Longform

P.S. I Hate You

Page 6 of 7

The intimidation escalated, and when it became clear that local authorities weren't going to help, Jouhari and her daughter packed what they could fit into her car and fled to Seattle. But her problems followed her. Her terrorizers found her new phone number and started calling her. She moved three times, but they always managed to find her new number. One day in November 1999, Jouhari returned home to find a bullet lodged in her kitchen cabinet; a few weeks later, her daughter came home from school and found that someone had broken into their apartment and rifled their belongings. Finally, Jouhari returned to the East Coast, where she found a sympathetic ear in U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo. He told Jouhari that he could investigate a civil charge that she was denied fair housing as a result of the threats. HUD also pressured Frankhouser to issue an apology to Jouhari at a press conference on May 11 and on his cable television show a week later.

Stopping the kind of hate speech Salzman and Jouhari have encountered isn't easy. Congress tried to enact a law called the Communications Decency Act in 1997, which would have punished the transmission of "indecent" materials over the Internet, but the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was overly broad.

In a speech before the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights earlier this year, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center described the situation this way: "In short, the Internet received the court's strongest free speech protections...Under American case law, it is perfectly permissible to denigrate racial minorities or even advocate the violent overthrow of the government some time in the indefinite future or in general terms. Only when advocacy amounts to 'incitement to imminent lawless action' can it be punished. And the definition of incitement is extremely narrow. Under American law, it is perfectly legal to advocate the political idea that 'all police should be killed.' On the other hand, it probably would amount to criminal incitement to tell an excited individual to 'go kill that police officer over there.'"

Legal precedent has been set, however, demonstrating that there are limits, even in a virtual world. One case a couple of years ago got a lot of attention. Twelve abortion opponents were sued by Planned Parenthood after they created a Web site called "The Nuremberg Files"; on it, they posted a list of 225 abortion doctors and included many of their home telephone numbers, addresses, automobile descriptions and license plate numbers. Whenever an abortion doctor was killed (seven have been murdered in the U.S. in the last seven years), his name was crossed off the list. If a doctor was wounded, his name was shaded in gray. The federal court judge who heard the case said that the Web site and some "Wanted" posters printed by the twelve defendants constituted "blatant and illegal communication of true threats to kill." In February 1999, a jury awarded the plaintiffs a $107.9 million judgment.

Cases like these give Salzman hope, especially since the threats against her have intensified to the point where she is finally getting some interest -- although slight -- from law enforcement.

The most recent series of threats began on July 14, when someone calling himself Rabbi Brimstone posted a message titled "The Dead Pool" to alt.revisionism. The message listed seventeen people, including Salzman, McVay and hatewatch.org's Goldman, along with the following note: "The rules are simple, email me your choice of which of the following people are going to die first. If your choice wins, you win!!! You can also write in votes if you like....Please don't do anything illegal in order to win the game." The message gives a Web site where the Nizkor members' addresses can be found and ends with the statement: "Remember there is nothing illegal about wishing someone to die. Remember to cast your vote!!!!!"

On July 24, eight messages were posted to alt.revisionism calling for Salzman's death. One read "Sara Salzman must die." Another read "Someone kill Sara Salzman."

On July 26, someone anonymously sent Salzman an e-mail message with this subject heading: "You deserve what is coming to you." The message contained the words "I hope you die" repeated more than a hundred times.

Since then, Salzman has contacted FBI agent Tom Cramer and Arapahoe County sheriff's investigator James Osborn. This time, she said, both investigators seemed interested in helping her.

FBI Special Agent Jane Quimby says that her agency is reviewing Salzman's case and that it may investigate and eventually hand it over to the U.S. Attorney's Office. According to the federal statute on interstate communication, there must be a specific threat in order for federal prosecutors to get involved, Quimby says. "It's not enough to say, 'I hope [Bob] dies' or 'I hope someone kills [Bob].' It has to be 'I will kill you.'"

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon