A man described as a “normal guy” who kept a low profile in his rural Alaska community faces charges he threatened to hire an assassin to kill a U.S. senator.
Jay Allen Johnson was scheduled to be arraigned later Friday on charges related to phone threats authorities say he made against U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Johnson was arrested Monday and was being held in a Fairbanks jail ahead of the federal court hearing.
His public defender, Gary Colbath, said Friday that the office does not comment on pending cases.
Attempts to reach Johnson’s family members were not successful. One person believed to be a relative, possibly a son, declined comment to The Associated Press, saying his employer forbids him from giving statements to the media.
Johnson has split his time between Alaska and Texas. In 2019, he appears to have moved from Tuscola, Texas, to Delta Junction, Alaska, located about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Fairbanks, where he lives in an isolated area.
Few people in Delta Junction, with a population of about 1,000 in town with another 4,000 or so in the surrounding area, know him, said Mayor Lou Heinbockel.
“I’ve lived here 50 years and I’ve never heard of the name until I read it in the paper yesterday,” he said.
Cody White sells guns at his Granite View Sports and Gifts store in Delta Junction and doesn’t recall Johnson — a 65-year-old white male standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 180 pounds with black hair and green eyes, according to Texas court documents — ever shopping there, but says some of his customers said they knew him. They described Johnson as “just a normal guy, quiet,” White said.
“We see a ton of people in town and usually if they’re here more than a year, I usually know who they are but I don’t know if this guy has ever been in the store,” he said.
On June 18, 2019, Johnson registered to vote as a member of the Alaska Constitution Party, Tiffany Montemayor, a spokesperson for the Alaska Division of Elections, said in an email to the AP.
It is not recognized as a party in the state, but it is a political group with about 680 members, she said.
“He does not register with me, I don’t recall him at all,” said J.R. Myers, the founder and chairman of the Alaska Constitution Party. “As far as I know, he’s never been active in the party, so I’m not sure who he is.”
The group’s Facebook page has a post urging Murkowski’s impeachment and Myers said they would like to replace her, but by voting her out of office.
“We don’t advocate violence,” he said. “We advocate change to the constitutional processes, the political process.”
Originally from Fairbanks, Johnson lived briefly in Abilene and then spent many years in Tuscola, Texas, before moving back to Alaska.
He is associated with a welding business, J’s Welding, which lists its address as a post office box in Fairbanks, but there is no record of a state license for it.
Johnson has had 21 court cases in both Texas and Alaska, many of them for minor offenses like speeding.
The most recent case before this week was a public intoxication charge brought against him in Abilene in March 2019.
He pleaded no contest to a felony violence charge in Alaska in 1990, and he’s had several drunken driving offenses, including a related case in which he had a weapon while intoxicated.
He owes the state of Alaska $10,667 in fines for offenses in 2007 and 2014. The state turned the matter over to collections.
Now he faces federal charges related to messages left on the office phones of both Murkowski and the state’s other U.S. senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, authorities allege.
An affidavit filed by an FBI special agent investigating the case said a voice mail left on Sept. 29 was directed to Murkowski by name. The caller threatened to hire an assassin, and the man said, “Resign or get the f--- gone, or die.”
On Sept. 2, a voice message left at Murkowski’s office said: “I will find out everything, where you’re at. I will find out all of your properties and I will burn everything you hope to have, and I will burn everything you hope to own.”
The caller then says he’ll use his skills as a veteran: “50 caliber shell, you ever see what that does to a f----- human head?”
The Navy, Air Force and Army said they did not have information about Johnson in their ranks, and the Marines were still checking.
Sullivan also received 13 voice messages at his office, some with authorities alleging Johnson gave his name and address on them. Neither Sullivan’s office nor authorities have detailed the nature of the calls left at his office and whether they contained similar threats.
Authorities matched the number caught by caller ID at the two senator’s offices to Johnson, according to the affidavit.