NYC man charged with threatening to kill politicians, media figures

A New York City food delivery worker could be imprisoned for years after being charged with threatening past and present political figures and Fox News personalities was ordered held without bail Friday after a prosecutor cited the man's criminal history and his "direct and unambiguous" threats.

Rickey Johnson, also known as "Nigel Dawn Defarren," was arrested Thursday night after allegedly posting public videos on Instagram in which he threatened to kill a United States Senator, a member of the United States House of Representatives, other current and former elected officials, and several cable news broadcasters.

"Rickey Johnson allegedly threatened to kill several cable news broadcasters and current and former U.S. Senators and members of the House in rage-fueled posts on Instagram and in chilling private messages," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. "Among the many great freedoms Americans enjoy is the right to engage in political discourse, and disagreements are natural and healthy; but when invective metastasizes into threats of harm or even death, law enforcement will act swiftly to bring the person responsible to justice."

According to court papers, Johnson on Jan. 30 sent a private message to a cable news broadcaster saying: "you will all be held accountable . . . you will be killed."

The targets of the threats were not identified in court papers, but two law enforcement officials identified some of them as Fox News personalities and Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a frequent Fox commentator. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about alleged victims.

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A criminal complaint said Johnson in one video posted online attacked supporters of former President Donald Trump, saying they kill police officers.

The criminal complaint said Johnson's messages threatened by name two additional broadcasters, and it added that Johnson posted public messages on Feb. 3 in which he said he intended to kill two of the same broadcasters.

A day later, according to the complaint, Johnson posted public messages threatening, among others, a U.S. senator, a member of Congress, a former House speaker and a governor.

It said Johnson declared that the senator was "dead" and would be "executed," that Johnson was "going to kill" the member of Congress, and that the governor "will be executed" and "will be killed."

Another public post, the complaint said, was directed principally at the former House speaker, saying: "I am going to kill you. I’m gonna kill all of you."

"Rickey Johnson, as alleged in this federal complaint, took aim at the foundations of our shared democracy and way of life, threatening not only elected United States officials but several working journalists," said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. "From the earliest stages of this investigation, the NYPD Intelligence Bureau and our partners in the United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York worked closely to make sure this individual would be brought to justice."

Johnson's court-appointed attorney, Zawadi Baharanyi, said her client was a U.S. military veteran who deserved bail, especially because he would be vulnerable to an outbreak of the coronavirus in New York City's federal lockups.

"These allegations certainly are concerning," she said, but the window of the online posts — Jan. 30 through Feb. 4 — was "a pretty narrow time frame" and the threats seemed to be "isolated communications on an internet platform."

She noted there was no allegation that he'd gone to anyone's home or workplace.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Moroney said Johnson's internet postings, sent in a manner that made recipients sure to see them, were "more than just online rants."

He said Johnson referenced seeing one on-air personality in the downtown Manhattan neighborhood where the broadcaster resided. This week, the prosecutor added, police officers saw Johnson take his bicycle on a subway and ride through that neighborhood.

The broadcaster and his colleagues are afraid, Moroney said, because the food delivery company that employs Johnson delivers to the building where they work.

Fox News said through spokespersons that any information would have to be released by federal prosecutors. Prosecutors declined to identify alleged victims.

With the Associated Press.