A 19-year-old Michigan man is accused of making several threatening phone calls to CNN in early January, calling the news network “fake news” and saying that he was “coming to gun you all down,” the FBI says.
Brandon Griesemer, a part-time grocery store worker from Novi, Michigan, was arrested January 19 on a federal threatening charge, according to court documents filed in the Eastern District of Michigan.
Griesemer was charged with transmitting in interstate or foreign commerce a communication or communications containing a threat to kidnap or to injure the person of another, which carries a potential five-year prison sentence if convicted. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have not commented or issued a statement about the case, which was unsealed on January 19. It was first reported by WGCL-TV in Atlanta.
Griesemer told WXYZ-TV that he did not want to speak on camera, but said off-camera that he suffers from mental illness and depression and does not want to hurt anyone.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Griesemer Told an Operator ‘Fake News. I’m Coming to Gun You All Down. F*ck You, F*ckin N*ggers,’ During One of 22 Calls to CNN Over a 2-Day Period, the FBI Says
Brandon Ray Griesemer is accused of making the calls to CNN’s Atlanta office on January 9 and January 10, according to court documents. Griesemer made 22 calls to the news network during that two-day period, including four that contained explicit threats, the FBI said.
The first call was made to the publicly available CNN landline number at 3:06 p.m. on January 9. The male caller, later identified as Griesemer, told an operator, “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down. F*ck you, f*ckin n*ggers.” The caller then hung up.
About three minutes later, CNN received a second call from the same male caller, who “began making disparaging comments regarding CNN and instructing the operator that CNN employees should kill themselves,” FBI Special Agent Sean Callaghan wrote in the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint. “The caller then said, ‘I am on my way right now to gun the f*ckin’ CNN cast down. F*ck you.’ The operator then asked the man for his name. The caller responded, ‘F*ck you. I am coming to kill you.’ The caller then hung up.”
Another call was made about 30 minutes later, Callaghan said. During that caller, Griesemer is accused of saying, “I’m coming for you CNN. I’m smarter than you. More powerful than you. I have more guns than you. More manpower. Your cast is about to get gunned down in a matter of hours.”
A CNN investigators tracked the caller’s number to Griesmer’s father in Michigan. The investigator said he found a second number associated to a wireless account and called it, asking to speak to the father. Callaghan said “A man answered the call, stated that (Griesemer’s father) was not home, and identified himself as ‘Brandon.'”
Callaghan said the investigator recorded the call and compared it to recorded audio of the threatening calls, and “confirmed that the voices sounded like the same individual.”
Another call was made on January 10, the day after the CNN investigator spoke to Griesemer.
“When the operator responded to the call, the same male voice from the prior call began making disparaging remarks regarding Jewish individuals,” Callaghan wrote in the affidavit. “He stated, ‘You are going down. I have a gun and I am coming to Georgia right now to go to the CNN headquarters to f*cking gun every single last one of you. I have a team of people. It’s going to be great man … You gotta get prepared for this one, buddy.’ The caller then hung up.”
The FBI said the number used to make the threatening calls accessed a cell tower near Griesemer’s address in Novi, Michigan, where he lives with his parents, on January 9.
2. He Is Also Accused of Calling the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor & Making Derogatory Comments About the Mosque & Muslims
Brandon Griesemer also made an anti-Muslim phone call to the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor on September 19, 2017, about 9:49 a.m., according to court documents. During that call, made from the same cell phone number that the FBI says was used to make the CNN threats, Griesemer “made derogatory comments relating to the mosque and Muslims.”
Ann Arbor Police Detective Matthew Lige told MLive.com that Griesemer said “f*ck Islam” and made other derogatory comments during the September 19 call. He was investigated by police, but has not been charged in that case because no specific threats were made. Lige told the news site that it appeared no crime was committed and Griesemer “did not present a danger” to the Muslim community.
According to court documents, the Ann Arbor Police made contact with Griesemer’s mother on September 21 at the home where he lives with her. He was not home at the time.
“Griesemer’s mother told officers that Griesemer had told her that he had previously called the mosque,” FBI Special Agent Sean Callaghan wrote in court documents. “Officers informed Griesemer’s mother that they would like to talk to Griesemer and that he should call them.”
Griesemer did call police that same day. He told officers, “he had called the mosque on September 19, and that he was angry at the time of the call.”
3. Griesemer Declared in High School That He Identifies With Hitler & Suggested the ‘Holocaust Was Exaggerated,’ a Classmate Says
Brandon Griesemer graduated from Novi High School last year. Griesemer’s high school classmate, Anthony Luongo, told The Washington Post that Griesemer declared that he identifies with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and suggested “the Holocaust was exaggerated.”
Luongo also said Griesemer identified as a Trump supporter and “came in after the election and was very happy,” according to The Post.
According to Luongo, Griesemer would often have his hood up and his head down on desk during class. He also said Griesemer “openly” and “shamelessly” was reading Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” before class. Griesemer told people he “kind of identified with the Nationalist Socialist Party,” and when asked if that meant he identified with Hitler, Luongo said he, “basically told me that, yeah, that was kind of how his ideology was.”
Luongo added, “I was just generally uncomfortable with the kid,” Luongo said, noting that when he learned of the allegations he was not all that surprised. If it was going to be a person that I knew, I would have probably guessed it would be that kid.”
Griesemer’s brother, Justin Mark Griesemer spoke to Reveal reporter Will Carless, and said Brandon is a “normal, stable individual.”
Brandon’s brother also told Carless he doesn’t think his brother made the calls. “Right now it’s just allegations, that’s all,” Justin said. He said his brother doesn’t hold any strong right wing or anti-media beliefs.
Griesemer’s father, Mark Griesemer, told The Washington Post, “this whole thing has been a mistake, he really didn’t mean any of it. He didn’t know what he was saying, the seriousness of it. We’re not even gun owners or anything like that. We don’t have any, neither does he. More will come out later. Hopefully, this can be settled.”
A neighbor, Bill Nelson, told The Post that Griesemer is “just a young, kind of lost kid,” who is a “nice guy,” who would bring him groceries from the store where he worked. Nelson, 53, said he was surprised by the threats made to CNN, but said, “He would never have done it.”
4. CNN Says the Network Takes All Threats ‘Extremely Seriously,’ While President Trump’s Opponents Have Put the Blame for the Threat on Trump & His Supporters
CNN issued a statement on Monday after news of Griesemer’s arrest, saying, “We take any threats to CNN employees or workplaces, around the world, extremely seriously. This one is no exception. We have been in touch with local and federal law enforcement throughout, and have taken all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our people.”
Anchor Don Lemon addressed the threats on air and said President Donald Trump’s rhetoric is responsible for the hatred directed toward the network.
A motive for the calls was not provided by the FBI. While it is not clear if Griesemer is a Trump supporter, Trump and members of his administration have frequently referred to CNN as “fake news.”
On December 9, 2017, Trump tweeted, “CNN’S slogan is CNN, THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS. Everyone knows this is not true, that this could, in fact, be a fraud on the American Public. There are many outlets that are far more trusted than Fake News CNN. Their slogan should be CNN, THE LEAST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS!”
On July 1, 2017, he tweeted, “I am thinking about changing the name #FakeNews CNN to #FraudNewsCNN! … I am extremely pleased to see that @CNN has finally been exposed as #FakeNews and garbage journalism. It’s about time!”
Trump has also retweeted violent images and a GIF directed at CNN. One retweeted image shows a train running over a person with the CNN logo over him.
Trump also tweeted GIF showing him bodyslamming and punching a man during a wrestling match. The other man’s face is covered with a CNN logo.
And on Christmas Eve, Trump retweeted an image of him in a limo with a blood-splatter on the bottom of his shoe with the CNN logo on it.
Trump and his administration have not commented about the arrest for threats made against CNN. At a press briefing in June 2017, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “The President in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.”
President Trump’s opponents have been quick to put the blame on Trump and his supporters.
“This is why Trump’s words and tweets, and his memes showing violence against the press, matter,” Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist who has been outspoken against Trump as a CNN contribitor, tweeted.
Crooked Media co-founder and former Obama staffer Tommy Vietor said on Twitter, “Trump’s constant attacks on the press are dangerous.”
John Aravosis, a digital strategist and host of the UnPresidented Podcast, tweeted, “CNN receives a terrorist threat thanks to @realDonaldTrump childish immaturity. Barack Obama never created any domestic terrorists.”
Dean Obeidallah, a radio host and Daily Beast columnist, wrote on Twitter, “Trump radicalizes a terrorist.”
MSNBC contributor and Republican political strategist Steve Schmidt, who like Navarro has opposed Trump, tweeted, “A terrorist attack targeting CNN was averted. Thank God. It was bad enough before, but the next time this President or any one in his WH engages in attacks on the FAKE NEWS AS ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE they do so with the full knowledge that the blood will be on their hands next time.”
CNN national correspondent Ed Lavandera tweeted, “I wonder if throwing around “fake news” as a punchline inspired this in any way?”
5. Griesemer Was Released on $10,000 Unsecured Bond After a January 19 Court Appearance
Brandon Griesemer was released on $10,000 unsecured bond after a January 19 appearance in the Eastern District of Michigan federal court. You can read the criminal complaint filed in the case above. He made the appearance before Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti on the same day of his arrest.
During the court appearance, Griesemer spoke only briefly, answering “yes,” during questions directed at him by the judge, including whether he would like an attorney appointed for her and whether he had received the criminal complaint and affidavit. He also understood his rights.
According to statements made in court, Griesemer, 19, is a lifelong resident of Michigan, and lives with his mother, father and brother. He is also “gainfully employed,” and has no prior criminal record. He works part-time at a grocery store.
Federal pretrial service officers told the judge that based on their interviews and information they gathered, they did have concerns about his risk of flight because of his “substance abuse use and his mental health history.” They also had concerns of “danger,” based on the accusations, but they recommended the $10,000 bond.
Under the conditions of his release, Griesemer must continue employment, surrender his passport, restrict his travel to the Eastern District of Michigan, avoid all contact directly or indirectly with victims and witnesses, obtain medical or psychiatric treatment and may not possess a firearm, destructive device or other weapon, or a narcotic drug or unlawful substance and submit to drug testing. He was also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation. Prosecutors did not object to pretrial service’s recommendation. They did ask that it be specified that he not have any contact with CNN.
You can listen to a recording of his court appearance below:
His attorney, federal public defender Rhonda Brazile, could not be reached for comment. Calls to Griesemer’s home and another number listed for him in public records were not answered.
If Griesemer violates the conditions of his bond, he would owe the government $10,000, but he did not have to put up that money during his court appearance. He could also face an additional charge if he violates the conditions and could have his bond revoked.
“Don’t be making any threats to anybody, you understand?” Patti told Griesemer at the end of his court appearance. The 19-year-old responded, “Yeah,” before leaving the courtroom.
He is due back in court February 9.