A man accused of threatening to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser in disturbing text messages last week has been ordered detained before trial. A judge on Thursday said 53-year-old Cleveland Meredith of North Carolina would pose a “certain danger” to the community were he to be released.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey said the government has a strong case to prove Meredith made a “true threat,” meaning that he communicated a serious intent to cause harm in the wake of the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Harvey called Meredith’s alleged threats “numerous, graphic, and of a level of intensity of concern to the court.”
“If I had a more concerning threats case come before me, I don’t remember it,” Harvey said. “It’s certainly right up there.”
Harvey said he was especially concerned because Meredith drove from Colorado to Washington, D.C., with a cache of weapons and ammunition. Harvey said that made the threats stand out from others he reviews, made online by people who are far from their alleged target.
“You drove all the way across the country from Colorado, and brought with you the means to make good on your threats,” Harvey said.
Meredith is facing federal charges of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce, possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. He appeared virtually at Thursday’s detention hearing, and appeared to be wiping tears from his eyes as the proceeding got underway. Later, he held his head in his hands.
Federal prosecutors say Meredith intended to be in D.C. to take part in the January 6 riot, which left five people dead, but arrived afterward because his car broke down. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Baset said Meredith sent text messages while en route to D.C. on January 6 and while in D.C. the following day that contained “misogynistic and violent rhetoric” and “horrific” and “unparalleled” threats.
According to a prosecution court filing, Meredith described driving to D.C. for “target practice,” referenced “war time” and said he was “strategizing on best way to assault this city.”
“I’m so ready to FK SOME TRAITORS UP,” one text read, according to the filing.
The day following the riot when Meredith had arrived in D.C., he allegedly threatened to kill both Bowser and Pelosi, who had made television statements condemning the Capitol assault.
“Thinking about heading over to Pelosi [expletive] speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV,” Meredith allegedly wrote. He also threatened Bowser: “I may wander over to the Mayor’s office and put a 5.56 in her skull.”
Meredith allegedly described wanting to kill using armor-piercing bullets, which were among the 2,500 rounds of ammunition investigators found in his trailer when he was arrested that day by federal authorities. Baset said Meredith also brought two guns including a semi-automatic rifle, extended-clip magazines and a scope, “suggesting he wanted to identify specific targets or at least hone in on them.”
Baset said Meredith was an adherent of the QAnon conspiracy theory, and argued he might be further radicalized via social media if released before trial. Meredith had also “head-butted” a person in D.C. over a road rage dispute and yelled a racial epithet at a witness, Baset said, further demonstrating his dangerousness.
Meredith’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Ubong Akpan, said he intended the disturbing text messages to be in jest, and is remorseful for making them. Akpan said Meredith admitted to investigators that he crossed the line.
“From the government’s own evidence, Mr. Meredith intended his comments to be a joke,” Akpan said. “Whether they are received that way or not is a separate question.”
Akpan said Meredith didn’t travel to D.C. to take part in an “insurrection” as the government suggested, but rather to attend a political rally as he had the year prior. Apkan said Meredith, a father who resides in North Carolina, brought the weapons with him on a trip to Colorado, realizing as he drove from Colorado to the District that the weapons are not allowed there.
Akpan said Meredith would be willing to adhere to strict conditions of pre-trial release, including GPS monitoring. But Harvey dismissed the suggestion as he addressed Meredith: “GPS monitoring is imperfect, and I don’t think we have room for error when it comes to you.”
“I do not believe I could fashion conditions that would assure the safety of the community, frankly any community at this time,” Harvey said.
A pre-trial hearing is scheduled in the case for January 28.
Clare Hymes contributed reporting.