A man was arrested early Wednesday after he sent death threats to an Anchorage Assembly member last week, according to a charging document filed in district court.
Several other Assembly members also received threatening messages, the charges said.
John Weddleton, who represents South Anchorage, received text messages from 39-year-old Richard Leemon Joe last week, according to a sworn criminal complaint filed Friday. The messages also referenced the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6.
“John Weddy were coming for you after the ASSEMBLY I have my AR-15 and 3 mags. If it doesn’t hit you it’ll hit people... JUST LIKE THE CAPITOL BUILDING,” the text read, according to the complaint.
Weddleton said in an interview Wednesday that he first received text messages from Joe last Tuesday night. The dozens of messages were threatening, although some more than others, he said. The texts continued into the following day, and Weddleton decided to report the threats to police on Thursday.
“I had to kind of convince myself to take it more seriously,” he said.
Following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol spurred by anger over the presidential election won by Joe Biden, local and national law enforcement stepped up security to monitor for threats. Anchorage police on Jan. 12 vowed in a statement to have a stronger presence at government buildings and planned events throughout the following weeks. During the last Assembly meeting, there was a larger police presence than usual.
The FBI had warned of armed protests planned at all 50 state capitols in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration. No such protests came to fruition in Alaska.
There were no credible threats in Anchorage as of Wednesday, police said.
“We continue to monitor events and information sources involving hate-based threats that may lead to violence,” police spokesman MJ Thim said by email. “It’s a continued coordinated effort with our federal and state law enforcement partners.”
Joe was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of illegal use of phone early Wednesday. During an arraignment hearing that afternoon, he was granted unsecured bail, meaning he could be released if he agreed to court conditions, which included electronic monitoring, banning Joe from possessing a firearm and ordering Joe to have no contact with Assembly members.
According to the charging document, Joe has gone by several names online, including Joe Nuyalran and the locally notorious moniker Scanner Joe. He was one of the founding members of a Facebook group that now has more than 60,000 members who post updates about local crime. Joe is no longer associated with the group.
It was not immediately clear what motivated Joe to target Weddleton specifically, but during the hearing Wednesday afternoon, Joe said he has been unemployed since May and has been unable to find work during the pandemic. He said he is currently homeless.
Assembly meetings have become increasingly tense throughout the past year as citizens voiced opposition to business restrictions and closures, mask-wearing requirements and other measures enacted by the Assembly to curb the spread of COVID-19. In late December, a small caravan of vehicles drove outside the homes of Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson and Assemblyman Christopher Constant to protest, honking their horns.
Weddleton, who owns several local businesses, said he understands the frustration and is thankful for the public’s participation.
“We’re in tense times,” he said. “But I don’t feel threatened by those people.”
Weddleton said he’s never received any direct threats like this before, although he knows there has been violent rhetoric aimed at the Assembly and at individual members on social media. The criminal complaint filed against Joe said “a couple of assembly members received threats regarding having AR-15 rifles with loaded magazines threatening to shoot them and others who may be present if the assembly members are not struck in the volley of fire.”
Weddleton said he did not know if other members received threats or if Joe directly threatened anyone else. Anchorage police did not respond to a question asking if other threats have been made.
At the last Assembly meeting, members voted to condemn the violence at the Capitol. The resolution drew debate and strong reactions from Assembly members and attendees.
For Weddleton, the scene in Washington emphasized that threats of violence are real — if it could happen at the U.S. Capitol, it’s possible it could happen in Anchorage, he said. Weddleton said he believes most people saw the rioting as wrong and condemned the violence, but he worries that it has made others, like Joe, more bold.
“That’s real, that can happen and it redefined behavior,” he said. “That stuff at the Capitol could change the realm of possibilities.”
Weddleton said the riot at the Capitol was an example of why violence and threats are never appropriate.
“Violence isn’t (a solution), you have loads of ways to participate,” he said. “We have a system, may not work as fast as you want, but it’s there and it works.”