Former journalist Juan Thompson accused of threatening Jewish institutions to vilify ex
A former journalist fired for making up details in stories is behind at least eight of the scores of threats made against Jewish institutions nationwide, as well as a bomb threat to New York's Anti-Defamation League, in an effort to harass and vilify his ex-girlfriend, federal officials said Friday.
Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested in St. Louis and appeared there in federal court Friday on cyberstalking charge. He politely answered questions and told the judge he had enough money to hire a lawyer.
A crowd of supporters who attended would say only that Thompson had no criminal record. His lawyer didn't comment.
Federal officials have been investigating 122 bomb threats called in to nearly 100 Jewish Community Center schools, child care and similar facilities in three dozen states that began Jan. 9. Thompson started making his own threats Jan. 28, and authorities are continuing to investigate the others, they said.
University City, Missouri, police Lt. Fredrick Lemons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that detectives will question Thompson about the 154 headstones toppled last month at a Jewish cemetery there. He declined to say whether Thompson was considered a suspect.
Thompson's first threat was to the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan, authorities said. He made up an email address to make it seem like the victim was sending threats in his name, and he sent messages to Jewish schools in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Manhattan and to a JCC in Manhattan, authorities said. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also received an anonymous email saying the woman put a bomb in a Dallas Jewish center.
Thompson, who's black, then took to Twitter: "Know any good lawyers?" he wrote. "Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name." He later tweeted to the FBI: "I'm been (sic) tormented by an anti-Semite. She sent an antijewish bomb threat in my name. Help."
But police say it was a hoax created to make the woman look guilty. He also made threats in which he identified the woman as the culprit, authorities said. It's not clear why Jewish organizations were targeted.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Friday that the Federal Communications Commission will grant an emergency waiver that allows Jewish community centers and their phone carriers to track the numbers of callers who make threats. The official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the waiver and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would work even if the caller tries to block the number.
Thompson was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after being accused of fabricating several quotes and creating fake email accounts to impersonate people, including the Intercept's editor-in-chief. One of the stories involved Dylann Roof, the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooter. Thompson had written that a cousin named Scott Roof claimed the white gunman was angry that a love interest chose a black man over him. A review showed there was no cousin by that name. The story was retracted.
The Intercept wrote Friday it was "horrified" to learn a former employee was arrested in the case.
According to a federal complaint, Thompson and the victim, a social worker, broke up last summer. The following day, her boss received an email purporting to be from a national news organization saying she'd been pulled over for drunken driving.
The harassment got worse, authorities said. She received an anonymous email with nude photos of herself and a threat to release them. Her boss got a note saying she had a sexually transmitted disease. The company, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness, got faxes saying she was anti-Semitic. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got a note saying the woman watched child porn.
His IP address was used for the emails, but he told police his computer had been hacked, the complaint said.
The ADL said Thompson had been on its radar since he fabricated the story about Roof. According to ADL research, Thompson had also claimed that he wanted to dismantle the system of "racial supremacy and greedy capitalism that is stacked against us." He said he was going to run for mayor of St. Louis last year to "fight back against Trumpian fascism and socio-economic terrorism."
At a press conference, ADL officials said they were relieved by the arrest but still concerned that hate groups and a divisive rhetoric are causing a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic activity nationwide.
"You can't separate an incident like this from the broader context," said Oren Segal, head of the league's center on extremism.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis, Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles and Jake Pearson in New York contributed to this report.