A California man has been sentenced to six months of home confinement for leaving a voicemail in which he threatened to kill Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in early 2021.
It was not the first time 59-year-old Eugene Huelsman, who is from Thousand Oaks in California, made threats of violence, when he called Gaetz’s district office in Pensacola on Jan. 9, 2021, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
U.S. Attorney Jason Coody for the Northern District of Florida gave a warning to those who think that free speech might extend to death threats.
While free speech is central to democracy, Coody said Huelsman’s threat via phone to kill Gaetz was “clearly unlawful,” particularly given he had been investigated for similar threats of violence.
“With our law enforcement partners, we are committed to protecting public safety for all citizens,” Coody said in a statement. “Today’s sentence acknowledges the defendant’s repeated threats of violence and should serve as a significant deterrent to those who would threaten violence against others rather than engage in lawful debate.”
At the hearing, Huelsman pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced on one count of transmission of a threat in interstate commerce. The DOJ said that when no one answered the call, Huelsman left the expletive-laden threat as a voicemail.
The death threat came just days after the event at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, during the certification of the 2020 general elections.
“Tell [M.G.] to watch his back, tell him to watch his children,” Huelsman said, according to an indictment (pdf) in which Gaetz was referred to as “M.G.”
“I’m coming for him … I’m gonna [expletive] kill him. I’m gonna put a bullet in you and I’m gonna put a bullet in one of your [expletive] kids too.”
In October 2021, Gaetz said on Twitter that Huelsman was a longtime camera operator for CNN, ABC, NBC, and others.
“I’m glad that prosecutors in the Northern District of Florida take death threats against me and my family seriously. I wish that were an ethic across the [Department of Justice] enterprise,” Gaetz’s office told local media at the time.
Gaetz’s office contacted U.S. Capitol Police when the threat was made, triggering security protocols around the congressman.
The Thousand Oaks resident’s case was investigated by U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Goldberg.
Not the First Time
An investigation revealed that Huelsman had made threats to other political figures.
The U.S. Secret Service investigated Huelsman for threatening a member of a former president’s family on social media.
The sentencing should serve as a warning to others that “words matter,” said Sherri Onks, the special agent in charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division.
“Everyone has the right to express their opinion, but when you harass, intimidate, and threaten violence against others, it’s a federal crime that will not be tolerated. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will work to hold you accountable.”
The DOJ said that Huelsman’s six-month home confinement will be followed by five years of probation and a $10,000 fine.