Woman Lied to Buy Firearms for Son Who Later Threatened Politicians, U.S. Says


A Michigan woman has been charged with lying to buy firearms that were found in March with her 30-year-old son, who was arrested that month after making death threats online against President Biden and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, federal agents and prosecutors said.

In an indictment unsealed on Tuesday, the woman, Michelle Berka, 56, was charged with five counts of knowingly making false statements to firearm dealers in 2022. Specifically, prosecutors said, Ms. Berka said that the weapons she was buying were for her when, in fact, they were meant for someone else.

Although prosecutors did not name the intended recipient of the firearms, her son Randall Berka II was arrested in March while carrying four of the same weapons, according to federal agents and a statement at the time by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Among the firearms that Ms. Berka bought were a semiautomatic pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun and two rifles, including a semiautomatic rifle similar to an AK-47, prosecutors in her case said.

Carole Stanyar, Ms. Berka’s lawyer, declined to comment on the case on Thursday. Lying in order to purchase a firearm is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The charges come amid a rising tide of right-wing extremism and violent threats against Democratic politicians in Michigan. After a plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer was foiled by federal agents during the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, state and federal prosecutors have secured convictions for several people connected to the plot.

Last December, a Delaware truck driver, Barry Croft, was sentenced in Michigan to 19 years and seven months in prison for the kidnapping scheme. Prosecutors said he had planned to capture Ms. Whitmer and foment a civil war with guns and explosives.

In March, federal agents arrested Mr. Berka, who lives with his mother in Sebewaing, Mich., and charged him with illegally possessing firearms. Mr. Berka came to the F.B.I.’s attention after he made alarming threats in February and March to kill Democratic politicians on a YouTube channel he was using, according to court documents.

Referring to both President Biden and Governor Whitmer, Mr. Berka had posted that “biden deserves to die” and that he was “more than willing tot kill whitmer,” among other threats, the F.B.I. said.

Mr. Berka is also accused of posting multiple times that he would “kill lgbt freaks.” At one point, the display name on the YouTube channel was set to “kill all federal agents on sight and hang biden.”

Federal agents said that Mr. Berka was committed to a mental institution in 2012, which deemed him ineligible to possess any guns or ammunition.

In an interview with Ms. Berka in March, however, federal agents said that she had recently purchased four firearms for her son and that he kept ammunition and body armor in his room. Ms. Berka said her son “scared” her, federal agents said, and she suggested that he should be arrested and taken to prison.

Another Michigan man was charged with a hate crime in March on charges that he had threatened to kill Jewish government officials. Prosecutors said he had posted on Twitter, now known as X, that he would kill “anyone that is jewish in the Michigan govt.”

After Mr. Croft was convicted last August, Governor Whitmer said in a statement that it was time to take “a hard look at the status of our politics.”

“Plots against public officials and threats to the F.B.I. are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism,” she said, one that threatens “the very foundation of our republic.”


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