A Texas man has been sentenced to six months in federal prison for sending a threatening message to a Maryland doctor known for advocating the COVID-19 vaccine.
The text message sent by Scott Eli Harris, 52, also referenced the Asian American physician’s race and national origin, according to the Justice Department.
“Never going to take your wonder drug. My 12 gauge promises I won’t,” Harris texted the physician, who was identified by reports as Dr. Leana Wen. “I’m a 5th generation U.S. Army veteran and a sniper. I can’t wait for the shooting to start.”
Harris, a disabled veteran, pleaded guilty to threats transmitted by interstate communication in February. In addition to his prison term, his sentence on Tuesday included three years of supervised release.
Wen, who is an emergency physician, CNN medical analyst and contributing columnist for The Washington Post, made headlines earlier this week for her op-ed
titled “I’m a doctor. Here’s why my kids won’t wear masks this school year.” Prior to the piece’s publication, Wen was a vocal advocate of government mask and vaccine mandates.
“While we are all entitled to our own opinion, no one has the right to threaten the life of someone because of race, national origin, or because of holding different views,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron said in a statement. “Threats like these will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Meanwhile, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke assured that threats driven especially by racial animus and “misguided beliefs concerning the COVID-19 pandemic” will not be tolerated.
“Members of our Asian American Pacific Islander communities should never have to live in fear of violence because of their race or national origin,” Clarke said.
Harris’ public attorney, Elizabeth Oyer, told The Baltimore Sun that he was “embarrassed by his conduct” and that he “sincerely apologizes for the harm he has caused.” Assistant Federal Public Defender Cynthia Frezzo told CBS News that Harris provided the U.S. Attorney’s Office with “a heartfelt apology letter to share with the victim.”
However, Frezzo also noted that Harris “was in the throes of undiagnosed, service-related mental illness” at the time of his offense. She said his arrest and supervision provided the mental health care he needed.