PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, was sentenced to a year and one day in prison on Monday after threatening to firebomb two Pinellas County mosques, and shoot worshipers, the United States Department of Justice reports.
Schnitzler pleaded guilty on Feb. 12 to obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs for issuing the threats, and was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore of the Middle District of Florida.
In a voicemail left at one of the mosques Schnitzler threatened to "personally have a militia" report to the house of worship 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," the Justice Department media release stated.
Schnitzler said he was promoted by the terrorist attacks in Paris to make the calls on Nov. 13, 2015. As part of his plea he said 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," the media release stated.
"This prosecution sends a clear message to anyone who contemplates the use of threats or intimidation to interfere with the right of individuals to worship as they choose, without fear," U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida said in a media release. "The U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect this important First Amendment right."
Both mosques requested increased law-enforcement presence at their locations as a result of the threats and took extra safety precautions for congregants.
"Criminal threats of violence that target people and communities because of their religious beliefs threaten the core values that define a fair and just society – equal protection and mutual respect for all," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who is head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a media release. "When individuals commit religion-based hate crimes, we will hold them accountable for their actions and ensure they face justice."