I would like to thank all of those who, in response to my request yesterday, have offered advice regarding the fellow who’s been obsessively sending me crude, insulting emails since at least 2012. (I’ve received three more from him today, thus far.) I’ll be sifting through the responses today, as time allows.
One person suggests that I should do as Jesus counsels, and turn the other cheek. That’s always great advice, of course. I think that I can honestly say, though, that I feel no anger whatever toward this person. That may seem difficult to believe, but it’s true. Partly it’s because I’m very much my father’s son in this regard: I just don’t get angry very often and, on the rare occasions when I do, the anger quickly passes. I’m a distinctly placid, “Type B” personality. And, try as I might, I don’t hold grudges very well. (That’s partly why I find the image of me that Gaston and Lefou have carefully cultivated over the years — portraying me as perpetually resentful and enraged — so remarkably strange. I’m many things, including many things for which I can be legitimately criticized, but I’m very definitely not that.)
Several have suggested that I ought not to pay this fellow any attention, and that, by alluding to him here over the past couple of days, I’ve inflamed him. Now, it’s plainly obvious that he’s received a shot of adrenalin from the public notice that he’s received from me; he’s increased his production rather dramatically of late. I can’t deny that. They also say that, if I would simply ignore him, he would go away. But the fact is that I have ignored him for somewhat over six years, and yet he’s kept at it without any encouragement from me at all. (I have never responded to him directly, not even once. I suspect, given the circuitous route by which he sends his messages, that I can’t. But I haven’t tried.)
Others have suggested that I not read his messages, that I either block him or have them go directly into a spam folder. Both of those are options, and I suppose that I’ll now do one or the other. I haven’t done it in the past for a couple of reasons: First, implausible as this may seem to some, his posts genuinely don’t bother me much. I receive them, read them, sometimes share them with my wife (who doesn’t really appreciate it), put them in a folder called “Anonymous Hate Mail” that I created for him, and never read them again. I just think they’re weird. Second, I’ve actually thought, given the intensity of his obsession, that permitting him this outlet might lessen the probability of his undertaking something much worse.
Two factors have recently altered my attitude just a bit: (1) His mention of my granddaughter. Knowing the seething personal hostility of some of my critics, I have very deliberately kept references to my wife vague and have largely avoided references to my children and to any family that they might have. He didn’t threaten my granddaughter, but I was extremely displeased to see his reference to her — I don’t like seeing her dragged into this even slightly — and I worry that his attention to her might escalate. (2) Having grown curious about exactly how long his posts have been coming to me, I opened up the “Anonymous Hate Mail” folder and looked at the earliest ones that I’ve filed there. When I saw that this has been going on for over six years, it dawned on me that such behavior is unhinged, pathological, and potentially dangerous.
In response to my blogged request, I’ve heard from IT professionals, who have offered to help. Blocking this fellow probably won’t be difficult, and I’ll likely go that way. (I have enough material from him that, if this escalates into violence or some other form of legally actionable offense, law enforcement personnel shouldn’t have much difficulty in tracking him down.) Identifying him might be a bit harder, but perhaps somebody might be able to do that.
Are there legal remedies? Perhaps.
An attorney in California, while saying that he doesn’t know applicable Utah law, points out that “this would be a crime in California. California’s criminal laws addressing online harassment state that it is illegal to use an electronic communication device to make repeated contact with another person with the intent to harass or annoy, or to make a single intentionally harassing contact if it includes any obscene or threatening language. (California Penal Code 653m.)” My anonymous correspondent is guilty (in spades) of all of those things, and the California attorney suggests that I contact a lawyer or a law enforcement agency in Utah to find out whether there is a comparable rule here.
I may well do that.
Another California friend calls my attention to an online discussion of “Electronic Communication Harrassment” under Utah law:
“Utah’s statute prohibiting harassment using electronic communications is incredibly broad. Not every dispute between two people which involves an electronic communication should constitute a criminal act, however, the wording of the statute gives law enforcement officers and prosecutors great discretion in selecting people to prosecute for this offense. . . . The statute itself addresses this issue by requiring under Utah Code §76-9-201, that the person charged with electronic communication harassment must act with an intention to do one or more of the following: threaten, harass, frighten, intimidate, annoy, offend, abuse, alarm or disrupt the electronic communications of another.”
Again, by that standard my anonymous pal would seem abundantly qualified for the attention of legal authorities here in Utah.
Here is the relevant state law: