New York

Suspect Arrested in St. Louis in Bomb Threats Against ADL, 7 Other Jewish Centers

Dozens of Jewish facilities around the country have been threatened this year

What to Know

  • The man allegedly made eight threatening calls to Jewish groups in his name or the name of his ex-lover, the complaint says
  • He is not believed to be behind the wave of threats that has prompted evacuations of dozens of JCCs across the nation in recent months
  • The complaint also charges him with making the threatening call to Anti-Defamation League headquarters in Manhattan last week

A man allegedly waging an intense campaign of harassment against a former lover was responsible for bomb threats against the Anti-Defamation League and some Jewish centers around the country, authorities said Friday.

Thirty-year-old Juan Thompson, a former journalist fired last year for allegedly making up quotes and sources, was arrested in St. Louis in connection with multiple threats against Jewish centers, including some in the tri-state area. 

But additional sources told NBC News Thompson is not believed to be the person behind the series of threats targeting Jewish community centers across the nation in recent months. 

There have been five such waves of threats this year, forcing dozens of evacuations in more than 30 states. No injuries have been reported in any of the cases and no devices have been found. The FBI is assisting in that probe.

In total, authorities have been looking into more than 120 bomb threats called into nearly 100 JCC schools, child care and other similar facilities.  

Thompson is considered a "copycat," the sources said. A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan indicated that Thompson was trying to "harass and intimidate" an unnamed victim with whom he had a relationship. 

He allegedly made at least eight of the threats -- some in the victim's name, and some in his own name, as part of a purported campaign to smear the victim. Thompson allegedly went to extreme lengths to do so, including sending hoax faxes to the woman's employer last year alleging she had made anti-Semitic statements on social media, according to the complaint. 

He was allegedly behind a threat to the national ADL headquarters in Manhattan last week. According to the FBI complaint, the emailed threat named the woman and said she was "behind the bomb threats against the jews. She lives in nyc and is making more bomb threats tomorrow." The next day, the ADL received a phone call claiming a bomb was in its headquarters.

He also claimed she was responsible for placing a bomb in a Jewish center in Dallas, and emailed a JCC in San Diego saying she wanted to "kill as many Jews asap," the complaint says.

An anonymous threat emailed to a JCC in Manhattan early in February included Thompson's own name. It said he "put two bombs in the office of the Jewish center today. He wants to create Jewish newtown tomorrow," the complaint said. "Newtown" apparently refers to the December 2012 massacre at a Connecticut school that claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 children.

The FBI complaint quotes Thompson’s Twitter post on Feb. 24 that says, “Know any good lawyers? Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name & wants me to be raped in jail.” 

The exact same tweet on the same date appears on the Twitter account @JuanMThompson. That same account sent a number of other tweets in late February that match the FBI complaint word for word. 

Juan Thompson wrote for online publication The Intercept from late 2014 until early 2016, when he was fired for fabricating sources and quotes in his articles, according to Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief. 

In a statement Friday, Reed said everyone at The Intercept was "horrified" to learn of Thompson's arrest in the bomb threats case.

"These actions are heinous and should be fully investigated and prosecuted," Reed said. "We have no information about the charges against Thompson other than what is included in the criminal complaint."  

Thompson is charged with one count of cyberstalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, in connection with the case. He is expected to be arraigned in federal court in Missouri later Friday. 

His mother, Yolanda Thompson, said from her home in St. Louis Friday that she hadn't seen her son in weeks. She tearfully described him as a "good man" and declined to comment further on his arrest.

ADL officials said the diligence of law enforcement in such a troubling time was "reassuring," at a news briefing on Friday. The group said it met with top FBI officials and others to discuss the ongoing investigation into the threats.

"There are many more JCC bomb threats that have not been solved, and communities are hurting," one official said. "Just because there's been an arrest today around our bomb threat does not mean the threats have disappeared or will stop. Hate toward the Jewish community and other minority groups is very real and deeply disturbing." 

University City, Missouri, police Lt. Fredrick Lemons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that detectives will question Thompson about the 154 headstones toppled last month at a Jewish cemetery in the St. Louis suburb. He declined to say whether Thompson was considered a suspect.

Information on an attorney for him wasn't immediately available. 

"Today, we have charged Juan Thompson with allegedly stalking a former romantic interest by, among other things, making bomb threats in her name to Jewish Community Centers and to the Anti-Defamation League," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said. "Threats of violence targeting people and places based on religion or race – whatever the motivation – are unacceptable, un-American, and criminal."

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill thanked local and federal law enforcement for a collaborative effort. 

"The defendant allegedly caused havoc, expending hundreds of hours of police and law enforcement resources to respond and investigate these threats," O'Neill said. "We will continue to pursue those who peddle fear, making false claims about serious crimes."

The arrest comes amid an alarming increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City and across the nation. NYPD officials said earlier this week such bias reports are up 94 percent year over year in the city. Other states have reported an increase as well.

In a statement Friday, Mayor de Blasio called on all Americans to protect the foundational values of this country.

“We must not be indifferent to the rising tide of hate crimes we’re seeing in New York City and nationwide," the mayor said. "When you attack someone because of who they are, how they worship or who they love, you are attacking our democracy."

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie ordered increased patrols at houses of worship, faith-based institutions, community centers and cemeteries throughout the state in response to the uptick in threats.  

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