In a rare rebuke of prosecutors, a federal judge handed down a jail sentence to a California man who spent some four years sending dozens of racist death threats on personalized, handmade postcards, court records show.
Michael Anthony Gallagher, 71, pleaded guilty last August to mailing a threatening postcard to Rep. Maxine Waters, signed “KKK,” but his crimes from 2016 to 2020 went well beyond that single offense. The U.S. Department of Justice argued a one-year probation term, and no jail, was a sufficient consequence.
But at the December sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg decided to jail Gallagher for four months, according to a minute order of the hearing. Gallagher was ordered to report to the Bureau of Prisons by the first week of March to begin his sentence.
Federal court, compared to California’s justice system, gives judges immense leeway in determining sentences. They are given general sentencing guidelines and tasked with finding a term “sufficient, but not greater than necessary,” but aren’t bound by either side. Still, most judges in the Northern District of California will settle on a sentence between what both parties are asking; it’s rare for a judge to go beyond what prosecutors seek.
A transcript of the hearing wasn’t immediately available.
In a sentencing memo, prosecutors say that over four years Gallagher sent at least 75 similar threats to politicians all over the United States, targeting those who were critical of former President Donald Trump. Gallagher, wrote wrote an apology letter saying, “I am painfully sorry and ashamed.”
One postcard, included in a sentencing memo, told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “We’re going to hang your head off the Washington Monument, you piece of Communist (expletive).” Another called Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a “Communist pig” and threatened to shoot him in the head.
The long list of victims also included: U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Adam Schiff; U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Mitt Romney, Richard Blumenthal, then-Senator Kamala Harris, California Governors Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, and State Senator Jerry Hill, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Tartakovsky wrote in court records that the threats “caused anxiety, even terror, to recipients and those possibly in harm’s way,” but stuck by his recommendation of a one-year probation term.
“This is based on a number of factors, beginning with Mr. Gallagher’s prompt admission of guilt and genuine contrition, which includes his statement to an agent after the search of his house that he had been ‘scared straight,’ ” Tartakovsky wrote. “Other factors include his age, his lack of a prior record, the absence of evidence that he had any intent actually to carry out any of his threats, his insignificant likelihood of re-offending, and the sufficiency of the conviction itself to provide general and specific deterrence.”
A defense sentencing memo argued Gallagher was “venting” political frustration, and didn’t fully grasp what he was doing until the U.S. Secret Service showed up at his house two years ago. Prosecutors, though, said Gallagher was seen on surveillance video mailing the postcards and held them by their edges, apparently to avoid leaving fingerprints.
In his letter, Gallagher apologized for “a terrible, misguided thing to do with my time,” and said he cringed when reading a victim impact statement by Speier, when it dawned on him that she survived the Jonestown Massacre. He also wrote that while he frequently used a racist slur directed toward immigrants, “I have nothing against legal immigrants.”
“Throughout the last presidency, I was impacted by the political polarization of our country. That’s when I started on the reproachable path of mailing threatening postcards, for which I am painfully sorry and ashamed,” he wrote. “I think I believed I was sending a message about my political views. But now I realize that these views and my conduct were terribly misguided and shameful.”