NEW YORK (CBS) A former journalist fired for making up details in stories is behind at least eight of the scores of threats made against Jewish institutions nationwide, and a bomb threat to New York’s Anti-Defamation League, in an effort to harass and vilify his former girlfriend, federal officials said Friday.
Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested in St. Louis and appeared there in federal court Friday on a cyberstalking charge. He politely answered questions and told the judge he had enough money to hire a lawyer.
A crowd of supporters who attended would say only that Thompson had no criminal record. His lawyer didn’t comment.
CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports that Thompson will eventually be transferred to New York for prosecution in federal court.
Federal officials have been investigating 122 bomb threats called in to nearly 100 Jewish Community Center schools, child care and similar facilities in three dozen states that began Jan. 9. Thompson started making his own threats Jan. 28, and authorities are continuing to investigate the other threats, they said.
“The defendant caused havoc, expending hundreds of hours of police and law enforcement resources to respond and investigate these threats,” New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement. “We will continue to pursue those who pedal fear, making false claims about serious crimes.”
University City, Missouri, police Lt. Fredrick Lemons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that detectives will question Thompson about the 154 headstones toppled last month at a Jewish cemetery in the St. Louis suburb. He declined to say whether Thompson was considered a suspect.
The JCC Association of North America said it was gratified by the arrest. “We trust that the perpetrators behind all of the threats will be swiftly identified and brought to justice.”
Thompson’s first threat was to the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan, authorities said. He made up an email address to make it seem like his former girlfriend was sending threats in his name and sent messages to Jewish schools in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Manhattan and to a JCC in Manhattan, authorities said. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also received an anonymous email saying the woman put a bomb in a Dallas Jewish center.
Then Thompson, who’s black, took to Twitter: “Know any good lawyers?” he wrote. “Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name.” He later tweeted to the FBI: “I’m been (sic) tormented by an anti-Semite. She sent an antijewish bomb threat in my name. Help.”
But police say it was all a hoax, created to make the woman look guilty. He also made threats in which he identified the woman as the culprit. Among other allegations, he is accused of sending a note to the San Diego JCC that said the woman “hates Jewish people and is the head of a ring and put a bomb in the center to kill as many Jews asap,” authorities said.
Thompson, a former journalist, 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 Charleston, South Carolina, church shooter. Thompson had written that a cousin named Scott Roof claimed the white gunman was angry that a love interest chose a black man over him. A review showed there was no cousin by that name. The story was retracted.
The Intercept wrote Friday it was “horrified” to learn a former employee was arrested in the case.
According to a federal complaint, Thompson and the victim broke up last summer. The following day, her boss received an email purporting to be from a national news organization saying she’d been pulled over for drunken driving.
The harassment got worse from there, authorities said. She received an anonymous email with nude photos of herself and a threat to release them to the public. Her boss got a note saying she had a sexually transmitted disease. The company got anonymous faxes saying she was anti-Semitic. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got a note saying the woman watched child porn.
The ADL said Friday that Thompson had been on its radar since he fabricated the story about Roof. According to ADL research, Thompson had also claimed that he wanted to dismantle the system of “racial supremacy and greedy capitalism that is stacked against us.” He said he was going to run for mayor of St. Louis last year to “fight back against Trumpian fascism and socio-economic terrorism.”
He created a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 for his election bid. He got $25, the ADL said.
“We are relieved and gratified that the FBI has made an arrest in these cases,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, head of the ADL. “We look forward to the quick resolution of the remaining open cases.”