A man who made social media threats to kill Jews and school children has been released from custody in Montana pending trial in November, while his case is drawing attraction from at least one long-time racist.
David Joseph Lenio, 29, was arrested by FBI agents and local police at a ski resort near Kalispell, Mont., on Feb. 16 after posting a series of threats on Twitter that were captured by Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Hutson provided information that led to Lenio’s arrest on a day when schools were closed.
Long-time racist and Aryan Nations leader Karl Gharst erroneously claimed in a recent Internet posting that Lenio is being prosecuted for making Holocaust denial statements.
But court documents suggest Lenio isn't being prosecuted for denying that 6 million Jews were killed by Hitler's regime in World War II, but for advocating violence against Jews, and justifying it in Tweets that Jews were behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Gharst, who lives in northwestern Montana, has personal experience with being arrested for making threats. The former “staff leader” of the Aryan Nations and one-time political candidate was arrested in 2004 and later sent to prison for threatening to kill a Child Protective Services caseworker in Montana.
Back out of prison in 2011, he threatened to charge members of the Montana Human Rights Network with crimes by convening his own “citizen grand jury.” He also used a public library in Kalispell to show Holocaust-denying films and others praising Adolf Hitler.
Coming to Lenio’s defense, Gharst claimed he met the accused Twitter threat-maker, presumably in jail, describing him as “good and sincere.”
The itinerant cook and snowboarder, who left his Michigan home in 2009, was charged in Flathead County District Court with felony counts of intimidation and criminal defamation for Twitter posts. A search of his apartment and vehicle turned up a Russian-made bolt-action rifle, a 9mm semi-automatic rifle, ammunition for weapons, a .32 caliber handgun and several jugs of urine.
In addition to claiming the Holocaust was a hoax, Lenio made anti-Semitic comments, claiming he wanted to shoot a rabbi in the head, gun down 100 schoolchildren and engage in a killing rampage until the “cops take me out.”
After his arrest, the former high school track competitor confessed to sending the Twitter posts, claiming he was trying to bring attention to social issues, including low-paying salaries for cooks like himself. Some of his supporters suggest he should push forward with a free-speech defense.
At a court hearing last month in Kalispell, Lenio was released to the custody of his father and returned to the family home in Grand Rapids, Mich., until he stands trial. As a condition of his release, District Judge Heidi J. Ulbricht ordered Lenio to undergo a mental health evaluation and banned him from using or posting on social media sites.