A San Luis Obispo man accused of making online death threats against organizers of a local vigil has a history of violent posts and could spend up to a year in County Jail if convicted.
Daniel Joshua Phares, 45, made his first court appearance on Thursday on a misdemeanor charge of making a criminal threat of “death and great bodily injury” against three women named in the complaint as victims.
He was arrested following a San Luis Obispo Police Department investigation of a Facebook comment he allegedly made on a page for the Outshine the Darkness rally held on Aug. 16. The rally was held in honor of Heather Heyer — the woman killed Aug. 12 while protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Phares appeared out of custody, on $50,000 bond, before Judge Craig van Rooyen. In the gallery behind him were several people attending in solidarity with the vigil organizers. Phares told the judge he understood the charge and requested a public defender, which van Rooyen assigned.
While police declined to specify what the alleged threat said, Mick Bruckner, a Cal Poly student and Queer Student Union member who attended Thursday’s hearing, said police told the vigil’s co-organizer that the post referred to organizers as “subhuman pieces of s---” and threatened “I’m going to kill you and you’re going to like it.”
SLO police Detective Chad Pfarr said Phares admitted in a police interview to writing the post and later deleting it.
“He basically was sick of opposing views to his,” Pfarr said in a previous Tribune interview. “He said he thought it was better to vent than to actually do anything about it.”
A search of a Facebook page appearing to belong to Phares reveals, in addition to strong support for veganism and environmental causes, a years-long history of racist and inflammatory posts.
On several occasions, Phares called for “chemical castration of polygamists” and a ban on hunting; wrote that Europe is in the middle of “a stage 4 Muslim infestation” and that mosques should all be destroyed; and declared that while “racial integration efforts were fundamentally criminal,” he believed “Asian’s (sic) are quite frankly, ruthless protectors of the environment and family values and should be considered fundamentally critical to the health of any society.”
While he criticized President Donald Trump’s support for hunting in one post, he went on to write that “perhaps its (sic) necessary to eradicate Islam/polygamy from the human experience before the animals will get a break.”
Phares also shared on Sept. 24, 2016, a video titled “BlackLivesMatter May Want To Stop Blocking The Roads,” that showed motorists driving through protesters. On Aug. 12, police said a 20-year-old man named James Alex Fields Jr. drove through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heyer. Numerous photos showed Fields taking part in the white supremacist rally earlier that day.
Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said he was unable to comment on whether Phares’ history of violent comments and the proximity of his threat to the death of Heyer factored into his office’s decision to pursue a misdemeanor charge over a more serious felony count.
“Given the totality of the circumstances, the misdemeanor filing seemed appropriate,” Cunningham said.
Phares did not enter a plea Thursday. His attorney, Jeremy Cutcher, asked that the matter be referred to further arraignment. Van Rooyen set a court date for Oct. 12. The judge also granted the prosecutor’s request that Phares be ordered not to make online contact with any of the three victims listed in the complaint, or the Facebook page for Women’s March in San Luis Obispo.
Against his attorney’s admonition, Phares told the judge that while he was a supporter of women’s rights, he was opposed to that Facebook page.
“I don’t believe that’s a women’s rights organization,” he said.