A West Virginia man has pleaded guilty to making death threats against Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and his family, and against other federal health officials, including former NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, MD.
Thomas Patrick Connally, Jr., 56, sent an email to Fauci threatening that he and his family would be “dragged into the street, beaten to death, and set on fire,” according to a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Connally sent federal officials threatening emails from Dec. 28, 2020 until July 25, 2021, according to the plea agreement. He used an anonymous email account from a secure encrypted email provider based in Switzerland to send the emails, according to DOJ.
In one instance, Connally sent Fauci seven threatening emails starting at 10:05 p.m. on April 24, 2021 alone. That same evening, starting at 9:34 p.m., he sent Collins four emails threatening him and his family with physical assault and death if he didn’t stop talking about mandating vaccines, the DOJ said.
Connally had previously sent six emails threatening physical violence and death to Levine, who was then the Secretary for Health in Pennsylvania, on Nov. 24, 2020.
He had also sent emails threatening physical violence and death to a Massachusetts public health official, and to four employees of a religious institution in Newark, New Jersey, threatening death to its leader, according to DOJ.
The threats were made at a difficult time for public health officials, who were facing harassment and threats of violence for promoting public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Some 200 public health officials reportedly left their jobs by the middle of 2021 over the threats and harassment, MedPage Today previously reported.
“People [are] coming to protest at my home, [there are] letters written in the paper, [and they are sending] emails that are way outside the norm of what we could consider normal discourse and differences of opinion,” a public health official from Santa Clara, California, said at the time.
A 2021 National Geographic documentary on Fauci showed how the NIAID director required security detail even if he simply went for a walk with his wife. The opening scene showed him being driven to a work meeting and telling someone on his cellphone that security was trying to get him into the right entrance: “This is a whole new life, you know,” he said.
Connally admitted to emailing the threats with the intention of intimidating or interfering with Fauci’s and Collins’s performance of their official duties, and with the intention of retaliating against Fauci and Collins for performing their official duties, including discussing COVID-19, according to the DOJ release.
Last July, officers seized five Apple laptops and two cellphones of Connally’s, and an investigation confirmed that the anonymous encrypted email account was associated with Connally, DOJ said.
Connally faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for threats against a federal official, and his sentencing is scheduled for August 4.