October 26, 2021

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Proud Boys Supporter With 1,000 Rifle Rounds Made Threats, U.S. Says – The New York Times

4 min read

A Queens man who told federal agents he wanted to join the far-right Proud Boys group was charged with a weapons offense on Wednesday after messages he posted on social media around the time of the Capitol riot raised alarms, according to prosecutors and court documents.

The man, Eduard Florea, had been detained late Tuesday after a search of his home turned up an arsenal of over 1,000 rounds of rifle ammunition, two dozen shotgun rounds, 75 military-style combat knives, two hatchets and two swords, prosecutors said. No gun was found.

The arrest of Mr. Florea, a 40-year-old software engineer, came amid an intensifying nationwide manhunt for those who broke into the U.S. Capitol last week as part of a violent rampage by supporters of President Trump who wanted to overturn the election results.

Though Mr. Florea was not one of the numerous people being pursued for participating in the riot, law enforcement officials considered him menacing enough to arrive in an armored vehicle at his home to arrest him. His lawyer, taking issue with the approach, described the vehicle as a “military tank.”

Among the comments that caused the authorities concern and prompted the search of his house, the complaint says, was one in which Mr. Florea appeared to threaten the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia, around the time Mr. Warnock was declared the winner of a U.S. Senate seat.

At around 1 a.m. on Jan. 6, while posting under the name “LoneWolfWar” in a group thread about Mr. Warnock on the social media website Parler, the complaint says, Mr. Florea wrote that “dead men can’t pass laws,” with an obscenity added for emphasis.

Later that day, also on Parler, Mr. Florea wrote of having three cars of “armed patriots” in a “caravan” headed to Washington, the complaint says. As the Capitol riot unfolded, he wrote that the time for peace and civility was over and that “here in New York we are target rich.”

“I will fight so help me god,” he added.

At a bail hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn that was held remotely, Mr. Florea’s lawyer pointed out the F.B.I. had concluded that her client, despite his online bravado, did not have a car and had not gone to Washington.

Nonetheless, the tenor of his social media comments was ominous enough to heighten the authorities’ interest, especially when matched with his status as a felon, according to prosecutors and the complaint.

In 2014, Mr. Florea was found guilty of illegal gun possession after a search of the Staten Island home where he was living turned up a stockpile that included a semiautomatic shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle, a federal prosecutor said at the hearing on Wednesday.

Mr. Florea bought the guns legally outside New York City, but was not supposed to have them within the five boroughs, his lawyer, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, said at the hearing. He served a year in jail as a result of the conviction, she said.

Mr. Florea is now charged federally with being a felon in possession of ammunition. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Questioned by F.B.I. agents after he was taken into custody on Tuesday, Mr. Florea said he supported the Proud Boys, a far-right organization that has endorsed violence and Mr. Trump, and had applied to join the group’s ranks, a federal prosecutor said at the bail hearing.

He told the agents that he had gone to Washington with Proud Boys members in December and had vandalized a church there, but was not yet a member of the group because he had not attended the required number of meetings, the prosecutor said.

“This is not just rhetoric,” Francisco Navarro, the prosecutor, said in arguing against granting Mr. Florea bail. “This is rhetoric backed by action.”

“Given his willingness to travel to D.C. with criminals, the government believes the defendant is particularly dangerous in the current political environment,” Mr. Navarro added.

Ms. Eisner-Grynberg, Mr. Florea’s lawyer, told the judge that her client did not condone the “behavior” that had occurred at the Capitol last Wednesday.

“You can’t condemn what happened at the Capitol and hang out with the Proud Boys,” Mr. Navarro replied.

Ms. Eisner-Grynberg argued that Mr. Florea should be released from custody because he had not been charged with making threats online and that many of the statements he had made were false. She also said the “rhetoric was extremely high on all sides” on the day of the riot.

The judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket Bulsara, rejected that argument forcefully.

“This is not mere blather,” Judge Bulsara said. “And frankly, I think it’s deeply incorrect to make that suggestion.”

Siding with the government, the judge denied Mr. Florea bail.

In arguing against releasing Mr. Florea, Mr. Navarro also cited a 2014 news article that quoted a criminal complaint describing how Mr. Florea had choked his wife until she nearly lost consciousness while holding their infant daughter and then had threatened to kill them both with a knife.

Ms. Eisner-Grynberg said that those allegations had been dismissed. She also said that, after a lot of counseling, Mr. Florea and his wife, who now have two children, had reconciled and that the wife had no concerns about him being at home with her.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

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