Berkeley mayor receives death threats for ‘white nationalist’ tweet

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Joshua Jordan/File

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín received death threats after posting a controversial statement on Twitter in response to the Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrations, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

In the statement, Arreguín called Yiannopoulos a “white nationalist.” Later the same day, Breitbart News, the conservative news network for which Yiannopoulos serves as senior editor, alleged in an article that Arreguín’s tweet “smeared” Yiannopoulos.

Arreguín has since deleted the tweet and apologized for the “white national label.” He has, however, continued to receive threats via Twitter and phone calls, largely from conservative areas of the country, according to Stefan Elgstrand, Arreguín’s chief of staff. Berkeley Police Department quickly began investigating the threats made toward Arreguín to determine if the threats were credible.

“Last Thursday, the mayor’s office notified BPD about receiving those threats,” said BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel. “We take all threats seriously and investigate them whether it’s a private citizen or a public figure.”

Threats made to Arreguín include: “Hope his family gets killed by terrorists one day while we laugh at him,” “I hope you drop dead, welcome to White America” and “Send him to the firing squad.”

“This is an important issue that our mayor is receiving threats,” said Naweed Tahmas, campus junior and a member of Berkeley College Republicans. “This is not a partisan issue. This is a moral issue. No individual should receive death threats.”

BPD initially had officers safeguard Arreguín to ensure his safety but currently does not have any officers surveilling him. Frankel said that depending on the language of the threat, it could be considered “communication of a terrorist threat” — which is Section 422 of the California Penal Code. Consequences could include imprisonment in state prison.

“I think Berkeley has gone through this many times before,” said District 7 City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “We need to take it seriously so we don’t allow (Arreguín) to become a victim.”

Worthington noted that this situation should also not be taken out of proportion. Because several of these threats are from different parts of the country, they may not directly affect the situation in Berkeley, Worthington said.

In the past, after City Council voted to oppose the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, Worthington and the other council members received a “massive” number of threatening emails and phone calls.

Worthington said a patrol officer was stationed outside his apartment after he received threats from people implying their intent to kill him in a similar fashion to how Harvey Milk — one of the first openly gay people to be elected to office — was murdered.

“It’s sad that (Arreguín is) getting these threats, and I hope none of them are legitimate,” said Caiden Nason, campus senior and vice president of membership for Cal Berkeley Democrats, in an email. “Everyone who has worked with Jesse knows how great of a person he is … and that he has the support of Berkeley behind him right now.”

Gibson Chu is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.