one Instagram video he asserted "Donald Trump supporters kill police officers."
Johnson, according to the complaint, referred to his victims as "domestic terrorists" and, in addressing one of the broadcasters specifically, "an enemy to the American society." He spoke of executing the governor "in the name of the United States Constitution," the complaint says, noting too that, in a video made Feb. 4 and targeting one of the media personalities, Johnson allegedly said: "I want this white woman dead. . . . I am going to kill you with my bare hands."
His court-appointed attorney Zawadi Baharanyi told the judge that Johnson is a military veteran, having served in the 1990s. Prosecutor Patrick Moroney said Johnson had been working as a food-delivery messenger and rode his bike around the city "including to the building where many of the victims work."
In one of his Instagram videos, Johnson referred to the Lower Manhattan neighborhood where one of the broadcasters lives and described an encounter Johnson took to be a slight, though authorities did not say whether there is evidence such an encounter occurred. Johnson was seen "taking the subway with his bike to that downtown neighborhood and then riding around," Moroney said.
"Law enforcement has been in touch with several of the victims and they're scared," he added.
Baharanyi said there was "no indication or reason for us to believe that he is intending to or would carry out these threats."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein denied Johnson's release citing his significant criminal record and what he called "very serious" threats.
Johnson previously spent five years in prison on drug charges, according to prosecutors, who told the court he has multiple prior arrests including for suspicion of burglary and stalking, plus open warrants in Alabama and Georgia.
The U.S. attorney's office credited detectives with the New York Police Department's Intelligence Bureau with helping to identify Johnson. In the complaint, officials said the NYPD was able to track the IP address used in making the posts to an address Johnson recently used.