A Mountain Home man has pleaded guilty to charges that he made threatening phone calls to CNN just before the 2018 midterm elections.
Benjamin Craig Matthews, 42, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine, according to a plea agreement filed Monday in Baxter County Circuit Court.
Matthews pleaded guilty to charges of terroristic threatening and harassing communications.
He was sentenced to two years in prison and two years in the Baxter County jail, with the sentences to run concurrently.
But those sentences were suspended as long as Matthews follows the guidelines of his unsupervised probation, which include — among other things — not drinking, possessing a firearm or associating with convicted felons.
Circuit Judge John Putman presided over the case.
According to court filings, Matthews made more than 40 threatening calls to CNN headquarters in Atlanta over a three day period in 2018 leading up to the midterm election that year.
In several of the phone calls, Matthews, who is white, reportedly threatened a CNN journalist identified in court documents as DL.
In one call, according to the affidavit, a caller asked the CNN switchboard operator, “Could I be directed to DL’s dead body hanging from a tree?”
Another time, a caller asked if he could be directed to “pipe bombs for DL.” That call was placed one week after Cesar Sayoc was arrested in connection with more than a dozen pipe bombs that were sent to prominent Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump. Some of the bombs were addressed to CNN contributors and mailed to CNN offices.
Another call spoke of “bloody pictures of DL cut up in small pieces, like the movie Saw,” according to the affidavit from Sgt. Brad Hurst with the Baxter County sheriff’s office.
The calls began shortly after Oct. 29, 2018, when CNN host Don Lemon, who is Black, said on a live show regarding people heading north from Central America that, “We have to stop demonizing people and realize that the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them. There is no travel ban on them. There is no ban — you know, they had the Muslim ban. There is no white-guy ban. So what do we do about that?”
In a broadcast two nights later, Lemon referred to his previous comment: “I said that the biggest terror threat in this country comes from radicals on the far right, primarily white men. That angered some people. But let’s put emotion aside and look at the cold hard facts. The evidence is overwhelming.”
Lemon’s name isn’t mentioned in the court filings.