Not the suspect we expected
For all we know, the person who committed the lion’s share of the bomb threats against Jewish institutions really is a right-wing anti-Semitic nut, with David Duke on his speed dial.
But that isn’t the description of Juan Thompson, who was arrested by the FBI on March 3 on suspicion of phoning in eight bomb threats since January. According to reports, Thompson’s motivation seems largely to be the harassment of his ex-girlfriend; the victimization of the Jewish community seems to be nothing more than Thompson’s means to that harassment end.
Thompson is no alt-right kook. In fact, in addition to allegedly stalking his ex he fabricated quotes and made up sources for his articles in the Intercept, a left-wing publication which fired him last winter. On his Twitter page, he has ranted against “white people” and the “white media.”
News of Thompson’s arrest came as a relief. It was proof that something is being done to protect our community. And although the larger cases of the bomb threats and cemetery vandalism have not been solved, Thompson’s arrest allows us to recalibrate our expectations.
For those who saw a growing march of anti-Semitism in the waves of JCC bomb threats and Jewish cemetery vandalism, Thompson’s arrest shows that not everything is what it appears to be — or what we fear. While what he is accused of doing was clearly a threat to the Jewish community, Thompson’s alleged actions do not appear to have been motivated by anti-Semitism. Rather, he was dumped by his girlfriend, and apparently struck back in a way that seemed to make sense to him.
That doesn’t change the trauma to our community or to the victims of each of his alleged calls. But it does offer a different perspective on what might be going on. For that reason, we need to sit tight as the investigation continues. It could turn out that marauding teenagers pushed over the headstones in the St. Louis and Philadelphia cemeteries, not because they are Jewish cemeteries, but because cemeteries are notoriously unprotected and people vandalize them by knocking down headstones. That doesn’t excuse the offense; it simply puts it in a different perspective.
This is a lesson we should have learned from the occasional swastika graffiti that riles our communities. The act is unquestionably offensive. But not every offensive act is motivated by dark intentions, or linked to politicians or media outlets you happen to disagree with. Spray painting teenagers may know that their act is offensive, but nothing more hateful or more considered than that might be behind their action.
We don’t know who carried out the other bomb threats, and we hope they will be brought to justice soon. In the meantime — at least until we get a better idea of who did what, and why — we need to be careful not to impugn one political side or the other for incubating the perpetrators. We simply don’t yet know.