Monday, July 7, 2014

Dealing with death threats

"I have my gun shirt on and i go support hobby lobby after i get more ammo at dicks sporting goods. Im a ammosexual and proud of it."

The week leading up to the Hobby Lobby Protest here in Rhode Island was a fast paced and very busy one. I spent more time on Facebook than I did organizing the event offline. Most of that time was spent eliminating the provocative and negative comments left by the trolls attempting to take control of the event page. Since I was committed to the idea of a positive, fun experience for all involved, I carefully deleted comments that went beyond sincere requests for information about the Hobby Lobby decision.

The comments I deleted were from people looking for an argument. The Internet is a big place, and if you want to argue about abortion, health care or Hobby Lobby, you will find a place to do it. But that place will not be on the event page for my event.

Still, I have to sleep sometime, like at 4am, which is when the comment I posted above showed up. The author, whose name and face I have removed, has a set of gun safes as his Facebook profile picture.


On his page, there is a picture of him carrying a rifle:





He is friends with Doreen Costa, a Rhode Island State Representative with a 92% legislative score from the National Rifle Association and with Ed Doyle,who heads up a gun rights group and is running for State Rep.



He lives in East Providence, a twenty minute drive from Hobby Lobby in Warwick.


And he said he was going to show up with ammunition to our Hobby Lobby Protest. Here's the full conversation (I have removed all identifying information from the posts, but I left the troll's gun locker picture to identify his words. It also seems that the troll deleted some of his comments before I was able to get a screenshot of them.)

Given the threatening nature of the troll's posting, on the morning of the Hobby Lobby Protest I called the police department in Warwick, Rhode Island, where the protest was going to take place, and told them that a man was threatening the safety of the protesters. The police promised to look into it and to have a police car near the event at all times.

On the advice of the Warwick Police, I filed a report of an online threat with the Providence Police as well, meaning that I was outside on my front lawn at 7:30am explaining to the cop all about the Hobby Lobby decision (of which he was unaware) and how Facebook works. The police officer was extremely polite while taking my report, and the Protest went off without a hitch, but...

I keep thinking about the troll, who in the middle of the night has nothing better to do than to threaten and antagonize the women on the event page. There is a small yet scary contingent of (mostly) men in this country who, motivated by a deep misogyny, feel the need to abuse people online, and when things don't go their way or when their small minded opinions aren't taken seriously enough, these men move easily into threats of violence, backed up with talk of guns and bullets.

I don't like threats. My niece, Jessica Ahlquist, and other members of my family (including me) received more than enough during the contretemps surrounding the the Cranston Prayer banner decision a few years ago. I've had enough threats for a lifetime. A cop in Cranston, discussing a threat against my niece, once told me that the written threats aren't the one's to worry about, these people are venting and usually harmless. It's the people who don't threaten but just act that we need to worry about. I didn't find the cop's words comforting, somehow.

Women's health care is under literal assault in this country from a full spectrum of misogyny: at one end is the loving hand of those theologies that tell women they are second class citizens and at the other end are those who would seek to enforce that second class status with guns. 

Standing up to this assault, and calling for a full range of reproductive health care options to be made freely available to all women in consultation with her conscience and medical practitioner, or to call for reasonable limits on the ownership of guns, or to merely demand that the separation of church and state be respected by the government can be difficult. There are bullies out there looking to stomp all over your humanity.

But by standing together and not backing down, we can beat the bullies, and hold spectacular protests on beautiful days.


Update: here's a comment I got on Twitter after this piece ran:


I ask you: Did I accurately represent what the troll on my event page said?

22 comments:

  1. Why did you remove his name and face? He had no problems posting his name and face associated with such words, I think you should share. Name and shame.

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    1. I removed his name and face because both may be fake, and I don't know anything about this guy other than what I could see. Also, he might be mentally ill and off his meds. I was more interested in talking about the event than in outing a guy who may be, for all I know, fake. The police have a report, and may investigate.

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  2. Wow. What a story. Glad every thing turned out well and there was no violence.

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  3. This is RightToWorkRI. I attempted to enter my Wordpress user information into the pop-up fields (thenewversailles.wordpress.com), but your site still has me appearing as anonymous for some reason.

    As far as I can see from what you posted, there was no threat to you or anyone else in the man's comments. He appears to be saying that he buys ammo at Dick's Sporting Goods because he supports guns or gun rights and he supports Hobby Lobby as well, presumably because of its position on contraception.

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  4. It appears correctly now. Nevermind.

    One follow-up question: Why not simply ask this individual to clarify his intentions as part of the conversation instead of immediately running to government/police?

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  5. It's an implied threat.

    I have been dealing with a non-violent but nonetheless deeply annoying person in my neighborhood who has been using implied threats of suing me for defamation of character (b/c someone in a private FB message-- not even on my FB page-- said *to me* that this person is a racist) and of blackening my character in public if I dare to apply for positions on town boards, etc. He even pointed out that he knows where I live. (Of course he does-- he lives 3 properties down from me.)

    I went to a lawyer. He says this man's statements-- all phrased coyly like Mr "I have my gun shirt on"-- are indeed threats.

    I'm glad the police took them that way too.

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  6. Calling it an implied threat is a stretch, and there is probably no case against the individual from a legal standpoint. All he did was state he buys ammo from Dick's Sporting Goods. He's clearly a gun enthusiast, and the topic is Hobby Lobby, so this makes it even less likely a threat and more of a political statement about which stores he supports and why.

    If this is the concern, why not simply ask him what he meant by it instead of running to the legal system at the drop of a hat?

    I'm not sure how your anecdote is relevant. Threatening people with lawsuits isn't really even a "threat" in a criminal sense. The police will investigate basically anything anyone reports for CYA reasons, so that's really not an indication of criminal liability.

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    1. Yes, just ask the guy who made a veiled threat if he intends to carry out his veiled threat because either he'll say yes or no. If he says no, nothing to worry, right. Unless he's lying when he says no. If he says yes, then you got him, if he's that stupid.

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  7. It seems reasonable to take it as an implied threat. The conversation is about Hobby Lobby. How is mentioning Islam law and punishments for immoral people, that he's a gun enthusiast and will be wearing his "gun shirt" and will stop by the protest after buying some ammo not a threat? The mentioning of guns and bringing ammo is completely unrelated to birth control and Hobby Lobby - why else would he mention it if not to intimidate?

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  8. He never said he would stop by the protest or bring ammo anywhere. He said he would purchase ammo at Dick's Sporting Goods - that's all. Let's please stick to what was actually written.

    I have difficulty following the religious aspect of the conversation because I can't tell who is saying what due to all the blanked out names and photos.

    Regarding his "gun shirt," I don't see how that implies violence. In fact, it implies the opposite, that he is trying to make a political point - perhaps inarticulately.

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    1. 1. Regarding his weapons as his identity.
      2. Equating contraception with murder.
      3. Advocating Islamic penalties (famously the amputation of limbs, and stoning to death)
      4. Attempting to intimidate by emphasizing proximity to the event
      5. Intending to intimidate by threatening to bring ammunition (and presumably guns to use it) to the event (in what other way are we supposed to reasonably read "support Hobby Lobby"?)
      6. Associating sex with ammunition. (Presumably he's not inserting the ammo rectally... is that what you were going to claim?)

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    2. 1. Being a gun enthusiast doesn't mean somebody is violent.
      2. Abortion as murder is a commonly held religious belief across the world. I don't share this belief, but it also does not mean someone is violent.
      3. It's unclear what the significance of the Muslim comments are. It appears the other person - whoever it is - brought it up, unless there is more to the conversation that is not shown.
      4. In context, it appears he was making a joke/comment about being in a Muslim country already, i.e., East Providence, not saying he was near the event. He's rather inarticulate, so it's difficult to say.
      5. As I already pointed out, nowhere does he state he will attend the event or bring ammunition anywhere. He says he will purchase ammo at a specific store - that's all. Supporting Hobby Lobby can mean anything - he supports the store, just as the protesters oppose the store.
      6. I think "ammosexual" was intended as a joke. I don't see how it implies violence.

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    3. "I have my gun shirt on, and I go support Hobby Lobby after I get more ammo at Dicks sporting goods. I'm a ammosexual and proud of it."

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    4. It sounds like a veiled threat. The things is, a veiled threat is always obtuse. The person making the veiled threat is always hoping that the ambiguity is enough to keep him out if trouble. But more often then not, the target of the veiled threat understands exactly that it is, in fact, a threat.

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    5. I agree with Randy:
      RandyJuly 7, 2014 at 11:05 PM
      1. Regarding his weapons as his identity.
      2. Equating contraception with murder.
      3. Advocating Islamic penalties (famously the amputation of limbs, and stoning to death)
      4. Attempting to intimidate by emphasizing proximity to the event
      5. Intending to intimidate by threatening to bring ammunition (and presumably guns to use it) to the event (in what other way are we supposed to reasonably read "support Hobby Lobby"?)
      6. Associating sex with ammunition. (Presumably he's not inserting the ammo rectally... is that what you were going to claim?)

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  9. He wrote: "i go support hobby lobby after i get more ammo at dicks sporting goods". Hobby Lobby is just diwn the road from Dicks. How is that not clear he was saying he was bringing ammo to Hobby Lobby?

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  10. The poster is anything but clear with his broken grammar. But as far as I can tell, he doesn't specify when he would be going to these stores or why beyond "support." He doesn't say anything about the protest one way or the other, and he doesn't say he will bring ammo anywhere or that he intends to use it. It sounds to me like he's just saying he wants to support each store for their positions on guns and abortion. I know I've said it already, but the simplest response would have been to ask him what he meant.

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    1. So you now admit that you can't tell this person's state of mind from reading his online comments. You further say that interpreting his words as a potential threat is wrong, though there is no way to tell from his comments whether or not he was making a threat. Further, the best course of action to take early on the morning of an outdoor rally would be to ask this person on Facebook whether or not he was making a threat, so that i could more accurately determine his state of mind. If he was not making a threat, he would clarify that he was merely declaring his support for a gun shop apropo of nothing. If he was making a threat, he would then double down and clarify,, telling me he was going to harm people.

      My decision, to inform the police, was wrong, in your opinion. You originally started out saying that the people attending the rally were never threatened, but now you admit that you can't really gauge his state of mind, so there is at least ambiguity.

      My decision, to inform the police, was the most prudent thing to do, in my opinion. I am not a lawyer, law enforcement official or psychologist. I could not ascertain the man's state of mind, or even ascertain his true identity or know if the pictures he used were his own. I prudently took out all identifying information so as to protect anyone from being misidentified as responsible when I wrote about this, and talked about the way my family has dealt with death threats in the past.

      This, you said, degraded the public discourse. Further, my work is "hyperbolic, bigoted, fact-free, legally ignorant" and whatever else you care to throw out, but you can't support any of this, can you?

      Your attempt to smear me is sad.

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    2. Is ThenewVersailles saying that Steve Ahlquist ought not have gone to the police? Is ThenewVersailles say that Steve Ahlquist ought to have waited to see if this man was actually threatening the protest before going to the police? Does ThenewVersailles not understand that guns are weapons? Does ThenewVersailles not understand that guns are used to kill people? Should Steve Ahlquist have waited to see if the man showed up at the protest with his guns, with his "gun shirt on" and with his "ammo" from "Dicks sporting goods"? Should Steve Ahlquist have waited for this "proud ammosexual" to show up with his gun before Steve Ahlquist calls the police? Or, if this "proud ammosexual" should up with his gun, his "gun shirt", and his "ammo from Dicks", would it have been too late for Steve Ahlquist to call the police?

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