In late August, the email threats and calls to Rochester City Hall became so multitudinous and ugly that City Corporation Counsel Linda Kingsley ended up with police protection.
Those threats were the offspring of a group that calls itself "First Amendment Auditors," which has its members film within public facilities and police stations with claims of its rights to open government space. This week, one western New York leader of the group, Daniel Warmus, 38, saw what could have been a probation sentence for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection instead end with jail time because of threats against Kingsley and others.
"What the defendant is actually doing in these (Auditor) videos is engaging with law enforcement and local government officials and turning those engagements into confrontations," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Fifield said at Warmus' sentencing, according to a report from the Buffalo News. "He's recording, he's engaging with law enforcement officers. He's going so far as to agitate these officers, escalate things into a confrontation and then call to his followers to address these First Amendment infractions by police and local government."
Warmus, of Alden, Erie County, was among the early rioters to enter the Capitol during the insurrection. In May, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of rioting. At his sentencing Tuesday, federal prosecutors noted how the First Amendment Auditors have prompted threats against public officials like Kingsley.
At the sentencing U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, based in the District of Columbia, cited the videos of the First Amendment Auditors and the threats inspired by them as a "significant" reason for his decision of a 45-day sentence for Warmus, according to the Buffalo News.
"When somebody puts out a video or a tweet or whatever ... you know, you've got crazy followers," the judge said. "... You know what you're doing when you do that."
Kingsley said Warmus came into City Hall in late August and tried to film throughout the building.
"He's walking into people's offices and taking videos," she said. "We said, 'You can't do that.' "
Warmus was asked to leave by security and police were called. City Hall allows photographs in public places but not videos without permission.
Some supporters of the First Amendment Auditors, which has branches across the country, say it promotes government and police transparency. Others see it as a disruptive force that is more interested in monetizing its videos than in interests in openness with government.
With Kingsley, the video prompted what she said were often misogynistic threats as well as racist comments about the city. She was identified in the video.
The initial emails were "everything from 'What, are you stupid' and 'Where did you go to law school?" she said. "They then started getting very misogynistic, vulgar, hateful."
Some other City Hall staff were named but the majority of the responses, and what became threats, were targeted at Kingsley. Her adult daughter saw some of the online comments and called her, worried about her safety, Kingsley said.
The threats grew so worrisome that the police decided to provide Kingsley with protection in the days after the video.
Federal prosecutors here provided information to prosecutors in the District of Columbia about Warmus' activities with the Auditors and the subsequent threats. As well as the 45 days, Warmus was also sentenced to two years of probation this week.
"I respect the judge's opinion; I respect the judge's sentence," said Erie County attorney Daniel DuBois, who defended Warmus, "While I may differ with having the Rochester matter come into play during his federal sentencing, I certainly respect the judge's call on that one."
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Videos from Jan. 6 rioter prompted threats at Rochester NY City Hall