The Justice Department charged two people with federal terrorism offences on Wednesday for allegedly claiming they were intentionally trying to spread the coronavirus.
The charges, in cases in Texas and Florida, come about two weeks after Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen instructed federal prosecutors across the U.S. that they could charge people who threaten to spread the coronavirus under the terrorism statutes because the Justice Department considers it a “biological agent” under the law.
“Threats or attempt to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated,” Rosen wrote in the memo to U.S. attorneys and the heads of all Justice Department agencies, including the FBI.
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More than 400,000 people have been diagnosed in the U.S. with the virus, which has prompted stay-at-home orders from lawmakers across the country. Authorities have reported an uptick in hate crimes and virus-related scams.
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Prosecutors allege James Jamal Curry, 31, of St. Petersburg, Florida, coughed on an officer’s arm while he was being arrested on a domestic violence charge on March 27 and told the officer, “Well I got the Corona,” according to court documents.