Feds: Former Chicago, New York journalist behind some bomb threats at Jewish centers

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The Jewish Community Center in Tarrytown, N.Y., is one of nearly 100 JCC schools, child care centers and other similar facilities in three dozen states that have been the target of anti-Semitic bomb threats. A St. Louis man has been charged with emailing violent threats to a JCC in San Diego. (Seth Wenig / AP)

Authorities investigating recent bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the country have arrested a former journalist who worked in Chicago and New York City, saying he was behind at least some of the threats as part of a campaign to harass a woman.

The arrest appears to be the first in response to a wave of bomb threats at Jewish centers and schools across the country this year, as many as 100 across dozens of states, according to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America. They have forced people to scramble from schools, offices and daycares, sometimes pushing cribs carrying young children.

Last month, a threat was called in to the Anti-Defamation League’s headquarters in New York. Police said a search did not turn up a bomb.

The FBI arrested a suspect — Juan Thompson, 31 — on Friday morning in St. Louis, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. He was charged with cyberstalking for allegedly communicating at least eight threats to Jewish Community Centers.

Thompson is a journalist who was fired from the Intercept web site for fabricating quotes and misleading colleagues in order to cover his tracks. In an editor’s note last year, the publication said Thompson had engaged in "a pattern of deception" and wrote that he created fake email accounts to impersonate people.

"We were horrified to learn this morning that Juan Thompson, a former employee of The Intercept, has been arrested in connection with bomb threats against the ADL and multiple Jewish Community Centers in addition to cyberstalking," Charlotte Greensit, the Intercept’s managing editor, said in a statement Friday. "These actions are heinous and should be fully investigated and prosecuted."

Greensit said Thompson worked there from November 2014 until he was fired in January 2016.

Before he worked at Intercept, Thompson was an intern for DNAInfo in Chicago in July and August of 2013. He was an intern at WBEZ from May until August of 2014.

Thompson is accused of making the threats as part of a sustained campaign of harassment targeting a woman he had dated.

After their relationship ended, Thompson began sending defamatory emails and faxes to her workplace, making false reports of criminal activity by her and making threats to the Jewish centers in her name. Authorities also said some of his threats were made in his own name as a way to show the woman was trying to frame him.

The criminal complaint filed in federal court points to his Twitter page, where he rails against his ex-girlfriend as a "nasty/racist #whitegirl." In one tweet, Thompson accused the woman of harassing and threatening him, then framing him for a bomb threat to a Jewish Community Center.

"The defendant allegedly caused havoc, expending hundreds of hours of police and law enforcement resources to respond and investigate these threats," James O’Neill, the New York police commissioner, said in a statement. "We will continue to pursue those who peddle fear, making false claims about serious crimes."

Thompson’s Twitter page also expresses disdain for President Donald Trump and white people generally. Trump earlier this week condemned the anti-Semitic threats and vandalism, his second such condemnation, but in a meeting with attorneys general he also questioned who was behind it and apparently suggested it may have been the work of his political opponents.

Trump said that while the threats were reprehensible, sometimes it’s "the reverse," according to two attorneys general at the meeting. He had also said last month that some bigoted sentiments were expressed by his opponents and "it won’t be my people," but will be done to make his supporters look bad.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently pledged added support to Jewish communities after "unacceptable and escalating threats and actual harassment directed at faith-based communities around the country, with a particular focus on threats to Jewish Community Centers."

In a statement, Kelly had said he was directing the agency "to heighten our outreach and support to enhance public safety." As part of that, a branch of Homeland Security spoke with executive directors of the JCC association to offer more help with training and protective measures, he said.

Thompson was arrested in St. Louis, where the community was shaken after more than 150 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in suburban University City, Mo., were toppled or damaged. The complaint against him does not mention the cemetery vandalism or tie him to it.

On Thursday, the ADL said that at least 16 headstones were toppled by a cemetery in Rochester, N.Y., that it said has been used by the Jewish community there for nearly a century.

"A number of headstones were recently vandalized and toppled over at Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, said in a statement. "Given the wave of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers and disturbing vandalism at Jewish cemeteries nationwide, I am directing the state police to immediately launch a full investigation into this matter."

Chicago Tribune staff contributed