GOP Sen.’s Personal Twitter Briefly Suspended After Threatening Japan

senator mike lee - Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
senator mike lee - Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, has since July 2022 maintained an unfiltered Twitter presence as @BasedMikeLee, using this personal account to vent, bluster, own the libs, and share epic memes. But on Wednesday, the account was briefly suspended.

“Thanks to all who assisted in operation #Free@basedMikeLee,” he tweeted after the account was reinstated later on Wednesday. “Still no explanation from @Twitter as to what happened.”

Lee’s office in the Senate did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did Lee Lonsberry, his director of communications. But archived screenshots of Lee’s activity as @BasedMikeLee in the hours leading up to his suspension reveal that he was repeatedly issuing an ultimatum to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Lee appeared to be in a state of agitation over Japan’s imprisonment of U.S. Navy lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, who was sentenced to three years behind bars for negligence in a car crash that killed two people in 2021. The case has proven a sore spot for U.S.-Japan relations. The officer’s wife, Brittany Alkonis, appealed on his behalf to President Joe Biden after his State of the Union address last month.

Instead of going through the usual diplomatic channels, Lee began tweeting directly at Kishida, telling the prime minister he had a short span of time in which to return Alkonis to U.S. custody, or else face repercussions.

On Tuesday, Lee — who had previously set a deadline of Feb. 28 — tweeted at Kishida, “please remand Lt. Ridge Alkonis to the custody of the U.S. Navy within the next 48 hours. If you do so, I’m willing to forget all about this unfortunate incident. If not, we’re going to have a long series of conversations about the SOFA that you will not enjoy.” SOFA is the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, a long-standing treaty that established conditions for maintaining American armed forces and bases in the country.

The thread continued, with Lee arguing that SOFA is “far too generous to Japan” and peppering his comments with ominous phrases. “You can’t pretend you weren’t warned,” he tweeted at one point. He also insinuated that he could scuttle a deal for Japan to buy missiles from the U.S. and abruptly shortened the window for Alkonis’ release: “Also, you’ve got 24 hours, not 48,” he wrote. “Hand him over. Now.”

In some of his final tweets before the suspension, Lee continued to demand Kishida return the U.S. Navy officer to serve out a sentence at home. On Wednesday, he wrote, “you have 40 minutes left. Hand Lt. Ridge Alkonis over to the U.S. Navy. Now.” The follow-up tweet to Kishida consisted of Japanese characters that translate as “what goes around comes around.”

It’s unclear exactly how Lee proposes to modify the conditions of SOFA, a treaty that has been in place since 1960, as none of his Senate committee assignments provide him the means to influence the policy. In the past, Lee’s critics have often replied to bombastic posts from the @BasedMikeLee account to note that he has far less individual power in Washington than he likes to suggest.

Politicians and commenters on the right, meanwhile, called for Twitter to explain the suspension and reinstate Lee’s personal profile, with some appealing directly to owner Elon Musk.

In short order, @BasedMikeLee was back online. Responding to influencer @catturd2, who seemed to suggest that Twitter had once again shown a bias against conservative voices, Musk said that the account had been incorrectly flagged for impersonation. (Lee is subscribed to Twitter Blue, which some have used to fraudulently pose as public figures and brands.)

Lee, for his part, was satisfied with that explanation, and thanked Musk by posting a meme of himself. As for his promise to hold Senate conversations that Prime Minister Kishida is “not likely to enjoy,” we may be waiting a while.

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