When Del. Nick Allen decided to run for office, he knew he’d be exposing himself to criticism.
He did not expect, however, to be the target of hateful threats from a former high school classmate.
The former classmate, Adam Michael Nettina, admitted in federal court to sending harassing threats to Allen, calling him a “baby killing terrorist” and claiming he would get Allen excommunicated from the Catholic Church for expressing support for transgender people.
Nettina’s admission about threatening Allen came as part of guilty plea to one count of leaving a voicemail threatening to kill people at the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and equality.
The plea agreement also detailed threats Nettina was accused of making to a state lawmaker in Virginia.
Allen, a Democrat from Baltimore County, is not named in the court documents, but chose to speak publicly about the case to shine a light on how online political dialogue can be harmful.
“It’s unfortunate,” Allen said of the case. “It’s also very clear that we have a mental health crisis in the country. I think that is obvious to pretty much everyone at this point. And we have a hate crisis, for lack of a better term. We see all too often that those tend to overlap. This is one of those cases.”
Allen said he’s glad authorities intervened when they did and that he’s hopeful Nettina receives help.
“I am praying for him,” Allen said. “I hope this is a turning point for him. Because nobody wants to live their life this way.”
Allen said it crossed his mind that the threats might escalate into action, so he took steps including replacing his home address with a P.O. box on campaign documents and having donations mailed to his fundraising consultant instead of his house.
“It was absolutely a concern for me and my family,” he said.
Nettina, who lives in West Friendship in Howard County, was arrested in April on charges that accuse him of leaving a threatening voicemail for the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group. The additional threats against lawmakers weren’t publicly revealed until Nettina’s guilty plea on Wednesday.
The voicemail was left at the Human Rights Campaign shortly after a shooting at a school in Tennessee in which the alleged perpetrator had identified as transgender.
The caller’s message included: “We’ll cut your throats. We’ll put a bullet in your head … You’re going to kill us? We’re going to kill you ten times more in full,” according to the plea agreement.
Nettina pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of making a threat transmitted by interstate communication and choosing his target based on actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the plea agreement.
As part of the plea agreement, Nettina also acknowledged threatening Allen as well as a state lawmaker in Virginia.
Allen, who attended Mount St. Joseph High School with Nettina, said the first threat came during the 2022 primary election campaign. Allen had posted a message of support for International Transgender Day of Visibility on social media.
Allen thought the post was “the most milquetoast liberal social media thing,” but he received a hateful response saying he would be kicked out of the Catholic Church.
“I’m going to make sure you are NEVER welcomed with open arms in another Catholic Church again,” Nettina wrote to Allen, according to the plea agreement.
The messages continued, and on general election night in November 2022, Nettina sent Allen a message calling him a “baby killing terrorist,” according to the plea agreement.
“Enjoy hell You’re going sooner than you think,” Nettina wrote the lawmaker.
Allen recalled reading the messages on his Facebook account as he left a victory party.
Despite the threatening messages, Allen said he has not been deterred from posting about issues that are important to him, even if they are controversial — though he does try be responsible and not get sucked into social media “outrage cycles.”
If anything, he said, it reminds him that it’s important to be an ally for those who don’t have the privilege he has as a white, straight, Christian man.
Nettina also emailed a Virginia lawmaker in October 2022, after the politician advocated for protecting transgender children from abuse, according to the plea agreement. Nettina called the lawmaker a terrorist and said “You deserve to be shot and hung in the streets. You want to come after people? Let’s go bitch.”
Nettina is scheduled for sentencing in November, facing a maximum of five years in prison.
Nettina’s attorney, Joseph Murtha, issued a statement to the website Maryland Matters: “Mr. Nettina found himself in a dark place in his life at the time of the voicemail that he left. He has accepted responsibility for his actions, and regrets that it happened. At no time did he ever intend to harm anyone.”
“You have the right to your own opinions, but you don’t have the right to threaten the lives of those who disagree with you,” said Maryland’s U.S. attorney, Erek L. Barron, himself a former state lawmaker. “We’ll continue prosecuting these threats to the fullest extent of the law.”