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Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart to be tried on a blackmail charge

Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart is ordered to trial in Oklahoma after complaints of blackmail stemmed from an email sent in March.
by Nolan Clay Modified: September 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm •  Published: September 7, 2013

A judge Friday ordered Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart to face trial in a blackmail case.

Gerhart, a carpenter, is charged with two felonies over an email he admits sending to a state senator in an effort to get legislation passed.

Oklahoma County Special Judge Susan K. Johnson rejected defense arguments that the email was protected political speech.

“Your First Amendment rights are on trial, not just mine,” Gerhart told news reporters after the ruling was made at the end of a two-hour preliminary hearing.

Sen. Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City, said he felt anxious when he first read the email. “It kind of got the hairs up on the back of my neck,” he said.

Gerhart, 55, of Oklahoma City, is charged with blackmail and violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act. He pleaded not guilty Friday.

Gerhart sent the email March 26, promising to make the senator a laughingstock unless the Senate Energy and Environment Committee passed a bill dealing with a United Nations plan.

Branan is chairman of the committee.

Misspelling one word, Gerhart wrote: “Branan, Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don't hear that this bill will be heard and passed. We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise.”

Under state law, blackmail can involve a written communication that threatens to expose information about someone “which would in any way subject such person to the ridicule or contempt of society.”

The senator testified that at the time he got the email he had not made a decision whether the Senate Energy and Environment Committee would take up the bill on the U.N. plan. He acknowledged, though, that he had been inclined not to hear it.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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