FORT MYERS, Fla. A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal hate crime charges of threatening two Muslim grocery stores in Fort Myers.
James Benjamin Jones, 35, of 1525 Braman Ave., was accused of telling the owners of Halal Meat & Grocery on 2962 S. Cleveland Ave. and Sahara Mediterranean Market on 1940 Jefferson Ave. that he would harm them, the U.S. Justice Department said.
In June, Jones told Md Bakhtier Rahman, the owner of Halal Meat & Grocery, “to shut down the business” and said that “four people will come with guns and they will blow up [Rahman]” if the store was not closed in one month, according to the Justice Department.
Jones also told Rahman that he would be “keeping an eye” on him to ensure that he was closing the business, as Jones and others “will blow up all Muslims and get this land back,” the Justice Department said.
In July, Jones referenced the Orlando pulse nightclub mass shooting — in which Omar Mateen, a Muslim, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others — to owner Omar Rabbo of the Sahara Mediterranean Market, according to the Justice Department. Just as with Rahman, Jones is accused of threatening Rabbo to close his store.
“We don’t need no halal business in the area, either you or the other guys [Halal Meat & Grocery] back there,” Jones said, according to the Justice Department, ” … so for your safety and your family’s safety, you got two months to go, to leave.”
Both stores remain open.
“The defendant made violent threats in an attempt to extinguish people’s economic livelihood simply because of their religion,” said Tom Wheeler, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
It’s not clear what sort of sentence Jones faces. A hearing has not been set.