One Man Troll Army Arrested For Supporting Terrorists: Where's The Line Between Trolling And Terrorism?

from the don't-troll-the-fbi dept

Remember Tanya Cohen? Earlier this year I wrote a story calling bullshit on a long non-sensical rant by “Cohen” in which “she” argued that the US was somehow against human rights and true free speech because it refused to criminalized “hate speech” with hate speech loosely defined as any speech “Tanya Cohen” didn’t like. While some of the free speech crew attacked Cohen’s piece, I pointed out that, to me, it was very clearly satire. There was no way anyone actually believed those statements. Take this one for example:

Anyone guilty of hate speech ? which should carry criminal penalties of 25 years to life ? should be sent to special prisons designed to re-educate them and to instill values of tolerance, freedom, democracy, and human rights in them.

Well, now it turns out that Tanya Cohen may be facing some fairly serious criminal penalties “herself” — and, somewhat ironically, it appears that those charges are based mostly on sending some public web URLs to an FBI confidential informant pretending to be a terrorist. And, of course, “Tanya Cohen” is not Tanya Cohen at all, but rather Joshua Goldberg — who was arrested last Thursday in connection with at least some of his trolling. Soon after that, a larger set of revelations about the trolling came out, suggesting that Goldberg was a one-man trolling army, setting up a huge variety of different accounts saying different things and often pitting one of his own accounts against another.

Some commentators have suggested that Goldberg was an extreme free speech supporter — but it’s difficult to tell if Goldberg believed in much of anything beyond trolling. He seemed to be an equal opportunity troller, willing to troll just about anyone. He set up fake profiles of real people and made them say heinous things. He had personas that were extreme free speech supporters. He had personas that were extreme anti-free speech supporters. He had personas that were white power racists. He had personas that advocated exterminating Palestinians. He had personas that were ISIS-supporting jihadis. It’s that last one, rather than any of the other ones, that now has him facing criminal charges for material terrorist support.

You can read the details in the criminal complaint against Goldberg. Now, to be clear: Goldberg appears to be a world class asshole, and a somewhat obsessive and thorough internet troll (though the Cohen stunt really seemed so ridiculous that I’m still surprised people fell for it). And he also appeared to be playing with real fire. Trying to troll free speech/anti-free speech people is one thing. Trying to troll ISIS supporters is another. Among other things, his “Australi Witness” persona tried to take credit for the high profile shootings in Texas at a “Draw Muhammad” event. Here’s what he posted about “himself” online:

Hello, this is Australi Witness. You might know me for inspiring the attacks in Garland, Texas, where two mujahideen entered an event mocking the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with intent to slaughter the kuffar in it. When I encouraged the attacks in Texas, my biggest inspiration was the Australian Muslim human rights activist Mariam Veiszadeh, who has worked tirelessly and diligently to outlaw blasphemy against Islam in Australia. Any true Muslim knows that blasphemy against the Prophets of Allah (SWT) is a capital crime which cannot be tolerated under any circumstances, and Mariam Veiszadeh’s work has provided me with a great deal of inspiration. All who defame the Prophet (PBUH) must be crushed. Bill Leak and Larry Pickering will soon meet their demise, as will Josh Bornstein.

The trolling is almost too convoluted to follow, but Mariam Veiszadeh and Josh Bornstein are both real people — but are both people that Goldberg was trying to smear with other efforts, including setting up a fake persona pretending to be Bornstein, and then somehow convinced the Times of Israel to publish an absolutely ridiculous opinion piece advocating for the outright extermination of Palestinians, which didn’t make the real Bornstein very happy.

But, it was those claims of inspiring the Texas attacks that caught the FBI’s attention — and suddenly made Goldberg the target of one of the FBI’s patented “own plots,” in which it sends in a “confidential informant” — either an undercover FBI agent or, more commonly, a ex-con looking for some extra cash from the FBI to be a “paid informant” — to see if it can entice the target to join a totally fake terrorist plot. From the criminal complaint, you see that after the FBI’s “confidential human source” (CHS) made contact with Goldberg (playing the persona of “AusWitness”), it was actually the FBI informant who repeatedly suggested taking things up a notch. And then AusWitness played along, pushing the FBI informant to go do an attack.

Yes. This is some weird shit: it’s a conversation between a renowned internet troll and an FBI informant, neither knowing who the other really is and each working angles to try to get the other to do something, without either one ever realizing the other is playing a really different game. And the end result is a totally fake bomb plot… and criminal charges.

The conversation between the two began with Goldberg as “AusWitness” pretending that he may have accidentally outed a fellow ISIS supporter in Australia, and pretending that he “felt guilty” about posting about the guy on 8chan. The FBI informant consoles Goldberg a bit and then switches the subject:

August 15, 2015 07:27
CHS – I don’t know what else to say ahki.

August 15, 2015 07:33
CHS – Maybe we can put some more irons in the fire bro. I think we’re on the same page as far as ideas go.

August 16, 2015 21:02
AW – What do You mean, brother?

August 16, 2015 22:40
CHS – Sounds like you’re trying to do some planning Australia. I’m trying to do the same here. I have to get some sleep classes start again tomorrow but let’s talk about this more tomorrow night

Notice that it was “CHS” the FBI informant who brings up the idea of starting a plot in the US. The next day, Goldberg does a trolly bit, baiting the FBI informant, by talking about mythical attacks that were supposed to happen and how “hopefully” they’ll be some more attacks on 9/11 this year — and the FBI informant responds:

We could probably figure something out.

Goldberg/AusWitness then asks the FBI informant if he has any bombs, and the informant admits he doesn’t know how to make bombs. That’s when Goldberg/AusWitness sends over some URLs of publicly available websites:

August 19, 2015 06:28
AusWitness – What weapons do you have brother? I can send you guides on how to make bombs if you need help making them.

August 19, 2015 06:29
CHS – I only have the one weapon but I do t think that is what Allah wants for me. I was arrested just before with the one weapon. Guides would be great ahki something bigger than just a gun attack alhamdulillah.

August 19, 2015 06:44
AusWfness – Alight, akhi. I’m gonna send you some bomb-making guides on Twitter soon.

The message sent on twitter contained five URLs to public facing websites. It sounds like the kind of websites pretty much any idiot could find with a quick Google search, and which might help some people create explosives, but (more likely) would lead people to injure themselves trying. From the complaint, describing what was sent:

… five website links that contained instructions on how to construct explosives, including pipe bombs or incendiary devices are listed.

Later, Goldberg/AusWitness did suggest a target (a memorial event in Kansas City commemorating first responders in NYC on 9/11), but again, we’re still in a conversation between a troll and an FBI informant. Still, it turned out that was really enough. Amazingly, at about this same time, some folks down in Australia, who were also being trolled by Goldberg figured out who he was, and got into a conversation with him online, in which he basically admitted to everything, and even talked about his pro-ISIS trolling, laughing off the idea that anyone was actually going to do anything based on his online efforts, saying “these guys are pussy keyboard warriors.” The people who had this conversation with Goldberg passed it along to Australian law enforcement, who shared it with the FBI… just as they were wrapping up their investigation. The FBI, in the complaint, notes that it wasn’t sure if Goldberg’s trolling efforts was really that relevant, and admit they had no idea about it when they began the investigation, but are including it just in case it’s important.

Either way, here’s the crux of the complaint against Goldberg:

Based on the facts and circumstances described above, there is probable cause to believe that Joshua Ryne Goldberg (Goldberg) illegally distributed information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction, namely that on or about August 19, 2015 through and including August 28, 2015, in Clay County, in the Middle District of Florida, Goldberg distributed information pertaining to the manufacturing of explosives, destructive devices, or weapons of mass destruction in furtherance of an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence by sending to a person five website links for websites that provided instructions that could be utilized to construct or make explosives, destructive devices, or weapons of mass destruction, as part of a plot to explode a bomb on September 13, 2015 at a memorial ceremony in Kansas City, Missouri that commemorates the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 842(p).

Again, the key part: that he sent five public URL links to an FBI informant.

Once again, no one is denying that Goldberg is a world class asshole troll. Some may feel that he deserves to be locked up for that aspect of his life. But it seems rather noteworthy that at no point was anyone even remotely in danger here. At no point was anyone even remotely connected to ISIS or any terrorist organization involved here. Instead, you had a one-man internet trolling army pretending to be ISIS trying to troll someone else he thought was a wanna-be ISIS supporter in the US, but who actually turned out to be working for the FBI. And Goldberg was never actually a part of the plot. He wasn’t planning to take part in it. He just sent the guy some links to websites about making bombs. The FBI doesn’t say, but it seems likely that those websites are still very much online and accessible.

It’s hard not to cheer on seeing an internet troll get “hoist on his own petard,” but there was no terrorist plot here. There were just two people playing other people online for different reasons, trying to get the other to do something.

Meanwhile, now that we know a little bit more about “Tanya Cohen” — and it similarly reveals that the person who repeatedly kept trying to convince me that “Cohen” was real was… also Joshua Goldberg. One of his many other personas was “Moon Metropolis” and he kept a blog and a twitter feed, in which he pretended to not just be the anti-Tanya Cohen, but to insist to me and others that Cohen was absolutely real and meant every word of “her” crazy rants:

Since then, he sent me a few similar links, continually insisting that Cohen was (a) real (b) crazy and (c) very typical out in the world — even sending me some other “examples” of people who said similar things to Cohen. Except, it appears that even his support was just another Goldberg persona. That “Aussie Freedom Fighter” account? Pretty sure that’s just another Goldberg persona… and he was just desperately trying to do some sort of triple troll. Create trollish account. Then troll the person who called out the fact that the troll account was fake… and support it with another troll. It’s a jerky thing to do. And, apparently, when you try to pull the same jerky bullshit on the FBI, they may eventually come down on you with terrorism charges.

Oh yeah. One more thing: it seems that Goldberg was never really that good in covering his tracks. Just days after my original post, a Twitter user going by @healing_bible and @preacherskidd actually told me that Tanya Cohen was likely a creation of Moon Metropolis… who was really Joshua Goldberg… leading Moon Metropolis to flip out in return.

@healing_bible, whoever you are, step on up. You win a prize. You figured it out months before the FBI ever did. And next time you tell me to investigate something, perhaps I’ll actually take you up on it. Also, based on that, it appears that Goldberg as “Moon Metropolis” was active in the comments of Cohen’s own stories insisting that “Cohen” was real, while again insisting that this kind of crazy thinking was common around the globe. So, yeah, create troll story with one account, attack it and “legitimize” it with another. Trolling 101.

In the end, it’s quite clear that Goldberg was an extreme internet troll, who engaged in a variety of trollish personas. And, in the end, one of those personas got him arrested and facing some pretty serious criminal charges. But, as nice as it may sound to throw a troll in jail, it’s hard to see how he actually did anything that supported terrorism in any way… unless you consider internet trolling a form of terrorism. And then, you might find someone like “Tanya Cohen” to agree with you. But I’m guessing Joshua Goldberg might not agree. Then again, it might just depend on which persona he’s decided to take on that day.

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Comments on “One Man Troll Army Arrested For Supporting Terrorists: Where's The Line Between Trolling And Terrorism?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The Problem here...

Trying to take credit for an act of terrorism is good enough for me, but on the other hand considering all of the context, how can I trust the FBI which now stands for (Fabricating Bullshit Intentionally) with telling us the truth?

I now cannot trust anything that law enforcement says due to their consistent and repetitive lying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I read that more than five times. The alleged websites contained instruction on how to make explosives. Last time I checked instructions were not illegal; you do have to be licensed to possess, manufacture, and transport explosives.

So would I get into trouble for posting links to YouTube videos of Controlled Demolitions’ work?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

So would I get into trouble for posting links to YouTube videos of Controlled Demolitions’ work?

Keep in mind the complaint says “sending to a person five website links for websites that provided instructions that could be utilized to construct or make explosives… as part of a plot to explode a bomb“. The problem is not that they’re charging him just because he sent some links, the problem is they can’t tell the difference* between a fake plot that isn’t dangerous and the real thing, which we already knew.

* or maybe just don’t care

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

constitutes a Federal crime of violence by sending to a person five website links

Read that a few times

I did, and it is really disturbing, on so many levels. The big one being, you can publish, buy, and sell a book like the anarchists cookbook, but you cannot send a link to a copy of it. Seems like a First Amendment issue right there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Meanwhile, Terrorist Supporters are more than welcome in Europe. They can shit on the laws and the police, pretend that they were almost murdered by a skinny girl with a camera and get massive media attention and noone gives a single fuck about all his supportive Facebook posts about the IS and the destruction of the Western World.

Anonymous Coward says:

Supporting [FBI funded] terrorism

I’m scared the FBI will, in the course of its misguided pseudo-investigations (perpetrated for the purpose of securing more funding and power), hurt, kill, or imprison innocent people. Per definition, that makes them terrorists. Ergo, supporting the FBI, or their Confidential Human Sources, is supporting terrorism. Ergo, Mr. Goldberg supported terrorism by not immediately bringing a SWAT raid down on this CHS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Your bias downplays the false flag besides Jew aspects.

First, how do you know that “Cohen” / Goldberg doesn’t actually believe in that degree of punishing “hate speech”? Your usual sheer assertion, up against facts of lengthy vile statements attempting to falsely incriminate all Muslim people and incite violence against them. — In other words, a typical neo-con.

That’s just start of severely downplaying the substance. “Just trollin'”, eh? Baloney.

1) Goldberg is a Jew who pretended to be several Muslim terrorists. Not just a little, rabidly.

2) More than the usual FBI sting: a real live terrorist drawn out. Other sites tell of actual bomb plot for Kansas City the 11th.

3) This Goldberg also predicted the “terrorist attack” on millionairess Jew Pamela Geller’s incitement to violence in Texas with the “draw Mohammed” contest. Were they colluding? I’d bet on it. (Details of that alleged attack are now murky, at least two versions.)

Conclusion (I borrow one read recently): before Israel was the US’s “only friend in the Middle East”, we had no enemies there.

Anonymous Coward says:

This one is clearly a 1st Amendment issue, and his lawyers should likely treat it as such. But, this also seems like it’s potentially an actual case of entrapment on part of the FBI. Spouting one’s mouth off continuously on a large variety of view points and being an extreme troll doesn’t make the grade as “terrorist” under anything but what’s probably clinical levels of paranoia. Enticing someone to send a *paid* CI terrorist links of information publicly available on the internet is… tenuous at best. What’s the likelihood of these charges surviving against a competent defence?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What’s the likelihood of these charges surviving against a competent defence?

What’s the likelihood that Goldberg will be able to afford to mount such a defence? I doubt he will get pro-bono private representation. Pro-bono public defenders have a reputation for not serving their clients as well as highly paid private defense lawyers, sometimes for understandable reasons (e.g. excessive workload, rather than sheer apathy). The article does not mention the FBI finding a way to freeze/forfeit any funds he might have for paid private representation, but it’s early yet, and if his time was mostly spent trolling, he may not have the funds saved for a good lawyer. A pro-freedom organization might pay to have private representation for him, but I would not bet on it.

For that matter, given the joke that is the “speedy trial,” how many years will it take for the case to be resolved, even supposing he does manage to mount such a defence?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What’s the likelihood of these charges surviving against a competent defence?
Probably not very. But in the FBI’s view, they’re making the world safer by stopping people from inciting others to violence. Even if the charges don’t stick, they’ve accomplished that aim at least in this circumstance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They are making the world safer by stopping people from inciting others to violence by inciting others to commit to “fake terrorism plots” that just happen to be based on encouraging people to cause violence against others.

When you are talking about the FBI you need to rephrase what you said as it’s rather funny in it’s current format.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not entrapment unless the police/FBI coerce you into doing something you would otherwise not have done. Just because the CI suggested the bombing first doesn’t make it entrapment; otherwise none of these “own plot” cases would ever hold up.

And the case holding up probably depends on whether or not the prosecution has to prove Goldberg subjectively believed he was communicating with a real terrorist. Using an objective standard, he’s definitely going to prison. If he can argue that he was just kidding and assumed the other guy was too, he might have a chance. Not a good one, but a chance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you read the end of the criminal complaint you can see upon arrest he waived his fifth amendment rights and make some statements that will likely doom any chances he has.

“JOSHUA GOLDBERG also admitted that he instructed the individual to place the bomb at an upcoming memorial in Kansas City, Missouri that was commemorating the September 11,20Q1 attacks. JOSHUA GOLDBERG stated that he believed that the individual did intend to create functioning bombs and would actually attempt to use them to kill and injure persons”

Anonymous Coward says:

The purpose of Free Speech is not incitement to violence. It's the opposite: to protect citizens, mainly from the government.

There is no right to urge violence. That’s the answer to line between trolling and terrorism. To urge violence is to destroy civilization. — YES, it’s a hazy line and a slippery slope, but all the excuses and special cases you want to toss in don’t change the fact that urging violence is definitely going the WRONG WAY.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The purpose of Free Speech is not incitement to violence. It's the opposite: to protect citizens, mainly from the government.

You are correct there is no right to urge violence. There is a right to freedom of expression which includes urging violence. The price we pay for protecting the useful parts of free speech is tolerance of the borderline and destructive parts of free speech.

That’s not to say anyone approves of urging violence, its just that you have to take the proportionally much smaller bad if you want the good.

However, you are encouraged to exercise your right to free expression in order to critize such calls for violence. You can even convince the owner of the platform hosting it to delete it. That’s all part of the equation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The purpose of Free Speech is not incitement to violence. It's the opposite: to protect citizens, mainly from the government.

For right or wrong, the supreme court has exempted speech that incites violence, providing that the violence is “immediate or imminent”, from 1st amendment protection. So sorry, the OP is right and you are wrong, at least in spirit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You make me laugh every time you whine about government intervention. Not in the “I made a funny” kind of way, but the sarcastic, non-sympathetic sort of way.

Every whine you make about government intervention is matched by twenty other insistent posts that the government and the NSA have to destroy Google on behalf of the RIAA otherwise all humanly culture is fucked (which you don’t care about since you think only drug abusers listen to Beatles).

Go jump off a cliff.

tqk (profile) says:

Jailhouse conversation ...

Goldberg’s cellmate: “What are you in for?”

Goldberg: “Internet trolling potential ISIS recruits.”

GC: “Whoah, doooood!!! Wait, that’s illegal?”

G: “When the trollee turns out to be a fibbie CI, apparently it is.”

GC: “What did you do?”

G: “Showed ’em how to Google.”

GC: “WTF?!?”

And suddenly, every potential ISIS recruit “goes dark.” Mission accomplished? What was the mission again?

Tice with a J (profile) says:

Dagnabbit, guys, I’ve been investigating this Cohen person, and now you completely scoop me! What am I supposed to do with my unpublished piece now?

But while we’re on the topic of “Tanya Cohen”, did you see his article on The Mary Sue?

MarcAnthony (profile) says:

Satire or mental health issue?

If this person is getting a thrill from stirring up the pot by pitting his own aliases against each other, that moves into personality disorder territory. Whatever pathology is behind trolling, it’s not a crime. Make-believe is a free expression. I thought the TSA had the imaginary threat market cornered, but it looks like there aren’t enough legitimate terrorists for the FBI to concern themselves with either.

Anonymous Coward says:

terrorism is the current buzzword the state uses when there is someone doing something they do not like but have no legal recourse to stop it.

Much communism in the 60’s.

For example you could be arrested as a suspected terrorist if

You wear a hoodie in public
You are missing a finger
You pay cash and instead of using a credit card
If you refuse to let anyone read over your shoulder

All those things are what the DHS considers signs of suspected terrorism

R/O/G/S says:

I had to dig to find this again, but I think you were just plain wrong here, especially considering that every argument Joshua Ryne Goldberg has made as Tanya is nearly boilerplate ADL; and the social media surveillance scandals since then reveal that what he called for has more or less come true

This new human rights law will set up state surveillance of intolerant citizens, including those who voice anti-feminist views

And, he was convicted of actual terrorism to boot.

The real issue is that some 40% of all online personas are military or any of many Countering Violent Extremism private contractor scum looking for manufactured terror bucks due to their excessive trolling and incitement online-and if we the people counter-troll them, its “terrorism,” and HATE!®

Thats the real issue, and we see it over and over, most recently the Pensacola,shooter was stalked online by radical zionist Rita Katz, and her chickenlittle terror creation factory, SITE intelligence.

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