On August 12 of last year, white nationalists, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members in full regalia marched through Charlottesville, Virginia in the blazing summer heat, chanting racist slogans and clashing with the hundreds of anti-racist activists who showed up. Dozens were injured and a young paralegal, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car driven by a far-right activist plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Afterward, with tensions running high, concerns percolated that a “Free Speech Rally” scheduled to take place in Boston the following weekend could devolve into similar violence.
The day after Charlottesville, Eric Radulovic, a 32-year-old Indiana man, visited 4chan’s “Politically Incorrect” discussion board, popular among the white nationalists, anti-Semites, and trolls who compose the “alt-right.” Dozens of messages proliferated about the Boston rally and how it would go. “Be prepared everyone. this can get bad,” one warned.
Posing as a member of the alt-right, Radulovic wrote an anonymous post warning that he planned to shoot other alt-right activists at the rally, in order to generate public sympathy for the movement, which was now associated with Heyer’s death.
“I’m going to bring a Remington 700 and start shooting Alt-right guys,” Radulovic allegedly posted. “We need sympathy after that landwhale got all the liberals teary eyed, so someone is going to have to make it look like the left is becoming more violent and radicalized. It’s a false flag for sure, but I’ll be aiming for the more tanned/dark haired muddied jeans in the crowd so real whites won’t have to worry.”
The Boston event was ultimately peaceful. But last Friday, some 10 months after Radulovic wrote the anonymous post, he was arrested and charged by federal prosecutors with the felony of “transmitting in interstate and foreign commerce a threat to injure the person of another.” Radulovic now faces up to five years in prison.
Speaking to TPM, some experts on far-right extremism questioned the federal government’s decision to take up the case. They noted that no federal indictments have been pursued against the white nationalists who openly promoted, and in some cases carried out, violence in Charlottesville.
President Donald Trump notoriously said “both sides” were to blame for that day’s bloody chaos.
“It’s hard to really understand why this is where the FBI is putting its resources,” said Michael German, a former undercover FBI agent who specialized in domestic terrorism operations and is now a national security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Any number of these far-right protests over the last two years have involved actual violence by people who promoted violence on social media, expressed an intent to commit violence at the protest, committed violence at the protest, videotaped it, put it on the Internet to promote themselves and recruit others for additional support at following rallies, which often involve interstate travel,” German continued. “And yet somehow the FBI is not bringing any federal charges from those cases.”
The five-page indictment returned by a grand jury makes no mention of any other threats Radulovic made, and offers no evidence that he actually intended to shoot anyone — or even to attend the Massachusetts rally. In addition, Radulovic appears to have no prior criminal record, and his public social media profiles feature no violent rhetoric or images of guns or other weapons.
It’s unclear if Radulovic is currently in jail or has retained a lawyer. The publicly available court filings and DOJ press release on his arrest say only that he was slated to appear in federal court in Indiana on June 8 and in Boston on June 20.
TPM received no response to a Facebook message sent to his account, nor to multiple emails and a Facebook message sent to the woman identified on his page as his longtime girlfriend.
According to the indictment, Radulovic made his online post “knowing that it would be interpreted as a threat, and recklessly disregarding the risk that his communication would be interpreted as a threat.”
“At least one person” living in Massachusetts who saw Radulovic’s message and planned to attend the rally as a counter-protester chose not to go out of “fear of gun and other violence,” the indictment contends.
But extremism experts say the bare-bones charging document leaves many questions unanswered, like whether federal investigators accessed other threatening anonymous posts Radulovic may have made, or had other evidence that he intended to act on this threat. They also emphasized that any stated intention to commit violence, from any source, should be treated seriously by law enforcement.
“The fact that he mentioned the event and there was some kind of specificity as to what type of weapon he would bring, that’s where it kind of crossed the threshold into a criminal matter,” Daryl Johnson, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, told TPM.
Mark Pitcavage, an expert on far-right extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, added that Radulovic’s use of first-person language was “quite rare” precisely because it could prompt legal action. Alt-right and white nationalist posters tend to give themselves some cover by “urging other people to do things,” or making “suggestive” comments like, “Wouldn’t it be great if someone brought a 50-cal sniper rifle and set up,” Pitcavage said.
But some experts say they were struck by the lack of information indicating that Radulovic’s post was anything other than a one-off comment on a forum known for gruesome bluster.
“The potential violence was a little more speculative and less imminent than we might typically see in other prosecutions,” Eric Goldman, an internet law expert at Santa Clara University School of Law, told TPM in an email.
Contrast this with the leaked Discord chats of white nationalists organizing the Charlottesville rally, who shared photographs of themselves posing with semi-automatic weapons and discussed “thumping” counter-protesters with PVC pipes. Some of those same participants subsequently showed up in Charlottesville wielding firearms, weighted flagpoles, shields, and other arms, and committed acts of violence.
Only the man accused of hitting Heyer with his car faces federal charges in connection to that rally, though local authorities made some arrests. In the subsequent months, white nationalists — some of whom have prior criminal histories — fired bullets at counter-protesters at a Richard Spencer event in Florida and brawled with them at another Spencer event in Michigan.
A February report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that people linked to the alt-right have killed or injured over 100 people since 2014, shooting up high schools and an Islamic Cultural Center. As Peter Simi, an expert on extremism at Chapman University, pointed out, the leaders of Attomwaffen Division, a vicious white supremacist group linked to multiple recent murders, have not been apprehended.
“Here’s a group that has advocated for violence and death, clearly and explicitly, and yet federal charges have not been filed against them,” Simi noted.
On his public profiles, at least, Radulovic never appeared to promote violence. He lives in the Indianapolis suburb of Avon, where he releases trippy mixtapes under the name DJ Hypergiant. His Instagram and Facebook pages are full of photographs of sunsets darkening the wide Indiana sky, his cat and girlfriend, and homecooked pizzas. His Twitter feed makes a few mentions of depression and a few digs at President Trump and at Nazis, but it’s primarily filled with goofy memes.
“It’s interesting they are going through this trouble to target this person,” Simi said of Radulovic. “It’s work to file an indictment.”
- Contributions allow us to hire more journalists
- Contributions allow us to provide free memberships to those who cannot afford them
- Contributions support independent, non-corporate journalism