WASHINGTON, D.C. — A California man from the Los Angeles suburb of Norwalk, who was arrested on June 29, 2018 on charges of threatening to kill the family of Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission(FCC), for Pai’s role in repealing regulations relating to net neutrality, was sentenced May 17 to more than one and a half years in prison by Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III.
“Threatening to actually kill a federal official’s family because of a disagreement over policy is not only inexcusable, it is criminal,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office prosecuted the case.
According to court documents, in December 2017, Markara Man, 33, sent three emails to Pai’s email accounts. The first email accused Pai of being responsible for a child who allegedly had committed suicide because of the repeal of net neutrality regulations. The second email listed three locations in or around Arlington and threatened to kill his family members. This mail with the subject line “Cheers,” according to the FBI, that had listed the three locations were the names and addresses of three pre-schools in and around Pai’s residence in Arlington.
According to the FBI affidavit, the mail had warned, “I will find your children and I will kill them.”
The third email had no message in its body, but included an image depicting Pai and, in the foreground and slightly out of focus, a framed photograph of Pai and his family.
The FBI traced the emails to Man’s residence in Norwalk, California, and when initially confronted in May 2018, Man admitted to the FBI that he sent the email threatening Pai’s family because he was “angry” about the repeal of the net neutrality regulations and wanted to “scare” Chairman Pai.”
Man had also told the FBI, the affidavit said that his been exacerbated because “they (the FCC) pretty much ignored, like 80 percent of comments…they ignored ‘us,’ and just didn’t care.”
He was apparently referring to the public comments the FCC had invited before deciding to go ahead with repealing net neutrality, which Pai has made clear he was against, from his comments while being in the private sector and as a commissioner at the FCC, in op-eds including the Wall Street Journal, even before President Trump appointed him as FCC chairman.
The FBI said Man had also provided them with a letter apologizing to Pai saying, “I’m sorry I made a threat against your kids. That was crossing the line.”
But in this letter he had also expressed the hope “you’ll change your mind (on repealing net neutrality) …but I doubt it…Best Regards, Mark.”
The FBI affidavit said Man had also confirmed his use of an email alias, “Stubblemanliness@gmail.com,” allegedly because he believed the alias would make him seem “tougher.”
Man was charged with “threatening to murder a member of the immediate family of a U.S. official with the intent to intimidate or interfere with such official while engaged in the performance of official duties, or with the intent to retaliate against such official on account of the performance of official duties.”
The sentence of one-and-a-half years in prison, was a far cry of the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, Man could have faced according to the sentencing guidelines.
In January 2018, after his controversial decision, to dismantle the Obama administration’s net neutrality provisions, Pai installed cameras around his house and had gotten a security detail for himself and family as protests and threats continued over his action.
Pai at the time, also bailed on keynoting the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—the world’s biggest parley of the technology industry--in the wake of death threats.
In late 2017, before the action by Pai December 15 to dismantle net neutrality, he complained that protestors angry over his decision had started camping outside his home and harassing his family, including his kids, and wanted them to quit this because their intimidatory tactics had now reached a whole new level.
During an interview on Fox News's ‘Fox & Friends’ on November 27, Pai said that a sign had been put up outside his home that had his children’s name on it and contained a veiled threat that read, “They will come to know the truth. Dad murdered Democracy in cold blood.”
“It certainly crosses a line with me,” Pai said, and while acknowledging that “I understand that people are passionate about policy,” argued that “the one thing in America that should remain sacred is that families, wives and kids, should remain out of it.”
“And stop harassing us at our homes,” he told ‘Fox & Friends.’
“It was a little nerve-racking, especially for my wife,” Pai said, and blamed what he called misinformation and overstating of facts by activists and Democrats and Internet companies as being responsible for the harassment.
Telecom giants like AT & T, Comcast and Verizon--where Pai worked during a previous incarnation in the private sector-- hailed Pai’s action to dismantle net neutrality, while Internet titans like Amazon and Google and Facebook warned that the telecom companies would become as the New York Times described it, “powerful gatekeepers to information and entertainment.”
India American U.S. lawmakers—all Democrats—led by Ro Khanna of California, who represents Silicon Valley—also joined other Democratic lawmakers in slamming Pai and there was also a twitter feud between Pai and Khanna.
Khanna also accused Pai of “writing the rules of modern-day capitalism in a way that privileges these elite telecom companies with concentrated economic power at the expense of low-income Americans.”
He exhorted his colleagues that “this Congress must stand united that an un-elected bureaucrat doesn’t get to write the rules of our economy in favor of wealthy interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.”
Later in an interview with India Abroad, when asked about his taking to the House floor to slam Pai and his Twitter war with the fellow Indian American Republican, Khanna said, “With Ajit, I have such strong disagreements because today’s existence for most young people is online—and we have to make that accessible and open.”
But he also asserted that “ I’ve defended Aiit when there were all those racial epithets against him, and our wives are in the same international club and are very cordial to each other. So, I don’t have anything personal against him. But on this issue, of equal access to the Internet, he’s just wrong and it’s a handout to corporate interests.”