How Trans Harvard Lawyer Alejandra Caraballo Got Pulled In…[ad_1]
A transgender Harvard law instructor known for her online LGBT advocacy has found herself caught up in a wide-ranging FBI investigation into a months-long campaign of bomb threats leveled against people, businesses, and schools all over the country.
Alejandra Caraballo, a civil rights attorney and instructor at Harvard Law School, has been cc’d on at least 35 emails containing bomb threats since February of this year. These emails have shut down school districts, businesses and even whole neighborhoods while police search for non-existent bombs, The Daily Beast has found after reviewing the emails, disrupting thousands of lives.
Some of the most recent emails Caraballo was cc’d on threatened schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, taking aim at a librarian who posted a now-viral satirical video about “woke ideology” that was picked up by far-right social media account Libs of TikTok and then by right-wing media.
The Tulsa school system has been completely disrupted by the ongoing threats over the last two weeks, resulting in large numbers of students staying home.
On Aug 22. Caraballo received an email directly threatening the librarian who made the video, Kirby Mackenzie, and the school where she works, Ellen Ochoa Elementary.
“The innonence [sic] of children is sacred, that is a fact that has been known for the entirety of human history,” it read. “I’m not going to stand by as you bastards continue to indoctrinate and prey upon our children.”
On August 24, another email threatened multiple schools and addresses across Tulsa. In an Aug. 28 email, the sender claims to have placed “homemade pipebombs and pressure cooker bombs” at an elementary school and library. “We will not stop bombing your city until the right thign [sic] is done,” it continued.
Two separate emails sent on Aug. 29 both used the phrasing, “We are fed up with the incompetence of Union Public schools and we are here to send a fucking message. You will evacuate the the [sic] school so nobody dies.”
Caraballo has been forwarding these emails to investigators at the FBI, but is becoming frustrated at the lack of action being taken. She is wondering why the mystery of the hoax bomber has not been solved.
“I don’t know how seriously they’re taking this,” Caraballo told The Daily Beast. “It’s absolutely terrorism, that’s exactly what this is. Even though they’re not going through with it, people can be traumatized.”
Caraballo, who researches gender and technology, maintains a popular Twitter account where she documents anti-LGBT rhetoric and far-right extremism. In December 2022 she shared a thread suggesting a connection between posts by Libs of TikTok and a series of bomb threats, like those against Boston Children’s Hospital. She thinks this may be why the unknown hoaxer has been including her in the emails.
Although the emails come from different addresses and take aim at targets across the country, Caraballo believes there is one person, or a small group, behind the bomb threats. Similar language is used in many of the emails, including the same spelling mistakes and phrases. And, of course, they are all being sent to her.
“It’s either one person or maybe three or four people on a Discord,” Caraballo speculates. “You can’t rule out that it’s not some kind of foreign operation either.”
The emailed bomb threats start
The first threatening email that she noticed appeared in her inbox on a normal work day. It was Feb. 21, and Caraballo was on a Zoom call with a colleague and a client when a notification pinged onto her screen. She glanced over at the email and three words jumped out: “We placed bombs…”
“I opened it up and I read it, and I was like, oh my God,” Caraballo recalled.
“We placed bombs in GSB and in several mystery schools in the Lincoln county school district,” the email read. “Find the bmobs [sic] before they go off! This game is fun! We will continue to bomb your schools until the perverts and child abusers at GSB are held accountable.”
Caraballo quickly realized she was not the target of the threat. Instead, the email was aimed at a school district in Lincoln County, Maine, and a particular elementary school, Great Salt Bay Community School. It also named four school district emails and listed their personal home address. Local officials in Maine and media outlets were also CC’d.
Eleven days earlier the school had been the subject of numerous news reports after a mother of a 13-year-old student told conservative outlet the National Review that her child had been given a chest binder by a social worker at the school, who did not inform the parents.
By the time Caraballo received the email, Great Salt Bay Community School had already received three bomb threats—on Dec. 21, 2022, Jan. 13 and Feb. 17, according to The Lincoln County News. Each time law enforcement had to evacuate and search the school.
Looking back through her inbox, Caraballo discovered another bomb threat that she had been cc’d on a few days earlier—on February 17—while she’d been off work. In that email, the sender claimed to have placed bombs inside the home of Pamela Queen, a House Democratic delegate in Maryland. Queen had recently created a bill called “Firearms—Tracking Technology” that proposed that if a person purchased 10 or more firearms, the guns should be fitted with a tracker. The idea had drawn ire from gun rights groups.
“Pamela Queen is a [sic] anti American traitor,” the email read. “I’m done trying to fight this legally, you have forfeited your right to life. You are a worthless degenerate sack of shit who deserves to die. You will die. This is why we placed a bomb in your home.”
As Caraballo read the emails she felt her anxiety rising, escalating to panic. She immediately reported the emails to Harvard’s internal police department. The threats had come from two different email addresses, one hosted by GMX.com, another from a Protonmail account.
“I didn’t know what to do in this situation. And afterwards I was in a state of unease because it was being sent directly to me,” Caraballo said.
Why were these being sent to her, she wondered, and what was she supposed to do about it? Due to her work around cyber-threats and the harassment of women and LGBT people online, Caraballo had received threats before. But nothing quite like this.
More threats arrive
After the initial emails, things went quiet. Caraballo didn’t receive any further threats for around a month. Then, between March 18 and March 26, she was cc’d on a flurry of eight emails containing bomb threats. Several came from the same “@mail.ru” email account, a provider based in Russia.
On March 22, Caraballo was cc’d on a bomb threat made to the Hilton Central School District in western New York. The sender claimed to have placed bombs at the school district’s office, at five local schools, and in the house of the district superintendent Casey Kosiorek.
“There is nothing more vile and disgusting than violating a child's innonence [sic] and that is exactly what this school system has done,” the email read. “They allow and encourage children to read sexual content such as the book ‘this book is gay’, a book which contains graphic sexual content and encourages children to use hook up apps.”
“It has been known for all of human history taht [sic] the innonence [sic] of children is sacred,” the email continued, using the same phrasing and specific misspelling that Caraballo would recognize in later emails, “Anyone who violates that has forfeit their right to life, we will end you and purify our land of you degenerates and make our country great, we will stop you from causing the collapse of our civilization one step at a time.”
Following the threat, all the schools in the district were evacuated, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, and no explosives were found. Students went back to school the following day with police deputies stationed at the doors.
Kosiorek said the high school library did have one copy of This Book Is Gay, a publication that has drawn ire from right-wing media in the last year, but that it had only been checked out of the library twice since 2015, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
But that wasn’t the end. Two days later, the school district received another threat. Once again, the schools were evacuated and searched and once again no bomb was found. Finally, on March 27, a third threat was sent. This time students finished their day while students after K-9 units searched the schools, according to Rochester First.
“It’s really a sad and dark time for this nation if this is going to become the norm,” Kosiorek told WXXI News after the third threat.
Caraballo could see this unfolding first-hand. But she was also cc’d on other threats being sent from different email addresses, often containing identical language (and typos). One March 26 email, threatening to bomb an animal rescue in Kentucky that was hosting a Drag Queen story hour, also stated “The innonence [sic] of children is sacred, something that for all of human history has been known,” exactly as the threats against Hilton schools had. (That event went ahead, despite the bomb threat.)
The same @mail.ru email address that threatened the animal rescue also sent a series of threats to a feminist bookstore in Chicago, an LGBT Center Community Center in New York City and North West Junior High School in Iowa, which was evacuated twice.
On March 22, Caraballo was cc’d on a threat from a different @mail.ru address, threatening several federal buildings in New York City, including the New York County Supreme Court, the U.S. District Court - Southern District of New York, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“We placed bombs in the following locations. Pipebombs, fertilizer bombs, tannerite,” the email read, “Placed in cars, backpacks, sewage systems. Evacaute [sic] before the bombs go off. You people are destroying America so we will destroy you.”
Caraballo decided it was time to inform the FBI. Since April, she has been in contact with agents in the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, and has been forwarding all the emails she receives. Since then, the senders or senders have switched from using @mail.ru and Protonmail accounts to using different Gmail accounts, which Caraballo thinks should be easier for law enforcement to investigate.
The FBI declined to comment on the case or investigation.
Caraballo is frustrated that after four months of cooperation with the FBI, she is still receiving emails, and the threats are still shutting down schools, libraries and businesses all over the country. The threats sometimes seem to correlate to news stories that are getting high levels of play in right-wing media, Caraballo says.
After the media storm in June around trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney promoting Bud Light, Caraballo was cc’d on a threat claiming a bomb had been placed in Mulvaney’s home. She was also cc’d on two emails from the same Gmail account, claiming to have placed bombs in Anheuser Busch Breweries (Bud Light’s parent company) in New Hampshire, New York, Missouri and Ohio.
LGBTQ community targeted
As well as taking aim at large corporations or entire school districts, some of the recent emails that Caraballo has been cc’d on target small local businesses that have garnered attention in their community for hosting pro-LGBT events.
On Aug. 12, Caraballo was cc’d on five almost identically worded emails threatening an LGBT center in Fresno, California, a children’s bookstore in Denver, Colorado, a craft beer taproom Renton, Washington, a restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and independent boutique in Peekskill, New York. Each email was sent from a different Gmail account, but all contained identical lines like: “Evacuate the sorrounding [sic] areas, we placed enough fertilizer bombs there to make the Oklahoma City bombings look like a firecracker.”
One of the people named in one of the emails was Marley Rall, the owner of the Brewmasters Taproom in Renton, Washington. She was napping on the couch with her dog on the afternoon of Aug. 12 when police knocked on the door. They said her home and her business had both been named in a bomb threat. Officers were already searching the craft beer taproom she’d owned and run for seven years. She was forced to cancel a drag queen story time scheduled for later that day.
Rall is no stranger to threats. Her taproom—which she describes as a “community gathering place that happens to sell really awesome, local craft beer”—has long-hosted LGBT events, including a drag queen story time. It hasn’t always sat well with more conservative members of the community.
On Dec. 7, 2022, after a “call to action” against the venue’s drag event was posted on a conservative Facebook group, a person wearing a mask and gloves, driving a car with number plate removed, shot through the business’s front window. But the bomb threat felt uniquely terrifying, she said.
“For all the emails we’ve received, all the phone calls we’ve received, I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard you should burn in hell. I’ve heard you’re a Nazi piece of shit… but this is the first time someone found out my home address and put it in an email that’s bcc’d to who knows who,” Rall told The Daily Beast. “That’s a next-level situation.”
“I rather die than live in a country where its acceptable to allow pedophiles who dress up as women prey upon children,” the threatening email read. “Your time will come up, we won’t stop we will fucking kill all of you bastards and make our country great again.”
More than 2,000 miles away, in Peekskill, New York, the owners of independent boutique ‘Bucko!’ received the same threat. Katie Orsi was at home with her 3-year-old son and 4-month-old baby when she saw the email pop into the business’s inbox. Her partner, Brian Orsi, was minding the store.
“I just saw the subject line, and I was like, ‘Brian, did we just get a bomb threat?’” Orsi recalled to The Daily Beast.
The email claimed bombs had been placed at both their store and their home address. It also named several members of Brian Orsi’s extended family, threatening to kill them.
The Peekskill Police Department quickly responded, evacuating not only the couple’s business and the surrounding businesses but also their entire neighborhood.
Orsi struggled to get her two children and dog out of the house while her toddler asked, “Mommy why are the police here?” she said.
The store had originally planned to host a drag queen story time that day, but had already canceled it a week earlier after a flier they made for the event was altered and posted online without their knowledge. It was then picked up by what the couple described as “local extremists and bigots,” in a statement to the Peekskill Herald.
“The cruelty is the point,” Brian Orsi told The Daily Beast, describing the bomb threat emails as a kind of “stochastic terrorism” that has impacted many in their community.
“The effect on this community has been hard. I spent the next day for a few hours with our next door neighbors who have been involved in drag events. They had tears in their eyes,” Katie Orsi said.
For Caraballo, there’s a strange irony that, as someone who spends her days documenting right-wing extremism and threats against LGBT, that she has become an unwilling witness to these bomb threats, and the chaos and fear they have caused to people across the country.
“It’s corrosive to democracy and it corrodes public institutions and public trust. Beyond the immediate terror and fear and anxiety the wide scale campaign of this is corrosive to public institutions, and that’s what worries me long-term,” she said.
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