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Assault With A Deadly Twitter Part V

fbi arrest twitter assault

This is Part V of the ongoing coverage of Assault With A Deadly Twitter. Previous entries:

Also see conversations I’ve had with Vocativ & the BBC.

You thought it was over! What could Eichenwald possibly do?! This was all too far fetched! Too impossible! Eichenwald would need a miracle for this case to actually be prosecuted!

Maryland Man Arrested for Cyberstalking

From the Justice Department’s press release:

A Maryland man was arrested today on a federal criminal complaint charging him with cyberstalking a Dallas, Texas resident, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

John Rayne Rivello, 29, of Salisbury, Maryland, was arrested in Maryland today on a criminal complaint filed in the Northern District of Texas.  The complaint was unsealed today following his initial appearance in the District of Maryland.

…evidence received pursuant to a search warrant showed Rivello’s Twitter account contained direct messages from Rivello’s account to other Twitter users concerning the victim.  Among those direct messages included statements by Rivello, including “I hope this sends him into a seizure,” “Spammed this at [victim] let’s see if he dies,” and “I know he has epilepsy.”  Additional evidence received pursuant to a search warrant showed Rivello’s iCloud account contained a screenshot of a Wikipedia page for the victim, which had been altered to show a fake obituary with the date of death listed as Dec. 16, 2016.   Rivello’s iCloud account also contained screen shots from with a list of commonly reported epilepsy seizure triggers and from discussing the victim’s report to the Dallas Police Department and his attempt to identify the Twitter user.

At Newsweek, Eichenwald’s lawyer, Steven Lieberman, said:

“What Mr. Rivello did with his Twitter message was no different from someone sending a bomb in the mail or sending an envelope filled with anthrax spores,” Lieberman says. “It wasn’t the content of the communication that was intended to persuade somebody or make them feel badly about themselves; this was an electronic communication that was designed to have a physical effect.”

“We’re very gratified that the government has worked hard and promptly to make sure that the person who was responsible for this attack is held to account,” Lieberman says. “It sends an important message that there is no free shot against journalists in the country.”

Other than that, not much is actually known yet. No one has managed to get a copy of the complaint yet. So no one knows how the FBI found Rivello, nor what they’re charging him with.

But given the information, we can make some informed speculation as to both.

Always Talk To A Lawyer First

There is no way to confirm if what this page says is true, but shortly after the arrest announcement was made, a WeSearcher (think right-leaning Kickstarter) page was setup for “Jew Goldstein Legal Defense Fund.” In the About section of the page:

Eichenwald obtained John’s real name through a charity he had donated to in his name.

John had donated to an epilepsy charity as a gesture of goodwill and as an apology to Kurt. He also wrote Kurt an email, apologizing and told him that he was donating to the charity in his name.

For months now, John Rivello has been swamped with legal fees so his friends are starting this bounty in the hopes to ease the financial burden.

If the above is true, then it means that Rivello outed himself to Eichenwald. Whoops.

Let’s Talk CyberStalking

The Justice Department’s press release states that Rivello was arrested for cyberstalking. Let’s look at that.

“Cyberstalking” is one of those things that sounds extra nefarious because the word “cyber” is at the beginning of it. But that’s because no one really knows what “cyber” means. It’s just a word people append to other words to make it sound extra future computer-y. I blame William Gibson.

There is no explicit “cyberstalking” statute in the Federal Code, but it is addressed in various statutes.

18 U.S. Code § 2261A – Stalking

2261A is the general stalking statute in the federal code. And it includes language relating to computer use.

[whoever] with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, uses the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce…

But the statute requires that the defendant physically travel across state lines, making it inapplicable to many cyberstalking cases.

18 U.S. Code § 875 – Interstate communications

875 deals with using interstate communications to convey threats.

(c) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both

This seems to fit the circumstances much better. That being said, cyberstalking is usually characterized as a pattern of conduct. I’m not sure if Rivello’s conduct constitutes a pattern, but given the evidence thus far, Rivello intended to injure or threaten to injure Eichenwald.

This is probably where things are going. We’re going to get back to what constitutes a “true threat,” is this context. It’s too much to get into at the moment, but I suggest you familiarize yourself with US v. Baker, 890 F. Supp. 1375 (E.D. Mich. 1995).

Volenti non fit injuria

“to a willing person, injury is not done”

Of the many people who seem to detest Eichenwald and support Rivello, this seems to be their common refrain. Usually some derivation of: Eichenwald should have known better! He’s an epileptic! You can turn flashing images off! He was asking for it!

And when a girl is wearing a short dress in a sketchy neighborhood, she asking to get raped right? Not that I should have to answer this but: of course not, wrong! No one assumes the risk of being assaulted. Not a girl wearing a short skirt nor an epileptic using Twitter. 

Regardless, we’re also going back to the threshold question presented in Part I of Assault With A Deadly TwitterCan the mechanics of an internet medium serve as means of committing assault?

Part III of Assault With A Deadly Twitter is devoted to answering that question, I suggest you go back and read it (spoilers: probably). More to come once the complaint comes out, stay tuned.





  1. I watched interview between Tucker Carlson and Kurt Eichenwald.
    If past behavior predicts future behavior the attorney who tries to get a yes or no answer from Kurt Eichenwald has my sympathy.

  2. And when a girl is wearing a short dress in a sketchy neighborhood, she asking to get raped right? Not that I should have to answer this but: of course not, wrong! No one assumes the risk of being assaulted. Not a girl wearing a short skirt nor an epileptic using Twitter.

    This is an intellectually dishonest, false analogy.

    A girl walking down the street in a short skirt doesn’t have control of the street.

    Eichenwald has FULL CONTROL over his browser and his twitter client, both of which have settings to disable auto-play for gifs.

    Nobody hacked his devices to turn off these settings, and there are writeups by Eichenwald himself in which he himself days he clicked on a “play” button.

    He willingly allowed this to happen and now is mounting a full-on assault on the first amendment that will utterly murder online free speech.

    • Eichenwald’s admission to pressing “play” was in the October incident, when he was using an Ipad and received a Pepe-themed GIF from @mikeliberation.

      The criminal cases are both about the December tweet from @jew_goldstein (with a GIF of abstract shapes and the “You deserve seizure” wording), which Eichenwald says autoplayed when he received it while using a desktop computer.

      Nevertheless, I would say that Eichenwald’s actions indicate that in his own assessment, the risk of serious injury from a strobe GIF (whether intended to harm him or not) was so minimal that it did not warrant any investigation into the possibility of turning off autoplay.

      • Regardless of whether he had auto-play turned off or not, the fact remains he knew of his condition, which causes otherwise innocuous flashing images to cause seizures, and he had full control of his devices’ capacity to render and play images through numerous avenues.

        It was his duty to assure his devices were configured appropriately.

        The fact this is even going to arrest is evidence the DOJ and FBI still have radical Obama appointees who are now openly trying to censor the means by which Trump successfully won over the public: Memes on social media.

        • “The fact this is even going to arrest is evidence the DOJ and FBI still have radical Obama appointees who are now openly trying to censor the means by which Trump successfully won over the public: Memes on social media.”

          The more serious of the two criminal cases, in which Rivello faces a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence, was brought entirely at the discretion of the Dallas County D.A.’s office, which has never had any presidential appointees (“radical Obama” or otherwise) and is led by a Republican D.A. who was appointed by a Republican governor.

          I think this is evidence that your theory that Obama radicals are to blame for Rivello’s troubles is a little weak.

          • “was brought entirely at the discretion of the Dallas County D.A.’s office”

            And I’m the pope, my mother is princess Anastasia Romanov, and gender is a social construct.

            If you’re going to lie at least make it a real whopper, virgil. You and I know damned well if this were a random suburban joe sixpack they’d have laughed him off the phone and refused to even take a report.

    • So, just to be clear, you’re saying that the person who sent the seizure-inducing image, who admitted in no uncertain terms that he intended to trigger a seizure, bears no responsibility for giving someone a seizure?

      • Correct!

        Someone hands you a hammer
        On that hammer is a sticker that says “hitting yourself in the head could give you a brain injury”
        you take the sticker off the hammer and swing it at your skull
        you then scream “HE ASSAULTED ME”


    • Also, your Panera analogy is actually pretty accurate, because there are plenty of items at Panera that don’t contain wheat. If someone else at Panera threw a fistful of wheat flour in that person’s face, intending to cause a seizure, would you defend them because Panera is a place where bread exists?

      • Ok, how about another then:

        Someone allergic to bees visits a large and working apiary.

        I guess the bee farmer has to go to jail because the guy darwined himself, right?

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