Man allegedly threatened Senate candidate Evan McMullin and his wife with a gun
Senate candidate says man accused of threatening him ‘has a history of promoting political violence on social media’
A driver allegedly threatened U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin and his wife with a gun as they drove home from a campaign event in southern Utah in April.
Jack Aaron Whelchel, formerly of Highland, attempted to force the McMullins off the road, brandishing a firearm in a threatening manner, according to a filing in 4th District Court in American Fork. The incident happened in Highland.
Whelchel, 44, is charged with threatening with or using a dangerous weapon, a class A misdemeanor, and disorderly conduct, an infraction. He has pleaded not guilty. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 2.
Court documents don’t provide any further details about the incident. McMullin has asked the court to unseal a victim impact statement he filed as part of the case on Aug. 24.
“Due to the nature of this crime and the public profile of McMullin, as he has run for president of the United States and is currently running for U.S. Senate, this record should be part of the public record,” McMullin’s attorney Loren Washburn argued.
The judge has not ruled on the motion.
In a statement Saturday, McMullin said he and his wife, Emily, were returning from the campaign event when “we were followed, chased and threatened by a man brandishing a firearm.”
“We later learned that the man has a history of promoting political violence on social media, though we do not know if that played any role in this incident. Regardless, he put my life and the life of my wife at risk and I am cooperating fully with law enforcement authorities who have charged him with related crimes.”
McMullin, who ran for president as an independent in 2016, is challenging Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee, also as an independent.
While McMullin’s victim impact statement remains sealed, a copy of the document was provided to the Deseret News on Saturday.
“That night, we and Mr. Whelchel traveled along the same path for a number of miles through Utah County, which initially seemed to be happenstance or someone innocuously traveling along the same route as us,” McMullin wrote in his statement.
“Ultimately, however, Mr. Whelchel aggressively followed and chased us, pulled his truck alongside us and forced my wife and I into the oncoming lane of traffic. He then brandished a firearm, pointing it toward us in a threatening way.”
McMullin, who wrote that Whelchel drove a large pickup truck, said that he and his wife did nothing to threaten, harm or provoke the driver. He said they called 911 when they realized they were being followed and “attempted to flee when it was clear we were in danger.”
Whelchel’s attorney, Brixton Hakes, said his client disputes McMullin’s version of events, insisting a firearm was never aimed at the couple, according to CNN.
“He never brandished a firearm,” Hakes told CNN.
But during the incident, Whelchel did place a firearm on the center console of the vehicle, Hakes said.
According to Hakes, Whelchel “thought he was being followed” by McMullin, an incorrect assumption the attorney acknowledged.
Hakes said he expects the case to go to a jury trial after the hearing next month. McMullin testified at a preliminary hearing in the case in July.
In his statement, McMullin wrote that Whelchel’s social media presence demonstrates a proclivity for politically motivated violence, including accusations against politicians he opposes and about “guns being the tools with which to carry on this ‘war’ against those he opposes politically.”
Whelchel’s Facebook page includes several far-right posts and memes.
McMullin also noted that, during the investigation, he learned that Whelchel has served as a military police officer and in other state and federal law enforcement positions.
“He knows better than to have done what he did — or at least should know better,” McMullin wrote.
“Mr. Whelchel must have been well aware of the danger posed by his actions and of their criminality that night yet he took them anyway,” McMullin added.
Hakes told CNN his client no longer lives in Utah and will have to travel back to the state to stand trial.