Utah man’s fatal encounter with FBI: Unveiling a gun enthusiast’s political grievance

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An armed Utah man killed by FBI agents after making violent threats against President Joe Biden was described by his family Thursday as a gun enthusiast and devoted churchgoer who became distraught over what he saw as “a corrupt and overreaching government.”

The family insisted in a statement that Air Force veteran Craig Deleeuw Robertson would not have acted on the threats and committed violence over political disagreements, despite court records in which prosecutors depicted him as radicalized.

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Robertson, who public records say was 74 years old, was killed Wednesday by agents trying to serve a warrant at his Provo home hours before the president landed in Utah to visit a Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) away.

Prosecutors had filed three charges against him under seal for alleged threats, including one this week that he was “cleaning the dust off the M24 sniper rifle” in anticipation of Biden’s Utah visit.

The self-employed woodworker was largely homebound and had limited mobility, his family said. Robertson referred to himself as a “MAGA Trumper,” a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, and posted threats including against Biden, the FBI and numerous law enforcement officials overseeing court cases against Trump, according to an FBI affidavit.

“There was very little he could do but exercise his First Amendment right to free speech,” Robertson’s family said in a statement posted to social media. The statement added that he was a decent man who voiced his “sometimes intemperate” grievances “in what has become the public square of our age - the internet.”

The family added that it had no animosity against law enforcement agents who took part in the events leading up to his death.

“The salient point is that he was never actually going to hurt anyone,” family member Julie Robertson said in a text message. “He didn’t even leave his house on the day of the presidential visit.”

The FBI investigation began following a March tip about a threat Robertson made on Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social. Robertson also referenced a “presidential assassination” and posted threats against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, US Attorney General Merrick Garland and New York Attorney General Letitia James, authorities said. He called for assassinating the president and vice president, called an assault rifle a “Democratic eradicator” and regularly posted photos of firearms accompanied by threatening messages, they said.

Roughly 20 law enforcement agents came to Robertson’s house, on a cul-de-sac, at about 6 a.m. Wednesday, according to neighbor Jon Michael Ossola. They told Robertson to come outside and he started yelling back, saying he hadn’t committed any federal crimes, Ossola said.

The shouting escalated until a window was broken, Ossola said, then he heard a cacophony of bangs and eventually saw agents bring Robertson’s body outside. “It was clear he was gone,” Ossola said.

Ossola filmed part of the encounter to “show friends and family that this crazy stuff happens in Provo, Utah,” he said.

“I understand that, like, he had guns, and he had mentioned that he would use them, and so there’s definitely a concern there,” Ossola said. “But it still felt, like, a bit unsettling about how many people were there and just kind of how forceful it felt.”

FBI representatives did not immediately respond to the family’s statement or questions about the raid, including whether agents were wearing body cameras. Biden last year signed an executive order requiring all federal law enforcement agencies to mandate that body cameras be used during operations such as arrests and searches. However, a 2022 FBI policy says agents executing arrest and search warrants do not have to wear them if it is considered unsafe.

Military records show Robertson is a US Air Force veteran who entered active duty in 1970 and served four or fewer years, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.

He was an airman first class and his service included work as a metalworker helper, she said. He was last stationed at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois, which has since been decommissioned. Further details on his service were not immediately available.

Neighbors said Robertson’s violent threat-laced social media posts were markedly different than how he interacted in the community, where he would ask about neighbors’ children and offer to drive them home from church near his house. The neighborhood is mainly single-story homes with green lawns in a growing area south of Salt Lake City known for outdoor recreation and as religious, conservative and home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Brigham Young University.

Firefighters on Thursday laid flowers in front of Robertson’s home after cleaning blood off the walkway to his door.

Robertson had about 20 firearms, according to a neighbor, and was armed at the time of the shooting, according to two law enforcement sources who soke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of an ongoing investigation.

A White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the matter said Biden was briefed after the raid. He made no mention of it during his Thursday appearance in Salt Lake.

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