California man pleads guilty to hate crime threat to Islamic group
Man using a smartphone (Shutterstock)

A California man who telephoned threats to the San Diego and Washington offices of a prominent Islamic group after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France in January pleaded guilty to a felony hate crime charge on Tuesday, his lawyer said.

John David Weissinger, 54, pleaded guilty in San Diego County Superior Court to felony charges of making a criminal threat determined to be a hate crime and possession of an assault rifle, defense attorney Thomas Mathews said.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, Weissinger also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of interference with civil rights, Mathews said.

Weissinger, who lives in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa, made the threats days after militants stormed the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 and killed 11 people. The magazine had published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad that were considered deeply offensive by many Muslims.

On Jan. 15, Weissinger left messages at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) offices in San Diego and Washington threatening an attack similar to the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

"He had consumed copious amounts of alcohol. He acted on his drunken emotions with out really thinking it through," Mathews said. "He has regretted it ever since the next morning when he woke up sober."

Hanif Mohebi, executive director of CAIR's San Diego chapter, said he was glad Weissinger pleaded guilty.

“It’s a good lesson for anyone who threatens our community, that there are consequences,” Mohebi said.

But he questioned why Weissinger was not charged under federal terrorism laws.

"If Mr. Weissinger was dark brown and Muslim, they would not be saying, 'it’s OK, he was drunk and angry but he is not a terrorist,'" Mohebi said.

Weissinger will be sentenced on Oct. 13. He faces up to a year in jail and three years probation.

(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech)