Sen. Mike Lee’s personal Twitter account was suspended, then restored on Wednesday

The senator from Utah tried to use his account to pressure the Japanese government to release a U.S. servicemember imprisoned for a fatal traffic accident abroad.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee speaks with media on election night at the Hyatt Regency in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022., Lee had his personal Twitter account suspended on Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2023.

Twitter suspended, then restored, Sen. Mike Lee’s personal account, @BasedMikeLee, on Wednesday morning. In recent weeks, Lee was using the social media platform to threaten Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to release U.S. Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis from prison. The American military officer is serving a three-year sentence for a fatal car crash that killed two people in 2021.

Lee established the “Based Mike Lee” account last July, often using it to post irreverent or trolling content. In that time, the account amassed more than 71,000 followers.

The reason for the suspension was unclear. Lee acknowledged the suspension on his official Senate account Wednesday morning.

“Twitter did not alert me ahead of time, nor have they yet offered an explanation for the suspension. My team and I are seeking answers,” Lee wrote.

After a couple of hours, the suspension was lifted early Wednesday afternoon. “Still no explanation from Twitter as to what happened,” Lee wrote from his “based” account.

The Salt Lake Tribune could not immediately reach a spokesperson for Twitter to ask about the reason for the suspension. Lee’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk weighed in on the suspension Wednesday afternoon. Musk, responding to a question from the right-wing troll account @catturd2, explained the suspension was erroneous.

“His personal account (@BasedMikeLee) was incorrectly flagged as impersonation, which is not totally crazy since it is based,” Musk wrote.

A Japanese court found Lt. Alkonis had been negligent in the fatal traffic accident that killed two people in a restaurant parking lot, ruling he had fallen into a “state of drowsiness,” The New York Times reported. The judge in the case rejected the Navy’s claim that Alkonis lost consciousness while suffering from altitude sickness.

Lee has been advocating for the lieutenant, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, since last year. Lee got an amendment added to the year-end omnibus spending bill to continue paying Alknonis’ salary while he is in prison, according to a news release. Despite that, Lee voted against the bill.

Last month, Lee tagged the Japanese leader in a series of posts demanding the release of Lt. Alkonis by Feb. 28. In a staged “interview” with his communications director, Lee Lonsberry, Sen. Lee said he set the Feb. 28 deadline arbitrarily.

“There is no mathematical formula by which I achieved it. I just decided a few weeks ago,” Lee told Lonsberry. In that same interview, Lee suggested he would start a “significant discussion” about the security arrangement between the U.S. and Japan, as 55,000 military personnel are stationed there.

“The Japanese government might not find that a comfortable exercise because they have a good thing going. We are providing for their security with those 55,000 Americans,” Lee said.

On Tuesday, as the clock ticked toward the artificial deadline, Lee made several threats on Twitter toward the Japanese leader, demanding he hand Lt. Alkonis over to U.S. custody.

“@kishida230, you have 40 minutes left. Hand Lt. Ridge Alkonis over to the U.S. Navy. Now.” Lee posted shortly before midnight, according to posts captured by the Wayback Machine Internet archive.

Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, Lee tagged Kishida in a short post in Japanese that, according to an online translation, says, “What goes around comes around.” Shortly after his deadline passed, Lee tweeted to Kishida, “You’ve made your choice. I hope you’re ready for some conversations on the Senate floor that you’re not likely to enjoy. This issue isn’t going away, and neither am I.”

It’s unclear what, if anything, Lee can do in the case. He does not sit on any committees that deal with foreign relations. Politico reported Wednesday morning that Lee might try to hold up the sale of Tomahawk missiles to Japan or place holds on nominees made by the Biden administration.

Lee’s final post before being suspended, as captured by the internet archive, quoted a tweet from former Trump official William Wolfe that claimed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was pushing for American troops to join the fight against Russia’s invasion.

“Zelensky has no right to presume that our sons and daughters will fight his war. Shame on him. We’ve somehow sent the message that we work for him. Shame on us!” Lee wrote in response.