*trigger warning: story features language some readers may find distressing*
Retired teacher jailed for years of violent hate mail threats, containing homophobia, racism, bomb threats and other menacing imagery.
The FBI found an arsenal of weaponry along with some disturbing personal items upon searching his home last year
A retired New York high school teacher has been sentenced (August 3) to 30 months in prison by a federal judge after he admitted to mailing dozens of hate mail threats targeting queer people and groups, many of which contained threats of violence, dating back as far as 2013.
Robert Fehring, 74, of Bayport, was arrested last December and pleaded guilty in February to mailing threatening communications through the postal service, having sent 65 anonymous letters targeting the LGBTQ+ community over a span of eight years, federal prosecutors said.
Starting 2013, Fehring began typing and posting violent letters to people on Long Island and Manhattan. In one, suggesting a Huntingdon Pride parade could see the same outcome as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. In others, threatening to plant explosives on a ferry taking people to Fire Island, a popular queer holiday spot, or to bomb venues that hosted Pride events.
In the 2018 note to a Fire Island ferry service, he suggested operators “screen everyone coming on board with a metal detector” and that “a thorough search of your boats would be in order,” a Department of Justice press release said.
Buzzfeed News reports that, as recently as 2021, Fehring posted threats to the proprietors of NYC’s famous Stonewall Inn, a venue central to the Gay Liberation Movement during the 1969 Stonewall Riots:
“ALL OF YOU SHOULD BE SHOT, HUNG, EXTERMINATED,” he wrote. “WE WILL BLOW UP/BURN YOUR ESTABLISHMENTS DOWN. WE WILL SHOOT THOSE WHO FREQUENT YOUR DENS OF FILTH, SHIT, SCUM AND PERVERSION . . . JUST A MATTER OF TIME. PLEASE . . . CATCH AIDS AND DIE . . . JUST FUCKING DIE!!”
Fehring also made threats to plant remote-controlled explosives along the parade route for the city’s 2021 Pride parade, terrifyingly adding: “THIS WILL MAKE THE 2016 ORLANDO PULSE NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING LOOK LIKE A CAKEWALK”.
Other messages threatened to kill, shoot and bomb LGBTQ affiliated businesses and individuals, including an African American-owned barbershop in Brooklyn that Fehring wrote in one letter “is the perfect place for a bombing.”
The hateful letter was singed “People Who Hate Gays … and In Particular [n-word] Gays,” officials said.
Fehring also used doctored newspapers to send threatening letters, including a 2021 note addressed to the LGBTQ+ CEO at Newsday. The letter contained photographs of a local Pride event, captioned, “ONLY 350 UNNATURAL PERVERTS LESBOS & F****TS SHOW UP!!”
Fehring himself admitted to marking each letter’s envelope with a “confidential stamp” to enforce their importance and ensure they were were taken seriously by recipients.
New York Daily News reports that when FBI agents searched Fehring’s home in November they found photos of a June 2021 Pride event in Long Island, along with weaponry including two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, an American flag-patterned machete, and a stamped envelope addressed to an attorney involved in LGBTQ causes containing the remains of a dead bird.
On at least one occasion, per Buzfeed News, he sent photographs to the CEO of an LGBTQ rights group to prove he’d been at the Eisenhower Park event but had been unable to “get a shot off.”
Prosecutors petitioned the judge to sentence Fehring to at least 51 months in prison, while his defense team requested he only receive probation for his crimes. The defence claimed that some of his actions might be explained him having been sexually assaulted by a male cousin when he was a child and also argued that he should avoid time behind bars on the basis of physical and mental health issues that would make incarceration difficult at his age.
“The fact that the defendant sent his threats and then appeared at the above-described locations while he was the owner of multiple firearms and ammunition is particularly serious,” prosecutors said. “He did not merely make threats but took steps to enhance the seriousness of the threats that he made.”
Six of Fehring’s victims – including three officials with the Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce, two owners of the Stonewall Inn, and activist David Kilmnick with the LGBT Network – spoke at the sentencing hearing on Wednesday (August 3) to describe what it was like to be on the receiving end of such violent and menacing anonymous threats.
David Kilmnick, with the LGBT Network, said: “Once you have been targeted because of who you are, it changes you. You have no luxury of safety – even doing the most mundane daily chores,”
Adding, “From the first time I received one of his ‘anonymous’ letters [threatening] my life due to being an LGBT ‘advocate’ and fighting for the rights and safety for our community, I no longer felt safe going to get the mail, taking out the garbage and even starting my car each day.”
He was sentenced to 30 months and is now required to surrender to prison by September 2.
“The defendant has a First Amendment right to hold bigoted beliefs; he does not have a right to threaten people based on his bigoted beliefs,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing notes. “It is now time for the defendant to face the consequences of his hate-filled conduct.”
In a statement on the day on sentencing, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said, “Today’s sentence makes clear that threats to kill and commit acts of violence against the LGBTQ+ community will be met with significant punishment.”
While Fehring’s legal team said via Email, “We are disappointed in the length of the sentence, but Mr. Fehring is happy to be putting this nightmare behind him,”
“He is deeply remorseful for what occurred, and looks forward to living quietly with his family once he has served his sentence.”
Robert Fehring sent this in May 2021 and it took the FBI 7 MONTHS to indict him after he incriminated himself after waiving his Miranda Rights. It’s a miracle there haven’t been more attacks on LGBTQ folks with investigations taking this long. pic.twitter.com/ZXyMj46Gg8
— Alejandra Caraballo (@Esqueer_) December 6, 2021