Law Enforcement Advice?

Someone on twitter under the handle zombiecamera made the following two tweets (he deleted the first).

Death to @JessicaAhlquist


@jessicaahlquist your home address posted online i cant wait to hear about you getting curb stomped you fucking worthless cunt

Jessica, brave little trooper she is, retweeted the second.

Any of you out there in the law enforcement profession?  What is the right move here?

Also, when is the moralizing force of faith going to get around to making this sicko a better person?


About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Robert

    JT, I have a screenshot of the second one… in case nobody else got it.

  • Tara

    Zombiecamera has officially deleted their page. I hope she got screen grabs of it because I can’t find where she retweeted what they said (then again, I am Twitter skill lacking)

  • Marcus Ranum

    Generally you can’t really take spur of the moment threats like that seriously. It’s the internet; people say dumb shit that shows them to be dumb – it’s the long-term stalkers who are increasingly threatening that are the dangerous ones (and even they are rarely dangerous) I wouldn’t recommend taking this to law enforcement unless the same person keeps upping the ante.

    Pointing out to them that threatening people is both illegal and stupid (because once it’s on the internet, it never goes away and will be sitting there for future employers) ought to calm them down, though doubtless you’ll get some pro-forma huffery.

  • JT Eberhard


    I didn’t. Anybody know how to use the wayback machine to get it?

  • Robert

    I tried… hoping it would be on google’s cached copy of his page… it wasn’t.
    I don’t know how much they can do with the curb stomp tweet that I got a screenshot of.

  • Tara

    I also just found another winner from Carys (xxx_carys) on twitter. Screen grabs have been made of his death threats towards atheists.

  • Marcus Ranum

    It won’t be in the wayback machine.

    Law enforcement, reasonably, can’t get involved in every single “internet asshole” situation; first off they’d be too busy and secondly they’d have to arrest most of the internet. ;) Remember how long it took – including increasingly over-the-top behavior – to get the cops to take a look at Markuze?

    Also, the above doesn’t really read as a threat to me. It reads as someone really hoping another person gets hurt, but not offering to do it themselves. Secondly, the fact that they deleted their account shows that they’re cowards. Generally cowards don’t show up to physically confront someone. When it comes to internet threats the red flags should only start to wave if the offender is showing persistent focus on the target, appears to be planning an attack, is ratcheting up their abuse, etc. Almost always you want to judge based on the level of effort that the attacker is putting into it. I.e.: if they post stupid twitter-grams, that’s one thing. If they post photoshopped pictures of you with crosshairs, that’s another. If they start mailing you stuff or sending photos that they took from the street outside your house – then, that’s real bad.

  • Robert

    Jt… people listen to you… please post something telling other atheists not to threaten these people back… apparently some are.

  • hoverfrog

    That is the “moralizing force of faith” at work.

  • chrishallquist

    @Marcus: the big worrisome thing here is the posting of her address online. Even if the person responsible is too cowardly to do anything, if someone really psycho sees her address… I don’t even want to complete that thought.

  • raven

    Death threats are federal crimes, felonies.

    There are a lot of people doing multi-year sentences for making death threats over interstate means of communication.

    To be sure, the FBI tends to go after those threatening politicians for the obvious reason.

  • Marcus Ranum

    I understand that. That’s a pretty low-effort thing to do. You’re not going to get a police response from that; it’s not realistic.

    What LE is always going to look for is a pattern of behavior that indicates someone is planning on taking things beyond just being an asshole on the internet. The proverbial “someone really psycho” you mention isn’t going to be helped significantly by having her address posted, either, because if they were really that strongly motivated to do harm, it’s not much of a barrier.

  • Ken

    I’m not “law enforcement.” I am, however, a former prosecutor, current criminal defense attorney, and First Amendment practitioner.

    There’s two different questions here: (1) whether the tweets were a crime, and (2) what to do about them.

    As to (1), whether they were a crime, the test is [probably - long boring exceptions left out for now] — whether they represented a “true threat,” meaning a threat intended to be taken as a genuine expression of intent to do imminent physical harm harm (or maybe the standard is whether a reasonable person would take it that way, not whether it was intended that way. It may be both. It depends on your jurisdiction, sometimes. Isn’t law majestic?]

    So, do they qualify? Generally the archetypical illegal threat is “I will kill you tonight”; anything conditional, hypothetical, aspirational, etc. is less likely to qualify. I think these are close to that line. I think you can make a colorable argument either way.

    But (2) — should you report it. Strong a defender of the First Amendment as I am — and as contemptuous of bullshit “bullying” and “harassment” laws as I am — I think so. Let the cops decide if it is close enough to the line to investigate. Cops can investigate things and talk to people even if they don’t have probable cause yet, so long as they don’t conduct any actions implicating the Fourth Amendment.

    Just my few cents.

  • Markita Lynda—-Happy New Year, everyone!

    I believe in feedback. I report them to the forum provider — Twitter, newspaper, Facebook — as a potential threat of violence in hopes that they will be warned off or, if there’s a lot of it, have their account cancelled.

  • Matt Penfold

    I believe the comment with her address has been removed now, but of course there is no knowing who might have seen it when it was still up.

  • george.w

    The book Gift Of Fear by Gavin DeBecker is an excellent discussion about threat evaluation. Like #7 Marcus’ approach.

  • Marcus Ranum

    have their account cancelled.

    I generally like to link to comments like that with the commenter’s real name if possible. Then point out that their threat may wind up in search engines for future prospective employers’ HR departments to find. Usually they’ll jump through their own assholes trying to delete their comment after that. If not then, years later.

    If you want an example of how I roll when threatened over the internet, you can google for “Euan Donegan” and follow the link.

  • Marcus Ranum

    (Addendum to my comment previous: in that case, since I believe I wound up spending more effort than my ‘attacker’ making his life miserable, I would say that I wound up being the stalker rather than the other way around. :) )

  • Tish

    It’s amazing how people act and why they will post when they don’t realize it can be tracked even if they go back and delete their accounts.

    We all want to support and protect Jessica, but please don’t stoop to the level of these people when you reply to any of them. We’re seeing Christian teachings at work in full force today, so much for love they neighbor!

    Everyone make sure to screenshot anything you see that is questionable and get them to JT or Jessica.

  • Tish

    *what not why

  • Shiroferetto

    I reported the infamous “girl with a book” thread to the FBI. No shit. In that case, threats of rape were made to a (according to the FBI) minor girl… which is CLEARLY illegal, unless you lack a brain.

    By that time, posters had already tried scrubbing their comments from the thread as if they can’t be tracked down. Having worked for an ISP in their TOS department, I can tell you that the FBI does not look kindly upon that sort of thing…

    But this is a different case. Certainly, if the girl is under 16 and the comments made are sexual in nature, they can be bagged by the FBI. No sweat.

    Otherwise, I think other posters have explained the legality of things much better than I ever could.

  • NotAProphet

    You have to report it. Whether or not law-enforcement take action on this particular instance, a paper-trail needs to be established, so that any future threats do not get dismissed.

  • Brian Wallace

    Someone, anyone willing to try to demonstrate that these kind of statements are made as often by us angry non-theists? Even remotely closely as often, per capita?

  • johns

    Hopefully all threats are being documented by herself.

    Threats against her life are guaranteed to grow.

    Any letters must be kept and photos of vandalism must be taken.

    Threatening death is illegal and without any documentation nothing can be done. It will not stop it but authorities will at least be able to take action.

  • julian

    Document it. There’s a good chance this shit will keep happening and law enforcement will be looking for reasons not to take you seriously (your safety isn’t their concern. Being able to get a conviction is). If you do start to feel intimidated or unsafe it’ll be harder for them to ignore it.

  • John

    Jessica should not be replying the any of threats on twitter.

    She has to restrain herself. If she cannot stop herself now. She will not be able to cope with the onslaught coming from outside of twitter.

    Screenshot and she can retweet.

  • Grimalkin

    I’m going to have to disagree John, she very well should be replying to those threats. It’s been gone over multiple times on the topics of women and misogynistic trolling, but the general consensus is that “don’t feed the trolls” is a shitty idea. It just makes them feel like they’re getting away with it.

  • Icaarus

    Just created a twitter account to send her support over morons like the ones that started this post. Turns out I’m not the only one.

  • Shiroferetto

    William Hamby did a piece on this for the Atlanta Examiner:

    In it, he provides a link to this page which has screenshots (screenshots or it didn’t happen!) of the offending tweets:

    One girl says she’s in Ahlquist’s biology class and is going to throw things at her. Others (who are apparently familiar with he through school) say that she deserves to be beaten up, and it’s surprising that she hasn’t been already. One says that if he wasn’t over 18, he’d go beat her up. (Nice excuse to be a coward, but nevertheless a threat.)

    The list goes on and on. The threats aren’t just confined to random Joe Schmoe Twitter accounts but seem to extend to people who know her personally and wish her physical harm. I’d say that constitutes at least law enforcement getting involved.

  • fastlane

    I would highly recommend, if Jessica is reading this, and has a smartphone, to download one of many ‘security’ apps, like Pocket Sentry, and make use of it. (it basically lets you set your camera as a motion detector, and takes pictures when something goes by/the view changes).

    It probably wouldn’t grab actual license plates of potential drive by vandals, but you have a decent chance of getting the make/model/color, and it would get decent images of people walking by a window, if they leave the lights on.

  • Anonymous