A man from Orange County was arrested last week for allegedly making threats toward Merriam-Webster for including references to gender identity in its online dictionary.
Jeremy David Hanson, 34, of Rossmoor was arrested on Tuesday and charged in a federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts where the dictionary company is headquartered.
Hanson is accused of sending numerous online threats to the company through the website’s comments section and contact page, according to the United States Department of Justice.
In October 2021, Hanson allegedly used the handle “@anonYmous” to make threatening comments on Merriam-Webster’s website for entries that included references to gender identity, including “woman” and “girl.” Among those threatening comments, the username posted under the definition of “female”: “It is absolutely sickening that Merriam-Webster now tells blatant lies and promotes anti-science propaganda. There is no such thing as ‘gender identity.’”
The California man is also accused of using the “Contact Us” page to send a threatening message that said the company’s headquarters should be “shot up and bombed.” In that message, Hanson again referenced the definition for ‘female’ as he wished violence upon members of the company’s staff. “You evil Marxists should all be killed,” Hanson allegedly wrote under the pseudonym. “It would be poetic justice to have someone storm your offices and shoot up the place, leaving none of you commies alive.”
Another message days later by a user believed to be Hanson referenced threats to “bomb your offices for lying.”
The particular messages targeting Merriam-Webster’s headquarters prompted the company to close its offices in Springfield and New York City for five business days, the DOJ said.
Authorities were notified of the threatening messages which led to Hanson being identified as the person suspected of sending the online threats and using the handle to leave the comments.
Through the investigation, authorities were also able to identify numerous other threatening comments and messages believed to have been made by Hanson which targeted the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Land O’ Lakes, Hasbro, IGN Entertainment, the University of North Texas, professors at Loyola Marymount University and a rabbi in New York City.
“Hate-filled threats and intimidations have no place in our society,” said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins in a news release. “We believe Hanson sent a multitude of anonymous threatening and despicable messages related to the LGBTQ community that were intended to evoke fear and division. My office and our law enforcement partners will not tolerate threats against members of our communities, no matter what corner of the internet they’re sent from.”
Hanson has been charged with one count of interstate communication of threats to commit violence. According to the Department of Justice, a conviction could result in a sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, said that while everyone has a right to express their opinions, Hanson’s comments crossed a line and went beyond the bounds of protected speech when he threatened the lives of others.
“We are always going to pursue individuals who try to intimidate and isolate members of our community by inciting violent, hateful acts. Threats to life are most certainly not protected speech and they cause real fear in victims,” Bonavolonta said.
Hanson was released after his initial appearance in federal court in the Central Division of California. He is due to appear in court in Massachusetts on Friday.
In the mean time, any person or organization that believes they may have been threatened by Hanson is urged to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 888-221-6023.