The voice on the recordings doesn’t sound irate or unhinged. The man speaking seems to be annoyed and frustrated, but he never raises his voice.
If one lacked a command of the English language, it would be reasonable to assume that this person could be calling about a broken computer or a disputed cell phone bill.
However, the words the man says are unmistakable:
"James Zogby is worse than Osama bin Laden… [H]e’s an anti-Semitic motherf-----, and the only good Arab is a dead Arab."
According to a federal prosecutor, this was one of several voicemail messages left by Patrick Syring, an Arlington resident and State Department employee, at the offices of the Arab-American Institute, an advocacy group founded by Zogby.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Syring on two counts of making threatening statements to the group and of violating the group’s federally protected civil rights. The charges stem from seven voicemails and e-mails prosecutors say he sent to the institute last summer.
Syring was a 20-year employee of the State Department and was stationed in Beirut twice, most recently in the late 1990s.
He has been living in Arlington for the past several years and, according to a State Department spokesperson, retired shortly before being indicted. His retirement will be effective at the end of the month.
THE INDICTMENT was made in federal court because Syring is accused of sending the e-mails and voicemails to the Arab American Institute’s Washington D.C. offices from his Arlington home.
It contained transcripts of all the communications prosecutors allege Syring sent to the Arab-American Institute.
"This is Patrick Syring," one voicemail begins. "The only good Lebanese is a dead Lebanese… Death to Lebanon and death to the Arabs."
"You … should burn in the fires of hell for eternity and beyond," Syring wrote, according the the indictment, in an e-mail sent to several Institute employees. "The United States would be safer without you."
The e-mail was signed, "Sincerely, Patrick in Arlington, VA."
The indictment lists seven e-mails and voicemails and says that they were sent in July of 2006, when Israel was conducting a major military operation in Lebanon against the radical Muslim group Hezbollah.
Shortly after the charges were filed against Syring, Zogby issued a statement saying that his organization was pleased with the indictment.
"This has been a matter of concern to me and my entire office," the statement said. "The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has been responsive, and we feel protected. The threats were both intimidating and frightening — and the fact that the defendant was a 20-year career officer at the Department of State made it of even greater concern."
State Department spokesperson Nicole Thompson said, "The State Department doesn’t tolerate hateful language or discrimination or any other actions that violate federal law or regulations," but refused to comment further, citing the "ongoing legal case."
If Syring is convicted of the charges being levied against him, he faces $250,000 in fines and up to five years in jail.