On March 15, Juan Thompson was indicted for threats against Jewish community centers. The FBI made a major breakthrough earlier in the month in bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers, schools, the Anti-Defamation League, and other Jewish institutions with his arrest. A former reporter for The Intercept, a new outlet formed to release the Snowden links, who disgraced himself by reporting false stories, Thompson began to email his targets on January 28, about two weeks into a nationwide spate of threats against Jewish organizations. He has been charged with making threats in at least eight cases–though dozens of threats as well as attacks on synagogues and Jewish cemeteries have occurred since the election of anti-Semitic dog-whistler Donald Trump. Thankfully, the FBI announced an additional arrest earlier this week of an young Israeli-American man, who has never lived in the US, in connection to the majority of the threats.
Most news stories about Thompson’s arrest have stressed how weird this story is. His motivation seems to be revenge–not against Jewish people but against an ex-girlfriend. After a summertime breakup, he began a campaign of harassment and cyberstalking. His range of manipulative behavior included texting her while pretending to be dying of a gunshot wound and faxing her boss with claims that she was anti-Semitic. His anti-Semitic threats were committed in her name, even as he also claimed that she was attempting to frame him. At the same time, he publicly denounced the anti-Semitism and feigned outrage that children were being targeted.
Above, a map showing the location of threats against Jewish spaces since 2017. Other sites in Canada, New Zealand, Israel, and elsewhere have also been targeted.
The story brings a certain kind of relief: one lone crazy guy (and a liberal one, which gives Trump supporters just enough evidence to believe his odious claim that it’s Jews and leftists vandalizing cemeteries) acting on misogyny, not anti-Semitism. It’s a nutty story, but not one that can tell us much about about anything but this particular psycho ex-boyfriend.
Our federal hate crimes law, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, expanded hate crime law to include gender and gender identity as protected categories. According to our law, a hate crime occurs the real or perceived identity of the victim–their nation of origin, their race, their religion, etc.–partly or fully motivates the crime. So many crimes against women are inspired by their status as women, including rape, domestic violence, harassment, and stalking, but because we often see these crimes as “personal,” we have hesitated to understand that gender bias is at least part of the motivation for them. And, worse, we often suspect that the women deserve the violence inflicted upon them. Even when mass violence happens against women–serial rape, the slaughter of Amish school girls in a mass shooting, the stabbing of sorority sisters, a shooting of women at a comedy about women–we prefer to invoke explanations of individual madmen, not widespread hatred of women and our acceptance (which is to say our normalization) of violence against them.
This puts us all at risk–and not merely because all of us are or love women who might be victimized. Misogyny is clearly linked to other kinds of hate activity. That Thompson was terrorizing Jewish families as part of his effort to terrorize his girlfriend is not at all surprising if you see misogyny as hate–and as violence against women as a predictor of other kinds of violence.
First, men have often targeted daycare centers in acts of revenge against women. As a parent of a young child, my major concern about daycare isn’t the curriculum or proper handwashing; it’s wondering which daycare worker’s angry ex-boyfriend is going to come into the center with a gun. When my own campus faced a threat from a gunman last year, it was my very first–and very reasonable–thought.
Second, violence against women often precedes violence against other minorities. Even as hate actors claim to act out of a defense of womanhood (and especially white womanhood; see, 400+ years of white violence against black men), they are also brutally violent to women, including their own wives and girlfriends. Because mass shooters often choose schools, daycares, shopping malls, and places of worship to commit their acts of violence, women–who are more likely to work in such places–are far more likely than men to die in such acts. The US’s most lethal act of mass violence–the 1927 Bath School bombing, in which Andrew Kehoe bombed a school in the district where he’d been treasurer–began with the murder of his wife. But we don’t have to go back that far in history to see the relationship between domestic violence and mass violence. Omar Mateen, who killed 50 people and injured 53 more in a nightclub shooting in June 2016, was horrifically abusive toward his first wife. This fall, three white men calling themselves “Crusaders” plan to bomb an apartment complex housing many Somali immigrants and their mosque in Garden City, Kansas. They prepped for their terroristic act by harassing Somali women; one had committed an act of domestic violence against his girlfriend just before his arrest.
Unfortunately, we largely ignore domestic violence, treat it is entirely personal (rather than a larger project of terrorism against women and children), and blame its victims. The Trump administration has proposed a total defunding of Violence Against Women Grants. The current administration has also moved to focus Countering Violent Extremist programs solely on radical Islam, though white supremacists have harmed far more Americans at home and though their mass violence is often preceded by domestic violence. Though states are permitted to ban those with domestic violence histories from gun ownership, an increasing number of states now allow permitless gun ownership, ensuring that domestic abusers have legal access to guns with no state oversight. We’re not just ignoring future mass shooters–we’re arming them, disbanding support for their victims, and allowing organizations that advocate for hate and violence to flourish.
The central question of Thompson’s case isn’t Was it misogyny or was it anti-Semitism? It was certainly both. Thompson’s actions show us that you don’t have to feel personal animus for Jews to enact anti-Semitism; he used violent threats to terrorize Jews at his targets and more broadly. That he chose Jews and children–he didn’t threaten Lutherans, after all–was a deliberate choice to tap into a larger, long-standing anti-Semitism; his threats were believable because such threats have been executed in the past. (Frazier Glenn Miller opened fire at a Jewish community center, killing a child and his grandfather, as well as murdering a woman visiting a retirement center, in 2014.) Anti-Semitism is salient; it resonates among haters, including women-haters. We ignore both at great risk.
What do you want to bet that our young Israeli-American man also has a history of hating women?