Crime

Pentagon Contractor Charged With Threatening to Kill Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson

Rep. Frederica Wilson
Rep. Frederica Wilson Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images
Miami is dealing with another round of political death threats. Last year, Miamian Cesar Sayoc infamously sent pipe bombs to a host of Democratic activists and lawmakers. Then, this past April, a Broward County man, John Kless, was arrested for leaving voicemails threatening to kill Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and Reps. Eric Swalwell, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. Kless later pleaded guilty.

Now, another man has been arrested — this time for allegedly threatening to kill Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson, who is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump's and a frequent target of right-wing hate. The Daily Beast first reported the news earlier today: Apparently, Darryl Albert Varnum of Maryland threatened to kill the congresswoman over mandatory vaccine legislation she was proposing.

This past July 5, federal prosecutors charged Varnum with "threatening an official" after he phoned an unspecified Florida congressional office June 26 and left a death threat on voicemail. Prosecutors say Varnum said the following:
I'm gonna kill your ass if you do that bill. I swear. I will fucking come down and kill your fucking ass. And you're a Congressperson; that is fine. I hope the fucking FBI, CIA, and everybody else hears this shit. If you're taking away my rights — this is the United States of America, bitch. Get the fuck out. I will come down there and personally fucking kill you. I am dead fucking serious. I wanna see you motherfuckers at my door if you're legit. That HR bill you just pushed through, ah, fuck you. I'll tell you what — I'll come down to Miami, bitch. I'll fuck you up. Like Cubans don't even know.
The legal complaint does not say which Miami congressperson received the threat, but the Daily Beast reported this morning that the call went to Wilson's office. Spokespeople for the congresswoman said they were not immediately able to speak with New Times this afternoon.

Varnum's rant was seemingly prompted by Wilson's Vaccinate All Children Act, a bill she introduced in May that requires public schools to vaccinate all of their students before the schools can receive federal funding. Prosecutors pointed out in court filings that, on Facebook, Varnum compared the Vaccinate All Children Act to the Holocaust. (Scientists confirm there is no link between vaccinations and autism or any other major disease; they say so-called "anti-vaxxers" are significant dangers to public health.)

An affidavit attached to Varnum's indictment notes he works for the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which is located in Fort Meade, Maryland. Prosecutors noted that his job gives him access to "sensitive information." Law enforcement officials also noted that in 2015, Varnum's wife called the police and reported he was having "behavioral issues," drinking heavily, and claiming "Taliban and ISIS fighters" were trying to break into his home. Varnum also owns a .45-caliber Ruger handgun. Court documents state he was arrested July 8.

Varnum also allegedly told Wilson, an African-American woman, to "get the fuck out" of America — a comment used mere weeks later by President Donald Trump, who told four congresswomen of color to "leave" the country if they "hate" it so much. (Three were born in the United States, and the fourth, Rep. Ilhan Omar, arrived here as a 10-year-old refugee and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.) Trump's defenders this week, including Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, have bent over backward to avoid admitting Trump's comments were clearly racist and dangerous. Last night, Trump held a rally in North Carolina, where supporters in the crowd chanted "Send her back!" in reference to Congresswoman Omar.

Trump's defenders have also repeatedly tried to claim the president's words don't incite acts of violence against his enemies. But his supporters have been arrested after threatening to kill both Omar and Wilson after the president criticized them. In 2017, Wilson alleged Trump had been rude to the family of La David Johnson, the Miami-born army sergeant who died in an ambush in Niger. Wilson said she received a raft of death threats and racist messages from Trump supporters. She left Washington in October 2017 due to threats to her safety but returned the following month.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.