FBI resolves email threat

April 3, 2018 • 1:00 pm

On February 18 I got a particularly vile email threat from a person (male, I assume) telling me the lovely things he’d do to me, involving both eye-gouging and sexual penetration. I’ve said on this site that I won’t tolerate physical threats—not to me, nor to any readers. I wasn’t seriously worried about this threat, but one never knows, and it’s a felony to threaten people over email with such violence.

I reported the two emails I got from this boor to both the University cops and the FBI, forwarding them the complete email headers.  While the University detectives proclaimed themselves unable to track the person down, the FBI came through, calling me today to say they’d found who made the threats. They also had sent an agent over to “have a talk with the person.” They couldn’t of course tell me who it was, except to say that the person was from out of state and tried to exculpate himself—again, I don’t know the sex for sure—by saying he was drunk.

The FBI said they don’t think I’ll have any trouble from this person again. Yes, I think a visit from an FBI agent would do that. Anyway, thanks, Bureau, for taking the time to track this down.

75 thoughts on “FBI resolves email threat

  1. Oh good grief – “I was drunk”. Jesus. Can you press charges if you choose to? When I was stalked I didn’t press charges and now, 30 years later, I think maybe I should have as that person went on to sexually assault women. He’s dangerous & AFAIK in prison now.

    1. They didn’t offer me that alternative, and I don’t think I would have taken it if they had. If he’d done it to other people, or pursued me more relentlessly, maybe I would have, but I don’t want to ruin someone’s life over one drunken tirade.

  2. Good for you! Too many trolls feel free to send threats. I’m all for free speech, but threats are no such thing. Maybe next time this moron will think before he acts.

  3. I was reading a book about inter-personal violence and one of the recommendations the author had to make about such kind of cases is not to indulge the responder. No action has been taken to prevent future acts. The person, if he is a psychopath of any kind, is now encouraged to indulge in more such emails because he now knows what gets him a reaction. Ignoring is the best strategy. If he really means harm, reporting to FBI isnt going to stop him if all they do is juts m”talk” to him. This is not my thoughts but a recommendation from a professional in this field

    1. Perhaps the visit is deterrence enough. He knows if he does this again, there is a record of his behaviour and it’s always unpleasant to be visited by the FBI when you’re on the bad end of it.

    2. If he becomes a repeat offender, any excuses will lack credibility and the chance of prosecution will increase. Keep it up Jerry!

    3. “No action has been taken to prevent future acts”

      This isn’t true. A visit from the FBI is pretty clearly a form of action and most people would take it as a serious warning.

      We don’t know if it is enough because the future is uncertain. But imagined scenarios of logically possible catastrophes isn’t a good basis for action, IMO.

      1. I agree. I’m pleased Jerry decided to report thus, and thrilled with the result.

        And the, “I was drunk,” excuse always sounds pretty pathetic to me. Being drunk might make people more likely to do things they normally wouldn’t, but it doesn’t create ideas. What I mean is, drinking makes you more likely to do bad stuff you’ve already thought of, but it doesn’t create thoughts of extreme violence that weren’t already there. So this person is someone who needs to be kept an eye on.

        S/he might be just threatening now, but that could escalate in the future. Nipping it in the bud could have saved a person in the future. It also means that person becomes known if they don’t stop now, and makes them more likely to be caught in the future if, for example, they learn to hide their computer location.

      2. Yes, he knows he is on their ‘radar’ now, and found out rather quickly at that. Unless really a psychopath, it should be a sufficient deterrent.
        I would bet this is a person that is encouraged by the ‘anonymity’ of internet to say things he would not dare to say in real life.

    4. What action beyond reporting to the FBI is recommended if you think the person might be dangerous? Hope it doesn’t involve offensive self-help.

    5. From accounts I’ve read on specific stalker cases, ignoring the creep is *not* advisable. You can’t “encourage” this kind of behavior by calling them out on it. To me, it’s the same thing women have been taught for decades- ignore him and he’ll go away, responding only encourages him, etc.

      Going on record, and right away, not waiting to see if he does comes back, worked great. You gave him an opportunity to rethink his behavior *now,* a public service for other possible targets.

    6. “Ignoring is the best strategy.”

      I don’t believe so, if the email writer is purposely targeting a specific person for specific reasons. I say this as a person who was stalked by a coworker at a previous job. Ignoring the stalker did not work, it only caused him to up his efforts.

      As others above have said, the FBI visit may look like a slap on the wrist, but it does give notice to the email writer that the FBI has him/her on their radar, with a record of their investigation and their visit.

      The email writer might stop with the harassing emails. Or they may find another target, who hopefully would report the person.

      Or the email writer may go to greater lengths to hide their electronic trail, like a segment on the CBS News the other night explained: getting a brand new low cost laptop, getting a mobile WIFI hotspot for internet service, a throw-away cell phone to confirm one’s identity, and using an anonymous email service. With all of this paid for with prepaid debit cards, which presumably are bought with cash. (Isn’t this what criminals do? That’s what they often describe on the TV show Law and Order: SVU).

      1. Isn’t this what criminals do? That’s what they often describe on the TV show Law and Order: SVU

        If it’s described on a popular TV programme, what do you think are the odds of it being an effective technique for anonymisation? I’d bet fairly good money – a full mean, not just a beer – that such described techniques are routinely nullified by the forces of investigation.
        I recall hearing a radio interview with one of the current crop of “police procedural” authors, mentioning that they run their schemes for a perfect murder past an experienced investigator (retired, meal as above quite often) just to make sure that they don’t give their drooling readers any effective ideas.
        A few queries :

        With all of this paid for with prepaid debit cards, which presumably are bought with cash.

        Why not use straight cash? Or is that so rare these days? It certainly wouldn’t attract any attention buying a “burner” phone with cash here – cost is 3 to 5 pints of International Standard Beer (ISB). Your Police State may be more restrictive on such terrorist-friendly practices.

        getting a brand new low cost laptop

        TAILS – as advertised by one Edward Snowden.

        getting a mobile WIFI hotspot for internet service

        Mobile, schmobile. Doesn’t matter. If they want to track you, they’ll do it by the IMEI number built into the handset or hotspot. The mobile number on the user-replaceable SIM is no use for tracking or blocking against the most trivially sophisticated of targets. You’d need to invest in several hundred ISBs worth of EEPROM (re-)burner to get round that, and a source of valid and un-blocked IMEI numbers. Very do-able, but non-trivial. Probably easier and safer to just buy multiple hot spot devices and SIMs before starting your campaign and burn them (literally, incinerate; thoroughly) regularly as you proceed with your nefarious plans.
        Before you ask – trade unions have powerful enemies with deep pockets. Sometimes you feel the need to take precautions to protect your sources.

  4. Hooray for the FBI.

    There was a time when we progressive liberals didn’t trust the “g-men”.

    1. I’m still leery of law enforcement. But that old S.o.B. J. Edgar’s been dead 45 years now. Time to let that bygone be bygone.

        1. I’ve gone hammer & tongs after many FBI agents on cross-examination over the years, but have much respect for most of them, and a warm, collegial relationship with some whom I’ve gone after the hardest. They have a well-earned reputation for professionalism.

      1. Did they give him the full treatment? Head cut off ; mouth stuffed with garlic, stake through the heart ; body remains scattered with fragments of holy bread.
        Otherwise … “I’ll be back!”

  5. *Whew*!
    The Supreme court has weighed in on this a while ago, and ruled that the vile trolls can continue making some peoples’ lives a misery so long as they don’t cross a certain line.
    I know the free speech issue and the slippery slope problem of imparting new regulations, but it must be admitted that I would not feel much difference between someone threatening to personally carry out violence versus someone wishing violence upon me. I don’t think that people can be expected to be coolly rational over these distinctions.

    1. ” . . . so long as they don’t cross a certain line.”

      I’ll put on my quite long To Do list informing myself about what courts hold to be “a certain line.” I reasonably take it that courts/judges lie on the other side of that line, having observed online video of how swiftly judges respond to disrespect and vile comments directed at them by Philistine human primates in court proceedings.

      1. I am pretty sure that state officials like judges are given special protections, given they are on the front lines as it were.

  6. Good news! I’m actually surprised the FBI came through, and good on them for doing so. I’m heartened to see the feds take cyber threats seriously.

  7. I just finished Steve Berry’s most recent novel, The Bishop’s Pawn, a Cotton Malone adventure, about the murder of Martin Luther King. There was much in it to remind me of the bad ol’ days of the FBI when they committed illegal acts. I’m glad they helped you. As a college-age person in the 60s, I will probably never lose my distrust of the FBI, CIA, et al.

  8. I’ll tell you, I’d PAY ATTENTION if the FBI “paid me a visit”!

    I get wobbly when I get the occasional letter from the IRS (nothing serious so far!).

    I’m very pleased that they are helping you out. And that the current version of the FBI is looking out for us (apparently) instead of itself and the POTUS.

  9. I would still appreciate it if the coward who does something like this got a good beating. Somehow I wonder if that is not what they are looking for.

    I saw a short review by a cyber security person on how to avoid getting your on line items captured when purchasing items with a card on line or in stores. It takes a lot of effort and knowledge to avoid penetration of your information. It involved getting a throw away phone, using a card, not your own but a prepaid card, getting another email address and not using your service but some other that you WIFI to connect. And it gets costly just to avoid this.

      1. Well then dude, let’s get serious for a second and ask, is this not a crime? And if it is a crime, what is the punishment for it when caught. I am sure the authorities spend a bit of money tracking this person down. And the result is nothing more than a good talking too. No arrest, just a slap on the hand? Be a good boy.

        To me it is no different than the nut who calls in a bomb threat or maybe the guy who sends bombs through the mail. Or fake bombs. Just like all the hacking and other stuff going on these days. If there is no penalty then who stops. A visit by the FBI really doesn’t cut it.

        1. Are all crimes equal? (And if they are, we should punish people in the way they want?)

          Police, FBI, and the entire rest of the criminal justice system needs to prioritize their responses. They investigate things. Sometimes a person is charged. Often not. If all investigations led to charges the system would collapse.

          1. Please. Crime prevention means investigation, catching the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. If there is no punishment, no penalty, then there is no prevention. If we are prioritizing as you call it then why spend a minute investigating? I never said a thing about all crimes being equal so where do you get this stuff?

            1. ” I never said a thing about all crimes being equal so where do you get this stuff?”

              It is hard not to come to that conclusion when someone advocates “a good beating” because they like that the FBI’s investigation didn’t result in criminal charges. Someone sent Jerry a threatening letter. The FBI investigated and decided that the threat wasn’t real. This happens all the time. The courts can’t handle all cases of idiots saying stupid things. They can handle cases where the stupid things turn out to represent real threats. The FBI decided this wasn’t one of those cases. Your understanding of the situation is limited enough that you should, IMO, come to the more reasonable conclusion that this action was probably enough in this case.

              1. And in My opinion you do not pay attention. Example: After most of these shooting, such as the school in Florida, they find that many opportunities were missed, not only by the FBI but others that might have prevented the event. Many of these crimes can be prevented but not likely with your attitude. Let’s just wait for the findings after this shooting today at Youtube. Most likely the stories will come out…oh yeah, we saw her acting very strange or saying disturbing things for a long time. Didn’t think nothing of it. Let’s just wait and see if she gets better. Sound familiar? Funny thing about those guys that flew the planes during 9/11. They took flying lessons but funny thing, they did not seem interested in landing.

              2. We should lock everyone up. That way we’ll never see errors in law enforcement.

              3. I’m with GBJames on this one. Trawling back through some terrorist’s background and finding ‘warning signs’ that were missed is BS, like most 20-20 hindsight. Everyone has done or said things that could be taken as highly significant when viewed in a sufficiently sinister light.

                Reading the email makes me wonder if the guy was actually aiming at Jerry. It looks to me as if the guy was aiming at some evangelist and was so drunk he clicked on Jerry’s email address by mistake.


              4. One thing we know for sure with you folks. No matter how wrong you may be you always get the last word. Your comments only shows you know nothing about the FBI and other law enforcement regarding crime prevention. To you we just live on hindsight? Wonderful.

    1. I’m sure getting a list by the FBI is rather unsettling anyway. I have heard that the police certainly rip into people like that. I asked the police to make sure that the person bothering me would never do it again. He never did (so far) & I suspect the cops put the fear of god into him.

      1. “I suspect the cops put the fear of god into him.”

        Hopefully he’s not an atheist, immune from such fears!

        1. I dunno. That god scares me even if he’s not real. I’m also scared of dracula and darth vader though.

          1. I’m also scared of dracula and darth vader though.

            Hmmm, I finished my garlic sausage in this morning’s breakfast. I shall attend to that in the morning.

  10. Uhhhh…eeewwww…I read the other article that reproduced the threat you received. You said you weren’t frightened. But I am, temporarily. Just reading that was enough to bring back fears I felt back in the 1980’s. I’m glad to hear that nothing awful has actually happened.

    Whoops! Look what I just said! What I’ve described could be considered “triggering”. Now, it’s very mild triggering, but twice, back in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s I was genuinely triggered, hard, and I don’t mind saying that it was plenty awful!

    But do I think those of us who have been through traumatizing and damaging experiences should be protected by censoring other people? No! Not at all! I want people to be free to speak up, and I want to be able to read and see difficult things!

    And I don’t know that trigger warnings are a good idea. Now, in my case it would have helped if I’d known that I was about to be exposed to something frightening, I could have braced myself. But how is anybody going to know if a particular scene in a movie is going to freak somebody out? I think these trigger warnings have gotten out of hand.

    As nasty as it is to be badly triggered, I’d rather run that risk than be protected and coddled. We need to be able to live in the real world.

    In my case, one of the things that triggered me was a scene in a movie. I went and rented the movie and watched the video and paid attention to the scene. Rather than hiding from it, I looked and looked and got used to it. (I have to say it was particularly well done, superb acting and staging.)

    And Jerry, I’m glad you’re okay, and I’m heartened to hear that the FBI tracked the person down and took some sort of action.

    1. Thanks. As for your experience, everything I’ve read about being “triggered” suggests that the cure is EXPOSURE to the thing that activates bad feelings. Looks like it worked for you.

      1. Hello, Jerry, and thanks for your comment about exposure to things that are “triggering”. That raises a question for me.

        When snowflakes demand trigger warnings, just what is it that they are experiencing? Just what is it that they want to be protected from?

        Is it discomfort? Is it some unpleasant emotions? Is it the confusion of having to hear things they disagree with?

        Or is it, rather, being catapulted into uncontrollable, overwhelming sickening terror?

        (I’ve been on the receiving end of domestic abuse and domestic violence. On one occasion I ran away and spend the night hiding in the battered women’s shelter.)

        In my first case, I was with a group seeing a video about violence against women which started with a 911 call. Someone had broken into this woman’s apartment, and the intense fear in her set me off.

        I was overwhelmed by intense terror and I was shaking and gasping. I was totally overcome with explosive fear. I was in the video with the terrified woman’s 911 call and she was now me. A woman nearby saw that I was in trouble, and she rushed over to me and held me tight and stroked me and whispered, “You’re safe, you’re safe.”

        Oh, I thank her for that!!

        The movie that set me off involved gay people getting beaten to death. Once again I was totally overwhelmed with fear and horror. I was with my best friend, and I clutched to her and held on to her, gasping and shaking.

        That’s what triggering means to me. And I can understand veterans being freaked out by stuff. A Vietnam veteran once said to me, “Never sneak up behind a veteran and set off a firecracker.”

        But just what is it that’s going on on these college campuses, and just what is “triggering” these young people? Are they really having these overwhelming experiences? Or does “triggering” mean just anything unpleasant?

        1. You’re describing PTSD. I have similar reactions when I have to get my yearly cancer follow up. My friend, who recently passed away when her cancer metastasized, used to have to pull over when she drove by the hospital she got her treatment at. She told me, before she died, years after her initial treatment, that dealing with the metastasis was loads worse than the first time so I can only imagine how traumatized she would have been had she lived through it longer.

    1. You operatin’ the chyron for Fox News? (Whoever does it during all those hours everyday when Dummkopf is watching is the second most powerful man in the free world.)

  11. If this person has committed a crime, they should be charged, convicted (evidence seems solid) and carry a criminal record. That implies no more international trips, more serious sentencing for anything later, etc. Maybe explain your (very good) negative attitude towards revenge in sentencing. Perhaps the above is all you’d desire for keeping this person in check. Full stop.

    I have recently had to deal with a nasty neighbour, but have never been physically harmed. He squirmed out of a criminal record for minor assault by accepting a peace bond. After some months of sullen conformity with that, he lost it and violated the court order. It is very likely he will now have a criminal record for ‘failing in recognizance’, hopefully a suspended sentence. I would oppose his being jailed, though it’s not out of the question. This is Canadian, not USian, law. But I assume they are very similar in this sort of thing, though it seems as though revenge is a far more common sentiment down there.

    My aged (4S) iphone is very handy for gathering video evidence. Surely an actual email is even better.

    I will not give an inch, especially on something related to gun control, except to not violate my own feelings about how legal punishment should work, those feelings seeming to be almost identical to Jerry Coyne’s.

    1. I was surprised myself. Wonder if it was because they investigate all such cases, PCCe is considered a person of note, or… he wrote a really nice, orderly complaint?

      1. They don’t know who I am unless they looked me up. I did report it to the U of C police, who did liaison with the FBI, but I really do think they’d respond this way to anybody. It is a felony to threaten physical harm over the internet.

  12. I’m surprised the FBI had time to investigate, what with all of the FBI, DOJ and “Deep State” spending most of their time trying to frame Trump and his minions.

    Just watch FOX and Friends and Sean Hannity , they’ll explain it all.

    1. Well sure. The Justice department, the FBI, it’s all corrupt. Just like Amazon and the Washington Post, it’s all bad. It’s all deep state and all the deep places in Trump’s deluded mind. You are getting great govt. for an insane state.

  13. Bet this dude wished he was wearing his Depends when he opened his front door to see the agent holding up an FBI ID.

  14. Great work by the FBI, but drunk schmunk.
    Now I’m wondering, don’t you have a right to know who this person is? I’d certainly want to know, and I’d let my family know his/her name too, just in case. I’m sure it’s possible for this file at the FBI to get buried under tons of other files (in a manner of speaking – I’m reckon this stuff is probably logged in their computerized database).

    1. (UK law, not USian. but…)

      Now I’m wondering, don’t you have a right to know who this person is? I’d certainly want to know, and I’d let my family know his/her name too, just in case.

      The calculus of harm here is generally that doing so would e more likely to result in more crimes from either the victim, or their associates, carrying out some sort of retribution.
      You might have a better chance of getting the identification released to a retained lawyer (if you have a retained lawyer) acting on your behalf who can warn you if you’re coming into contact with a previous offender-against-you (e.g. by employing them). But there are commercial services for doing such background checks anyway, and I can’t see the USGovt (or UKGovt either) doing for free what someone can make a profit from selling.

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