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Man indicted for alleged death threats against only black Mississippi congressman

Jackson, Mississippi — A federal indictment accuses a Mississippi man of threatening to kill the state's only black U.S. representative and his staffers. 

The indictment against 52-year-old Newton Wade Townsend identifies the target of his alleged threats by the initials B.T.

The only member of Mississippi's delegation with those initials is Democrat Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

"On June 1, 2020, Townsend placed a phone call to the office of a Member of Congress and threatened to kill the Congressman and his African-American staffers," said a news release Wednesday from U.S. Attorney U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst in Jackson, Mississippi, and U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.

Townsend, a resident of Brandon, is charged with making a threat against public officials, the statement said. It did not elaborate on a possible motive. 

DHS Virus Outbreak
House Homeland Security Chairman Chairman Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi, at hearing on the coronavirus and the FY2021 budget on March 3, 2020. Alex Brandon / AP

"This should serve as a lesson that anyone who chooses to threaten to murder Members of Congress will be prosecuted," Thompson said in an emailed statement.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to an emailed query about whether Townsend has an attorney who could speak for him and whether prosecutors suggested hate crime charges to the grand jury that indicted him Tuesday.

Townsend's arraignment was scheduled Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball.

Thompson is the longest-serving member of Mississippi's current congressional delegation, after winning a 1993 special election.

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