Federal agents arrested a 31-year-old disgraced former journalist on Friday morning with making bomb threats made against Jewish centers. Everything about the arrest and the charges is weird and confusing.
So they got the guy making the bomb threats to JCCs?
Well, yes and no.
A criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in Manhattan on Friday charges Juan Thompson with making threats to at least eight Jewish institutions in recent weeks. According to the complaint, Thompson made the threats as part of a campaign of stalking and harassment against a woman he had previously dated.
But scores of threats have been made to Jewish sites this year, and Thompson appears to have been responsible for only a small fraction of them.
Why was he threatening Jewish institutions?
According to the complaint, Thompson intended to frame the woman he was stalking, and, in other cases, to make it look like this woman was trying to frame him.
It makes sense if you’re crazy.
In July, an unidentified woman ended a romantic relationship with Thompson. In the subsequent months, Thompson allegedly stalked and harassed her incessantly. The complaint cites an incredible volume of harassment, including emails to the woman’s boss with false and scurrilous claims about her, texts to her falsely claiming that he had been shot and was near death, and faxes to her employer accusing her of being anti-Semitic.
In late January, Thompson appears to have hit upon a new tactic to use against her: Framing her for making bomb threats to Jewish institutions.
How does this fit in with the nationwide wave of bomb threats?
The current wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers began on January 9, when 15 JCCs received threats. There were more on January 15, January 18, and January 31.
Thompson is accused of making his first threat on January 28, with more throughout February. Most of Thompson’s alleged threats don’t appear to fit the pattern described in press accounts of the calls to JCCs. Most of Thompson’s threats were alleged made via email, not over the telephone, as many of the calls to JCCs were. And most of his targets were not actually JCCs, but rather other sorts of Jewish schools and other institutions.
So he wasn’t he specifically targeting JCCs?
While the complaint alleges that Thompson made “at least eight JCC Threats nationwide,” most of the threats listed were not actually to JCCs. Thompson allegedly targeted a Jewish school in Manhattan, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish museum, and a Jewish school in Michigan, in addition to three JCCs.
Did he send any of these threats to the Forward?
So who is this guy?
This is one of the strangest parts of the whole thing. Juan Thompson, according to BuzzFeed, is a former reporter for the investigative website The Intercept who was fired a year ago for inventing sources.
Thompson was unmasked as a serial fabulist after inventing a cousin of Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof. In a story based on the made-up interview with the fake cousin, Thompson claimed that Roof had gone “over the edge” when “a girl he liked starting dating a black guy.” The Intercept retracted the story.
What’s Thompson been up to since getting fired from the Intercept?
According to tweets today from the ADL, he’s been on the radar of the group’s Center for Extremism. The ADL suggested that Thompson’s rhetoric has grown markedly more radical this year.
In ’10, alleged suspect Juan Thompson wrote “most police officers are decent people.” By ’17, he was saying “white cops r evil sociopaths.”— ADL (@ADL_National) March 3, 2017
On his own Twitter feed, Thompson has been tweeting about bomb threats against JCCs.
Just days after allegedly making threats to JCCs, Thompson wrote: “Another week, another round of threats against Jewish ppl. In the middle of the day, you know who’s at a JCC? Kids. KIDS.”
So does this mean that the bomb threats against JCCs weren’t actually motivated by anti-Semitism?
We still don’t know who was behind the vast majority of the bomb threats. And we still don’t know the motivation of whoever else is behind these incidents.
All we know is that the complaint against Thompson does not describe him as having been motivated by anti-Jewish animus. Instead, he used the apparently anti-Semitic attacks of others to further his own scheme of harassment.
But what the arrest does *not* show is the JCC threats/cemetery vandalisms are not real, or not anti-Semitic. (3/x)https://t.co/jo9RSe2f5s— Emma Green (@emmaogreen) March 3, 2017
What do the JCCs have to say about all of this?
They’re pleased by the arrest. In a statement, the president of the JCC Association of North America, Doron Krakow, said: “JCC Association of North America is gratified by the arrest made in connection with the large number of anti-Semitic threats that have targeted JCCs and other Jewish institutions over the past two months. We trust that the perpetrators behind all of the threats will be swiftly identified and brought to justice.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.