A white man pleaded guilty Thursday to making racist online threats against a black activist in Virginia to deter him from running for office in a city where violence erupted during a white nationalist rally nearly three years ago.
Daniel McMahon, 31, of Brandon, Florida, also pleaded guilty to threatening a second victim over Facebook, a new offense that authorities learned of after his arrest and wasn’t included in his indictment last year.
McMahon faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of cyberstalking and bias-motivated interference with a candidate for elective office. U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon is scheduled to sentence McMahon on July 23.
McMahon had a trial scheduled to start on June 15 at the federal courthouse in Charlottesville, Virginia.
McMahon was charged last August with posting social media messages intended to intimidate activist Don Gathers and interfere with Gathers’ plans to run for a seat on Charlottesville’s city council. An indictment says McMahon expressed white supremacist views on his social media accounts.
Gathers, 61, said he learned about McMahon’s threats from the FBI on the same day in January 2019 when he planned to announce his candidacy at a press conference. Instead, feeling alarmed and uneasy, he announced he wouldn’t be running. Gathers said he didn’t want to put any of his family members or supporters in any danger.
“You just can’t be watchful and protective of everyone 24 hours a day, so it very much leaves you on edge and makes you rethink some things,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Gathers called in to hear McMahon plead guilty by video conference. “Ï can’t say it moved my emotions one way or the other. It’s just bothersome that this is something we’re still dealing with in 2020,” he said.
McMahon used a Facebook account to cyberstalk a second victim and attempt to extort information from her about her fellow activists, who countered white nationalist rallies in their community, according to prosecutors. He also threatened to sexually assault her daughter, an autistic child, the Justice Department said in a news release.
During a hearing last year in Tampa, Florida, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson concluded McMahon posed a danger to the community and ordered him detained without bail. The judge cited McMahon’s apparent mental instability, access to firearms and social media posts in which he celebrated hate-fueled mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Charleston, South Carolina.
“He’s cheering on the mass shooters. That is what really bothers me,” Wilson said, according to a hearing transcript.
McMahon was unemployed and living with his father and mother when authorities arrested him last September. His mother, Roberta Ann Bartish, told investigators that her son didn’t like blacks, Jews or gay people and exhibited some of the same characteristics of mass shooters, testified Siobhan Maseda, a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office detective.
Others have accused McMahon of bombarding them with hateful, threatening messages through online aliases, including “Jack Corbin.” McMahon identified himself as Jack Corbin when FBI agents interviewed him, a federal prosecutor, Carlton Gammons, said during the hearing in Florida.
Gammons said McMahon, using a racist slur, accused Gathers of “attacking” a white supremacist group member who later pleaded guilty to attacking counterprotesters at the Unite the Right white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
“I will do everything in my power to stop him from getting elected for his attack on my people and I do mean everything,” McMahon wrote under his Jack Corbin alias, according to Gammons.
In another post, McMahon wrote, “Activism against Don Gathers with a diversity of tactics must be used to stop his candidacy.” The prosecutor said McMahon’s repeated use of phrase “diversity of tactics” meant using physical violence against Gathers.
“I think it’s clear based on his rhetoric on these posts that he’s willing to engage in acts of violence and he often encourages others to engage in acts of violence,” Gammons said.
McMahon had thousands of followers across his social media accounts. McMahon was “in touch” with Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers before the October 2018 massacre that killed 11 congregants, but there is no evidence that McMahon was in any way involved in the deadly rampage, Gammons said during the hearing without elaborating.