A New York man was sentenced to 30 months in prison by a federal judge on Wednesday after he admitted to mailing threats to shoot, bomb, or otherwise attack LGBTQ groups and Pride Month events.
Robert Fehring, 74, was arrested in December and subsequently pleaded guilty in February as part of a deal with prosecutors to one count of mailing threatening communications. For eight years, the retired high school teacher had sent at least 60 anonymous letters to individuals and government officials in which he threatened to kill LGBTQ people.
“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 a sentencing memo. “It is now time for the defendant to face the consequences of his hate-filled conduct.”
Beginning in 2013, Fehring began typing and mailing the threatening letters to people on Long Island and Manhattan. In one, he suggested a Pride parade in the town of Huntington would meet the same fate as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. In others, he threatened to plant explosives on a ferry taking people to Fire Island or to bomb establishments that hosted Pride events.
In 2021, he mailed threats to the owners of New York City’s Stonewall Inn, the bar that served as the cradle of the LGBTQ rights movement. “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!!”
He also said he would plant remote-controlled explosives along the parade route for the city’s Pride parade. “THIS WILL MAKE THE 2016 ORLANDO PULSE NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING LOOK LIKE A CAKEWALK,” he wrote.
When FBI agents searched Fehring’s home in November, they discovered copies of the letters, 20 pride flags that had been stolen from the Long Island town of Sayville, two loaded shotguns, nearly 400 rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope containing the remains of a dead bird he had intended to send an attorney who had worked on LGBTQ civil rights cases.
Investigators also discovered photographs Fehring had taken at Pride parades in New York City and at Eisenhower Park, which they described as “reconnaissance” he had carried out “to further terrify victims.” In at least one instance, he sent photographs to the CEO of an LGBTQ rights group to prove he’d been at the Eisenhower Park event but had not been able to “get a shot off.”
“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.”
Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Fehring to at least 51 months in prison, while his defense team had requested he only receive probation.
His attorneys had argued that some of his behavior might be explained by his being sexually assaulted by a male cousin when he was a child. They also said he had a wide list of physical and mental health issues that would make incarceration difficult at his age.
Six of Fehring's victims spoke at this sentencing hearing on Wednesday to describe the impact of his threats, including three officials with the Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce, two owners of the Stonewall Inn, and gay activist David Kilmnick with the LGBT Network.
In a statement to the court, Kilmnick described the threatening and hate-filled letters he received from Fehring over 10 years and how they impacted his life.
"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," he said. "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."
Fehring is required to surrender to prison by Sept. 2.
"Today’s sentence makes clear that threats to kill and commit acts of violence against the LGBTQ+ community will be met with significant punishment,” said Breon Peace, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.