And Then They Came For @Jew_Goldstein: Deadly Assault Gifs And How VDARE.com Ended Up In A FBI Criminal Complaint.
VDARE.com just appeared in an FBI criminal complaint charging a Twitter troll with felonies for sending an animated gif to Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald, a notoriously unhinged anti-Trumper, with the result that he allegedly had an epileptic seizure. The story is bizarre—but it shows the Ruling Class is getting more aggressive about repressing its internet tormentors.
To start from the beginning: On December 16, 2016, Eichenwald appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss his (completely unsubstantiated) claim that Donald Trump was once committed to a mental institution. Eichenwald refused to answer Carlson’s questions, brought out a binder emblazoned with the words “Tucker Carlson Falsehoods,” and read a message purportedly from the CIA. Even liberals described his performance as “cringeworthy” [Kurt Eichenwald faces off with Tucker Carlson in one of the oddest interviews of 2016, by Taylor Link, Salon, December 16, 2016]
Eichenwald went home and tweetstormed 46 incoherent messages. A right-wing Twitter troll who calls himself @Jew_Goldstein responded with a flashing animated gif and the words “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.” Eichenwald suffers from epilepsy and has written about his condition at length. His account responded with a message, purportedly from his wife, claiming the tweet had indeed caused a seizure. The next day, Eichenwald promised to expose and arrest @Jew_Goldstein.
According to WeSearchr.com, a site that is raising money for @Jew_Goldstein’s legal fees, @Jew_Goldstein promptly wrote wrote an apology email to Eichenwald, noting that he had made a donation to an epilepsy charity in Eichenwald’s name—which, incredibly, Eichenwald thenused to obtain @Jew_Goldstein’s real identity.
Steven Lieberman [Email him], an attorney for the New York Times, took Eichenwald’s case on pro-bono and convinced the FBI and Dallas Police Department (where Eichenwald lives) to investigate the tweets.
According to the criminal complaint from the FBI, the Dallas Police Department issued warrants to Twitter, AT&T, and Apple who helped them identify @Jew_Goldstein as John Rivello, a 29 year-old former Marine. On Friday, the FBI arrested Rivello and charged him with felony cyberstalking, which carries penalties up to 10 years in prison. On Monday, the Dallas prosecutors charged him with assault with a deadly weapon (the animated gif being that weapon) and with a Hate Crime enhancement because he was supposedly motivated by anti-Semitism. (Eichenwald says he was raised Episcopalian, but discovered he is partially ethnically Jewish.) [How the Cops Tracked Down Reporter’s ‘Seizure by Twitter’ Attacker, by Emily Zanotti, Heat St, March 21, 2017]
This is where VDARE.com comes in. The FBI’s complaint states that Rivello’s iCloud account includes screenshots from epilepsy.com “with a list of commonly reported epilepsy seizure triggers” and “from an article on vdar.com [sic] discussing photosensitive epilepsy and specifically discussing Victim#1’s seizure.”
The “Vdar” article was Alexander Hart’s “Kurt Eichenwald And The Assault GIF Of Doom–Don’t Blame Trump Supporters!” This piece raised doubts about whether Eichenwald actually suffered seizure—it noted that only 3% of epileptics are photosensitive, the vast majority of whom are young females, that Eichenwald apparently never mentioned this in his many autobiographical articles about his epilepsy, and that there is doubt whether an computer screen is even bright enough to trigger a seizure.)
The VDARE.com article was published after the alleged gif assault—so why would the FBI mention it? Probably because sending a gif to trigger a seizure has never been the cause of action for an assault case, and this is also unusual for a cyberstalking—which typically involves personal harassment rather than a few public tweets. The FBI desperately needs to show that Rivello really thought the tweet would give Eichenwald a seizure. If Rivello conducted any research on photosensitive epilepsy and its triggers, that might bolster its case.
Not only was Hart’s piece was posted after Eichenwald’s alleged seizure, but it quoted and linked to the very epilepsy.com piece [Photosensitivity and Seizures, 2013] that the complaint also cited, so it’s very likely that’s where Rivello found it.Thus, these pieces have absolutely no probative value in determining the case. But maybe the FBI just thinks they will leave an impression.
Does this mean the prosecutors don’t have a case? I honestly don’t know. Both the gif as a “deadly weapon” and the cyberstalking charge are new territory. Orin Kerr, one of the leading experts on cyber-crimes and who is relatively pro-prosecution, expressed doubt about the federal charges:
Terrible. But, if charges are under 18 USC 2261A(2), I'm not sure the government has a particularly strong case. https://t.co/JzWHZsEyUX
— Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) March 19, 2017
Calling a gif a “deadly weapon” seems absurd, but if Eichenwald truly had a seizure, then Rivello may arguably have intentionally triggered it with the gif. Eichenwald’s lawyer’s analogy to sending an anthrax covered letter has some logic. [A Tweet to Kurt Eichenwald, a Strobe and a Seizure. Now, an Arrest, by Cecilia Kang, March 17, 2017]
Of course, this assumes Eichenwald is telling the truth about his seizure. But even if Eichenwald did not have a seizure, Rivello may still be liable on both state and federal charges. The federal cyberstalking law criminalizes acts by someone who “causes, attempts to cause. . .substantial emotional distress,” and the Texas assault statute applies to one who “threatens another with imminent bodily injury.” [18 U.S.C. § 2261A; Texas Penal Code § 22.01 (a)(2). Emphases added].
Still, both the Federal and the Dallas indictments took Eichenwald’s claim at face value and referred to other parts of the statutes that required a physical injury. Given that the prosecution is already a stretch, I am sure that the case will fall apart if it turns out Eichenwald is lying about his seizure.
But regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case, Rivello’s defense will be prohibitively costly. Chuck Johnson’s Wesearchr is raising money for Rivello’s legal defense, which is currently at $14,000, but that is just a small fraction of what he’ll need. He will need top notch lawyers both at the state and federal level, there will almost certainly be appeals of multiple issues before the trial even starts, and then he’ll need to retain an expert neurologist to argue that Eichenwald did not have a seizure. This will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Unlike Eichenwald, Rivello does not appear to have a fancy pro-bono lawyers. And as being branded an anti-Semite is a kiss of death in contemporary society, he will have trouble finding any employment.
And this is really the point of Eichenwald’s crusade. There were literally hundreds of articles in the MSM about the epidemic of Twitter harassment from racist trolls. Yet pretty much the only “victims” are MSM journalists themselves. Many of these tweets were truly nasty stuff that I would never defend, but the journalists could very easily just mute or block these trolls. Instead they pretend that a few distasteful tweets put them in imminent harm, and they portrayed themselves as simultaneously as courageous and victimized.
Eichenwald’s alleged seizure is the physical manifestation of this victimhood. And he’s shown that the MSM and its allied attorneys can now influence Federal and state law enforcement to go after the trolls.
As this situation is so unusual, it’s premature to predict that the prosecution will lead to criminal crackdown against all mean tweets. But the fact that the law enforcement authorities apparently took Eichenwald’s claims at face value (the complaint makes no mention of talking to his doctor or doing any research on epilepsy), shows where their biases lie.
I do not condone Rivello’s tweets, but Eichenwald could have taken incredibly easy steps to prevent seeing animated gifs (Both Twitter and most web browsers allow you to keep them from automatically playing.) While this is not a legal defense, it is a much better answer than having the federal and state governments spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars investigating and prosecuting one Twitter troll.
But of course, that’s not the point. The point is repression.
I should say that the indictment’s reference to VDARE.com does not suggest the Feds are after our readers. As noted, it was included alongside mainstream sources to show that Rivello had been reading about photosensitive epilepsy, not to justify the Hate Crime charges against him. The misspelling further suggests the FBI is not paying close attention to VDARE.com.
However, we must remain vigilant. While the circumstances leading up to Rivello’s arrest are extraordinary, there is nothing extraordinary about MSM journalists pressuring tech giants and law enforcement to silence their alternative media opponents. As VDARE.com’s James Kirkpatrick repeatedly says, the MSM is now the enemy and its hirelings are simply enforcers.
John Reid [email him] is an American citizen and a recent law school graduate.