A Missouri man pleaded guilty this week to threatening to “behead” Muslims at a Georgia mosque and faces up to 20 years behind bars for each of three hate-crime charges.
Preston Q. Howard, 49, of Wright City, Mo., was indicted in December on 10 counts of interstate communication with intent to threaten to injure. On Monday, he enter guilty pleas to three charges of obstruction of persons in the free exercise of religious belief.
The hefty penalty without the possibility of parole for each count includes a sentencing enhancement because he chose his victims based on their religion, classifying his actions as hate crimes, the Justice Department said.
“Not only did this defendant violate the mosque members’ right to exercise their religious beliefs, his threats caused them to live in fear for their safety and lives,” said David J. LeValley, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta.
Between June 22, 2017, and Aug. 8, 2017, Howard made “numerous” telephone calls to the Islamic Society of Augusta, Ga., the DOJ said, in which he threatened to “kill,” “bomb,” “shoot,” “behead,” “slaughter,” “execute,” “light on fire,” and “murder” members of the mosque, to “hunt down” and “zone in” on Muslims, and to “blow up the mosque.”
Howard remains in federal custody pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine for the Southern District of Georgia promised that “those who perpetrate hate crimes by making abhorrent and venomous threats against members of our community in violation of federal law will be held accountable.”
“We continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and bring to justice those who terrorize our citizens,” Christine said.
According to audio of the voicemails posted by CAIR Georgia, Howard said in part, “We are actually gonna come to your mosques and f*cking blow the heads off of the people that are in your mosques and f*cking kill you and shoot everybody in your mosques as a mass slaughter. So either way, you sand n*ggers are going to get out of my country…just so you know. And if you think I’m joking, it’s going to happen. In fact, I know where you live at… The white people of America are going to kill you out of this country.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division said that “Howard’s threatening and hateful calls were criminal and unlawful” and vowed the DOJ “will continue to hold anyone who commits hate crimes accountable under the law.”