The Justice Department announced today that Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, pleaded guilty to a hate crime in the Middle District of Florida for calling two mosques located in Pinellas County, Florida, and threatening to firebomb the mosques and shoot their congregants.
Schnitzler pleaded guilty to obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs for making the violent threats. As part of his plea, he admitted that on Nov. 13, 2015, he intentionally obstructed members of the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County from practicing their religion when he left voicemail messages threatening the safety of the mosques’ congregants. Schnitzler admitted that his threats were prompted by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Among other things, Schnitzler also admitted that in one of the voicemails he threatened to “personally have a militia” report to one of the mosques and “firebomb you, shoot whoever is there on sight in the head. I don’t care if they’re [expletive] two years old or a hundred.”
As a result of the above threats, both mosques requested increased law-enforcement presence at their locations and took extra safety precautions for congregants.
“Our Constitution and laws guarantee all people – regardless of where they worship – the right to live free from violence and discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Criminal threats of violence against people or places of worship have no place in our society, and as proven today, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit religion-based hate crimes.”
“The right to worship as one chooses, free from threats and intimidation, is one of the core principles upon which our great nation was founded,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to taking whatever action is necessary to vindicate this important First Amendment right.”
Sentencing for the defendant will be scheduled at a later date. Schnitzler faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
The FBI is investigating the case with the assistance of the St. Petersburg Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel George and Daniel Irick of the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorney Gabriel Davis of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.