Lawmaker seeks changes to terrorism law after arrest of Upper Peninsula student
Lansing — An Oakland Township lawmaker has introduced legislation to crack down on what he sees as the gratuitous prosecution of a Lake Superior State University student who posted a photo of his firearm on social media.
GOP Rep. John Reilly announced legislation Tuesday that would more specifically define a terrorist threat as “knowingly, intentionally or recklessly makes a statement that would intimidate, frighten or coerce a victim into undertaking an action or refraining from undertaking an action.”
In order to be considered a terrorist threat under the legislation, the statement would have to include a threat of physical force or destruction, to be made by the person intending to carry it out and considered in context so that a “reasonable person” could conclude it was meant to threaten.
The bill is “just the beginning” to address abuses arising from sometimes clashing values on college campuses and elsewhere, Reilly said. “This case is not one in isolation, but one of the most egregious I’ve seen,” he said.
“This case sits at the nexus of First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, campus culture, cancel culture, privacy, due process of law and the weaponizing of the criminal justice system,” Reilly said.
The legislation comes as 20-year-old Lucas Gerhard faces a March trial for allegedly making a threat of terrorism related to a Snapchat photo he sent to a closed group of friends in August.
Gerhard, a politically active conservative on the Upper Peninsula campus, posted a photo to his Snapchat group of a Colt AR-15 Rifle before heading back to school and wrote “Takin this bad boy up, this outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow.”
The Snapchat message was shared by a friend with another student who reported the post to the Lake Superior State University campus.
“What happened next was a comedy of errors in which every person responsible failed to use common sense and instead of dismissing the incident, decided to escalate," Reilly said.
Gerhard returned to the campus later the next day, stowed his gun in the campus armory and was approached later by campus and Sault Ste. Marie police wanting to search his room on suspicion of terrorism.
He was arrested the next morning and spent 83 days in jail because his father was unable to post the $250,000 bond and comply with a requirement that would have kept Gerhard within Chippewa County limits during his case.
Gerhard was bound over to circuit in October and faces a March trial on the charge.
“As a Marine and a parent with a child at school, it’s what didn’t happen if the school thought this was such a huge threat,” said Lucas’ father Mark Gerhard. If the school perceived Lucas to be a threat, he said, why didn’t they call police and tell them to intercept Lucas at the Mackinac Birdge, or stop him before he came on campus or send an alert to students on campus?
“The school wasn’t seeing this as a general public safety concern,” Mark Gerhard said. “It was only afterward that they decided they were going to pursue this along with the prosecutor.”
Reilly and Mark Gerhard allege the prosecutor’s crack down on Lucas was politically motivated and said the chief assistant prosecutor handling the case is opposed to firearms like those shown in the Snapchat post.
But Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jillian Sadler denied making comments in that vein and said she has shot assault rifles recreationally in the past.
“It’s a very conservative county up here in Chippewa County,” Sadler said. “The irony is this happened on a very conservative campus.”
Sadler declined to comment on the facts of the case, but said the office remained confident in the charges against the student.
“I’m afraid this is going to become a political punching bag when really we’re just trying to execute the laws as they’re written,” she said.
Reilly’s bill has been referred to the committee on Military, Veterans and Homeland Security. The bill would not change current penalties for making a threat of terrorism, which currently include up to 20 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.