Atlanta, Georgia - Preston Q. Howard, 50, of Wright City, Missouri, was sentenced Tuesday by Chief United States District Court Judge J. Randal Hall to 24 months in prison for obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 247(a)(2). The judge enhanced the sentence because Mr. Howard chose his victims based on their religion, thereby committing a hate crime. When imposing the sentence, Chief Judge Hall noted Howard’s “disturbing pattern of intolerance of many groups of people,” and the Court’s intent to afford a deterrent to similar criminal conduct by Howard and others who may believe and act as he did.
“Threats of violence based on religious beliefs have no place in our country,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to work tirelessly to prosecute hate crime offenders.”
“Threats made against houses of worship are abhorrent and this Office will work tirelessly to ensure that members of all faiths may worship in peace and without intimidation,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “The United States Attorney’s Office, in concert with our law enforcement partners, will work tirelessly to protect our houses of worship.”
“The FBI will not tolerate threats and intimidation against anyone because of their religion or their beliefs,” said Murang Pak, Acting Special Agent in Charge (A/SAC) of FBI Atlanta. “No one should feel they have the right to instill fear in our citizens and rob them of their sense of safety in their communities and particularly where they choose to practice their faith.”
According to information presented at Howard’s guilty plea and sentencing hearings, between June 22, 2017, and Aug. 8, 2017, Howard made numerous telephone calls to the Islamic Society of Augusta (ISA), during which he threatened to “kill,” “bomb,” “shoot,” “behead,” “slaughter,” “execute,” “light on fire,” and “murder” members of the mosque, to “hunt down” and “zone in” on Muslims, and to “blow up the mosque.” Howard admitted committing these acts and obstructing or attempting to obstruct the mosque members’ free exercise of their religious beliefs.
In response to Howard’s threats, the ISA upgraded their security system and hired off-duty officers to provide added security during services and community events. Howard was ordered to pay almost $30,000 in restitution to cover those costs.
The FBI Atlanta Field Division investigated the case. Assistant United States Attorney Nancy Greenwood prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States, in consultation with the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division. For any questions, please contact the United States Attorney’s Office at (912) 652-4422.