ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina man was convicted Friday of a charge he anonymously threatened to lynch a Muslim-American man who ran for a state Senate seat in Virginia, federal prosecutors said.
Joseph Cecil Vandevere, 53, of Black Mountain, faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison following his conviction in federal court in Asheville, North Carolina, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray's office. A sentencing date wasn't immediately set.
Vandevere, whose trial started Thursday, was charged in June with interstate communication of a threat to injure a person in connection with a tweet directed at candidate Qasim Rashid. The tweet included a picture of a lynching and read, "VIEW YOUR DESTINY."
Rashid, an attorney who works on immigrant rights cases, posted a screenshot of the threatening tweet in March 2018 and reported it to the FBI. Rashid, a Democrat, lost his Nov. 5 bid to defeat an incumbent Republican state senator in Virginia.
In September, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn Jr. rejected Vandevere’s argument that his indictment must be dismissed on First Amendment free speech grounds
Vandevere’s attorney, Andrew Banzhoff, claimed the communication in question was not a "true threat."
"In 2019, the political arena necessarily includes the public exchange of political views that occurs daily on Twitter and other social media sites," Banzhoff wrote.
Cogburn Jr. said he couldn’t rule as a matter of law that the alleged threat was "political hyperbole" or that "no reasonable person would interpret this communication as a serious expression of intent to do harm."
The indictment identifies the victim only by the initials "Q.R." Federal prosecutors didn’t name Rashid in court filings but said the victim's political campaign started well after the threat was made "and had no bearing on the threat."
Authorities also accused Vandevere of posting an anti-Semitic threat on a Florida synagogue's Facebook page.
Investigators linked Vandevere to a threatening comment posted in February 2018 on the website of a synagogue in Plantation, Florida, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. A rabbi at Ramat Shalom Synagogue contacted the FBI after somebody using the name Bob Smith posted a "disturbing" comment in response to the rabbi's post showing support for the Parkland, Florida, high school where a gunman killed 17 people earlier that month, the agent wrote.
An "open source search" using Vandevere's telephone number linked him to the same Twitter account — with the handle "DaDUTCHMAN5" — that posted the threat against Rashid, according to the affidavit. The post was accompanied by a black-and-white photograph of the infamous 1915 lynching of a Jewish man, Leo Frank, in Marietta, Georgia.
Twitter suspended the "DaDUTCHMAN5" account.
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