Did the wave of threats against Jewish community centers arise from a failed romantic relationship? Or did the threats inspire a twisted revenge plot by a scorned lover? The FBI has arrested one man in connection with eight specific threats against JCCs over the last few weeks, but so far it’s not clear whether Juan Thompson was a mastermind or a copycat:
A man accused of making at least eight threats against Jewish Community Centers was arrested by the FBI in St. Louis, Missouri, this morning.
The suspect, 31-year-old Juan Thompson, is accused of what federal prosecutors called a “campaign to harass and intimidate.” He’s charged in New York with cyberstalking a woman by communicating threats to JCCs in the woman’s name. Prosecutors said Thompson “appears to have made at least eight of the JCC threats as part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimidate” the woman after their romantic relationship ended.
The arrest comes after nearly 100 JCCs and schools nationwide received bomb threats this year in five separate waves. The most recent was on Feb. 27 when 21 bomb threats were called in to 13 JCCs and eight Jewish schools in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia, the JCC Association of North America said.
The prosecutor in this case is US Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office issued a statement a few minutes ago detailing the investigation and the arrest. It appears that Thompson has been trying to wreak revenge for several months by smearing his former lover as a pedophile. He shifted to anti-Semitic threats in January, according to the statement:
Based on the investigation, THOMPSON appears to have made at least eight of the JCC Threats as part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimidate Victim-1. THOMPSON’s harassment of Victim-1 appears to have begun shortly after their romantic relationship ended and to have included, among other things, defamatory emails and faxes to Victim-1’s employer, false reports of criminal activity by Victim-1, and JCC Threats in Victim-1’s name.
In July 2016, an email was sent to Victim-1’s employer that made false allegations about Victim-1, including that she had broken the law, using an internet protocol (“IP”) address that THOMPSON had previously used to access his social media account. On October 15, 2016, an IP address that traced back to THOMPSON’s residence was used to report falsely that Victim-1 possessed child pornography. When confronted by law enforcement on November 22, 2016, THOMPSON claimed that his email account had been hacked a few weeks earlier.
In January and February 2017, THOMPSON appears to have made at least eight JCC Threats as part of his campaign of harassment against Victim-1. For instance, on or about February 21, 2017, the Anti-Defamation League (“ADL”) received an emailed threat at their midtown Manhattan office, which indicated that “[Victim-1’s name and birthdate] is behind the bomb threats against jews. She lives in nyc and is making more bomb threats tomorrow.” The next day, the ADL received a phone call claiming that explosive material had been placed in the ADL’s midtown Manhattan office.
That’s … pretty clumsy. Thompson already has a track record of cyberstalking this victim, so it would not have taken investigators long to figure out the true source of — and motive for — the threats. Thompson may have known this too, which would explain why he allegedly started using his own name:
Some of THOMPSON’s JCC Threats appear to have been made in his own name, as part of an effort to claim that Victim-1 was trying to frame THOMPSON for a crime. For instance, on or about February 7, 2017, a JCC in Manhattan received an emailed bomb threat from an anonymous email account, which stated: “Juan Thompson [THOMPSON’s birthday] put two bombs in the office of the Jewish center today. He wants to create Jewish newtown tomorrow.” The email’s use of the phrase “Jewish newtown” appeared to refer to a December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a gunman murdered 26 victims, including 20 children.
In February 2017, a Twitter account that appears to be used by THOMPSON (the “Thompson Twitter Account”) was used to accuse Victim-1 of responsibility for the JCC Threats and claim that Victim-1 was trying to frame THOMPSON for her crimes. For instance, on February 24, 2017, the Thompson Twitter Account posted: “[s]he [Victim-1], though I can’t prove it, even sent a bomb threat in my name to a Jewish center, which was odd given her antisemitic statements. I got a visit from the FBI. So now I’m battling the racist FBI and this vile, evil, racist white woman.” On February 26, 2017, the Thompson Twitter Account posted “The hatred of Jews goes across all demos. Ask NYC’s [Victim-1’s employer]. They employ a filthy anti-Semite in [Victim-1]. These ppl are evil.”
Who exactly is Juan Thompson? Raw Story looked up the social-media feed cited in the statement and discovered that he’s a left-wing journalist exposed as a fabulist last year — who briefly worked for them:
A suspect arrested in a series of bomb threats against Jewish community centers has been identified as a former reporter who fabricated quotes and invented sources for numerous stories. …
Thompson was revealed as a serial fabulist in February 2016 after The Intercept added editor’s notes to five of his prior stories, including a retraction of an article that included bogus quotes attributed to a cousin of white supremacist Dylann Roof.
That article quoted the nonexistent cousin, “Scott Roof,” who speculated the white supremacist had killed nine black churchgoers in South Carolina because a woman had rejected him for a black man.
Those claims were cited in other media reports afterward.
Thompson worked as a Raw Story editor for two weeks prior to the revelations about his previous work at The Intercept.
Here’s the tweet that gave it away:
Kudos to Raw Story for running this story. Thompson’s brief employment there is no reflection on them, of course, but it might be tempting for a media outlet to avoid commenting on this.
If this is all true, then someone has watched too many bad movies. There’s nothing like calling attention to yourself to slip through the seasoned professionals at the FBI, he must have figured (again, if these allegations are proved in court). This is an incredibly dumb sequence of actions, which isn’t terribly surprising, since obsessing over a former lover isn’t exactly an intellectual exercise to begin with.
That prompts the question, though, as to whether Thompson was behind all of these threats. A significant number of the calls came from overseas, according to CNN’s reporting, or at least routed through phone exchanges outside the US, using machine-generated voices for cover. Does Thompson sound bright enough to have covered his bases in that manner? Maaaayyyybeeeee, but the statement above (and his track record) doesn’t give an indication of that kind of criminal genius. On the other hand, the threats began in early January, about the time that Thompson shifted to that strategy. He could have been behind them all, or perhaps just took sick inspiration from them to make his former lover take the fall for them all.
Either way, if the allegations are true, then getting Thompson behind bars is a good start. It might not be the end, however.
Update: CNN reports that the FBI is still investigating the robocalls, so they’re at least not 100% convinced that Thompson isn’t just a copycat. Stay tuned.
Update: The original headline at Raw Story ID’d Thompson as a “disgraced left-wing journalist,” which is why I put that phrase in quotes as the subhead on the front page. They have since changed the headline to remove the “left-wing” reference, but I will leave the quotes on the original version. RS still deserves kudos for running the story at all.
Update: Rather than embed the tweet itself, I replaced it with a screen shot — as I suspect Thompson’s Twitter account will be locked as soon as he can get to it, or his attorney can. Here’s a strange thing, too — that was Thompson’s pinned tweet. He wanted that at the top of his feed. Weird.
Update: In case the Twitter page gets locked down or deleted, I have it cached here. Not sure how effective that might be in case of deletion, though. Also, the Daily Caller notes that Thompson has expressed affiliation with communists, and was reportedly a follower of Bernie Sanders. None of that really reflects on anyone but Thompson himself, but had he been a Trump supporter … well, you can imagine. And of course, it’s also worth pointing out that Trump warned of these being some sort of false-flag operation. It’s not clear that was the motivation here in regard to Trump as opposed to the ex-girlfriend, and Thompson doesn’t appear to be responsible for all of the threats (let alone the vandalism), but still.