Updated March 2, 2022 - 7:37 am
A man accused of threatening Gov. Steve Sisolak and his wife while using racial and anti-government epithets is refusing to apologize for the Sunday encounter at a Las Vegas restaurant.
“I will not apologize for speaking out and expressing two years of frustration,” Justin Andersch said Tuesday. “I will not apologize for holding public officials responsible for their choices. I will not apologize for using language that is heard endlessly on every social media and music-streaming platform daily.”
Andersch read from a prepared statement outside the offices of attorney Craig Mueller. Mueller, who was a Republican candidate for attorney general in 2018, often represents clients with far-right leanings, such as rancher Cliven Bundy.
Following his statement, Andersch refused to take questions.
A minute-long video, sent to news outlets and posted on social media, shows the encounter at a restaurant identified as Lindo Michoacan in Summerlin. It begins with a man appearing to want a selfie with the governor before unleashing a stream of profanities at him.
The confrontation continued outside the restaurant, with Andersch speaking to another patron.
“You know what they do to traitors?” the other man asks.
“They hang them,” Andersch replies.
Before the comment, Andersch is heard in the video telling Sisolak, “We should string you up by a lamppost right now.”
A statement from the governor’s office Monday said Sisolak had arrived at the restaurant for dinner with his wife and a daughter when he “was approached by a customer in the establishment who asked to take a photo with him. The Governor often greets Nevadans in public with a quick handshake, conversation or a picture — talking to Nevadans is one of the Governor’s favorite parts of his job.”
The governor was “deeply disappointed in how this incident unfolded, particularly with the language used to talk about First Lady Kathy Sisolak’s heritage. We can disagree about the issues, but the personal attacks and threats are unwarranted, unwelcome and unbecoming behavior for Nevadans.”
Sisolak, his wife and daughter left the restaurant without eating.
Andersch spent much of his nearly six-minute statement on Tuesday bemoaning Nevada’s health policies during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. He said Sisolak’s administration was “authoritarian” and the reason he lost his job in the past two years.
He defended his actions in the video, saying he was standing up for his beliefs.
“Why is it front page news for me to confront an elected official in a public place?” Andersch asked.
Mueller said his client does not regret the language used in the video.
The attorney has filed lawsuits against Sisolak and the Metropolitan Police Department on behalf of a gym that was forced to close because of COVID-19 shutdown orders in May 2020. He also has represented congressional and state Senate candidates who filed lawsuits calling for a redo of the 2020 elections in Clark County, claiming that the signature verification machines violated state law.
‘This is a business’
Andersch is a self-described “digital creator” whose website and social media accounts promote his podcasts, a video blog and merchandise, all with extreme-right, anti-government conspiracy theories.
“Don’t overlook the fact that he’s selling stuff. This is a business and a brand,” said Robert Futrell, a UNLV sociology professor and expert on political extremism.
Andersch’s website also has references to QAnon, a conspiracy theory centered around the belief that a secret group of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles controls the “deep state” government.
It is Andersch’s aggressive behavior in the video that signals a far-right extremist belief system, Futrell said. When videos such as the encounter with Sisolak go viral, the professor said, he has concerns that the rhetoric could inspire individuals in what he calls the “lone-wolf effect.”
“It’s more about those who might see this and take it as a sign to go do something themselves,” Futrell said.
Business records and social media accounts show Andersch, 37, as the owner and manager of Sirius Certified LLC, a Las Vegas distributor of CBD oil products. He also has fought in mixed martial arts, losing his MMA debut — his only professional appearance — in 2018.
Postings on a publicly viewable Instagram account are mostly run-of-the-mill, right-wing memes attacking the government, media, coronavirus vaccine requirements and the like while embracing conservative media figures such as Joe Rogan and Dan Bongino.
Oregon court records show arrests in connection with marijuana possession and manufacture of the drug between 2008 and 2014, some of them felonies that were later dismissed, some resulting in fines. In February 2011, he faced charges of obstructing government administration and interfering with a peace officer in Klamath County, both misdemeanors.
Details of the charges were not immediately available. The obstruction charge was dismissed, and he paid a $400 fine on the interference conviction.
Nevada State Police have opened an investigation into Andersch’s encounter with Sisolak, spokeswoman Kim Yoko Smith has said. Mueller said Tuesday that his client had not been approached by any investigators.
Ian Bartrum, a constitutional law professor at UNLV, said that if prosecutors decided to pursue charges, a “trier of fact,” such as a judge or jury, would have to determine whether Andersch’s actions amounted to credible threats and whether Andersch “had the intent to intimidate or cause fear, and it was reasonable for the governor to believe he was in danger.”
Eve Hanan, a UNLV associate law professor who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure, declined to comment directly on the statements Andersch directed at Sisolak but wrote in an email that “true threats are an exception to the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment, much the way that solicitations to commit crimes are not protected by the First Amendment.”
Sisolak’s declared Republican opponents continued to react to the incident. In a fundraising email Wednesday, Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore said Sisolak should have anticipated the confrontation.
“While I do not condone the personal attacks made in that confrontation, Sisolak should have seen this type of anger coming,” Fiore said in the email. “He continued to enforce unconstitutional mandates and allowed schools to push the CRT nonsense onto our kids. With our economy barely hanging on thanks to Biden’s continual failures, we’ve reached a boiling point among Nevadans.”
CRT is a reference to critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. According to The Associated Press, it was developed during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
Fiore continues to ask for contributions to her gubernatorial campaign because conservatives “need to take the reigns (sic) and turn this State around.”
Jolie Brislin, regional director of Nevada’s chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, released a statement on Tuesday decrying Andersch’s video, writing that “there is nothing legitimate or acceptable about violent incitement and intimidation.”
“We must remain vigilant in the face of these threats,” Brislin said. “Extremists consistently try to enter the public conversation and normalize their views and garner attention, and so it’s incumbent upon all of us as informed citizens to push back when they emerge from the fringes.”
Contact Katelyn Newberg at email@example.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Bill Dentzer, David Ferrara and Jeff German contributed to this story.