Thursday, November 4, 2010

Online threats and stalking -- and the law enforcement agencies to contact


"Using broad-based communication channels to threaten, harm and intimidate and then incite others to do the same will not be tolerated."

-- John G. Perren, FBI Special Agent in Charge of Counterterrorism, Washington, DC field office, October 2010

(1) Introduction & Summary

(2) Quick-reference: Federal law enforcement agencies, what they do, and how to contact them

(3) The federal laws covering cyber-threats, and cyber-stalking

(4) The legal definition of a "threat"

(5) A recent case that encompassed multiple elements of what we've documented goes on at HuffPost: U.S. v. Chesser

(6) Tips for gathering evidence, and contacting law enforcement agencies

(7) Additional resources and nonprofit organizations that help victims of cyber-crimes

(1) Introduction & Summary

HuffPost's Comment Policy and Terms of Service claim the site prohibits users from posting threats, stalking, etc. Specifically:
"(W)e do not allow... speech that advocates or supports hatred or unlawful violence (or) threats of violence or threats to anyone or any group's personal safety..." "We also do not tolerate stalking. This includes posting personal information about another community member..."
Since early 2008, as documented in this special report, HuffPost has been pre-moderating all user comments --- meaning that no user comments appear on any of its pages unless the site has reviewed, approved and decided to publish them.

Over the past several years, however, there has been a proliferation of threats, urgings of violence, and stalking that appear on HuffPost's "comment" pages. The only reason this occurs is because HuffPost willfully enables certain users ( invariably, radical leftists) to engage in this activity. Their "targets" range from other users, their children and pets, to notable public figures, and even the President of the United States and other Secret Service protectees.

We've captured extensive evidence of this phenomenon, and have constructed detailed reports* which show that in numerous instances, rather than
instantly, permanently banning the perpetrators of these threats, HuffPost censored and banned the victims, and those who speak out against these activities. Further, in some cases, HuffPost has elevated its worst violators to be visible "Community Moderators," after which they continue their exact same behavior. Examples:

By engaging in these acts, HuffPost has actively created and perpetuated the very environment of hate, threats and danger that it publicly claims it works so hard to prevent on its "comment" pages.
We at HUFF-WATCH are deeply concerned that if something isn't done to put a stop to this phenomenon, someone is going to end up getting hurt, or killed.

The core purpose of this document is to provide those who witness or are victims of online threats, urgings of violence, or stalking on HuffPost (or elsewhere online) with information on:
  • How these crimes are defined, and the laws that pertain to them
  • The federal agencies that investigate and prosecute these crimes
  • How to gather and report evidence to law enforcement agencies

You are also encouraged to send complaints and evidence to HuffPost's senior management, here, and its major advertisers, here.

(2) Quick-reference: Federal law enforcement agencies, what they do, and how to contact them

If you observe or are the victim of what you consider to be online threats or stalking at HuffPost or elsewhere, you can report the matter to one of two federal agencies:
F.B.I.: Investigates and works with the Department of Justice to prosecute threats against government officials and citizens. The F.B.I. has established an Internet crime reporting page here. Or, you can contact your nearest F.B.I. field office here, or call the DC headquarters at (202) 324-3000.

U.S. Secret Service: Investigates and prosecutes threats against current and former presidents and their spouses, and other designated protectees. To report a threat, the U.S.S.S. requests that you contact your nearest field office; directory here.

A number of states have also enacted laws against cyber-threats, urgings of violence, and cyber-stalking. You may consider contacting your local law enforcement agency for more information, or to report an incident that affects you, or someone within the boundaries of the state within which you reside.

(3) The federal laws covering cyber-threats, and cyber-stalking

There are four primary federal laws that pertain to the troublesome types of "comments" that appear with disturbing regularity at HuffPost (examples cited are from physical evidence in our archives):
  • Threatening the president, vice-president, or other protectee of the U.S. Secret Service
  • Threatening another person, or his property or reputation
    Examples: "Have you taken those photos of the kids as I recommended? Because the last day that you see them is close to hand" (1, 2; more); "Get ready for a visit... that's a promise" (here; more). It may also take the form of a threat against a group: "I'm targeting all Jews in my area, and when they get it they will never know what hit them" (here; more). This may also take the form of extortion: that unless the victim does something, or stops doing something, harm will come to her, her children, her property, or her reputation. We presume it also takes the form of indirect threats such as, "We also know you have a dog you love very much... you are warned."
    (from archives; coming.)
  • Threatening or harassing another person while hiding behind a fictitious identity --- or knowingly allowing one's website to be used for this purpose
  • Soliciting others to commit a crime of violence
    Examples: "Won't someone please kill xxxx?"; "Someone really needs to kill xxxx. I'll post his address. Want his pictures, too? I'd hate to have to give them out, but..." (from archives; coming.)

Interestingly, as you'll see below, the courts have determined that it doesn't matter if a person has the ability or intent to actually carry out the threat he/she posts; prosecutors only need to prove to a jury's satisfaction that the statement is a threat, and that a reasonable person would view it as such.

Let's examine each of these laws in detail:

(a) Threatening the president, vice-president, or other Secret Service protectee
(18 U.S.C. 871):
It is a felony to "threat[en] to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon" the President, Vice-President, or or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President."

(b) Threatening another person, or his property or reputation
(18 U.S.C. 875):
It is a felony to "transmit [including on the Internet] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another [or make] any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee." (Ed. We presume that "property," in this context, includes threats against one's pet, or website.)

(c) Threatening or stalking another person while hiding behind a fictitious identity --- or knowingly allow one's website to be used for this purpose
47 U.S.C. § 223(a)(1)(C), 2006):
“Whoever ... in interstate or foreign communications ... makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications...." (2006) "[I]n the case of subparagraph (C) of subsection (a)(1), includes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet… (or) (2) knowingly permits any telecommunications facility under his control to be used for any activity prohibited by paragraph (1) with the intent that it be used for such activity… shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”
It is generally accepted that cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment includes acts such as trying to find out an anonymous user's actual identity, gathering an inordinate amount of information about an individual, searching public records about them, running on-line searches, contacting third parties about them, setting up a dedicated online chat room to discuss them, etc. --- and demonstrating that one is engaging in this behavior.

(d) Soliciting others to commit a crime of violence
(18 U.S.C. § 373):
[Paraphrasing]: A solicitation, command, inducement, or attempt to persuade [another person or persons to engage in the] "use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against property or against the person of another."

(4) The legal definition of a "threat"

There are four general criteria that the courts and law enforcement personnel use to define a statement as a cyber-threat:
(1) Would the person to whom the statement was directed reasonably feel threatened?

(2) Was the statement clearly directed against a specific individual, or individuals?

(3) Could the statement be viewed by a reasonable person as being part of a free exchange of ideas and opinions (all of which are protected by our First Amendment)?

(4) Does the greater context in which the statement was made support the contention that it is a threat?

Also, according to numerous court decisions (
this example is below), the government does not need to prove that the person issuing the threat had either the means or intention to carry it out:
To prove a violation of § 875(c), "The government must establish that the defendant intended to transmit the interstate communication and that the communication contained a true threat." United States v. Darby, 37 F.3d 1059, 1066 (4th Cir. 1994). The government need not show that the speaker actually intended to carry out the threat. Darby, 37 F.3d at 1064 n.3 (a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) is not a specific intent crime and "the government need not prove intent (or ability) to carry out the threat"). In [*5] determining whether the communication contains a true threat, the communication must be viewed in the context in which it is received.

(5) A recent case that encompassed multiple elements of what we've documented goes on at HuffPost: U.S. v. Chesser

In this case,
Zachary Adam Chesser was charged with violating all three of the above federal laws: communicating threats over the Internet (against the creators of the TV show "South Park"), while hiding behind a fictitious screen name, and soliciting others to commit a crime of violence. Specifically, the U.S. Attorney alleged that Chesser posted messages containing:
  • His own and third-party justifications for the murder of anyone who commits what he contends are wrongful acts --- namely, insulting the Prophet Muhammed.
  • Warnings against others that what they were doing was, in his opinion, "stupid," and that they may end up like an individual was murdered in Holland (Theo Van Gogh), whom he alleged had done similar things.
  • Encouragements of others to "pay them (the targeted individuals) a visit."
  • Text and pictorial accounts of other individuals who had been attacked or murdered for allegedly committing similar wrongful acts.

Even though Chesser claimed on his blog that what he posts
"is not a threat, but it is a likely outcome," federal authorities contended that in total, and taken in context, his posts could not be viewed as anything but a threat.

Notably, in paragraph E on page 9 of Chesser indictment, it mentions that he got the addresses of his victims from a public posting about this on... HuffPost:

Chesser pleaded guilty to these and other charges in October 2010, and is scheduled to be sentenced in February 2011, when he faces up to 30 years in prison.
In response, John G. Perren of the FBI's Washington, DC field office said, "Using broad-based communication channels to threaten, harm and intimidate and then incite others to do the same will not be tolerated." More on the Chesser case here, here, here.

Feb 24, 2011 update: Chesser sentenced to 25 years. Story here.

(6) Tips for gathering evidence, and contacting law enforcement agencies

To help ensure that you'll be taken seriously, amidst the many citizen complaints that the Secret Service and F.B.I. receive, it is vitally important that you:
  • Write a summary of your complaint, and the evidence you possess that supports it
  • Present your complaint and evidence in a concise, factual and non-emotional manner

(a) Capture physical evidence of the threats or stalking behavior, and do not alter it in any way
Evidence of this type is usually captured in the form of text cut-and-pastes, and screen captures ("screencaps"). You'll also want to try to capture the coded ID tag of each comment that you find threatening, or a potential violation of the law.

Screencaps: At right is an example of a screencap of an explicit threat by a clearly deranged HuffPost user (here), whom HuffPost protected for years (click to enlarge). In this case, he directed the threat at a user that he thought was a female he's acquainted with ("Neo"; more information available upon request).
  • To obtain screencaps on Windows machines, press Ctrl-PrntScrn, open up a photo program (e.g. MSPaint is contained in the basic Windows operating system), then click Edit--->Paste.
  • To obtain screencaps on Macintosh machines, press Command-Shift-3. The screen shot will be automatically saved as a PNG file on your desktop. To copy the entire desktop, press Command-Control-Shift-3. The screen shot will be placed on your clipboard for you to paste into another program (Edit--->Paste).

To capture a comment's ID tag, look for a tag near the comment, called a "Permalink" on HuffPost. Clicking it will bring up that comment on the user's archive page. You can then copy the URL of this page and paste it into an email or text document. You can also save yourself a step by just right-clicking on the "Permalink," and selecting "Copy Link Location" (Windows), then pasting it where you want.

You may also consider purchasing a program such as
Adobe Acrobat, which enables you to capture entire Web pages, chat logs, user comment archives, etc., and turn them into universally-readable documents called PDFs, with point-and-click simplicity. For example:
  • Here is the PDF of a HuffPost "Community Moderator's" comment archive, documenting his repeated solicitations for the murder of prominent conservatives.
  • Here is the PDF of a chatlog by another protected HuffPost user (whom it also elevated to becoming a "Community Moderator") which documents his threats to beat up another user, in person. Full documentation here.

(b) Keep detailed records of your contacts with Internet system administrators and law enforcement officials.

In the case of cyber-threats, your first contact should be with law enforcement personnel.

If the case concerns cyber-stalking, however, one of the first questions law enforcement officials will likely ask you is, "Have you filed a complaint with the website's management?" You'll need to be able to document who you contacted, when, what was reported, what you were told, and what, if any, action was taken by the website's management. The key to being able to do this is keeping accurate, timely records.

One tool you may find helpful for persistent situations is this
Stalking Incident and Behavior Log (PDF | Word)
, from the National Center for Victims of Crime.

(7) Additional resources, and nonprofit organizations that help victims of cyber-crimes

WiredSafety, which defines itself as "the world's largest Internet safety, help and education resource..." [whose mission is] "to help people know where to contact our Internet Response Team if they are being victimized online and to provide help when help is required." Offers self-help presentations for minors under 18, and adults.
  • Working to Halt Online Abuse, which describes itself as "a volunteer organization founded in 1997 to fight online harassment through education of the general public, education of law enforcement personnel, and empowerment of victims."
  • Directory of state laws that cover cyberstalking here, here
  • Insight into California cyberstalking laws, and incidents in which perpetrators have received significant prison sentences here


Jan. 8: Six Nevada middle school girls arrested over 'Attack a Teacher Day' invitation on Facebook

Fresh on the heels of the groundbreaking Zach Chesser ("Revolution Muslim") indictment and plea deal (
here, here, here)...
Six girls have been arrested after students were invited on Facebook to take part in "Attack a Teacher Day" at two middle schools.

One girl was accused of inviting about 100 students on the social networking website to participate in the event Friday, and the other five were accused of responding with online threats against specific teachers, Carson Middle School (Reno) Principal Dan Sadler said. [...]

The 12- and 13-year-old students were arrested after allegedly posting threatening statements against six teachers at the two schools. One student used the word "die" before a teacher's name, while others wrote that they would "attack" certain teachers, Sadler said. [...]

No specifics, such as weapons or how the attacks would be carried out, were mentioned,
said Carson City sheriff's Deputy Jessica Rivera, the school district's resource officer. The invitation to join the attacks went out either Monday or Tuesday night. "Even if the six girls meant it as a joke, there's no way to know if the other students who accepted the invitation weren't going to carry out the attacks in some fashion," Rivera said. [...]

Sadler said the teachers targeted by the threatening comments were shocked by the arrests because the six girls were good students. Some held leadership positions while others had top grades.
Are any of these perfect little darlings avid HuffPost users? Moderators? Are their parents? Seems they'd fit right in.

Mar. 3: Indiana judge rules newspapers must identify anonymous posters to website
( A Marion County judge has ruled, for the first time in Indiana, that news media outlets can be ordered by the court to reveal identifying information about posters to their online forums.

In rulings this week and last week, Marion Superior Court Judge S.K. Reid became the first judge in Indiana to rule on whether the state journalism shield law protects media outlets from being forced to disclose names of anonymous posters on their websites or other identifying information about those posters, said Kevin Betz, an attorney for Jeffrey Miller, former chief executive of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana.
Read the rest here.

April 19, 2011: Girls, ages 11 and 12, could be charged with cyberstalking
ISSAQUAH, Wash. - Like many 12-year-olds, Leslie Cote keeps track of her friends on Facebook. What she didn't realize is how they can quickly turn to enemies.

"They pretty much backstabbed me because I trusted them," she said. [...]

"It was unbelievable," said Leslie's stepfather, Jon Knight. "They were asking boys if they want to have oral sex, giving out the phone number and address of where Leslie lives for the boys to come over." [...]

Those "kids" all ended up in court on Tuesday. After years of run-ins at school, on the playground and now the Internet, Leslie was granted a temporary restraining order against the two girls she used to call friends. King County prosecutors are considering charges against the two for cyberstalking.

Read the rest here.



  1. This is why I left the blogger sphere of the Huffpost last year. The management of the Huffpost doesn't like people making negative comments about subjects they unconditionally support. If you subscribe and make comments about certain subjects you will have your posts removed and your account frozen. This is a typical problem with HuffPost bloggers that complain about this type of abuse. There's no free speech or expression with the Huffpost unless they agree with your comments.

    The Huffpost only wants comments they support and anything else it is removed hence forth. There's no free thought allowed with the Huffpost just their view anything else is removed or blocked by moderators and management.

    That's why I left and I will never return. The management of the Huffpost remind me of NAZI Germany in the 1930s.

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