Man charged with making threats against Jewish centres to frame his ex
A former journalist fired for fabricating details in stories has been charged with making threats against Jewish institutions across the US as part of a bizarre campaign to harass and frame his ex-girlfriend, federal officials said.
Juan Thompson is accused of making at least eight of the scores of recent threats made against Jewish institutions, including a bomb threat against the Anti-Defamation League.
He was arrested in St Louis and appeared there in federal court on a cyberstalking charge. He politely answered questions and told the judge he had enough money to hire a lawyer.
A crowd of supporters said Thompson had no criminal record.
Federal officials have been investigating 122 bomb threats called in to Jewish organisations in more than 30 states since January 9 and a rash of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries.
Thompson started making threats on January 28, a criminal complaint said, with an email to the Jewish History Museum in New York written from an account that made it appear as if it had been sent by an ex-girlfriend.
"Juan Thompson put two bombs in the History Museum set to go off Sunday," it said.
He followed that up with similar messages to a Jewish school in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and to a school and community centre in Manhattan, authorities said.
In another round of emails and phone calls, he gave the woman's name, rather than his own, the court complaint said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations received an anonymous email saying the woman put a bomb in a Dallas Jewish centre.
Thompson, who is black, then apparently took to Twitter, saying: "Know any good lawyers? Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name."
He later reportedly tweeted the Secret Service: "I'm been tormented by an anti-Semite. She sent an antijewish bomb threat in my name. Help."
Police say it was a hoax created to make the woman look guilty. Thompson also made threats in which he identified the woman as the culprit, authorities said.
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 white shooter of black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Thompson had written that a cousin named Scott Roof claimed the gunman was angry that a love interest chose a black man over him. A review showed there was no cousin by that name, and the story was retracted.
The Intercept wrote on Friday that it was "horrified" to learn of Thompson's arrest.
Thompson had been accused of bizarre behaviour before. Doyle Murphy, a reporter at the Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly in St Louis, said he was subjected to social media harassment after writing about Thompson's troubled past in the fallout from his firing at The Intercept.
Mr Murphy said Thompson set up anonymous accounts on Twitter and other social media posing as a woman who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by Mr Murphy.
Mr Murphy said he contacted Twitter but every time one fake account was taken down a new one popped up. He said he contacted police but there was little they could do.
"It was a nightmare, and there's not a whole lot I could do about it," he said.
The Federal Communications Commission said it will grant an emergency waiver allowing Jewish community centres and their phone carriers to track the numbers of callers who make threats, even if the callers try to block the numbers.
According to the criminal complaint, Thompson and the ex-girlfriend, a social worker, broke up last summer. The following day, her boss received an email purporting to be from a national news organisation saying she had 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 company, a non-profit group that works to end homelessness, received faxes saying she was anti-Semitic. The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children got a note saying she watched child porn.
Thompson's IP address was used for the emails, but he told police his computer had been hacked, the complaint said.
FBI director James Comey met Jewish community leaders on Friday to discuss the recent threats, the agency said.