A federal judge yesterday sentenced Nicholas Zuckerman to 15 months in prison and three years of probation for threatening to travel to Harvard and blow things up and shoot participants in a commencement event for black students, the US Attorney's office reports.
Zuckerman, of Tempe, AZ, pleaded guilty to two counts of transmitting in interstate and foreign commerce a threat to injure the person of another in US District Court in Boston February.
According to court documents, Zuckerman, using the screen name russian_goalkeeper94, replied to an Instagram post showing a black ballerina visiting Harvard with:
If the blacks only ceremony happens, then I encourage violence and death at it. I’m thinking two automatics with extendo clips. Just so no n***** gets away.
He followed up with a comment on a separate photo showing an American flag flying above the John Harvard statue in Harvard Yard with:
#bombharvard and end their pro-black agenda
Beginning approximately 10 minutes later, the defendant uploaded the threatening comment “#bombharvard” to other users’ posts approximately 11 times, over a span of about four minutes.
Federal prosecutors acknowledge Zuckerman never actually journeyed to Harvard, but said his threats were chilling nonetheless. In their sentencing recommendation to the judge in the case, prosecutors urged her to sentence Zuckerman to 18 months in prison, in part because of the threats he made, in part because there was evidence he had been posting similar items on Instagram for months - and in part to discourage other assholes from thinking they can get away with it:
It is clear that the defendant acted with purpose and deliberation. He did not, for example, post his violent, vulgar, hate-filled comments on his own Instagram account; rather, he responded to posts on Harvard’s account. He took steps to find the posts, which were general public celebrations of the history and culture at Harvard, to read through the comments to identify others who disapproved of the Black Commencement, and to engage with them, taking the discourse to a level beyond “discussion” or “free speech” to a place of violence and fear. ...
Online discourse has simultaneously deteriorated in quality and made it easier to broadcast threats, and threats made online suffer from network effects. That is, when someone surfing the Internet sees a threat online, he may conclude that the norms of public discourse have changed to allow such discourse free of penalty. This is so because threats posted online condition like-minded (but sometimes less vocal) readers to believe that posting threats will be tolerated, that it is the new normal. The Court must reject the prospect of such a "new normal."
By imposing a substantial sentence here, the Court can promote, even create, respect for the law that posting true threats, especially true threats motivated by racial animus, is illegal.
In a statement, Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said:
It’s sadly ironic that Nicholas Zuckerman would turn his chilling threats of mass destruction and vile words against graduates at Harvard University, an institution that has molded some of our greatest orators. Let today’s sentence serve as a lesson to all that no hate monger hiding behind a social-media pseudonym can stop others from celebrating the diversity of some of our area’s best and brightest minds.