Federal authorities in Manhattan on Friday charged Juan Thompson, a St. Louis man whose social media posts point to left-wing political sentiments, with making at least eight threats to Jewish centers around the country as part of a bizarre cyberstalking campaign to harass his ex-girlfriend.
Thompson, a former writer for the online news site The Intercept who was fired for fabrications including a phony piece about South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof, emailed threats in a bid to frame the girlfriend — a Brooklyn social services worker — as an anti-Semite, officials said.
The charges accounted for at least some of the over 100 threats to Jewish centers that along with attacks on Jewish cemeteries have aroused concern across the country and been blamed by some on a wave of anti-Semitism set loose by President Donald Trump’s campaign.
“Thompson’s alleged pattern of harassment not only involved the defamation of his female victim, but his threats intimidated an entire community,” said William Sweeney, the head of the FBI’s New York office.
Although Thompson’s threats to several locations in New York City as well as Michigan, San Diego and Dallas appeared to be driven by personal as much as racial and religious motivations, religious and political leaders expressed relief at the government finding at least one culprit.
“Today we thank law enforcement for aggressively pursuing and arresting a suspect in a disgusting series of threats against Jewish Community Centers,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Our country was founded to shelter the oppressed and respect all faiths.”
“He had a girlfriend issue. Why do you target a JCC? Because of a special hatred,” said Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre. “He didn’t target any other kind of an institution. He targeted a JCC, which means that within this person there was something that was anti-Semitic.”
Thompson, 31, who identified himself as communications director for a St. Louis housing nonprofit on his Twitter account, was detained after appearing Friday in federal court in Missouri on cyberstalking charges. His lawyer did not return a call for comment.
The criminal complaint said that after breaking up with his girlfriend last July, Thompson embarked on a harassment campaign that included nude pictures and defamatory anonymous emails to her employer, citing matters ranging from drunken driving to sexually transmitted diseases.
She obtained an order of protection, the complaint said, but beginning in January Thompson shifted to using threats to Jewish schools, community centers and a museum that in some cases were identified as coming from the girlfriend, and in others tried to depict her as framing him.
In February, for example, he allegedly emailed a threat to the Anti-Defamation League’s national headquarters in midtown Manhattan, naming the girlfriend and writing that she “is behind the bomb threats against jews. She lives in nyc and is making more bomb threats tomorrow.” The next day, the ADL got a call claiming that the explosive C-4 had been placed in its offices — prompting an evacuation and search.
On other occasions, the government said, Thompson put his name in emails but tried to make them lead back to the girlfriend. “Juan Thompson . . . put two bombs in the office of the Jewish center today. He wants to create Jewish newtown tomorrow,” an email to one unspecified location allegedly said, referring to the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre.
He also allegedly used his Twitter account to blame the girlfriend, who he described as “a filthy anti-Semite,” officials said.
“She, though I can’t prove it, even sent a bomb threat in my name to a Jewish center,” he said in a Feb. 24 post. “I got a visit from the FBI. So now I’m battling the racist FBI and this vile, evil, racist white woman. I’m afraid … we know what happens when white women use the law to go after black men.”
The ADL, one of his targets, said Thompson was on their radar. The group said he was a Vassar graduate who previously lived in New York City, whose “left wing” writings included depictions of police as “evil sociopaths” and called Obama a “rotten collaborating liberal.”
He once used the Twitter handle “Juan X,” the ADL said, and announced last year he was running for mayor of St Louis to “fight back against Trumpian fascism and socio-economic terrorism,” raising $25 on a GoFundMe page to finance the political bid.
With Anthony M. DeStefano and Bart Jones