After allegedly sending a death threat to a Muslim lawyer on Twitter last year, a North Carolina man is facing federal felony charges of issuing a threat via interstate commerce that could land him in prison for up to five years, the New York Times reported on Monday.
According to the Times, the charges stem from a March 2018 incident in which Virginia lawyer, author, and now-Democratic nominee for State Senate Qasim Rashid received a slur-filled message from a pseudonymous account containing the phrase “view your destiny” alongside a photo that appeared to be of the infamous 1915 lynching of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank in Georgia. Rashid had no idea who sent the tweet but flagged it in a screenshot to Twitter, which later suspended the account. He also reported it to the FBI, according to the Associated Press.
He first learned that FBI agents had identified the man behind the tweet as 52-year-old Joseph Cecil Vandevere last week, the Times wrote.
Per the Times, as of Monday evening the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina said a warrant has been obtained for Vandevere’s arrest, though he was not yet in custody:
In an indictment filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina on June 20, Joseph Cecil Vandevere of Black Mountain, N.C., was charged with issuing a threat via interstate commerce, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.
A warrant has been issued for Mr. Vandevere, 52, who had not been arrested as of Monday night, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the district. He could not be reached on Monday evening, and it was unclear whether he had a lawyer.
The Daily Beast reported archived snapshots of Vandevere’s alleged account, @DaDutchman5, showed the threat directed at Rashid followed “at least a year of unhinged attacks against other politicians and public figures” as well as posts in favor of the crazed Pizzagate conspiracy theory, among others.
That Vandevere is facing charges is notable because Twitter is essentially overrun with these kind of threats, despite the site and its founder Jack Dorsey having repeatedly promised to do something about it for years. In May 2019, Twitter’s head of legal, policy, and trust and safety Vijaya Gadde told Vice that the site was still examining whether to ban literal Nazis—a policy so blindingly obvious that even scandal-ridden Facebook, a company that civil rights organizations have relentlessly criticized for its inaction on hate speech, has at least officially implemented.
Gadde told Vice that the company believes “counter-speech and conversation are a force for good, and they can act as a basis for de-radicalization, and we’ve seen that happen on other platforms, anecdotally.”
It’s also noteworthy because law enforcement often does not take social media threats seriously, Rashid told the Daily Beast.
“It’s not very common that they actively pursue these kinds of death threats,” Rashid said. “It’s going to make social media safer, and it’s actually going to protect speech for those who engage in constructive dialogue as opposed to violent extremism.”