Metro Weekly

Richard Grenell, openly gay U.S. ambassador to Germany, has reportedly received death threats

Direct threats against an ambassador are rare, but are generally tied to disagreements over U.S. policy, officials say

Richard Grenell — Photo: U.S. Consulate Munich / Wiki Commons

Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and highest-ranking out LGBTQ person in the Trump administration, has been receiving threats, including at least one against his life, reports CNN.

A photo of one letter seen by CNN sent directly to Grenell told him to leave Germany or he would be killed. The letter was signed by the “Society for the New Truth,” and was one of several threats sent to the U.S. embassy, according to a source close to the investigation and two State Department officials.

A spokesman for the ambassador, Joseph Giordono-Scholz, told CNN that “we do not publicly discuss security issues and procedures.”

Grenell, a former Republican Party operative and spokesman to the United Nations, is considered by some in Germany (especially on the political Left) to be “controversial,” employing a more blunt, less diplomatic approach in service of the Trump administration’s global priorities.

He has previously butted heads with the German government officials, businesses, and the media, by opposing Germany’s pursuit of a natural gas pipeline to Russia, its use of Chinese technology, and its business contracts and other dealings with Iran.

According to CNN, the 52-year-old envoy has become a polarizing figure in his host country, prompting some German citizens to begin planning a large protest against him earlier this year. The Feb. 3 event was supposed to be called “The Big Grenell Payback,” but was halted after police intervened. The organizer had reportedly been incensed by Grenell’s opposition to the natural gas pipeline with Russia.

It’s Grenell’s outspokenness and willingness to attack and criticize the German government and media that may have led to him being targeted in the first place. 

Fred Burton, a former Diplomatic Security special agent and deputy chief of the State Department’s counter-terror division, said death threats are an “unusual occurrence. It’s more probable to get threats directed at the Secretary of State, unless of course that ambassador is a very prominent official.”

At least two of the threats directed against Grenell included an unidentified white powder and came in suspicious envelopes with no return address, according to a source familiar with the incidents.

A former senior U.S. government official said that an incident involving an envelope with white powder “happens a few dozen times a year around the world, but it really changes year to year because it tends to be tied to U.S. policy.”

“These things happen more after a U.S. action that people don’t like,” the official said. “Normally, you get threats more against an embassy in general, ‘we’re going to bomb you’ or something. But I’ve seen direct death threats against an ambassador before, in Senegal, over a trade issue, in Tunisia, tied to the Gulf War, as well as in Israel.”

Burton agreed, saying that the occurrence of incidents involving white powder in envelopes is rare, but “ebbs and flows, based on current events.”

According to officials, all mail to the embassy is screened off-site, so the envelopes containing white powder did not cause a disruption or evacuation of the embassy.

The State Department’s internal alert about the threats said that Berlin police were investigating. Neither the Berlin police nor Germany’s federal police could confirm any investigations into threats against the ambassador, but the country’s strict privacy laws often prevent police from commenting on ongoing investigations.

One State Department source said the FBI was also investigating the threats, but the agency did not respond to requests for comment.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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