The lawyer of an Indiana man indicted for directing an anonymous threat towards the alt-right says his client is being prosecuted by the federal government for a bit of unserious online trolling.
In a Friday statement to TPM, Scott Lauer, the Boston public defender representing Eric Radulovic in the case brought by the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the case “should alarm anyone who cares about free speech or who has ever made an ill-considered remark online.”
Radulovic, 32, was indicted June 7 for a threat he made on 4chan last August in the aftermath of the chaotic white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was murdered. Upset over the rally, Radulovic posed as a member of the white nationalist alt-right and threatened to show up at an upcoming “Boston Free Speech Rally” and shoot members of the alt-right with a Remington 700.
Though his aim was to prevent people from showing up to the event, Radulovic wrote that injuring white nationalists would help garner “sympathy” for their movement.
Radulovic is now facing up to five years in prison for that comment, on one charge of making an interstate “threat to injure the person of another.” He also lost his job in the IT field following his arrest, according to Lauer.
But the indictment contains no evidence that Radulovic had any intention of traveling to Boston, for what was ultimately a peaceful rally, or even owned a gun. He has no prior criminal record, and his online social media profiles are full of jokey memes and photos of sunsets, but no violent rhetoric or images of weapons.
Radulovic pleaded not guilty at a Wednesday hearing in federal court in Boston. He returned home to Indiana, where he has been ordered to receive mental health treatment as part of the conditions of his release while his case moves forward.
Lauer declined to comment on specifics about the case, but told TPM that federal prosecutors were overreacting to a misguided online comment his client made but never intended to carry out.
“The alleged threat in this case was made on 4chan, an online forum infamous for ‘trolling,’” Lauer said in an email. “‘Trolling’ refers to the practice of making outlandish claims online for shock value or satirical purposes. In that context, Mr. Radulovic never imagined or intended that his attempt at trolling would be taken seriously as a threat. While his comments may reflect poor judgment, they were not criminal.”
Some extremism experts surveyed by TPM were surprised that the federal government chose to pursue this case. They noted that no federal indictments were brought against the other white nationalists who engaged in violence at Charlottesville and several other far-right events over the past year. Many of those individuals, some members of known hate groups, flagged their intention to commit violence online before crossing state lines to actually do so.
Notably, though Radulovic was not officially charged with a hate crime, his grand jury indictment contains a “special finding” that says he “intentionally selected the victims as the object of his threat because of the actual and perceived race and color of the anticipated attendees.” (The press release about his case is also filed under the “hate crime” topic tag on the Justice Department’s website.)
This means that, if convicted, Radulovic could face enhanced sentencing for his perceived targeting of the white Americans expected to attend the rally.
Asked about this point, the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office told TPM it had “no comment beyond the indictment.”
This post has been updated.