A Texas man was charged in federal court with threatening a prominent health policy professional over her Covid-19 vaccination advocacy, ethnic background and gender, authorities said Tuesday.
The Justice Department said the man, Scott Eli Harris, 51, of Aubrey, was arrested following Tuesday’s unsealing of a grand jury indictment that contained a single allegation.
It says he “knowingly and willingly transmitted in interstate commerce a threat to injure the person of another” on July 12. In a statement, the Justice Department alleged that Harris texted the threats to the victim, identified in the indictment only as “Dr. L.W., who had been a vocal proponent” of vaccination.
NBC affiliate WBAL of Baltimore identified the victim as Dr. Leana Wen, the former Baltimore health commissioner and onetime national president of Planned Parenthood. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted through the Brookings Institution, where she is a nonresident senior fellow.
Wen said on MSNBC last year that testing and vaccination were the country’s primary ways out of the coronavirus pandemic. “We now know what it takes to control Covid-19,” she said.
She also recently wrote a book, “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.”
Authorities alleged that the statements in the text to Wen, which included a reference to her gender and her perceived ethnicity, said, “Never going to take your wonder drug.”
Harris is also alleged to have written: “I’m a 5th general U.S. Army veteran and a sniper.. I can’t wait for the shooting to start.. I hope you are ready.. [Expletive].. where’s your [expletive] office?”
The U.S. attorney for Maryland, Erek L. Barron, said in a statement Tuesday, “We take seriously threats and intimidation, and this charge makes clear that such conduct will be prosecuted federally.”
The FBI investigated. An Army spokesman said he could verify Harris’ military claims only if he had his date of birth or at least part of his Social Security number.
It wasn’t clear whether Harris had legal representation. The office of the federal public defender in Maryland didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department said he was due in federal court Wednesday in Plano, Texas. If he is convicted, Harris could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.