A Long Island man was arrested after allegedly threatening to launch an attack at the New York City Pride march so devastating that it would make the 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando "look like a cakewalk," according to federal prosecutors.
The annual NYC Pride march, which in the past has had millions of people in attendance, was the target of a potential attack planned out by 74-year-old Robert Fehring, said Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
The Bayport resident and former music teacher is accused of mailing letters to leaders of the LGBTQ community in which he threatened to assault, shoot and bomb individuals, organizations and businesses associated with the community, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. The criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in Central Islip Monday stated that Fehring had been sending threatening letters since at least 2013, oftentimes stating he would use firearms and explosives toward LGBTQ individuals or at associated events.
One letter in particular threatened that there would be radio-controlled devices "places at numerous strategic places" at the 2021 New York City Price March, complete with enough "firepower" to make the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead more than 50 injured "look like a cakewalk."
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
A June 2021 letter addressed to the CEO of an LGBTQ nonprofit in Sag Harbor threatened that they "better be ready to meet your end if you show up at Eisenhower on Sunday. It's a great place to unload a high-powered rifle bullet from a distance, that can go right through your gay face."
Fehring wrote another letter to the organizer of the Pride event in East Meadow, in which he called the individual a "FREAK" and said how he would be killed.
"They couldn't get a shot off at you, slithering around the back stage area like a snake. Too many cops. Very disappointed. But your time has come," the letter from Fehring read, according to prosecutors. "They are out to KILL you ... and your boyfriend. You are being watched. No matter how long it takes, you will be taken out....high-powered bullet....bomb....knife....whatever it takes."
Leaders of Long Island Pride, which produced the event in Eisenhower Park, say that for six years they have received similar kinds of threatening letters, and have lived in fear.
"I feared for my life when walking out of my house, which the guy lived only 15 minutes from me. I feared for those that walked into our community centers, or that came to Long Island Pride," said LGBT Network President David Kilmnick.
Other letters from that month include one sent to an elected official on Long Island, who Fehring allegedly described as "nothing but a slimy, slithering politician who bends with the agenda-for-the-day winds."
Members of the FBI's Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force searched Fehring's home on Nov. 18, and found photos from the Pride event in East Meadow back in June, prosecutors said, signifying he was either present at the event or had someone take pictures for him.
Law enforcement also allegedly found two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, an American flag-patterned machete, a DVD addressed to the home titled "Underground Build Your Own Silencer System and a stamped envelope addressed to an attorney who has worked with LGBTQ groups. The envelope was found in a garage freezer, and inside the envelope were the remains of a dead bird, the criminal complaint stated.
A letter from Sept. 2021 was addressed to the owner of a Brooklyn barbershop and stated that the business "is the perfect target for a bombing" while threatening more violence, according to the criminal complaint.
"The defendant's hate-filled invective and threats of violence directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community have no place in our society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Peace.
Michael Driscoll, the FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge for the New York field office, called Fehring's threats "not only appalling, but dangerous," and urged anyone who may have received a similar threat to contact law enforcement.
Fehring was arrested Monday morning, and had his bail set at $100,000 in his first court appearance. The defendant expressed to law enforcement an animosity towards the LGBTQ community, saying in part that there is a "sickening overdose of that stuff being shoved down everybody's face on the paper, on the TV and all over the place."
Judge Steven Locke, who is presiding over the case, asked a family member there to bail Fehring out if she was sure she wanted to do so, saying that he was "extremely disturbed by these allegations."
Eileen Tyznar, of the Sayville Chamber of Commerce, watched the arraignment and left angry because the bond was set lower than she would have preferred, saying that she has felt threatened and scared for two years.
"It was almost a sense of relief to see him caught because it's something that myself and a few of our board members have always had to worry about," she said. "He would be extremely descriptive of what he was going to do if we continued to hang Pride flags, continue to have parades."
Another letter that was found during the search of Fehring's home was addressed to a member of the Patchogue Chamber of Commerce from June 2019. It said that if the town planned to have an "LGBT thing" at an event, then they should "be prepared by having a large police presence, and numerous ambulances available."
In response to the arrest, NYC Pride said that they "take any and all violent threats seriously and report them to the appropriate authorities. We received threatening letters earlier this year and reported them. We appreciate the work of the Justice Department in investigating this situation. We are cooperating in any way we can, and we remain committed to the safety and well-being of the LBGTQIA+ community."
Fehring, who is represented by attorney Glenn Obedin, faces up to five years in prison if convicted.