Social Media 'Terrorist' Taken Down By FBI After Reblogging A Pro-ISIS GIF

from the a-prison-sentence-for-your-(secondhand)-thoughts? dept

Social media platforms are the best (unwitting) honeypots. The FBI continues to prowl public posts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. for “suspicious” material. Whatever triggers the FBI’s counterterrorism spidey senses is followed shortly thereafter with subpoenas for user info. This is then followed up by DOJ press releases announcing the successful capture of another dangerous individual.

An Akron, Ohio, man was arrested today on federal charges that he solicited the murder of members of the U.S. military.

Terrence J. McNeil, 25, appeared in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio after being charged with one count of solicitation of a crime of violence.

The charge was announced by Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division.

“According to the allegations in the complaint, Terrence McNeil solicited the murder of members of our military by disseminating ISIL’s violent rhetoric, circulating detailed U.S. military personnel information, and explicitly calling for the killing of American service members in their homes and communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “ISIL and its followers continue to use social media in an attempt to incite violence around the world, including in the United States. The National Security Division’s highest priority is counterterrorism and we will use all of our tools to disrupt threats and acts of violence against our military members and their families.”

And just one day after Veteran’s Day, as the press release points out. (That would be the arrest, not the post. The reblogging occurred on September 24th. Optics, people.) The complaint details McNeil’s social media interactions and postings — under multiple accounts. Tucked in amongst the banalities of everyday social media life are McNeil’s more inflammatory posts (and reposts). The FBI already had him under surveillance by the time he posted the thing that bothered the agency the most.

As Ryan J. Reilly of Huffington Post points out, it wasn’t even original user-generated content that led to McNeil’s arrest.

A man from Akron, Ohio, who has supported the Islamic State online was arrested by federal authorities Thursday and charged because he allegedly “reblogged” a GIF on Tumblr that called for attacks on members of the U.S. military.

The GIF, under the banner “Islamic State Hacking Division,” reportedly loops through “several dozen photographs, purportedly of U.S. military personnel, along with their respective name, address and military branch,” according to a Justice Department press release.

“Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe,” the GIF reportedly stated. McNeil allegedly reblogged the GIF on Sept. 24.

Is a “reblog” the same thing as uttering the threat yourself? This nuance is likely to be lost during the upcoming prosecution. Certainly, it will be argued that “reposts are not endorsements,” to paraphrase the Twitter profile stock phrase slightly.

What’s in the affidavit shows McNeil apparently had an affinity for ISIS. Whether or not it would have led to anything but spirited reblogging is impossible to determine. At one point, another Tumblr user asked whether his pro-ISIS postings represented the “real” him. His answer?

Somewhat about 60%, if it was 100% I would be in jail

McNeil obviously miscalculated this ratio.

The FBI’s affidavit contains little more than a thorough recounting of McNeil’s ISIS/Islam-related social media posts. There’s nothing in there that suggests McNeil was anything more than someone who made a bunch of ill-advised posts about ISIS and Islam. Reposting someone else’s threats isn’t really the same thing as rolling your own. But it’s apparently enough to result in criminal charges.

The FBI may yet uncover evidence of something more malicious lurking under McNeil’s “talks big on Tumblr” exterior. An expansive search warrant attached to the affidavit not only grants the FBI permission to perform forensic examinations of every electronic device in McNeil’s possession, but to seize nearly everything else in his possession, including papers, documents, bank records, receipts, weapons, ammo, photos, airplane tickets, “tactical head coverings,” and, because this is the way the government does things:

United States Currency in excess of $500.00, precious metals and gems, gold coins, jewelry and financial instruments, including stocks and bonds, deeds of trust, sales contracts, vehicle instruments and artwork.

It looks like McNeil will be getting a public defender, since $500 doesn’t buy much lawyering — not in a case involving alleged threats to kill military personnel. The government hasn’t secured a conviction and nowhere in its affidavit does it even suggest McNeil’s money came from any other source than his job at a local hospital. But it’s going to take it anyway.

As Reilly points out, FBI director James Comey hasn’t exactly made it clear what sort of reposting/retweeting will more likely result in federal charges. This was his answer in response to questions after the FBI arrested a Virginia teen for retweeting pro-ISIS tweets. Comey believes the line between benign and nefarious is “pretty darn clear.” It isn’t, but it’s the government that has the privilege of making the initial determination. The rest will be sorted out in court… unless, of course, the DOJ is able to coax obviously impressionable and not overly-bright young men into plea agreements, in which case, no further determinations will be made.

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Comments on “Social Media 'Terrorist' Taken Down By FBI After Reblogging A Pro-ISIS GIF”

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btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: advocacy vs trolling

Absolutely! I’m with you, btr1701. In fact let’s just
> fucking kill anyone who expresses “wrongness”.

It’s not ‘wrongness’. What was retweeted were threats of violence against specific individuals. That has never been protected speech in this country or any other and it doesn’t suddenly change because you use social media to do it.

And who said anything about killing? I said “end up in a cell”. You morphed that into a call for execution and pretended I said it. That’s what’s commonly referred to as “being a complete douchebag”.

Well done!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 advocacy vs trolling

It’s not ‘wrongness’.

What? It wasn’t wrong? If it wasn’t wrong, then why in the hell do you want to put them in a cell?

And who said anything about killing? I said “end up in a cell”. You morphed that into a call for execution and pretended I said it. That’s what’s commonly referred to as “being a complete douchebag”.

Nobody pretended that you actually said that, and to claim that they did is the kind of lie a REAL douche bag tells. Congratulations on living up to your own name calling.

Anonymous Coward says:

Alright, I’m going to take the Government’s side to some extent. Since this GIF mentions specific people, places, and threats, I would consider this a threat.

The GIF, under the banner “Islamic State Hacking Division,” reportedly loops through “several dozen photographs, purportedly of U.S. military personnel, along with their respective name, address and military branch,” according to a Justice Department press release.

Now obviously, if the re-tweet was qualified as not his personal opinion, than he’s no more guilty than a journalist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Did he hurt anyone?

Did his speech hurt anyone?
If not, what has he done wrong?

I can see yelling FIRE! in a crowded public place causing people to panic and someone to get hurt. So yea, I see how someone should face the consequences of their speech in a court of law.

But posting crap on the internet is not like yelling FIRE in a crowded public place. If it was I suspect all of you would be running for the doors trampling anything in site because I have yelled FIRE numerous times already.

Still here reading? Thanks for proving my point.

Harmless speech is just that, harmless.
Prosecuting harmless speech is not the Ohio or America that I want my children to grow up in.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: Did he hurt anyone?

I’m not so sure. If it had people qualified (names, possible locations etc.) with instructions (from any source) to destroy, maim and kill then it is not a stretch to consider the circulation as a request for contract. Even though there’s no money and it’s not strictly putting the word out on the street for a hit request “do this and you will be paid by god” is influence enough for some (clearly). But that’s crime.. the entire terrorism labels and usages are FUBAR – We’re supposed to investigate crime and punish accordingly when guilty. This shit TERROR stance and tactic is, as we’ve all been observing, a pretty slippery slope into the exact type of government we’re not supposed to enable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Did he hurt anyone?

I can see yelling FIRE! in a crowded public place…

Schenck v United States (1919)

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

 . . . We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. . . .

Of course, long-time Techdirt readers are familiar with the nature and content of Comrade Schenck’s circular opposing the Conscription Act.

We know where “Shouting ‘Fire!’” came from, and what it means.

When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Did he hurt anyone?


Yes, but I think even the author of that opinion would up being less than proud of it. Look at Holmes’ dissent in Abrams v. US, 250 U.S. 616 (US, 1919). Similar, Gitlow v. NY, 268 U.S. 652 (US 1925). Certainly the entire Schenck opinion is not one of which the court can be very proud. The cases in which Schenck is followed mean that the case will remain as a perpetual stain of dishonor on the court.

These arrests and prosecutions have some of the same air, the government falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. In crowded cities, the government yells that there is a threat from which only they can protect you, and the result is a rush to trample the constitutional rights of the citizens.

The threats turn out to be either entirely bogus, or manufactured by the govt. Maybe we can add a new category: lighting a fire in a crowded theatre.

Spaceboy (profile) says:

Re: Did he hurt anyone?

It doesn’t matter if his speech hurt anyone. He posted names, pictures and locations of private individuals who are in the military and advocated killing them. This isn’t free speech, this is hate speech and should be addressed as such.

If he made a general statement or retweeted a general statement like, “the military should die lollll1l1l”, then no harm done. Posting private information like this is wrong. Assuming he knows right from wrong (not mentally impaired), this makes him an ISIS sympathizer. He gets what he deserves.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Did he hurt anyone?

This isn’t free speech, this is hate speech and should be addressed as such.

This is probably late enough that no one will ever read it, but I want to counter this unfortunately common misreading.

“Hate speech”, as conceived of, is a type of speech: speech with hateful intent, or speech conceived out of hate of the things spoken about, or any of several other possible definitions (people seem to use different ones depending on the occasion).

“Free speech” is not a type of speech. “Free speech” – put at its simplest, and ignoring all the nuance and detail which go into the law surrounding it – is the freedom to speak.

Put concisely: “hate speech” is something which you say, but “free speech” is something which you have.

Saying “it’s not free speech, it’s hate speech” is comparing apples to oranges.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Easy

How do you feel about the 1st Amendment? Because it’s not there to protect popular speech.

What was retweeted in this case were threats of violence and death against specific individuals. That has never been protected speech in this country or any other and that doesn’t suddenly change just because one uses social media to do it.

If McNeil or any other keyboard jihadi wants to throw in with these psychopathic ISIS barbarians and disseminate their death threats for them, then they should rightly end up in a deep, dark hole if they get caught.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Easy

They are not mutually exclusive. The threats were also propaganda.

Correct, one is a subset of the other, but importantly, the threats are a subset of propaganda, not the other way around. So supporting arresting people for spreading ISIS propaganda is materially different from supporting arresting people for spreading specific death threats.

Spaceboy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You mean like how ISIS kills anyone that doesn’t agree with them? Are you really trying to say that The US government is silencing dissent when ISIS is out there killing people that don’t agree with Islam?

This isn’t dissent. This person has aligned themselves with an openly hostile terrorist organization that is responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people, including children. They want nothing less than the destruction of anyone that does not agree with them.

Spaceboy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I do disagree with them. They are murderers and rapists and all-around shitty guys to hang around, what with the beheadings and all. I have lots of people I don’t agree with on many things, and not once have I tried to kill any of them.

I don’t want their destruction. I want them to stop. There is a difference. If it turns out the only way to prevent them from killing innocents is to destroy them, then by all means let’s destroy them. The world will be a better place without theme and they can all enjoy their 72 virgins in paradise. Win-win.

Anyone is entitled to their political/religious/personal belief system until it comes to the point that it is impacting others in a negative way, like raping children.

So, come out and say it. Are you Pro- or Anti-ISIS? Do you disagree with me because I pointed out the flaw in your anti-American post or do you really support ISIS?

Spaceboy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The world is full of hypocrites. This is not new. My Anti-American comment was directed at you because of your use of ‘Your government’, which I take to mean that you are not a US citizen.

Under that assumption, it’s a bit odd to call out the US Government for merely arresting a guy for posting pro-ISIS material when ISIS itself would have killed the guy outright if he had posted US-propaganda. This guy will get his day in court, and if it turns out he is pro-ISIS then he gets what’s coming to him. We don’t need people like that. It’s okay to hold a different point of view unless that point of view means you killing me. That changes things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The world is full of hypocrites.

Ah, so you’re just trying to be part of the in-crowd, huh?

My Anti-American comment was directed at you because of your use of ‘Your government’, which I take to mean that you are not a US citizen.

The commenter you were replying to never said that.

A hypocrite AND an idiot. Winning combination. Of what, I’ll refrain from saying.

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