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Calif. man charged with making threatening calls to Globe

Mark RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Robert Chain left the Los Angeles courthouse after being released on bail on Thursday. His wife, attorney Betsy Staszek Chain, is by his side.

By Milton Valencia and John R. Ellement Globe Staff 

A California man was charged Thursday with threatening to shoot and kill Boston Globe journalists, calling them “the enemy of the people,” in response to the newspaper’s nationwide editorial campaign denouncing President Trump’s political attacks against the press.

Robert Darrell Chain, 68, was arrested at dawn in his home in Encino, Calif., by an FBI SWAT team armed with military-style weapons and what neighbors believe were flash-bang grenades. Authorities said they found 20 firearms in the home, including a semiautomatic rifle purchased in May.

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Chain made a brief appearance Thursday afternoon in a federal court in Los Angeles. He was released on $50,000 bond, and is slated to appear in a federal court in Boston on Sept. 24 to face a single charge of making a threatening communication in interstate commerce. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. It was not immediately clear if he would face additional charges related to the weapons.

Speaking to reporters outside federal court Thursday, Chain said “there’s no free press in America.”

“Yeah, I’m making a statement,” he said to reporters who had gathered as he left the courthouse. “The United States got saved by having Donald J. Trump elected as president. Now take a hike, you bozos.”

Federal prosecutors said that Chain made 14 calls to the Globe’s main newsroom number between Aug. 10 and 22 after the newspaper’s editorial page called on media outlets to unite in opposition to Trump’s angry rhetoric against the press, including repeated references to reporters as “the enemy of the people.”

Authorities said the calls were “profane, lewd, and peppered with antigay slurs.”

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“Anyone — regardless of political affiliation — who puts others in fear for their lives will be prosecuted by this office,” said Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Massachusetts. “In a time of increasing political polarization, and amid the increasing incidence of mass shootings, members of the public must police their own political rhetoric. Or we will.”

Lelling, a Trump administration appointee, said law enforcement officials take threats of violence seriously. In the past few months, local prosecutors have charged people with threatening to bomb a black commencement event at Harvard University, threatening to shoot people at a Second Amendment rally, and offering to pay $500 to anyone who killed an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.

“Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but threatening to kill people takes it over the line and will not be tolerated,” said Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office.

The threats came less than two months after a Maryland man shot and killed five employees at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, although there was no suggestion that the suspect in that case was motivated by Trump’s rhetoric.

Matt Sayles for The Boston Globe

Investigators were seen in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles at the home of Robert Darrell Chain, who allegedly threatened to kill Boston Globe employees.

In a court affidavit filed in support of the charge against Chain, FBI agent Thomas M. Dalton wrote that “Boston Globe employees reported feeling threatened and scared” after the threats were called in. The newspaper reported the threats to law enforcement and brought in a private firm to bolster security. After one of the threats, made the day the newspaper ran its coordinated response to Trump’s attacks, Boston police officers patrolled the lobby of the Globe’s downtown office building.

In a memo to staff Thursday, Globe spokeswoman Jane Bowman thanked authorities.

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“We are grateful to the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office, the Boston Police, and local authorities in California for the work they did in protecting the Globe while threats were coming in, for investigating the source, and for making this arrest. We couldn’t have asked for a stronger response.

“While it was unsettling for many of our staffers to be threatened in such a way, nobody — really, nobody — let it get in the way of the important work of this institution,” she said.

Before Chain’s arrest was announced, Trump continued his attacks against the media Thursday on Twitter, calling it dishonest and the “Enemy of the People!”

Chain’s alleged threats began Aug. 10, after the newspaper’s editorial page first called on news outlets nationwide to use their opinion pages to support the free press. Authorities determined that all of the threats, some of which were recorded, were made by the same caller.

In one of the calls, on Aug. 13, the caller threatened, “We are going to shoot you [expletives] in the head . . . shoot every [expletive] one of you,” court papers said.

On Aug. 16, the day the Globe and hundreds of newspapers published editorials in support of the free press, the caller again threatened, “You’re the enemy of the people, and we’re going to kill every [expletive] one of you.”

The caller made a reference to Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is leading an independent investigation into the Trump political campaign team’s connections to Russian authorities, and threatened that he was “going to shoot you in the [expletive] head later today, at 4 o’clock.”

The initial 12 calls were listed on caller identification logs as “blocked.” Authorities later determined the calls were made by a landline registered to Chain at his home.

Chain then allegedly made two more calls using his wife’s cellphone. His wife, Betty, an attorney, did not return a call for comment.

In one of the final calls, on Aug. 22, a Globe employee asked the caller why he was calling. Chain allegedly replied, “Because you are the enemy of the people . . . as long as you keep attacking the president, the duly elected president of the United States, in the continuation of your treasonous and seditious acts, I will continue to threat, harass, and annoy the Boston Globe.”

KABC-TV Los Angeles

A video screengrab shows the home of Robert Darrell Chain.

Chain did not appear to have a criminal record. He was named as a defendant in a civil personal injury case, but the case was dismissed.

One of Chain’s neighbors in California, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid any political backlash, said she was shocked by the allegations. She knew Chain as friendly, saying he liked to garden and was known to feed stray cats in the neighborhood.

“The person I know is the one who helps you, watches to see if everyone is OK,” she said, describing a recent incident in which Chain knocked on her door to remind her to move her car before street cleaners arrived.

Chain lived with his wife and appeared to be retired, she said. He had a heart condition, but often took walks through the neighborhood.

They never talked politics, she said, and she did not know he had guns.

“He has been really helpful to us,” she said. “I’m in shock right now.”

Chain, who had graying hair and wore a ponytail, said in court records related to a student loan debt that he had suffered a heart attack and has not worked for two decades.

But Pamela Meyer, another neighbor, said Chain was prone to angry outbursts that made her uncomfortable. Several years ago, he confronted a neighbor who was having a party because one of the guests parked in front of his driveway, Meyer said. The neighbor had to restrain Chain by pinning him to the ground, and police were called.

Meyer said she could sometimes hear him through the window screaming at the television over news reports and sports. When Trump won the presidential election, Chain shouted in celebration, she recalled.

“He rants,” she said. “He’ll just shout things out, whatever is upsetting him.”

Meyer said Chain never tried to push his politics on other people, but was opinionated.

“He just has a trigger, whatever is on his mind at the moment,” she said. “I think he was a person prone to excesses.”

“I’ve always wondered if there was something a little not-right with him,” she added.

Chain had some legal problems in the past. He was ordered to pay around $22,000 in 2014 to the federal government for failing to pay off his student loans dating back to the 1980s, according to records filed in federal court in California.

He and his wife filed for bankruptcy protection three times in the late 1990s, according to court records.

She also filed for divorce but did not follow through with the request.


Travis Andersen and Jerry Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia