CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A white man pleaded guilty Thursday to making racist online threats against a black activist in Virginia to deter him from running for office in a city where violence erupted during a white nationalist rally nearly three years ago.
Daniel McMahon, 31, of Brandon, Florida, also pleaded guilty to threatening a second victim over Facebook, a new offense that authorities learned of after his arrest and wasn’t included in his indictment last year.
McMahon faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of cyberstalking and bias-motivated interference with a candidate for elective office. U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon is scheduled to sentence McMahon on July 23.
McMahon had a trial scheduled to start on June 15 at the federal courthouse in Charlottesville, Virginia.
McMahon was charged last August with posting social media messages intended to intimidate activist Don Gathers and interfere with Gathers’ plans to run for a seat on Charlottesville’s city council. An indictment says McMahon expressed white supremacist views on his social media accounts.
During a hearing last year in Tampa, Florida, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson concluded McMahon posed a danger to the community and ordered him detained without bail. The judge cited McMahon’s apparent mental instability, access to firearms and social media posts in which he celebrated hate-fueled mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Charleston, South Carolina.
“He’s cheering on the mass shooters. That is what really bothers me,” Wilson said, according to a hearing transcript.
McMahon was unemployed and living with his father and mother when authorities arrested him last September. His mother, Roberta Ann Bartish, told investigators that her son didn’t like blacks, Jews or gay people and exhibited some of the same characteristics of mass shooters, testified Siobhan Maseda, a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office detective.
Others have accused McMahon of bombarding them with hateful, threatening messages through online aliases, including “Jack Corbin.” McMahon identified himself as Jack Corbin when FBI agents interviewed him, a federal prosecutor, Carlton Gammons, said during the hearing in Florida.
Gammons said McMahon, using a racist slur, accused Gathers of “attacking” a white supremacist group member who later pleaded guilty to attacking counterprotesters at the Unite the Right white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
“I will do everything in my power to stop him from getting elected for his attack on my people and I do mean everything,” McMahon wrote under his Jack Corbin alias, according to Gammons.
In another post, McMahon wrote, “Activism against Don Gathers with a diversity of tactics must be used to stop his candidacy.” The prosecutor said McMahon’s repeated use of phrase “diversity of tactics” meant using physical violence against Gathers.
“I think it’s clear based on his rhetoric on these posts that he’s willing to engage in acts of violence and he often encourages others to engage in acts of violence,” Gammons said.
McMahon had thousands of followers across his social media accounts. McMahon was “in touch” with Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers before the October 2018 massacre that killed 11 congregants, but there is no evidence that McMahon was in any way involved in the deadly rampage, Gammons said during the hearing without elaborating.
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U.S. Department of Justice Press Release April 30, 2020
FLORIDA MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO RACIALLY-MOTIVATED INTERFERENCE WITH ELECTION IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA AND CYBERSTALKING IN FLORIDA
WASHINGTON – Daniel McMahon, 31, pleaded guilty today in federal court in the Western District of Virginia to one count of threatening an African-American Charlottesville City Council candidate identified by the initials D.G. because of his race and because he was running for office, and to one count of cyberstalking a separate victim through Facebook messenger.
“Racially motivated threats of violence have no place in our society and will not be tolerated by the Department of Justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “The defendant in this case violated the civil rights of his victims through intimidation and we are grateful for all the work and collaboration our partners have done on this case.”
“Although the First Amendment protects, without qualification, an individual’s right to hold and express abhorrent political views, it does not license threats of violence,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia. “The Department of Justice is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who weaponize social media to harm others.”
“Peaceable protest is a core American value protected by law,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida. “This defendant violated the law by threatening violence against an African-American individual who planned to announce his candidacy for City Council and an autistic child merely because the child’s mother opposes his extreme racially motivated views. This collaborative prosecution demonstrates that the Department of Justice as a whole will not tolerate these types of threats and intimidation.”
“This investigation underscores the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices continued commitment to aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals engaging in racially-motivated threats and violent extremist activities. It also exemplifies the seamless information sharing between FBI Divisions in eliminating potential threats to our communities,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Division Michael F. McPherson.
“Protecting the civil rights of all Americans is a high priority for the FBI and is a mission to which we are fully committed. In this case, the defendant used racially-motivated threats of violence to disrupt an election,” said David W. Archey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division. “In addition, he used a social media account to stalk and terrorize another victim and a minor child. We will continue to prioritize and aggressively investigate violations of these kinds. We are grateful for the partnership and efforts of FBI Tampa Division, the U.S. Attorney Offices in Virginia and Florida, and the Department of Justice, and for their assistance on this case.”
At the plea hearing, the defendant admitted that he uses the online pseudonyms “Jack Corbin,” “Pale Horse,” “Restore Silent Sam,” and “Dakota Stone,” to promote white supremacy and white nationalist ideology, and to express support for racially-motivated violence. The defendant admitted that in January 2019, upon learning that D.G., an African-American resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, planned to announce his candidacy for City Council, the defendant used his Jack Corbin account on the social media platform Gab to threaten violence against D.G. because of D.G.’s race and because D.G. was running for office. The defendant admitted that his posts used racial slurs and invoked long-standing racial stereotypes, and that he intended for D.G. to understand his posts as threats to his safety.
In addition to this, the defendant also admitted to cyberstalking Victim 2 using his “Restore Silent Sam” Facebook account. In connection with this charge, the defendant admitted that he used Facebook to send Victim 2 numerous intimidating and threatening messages that placed Victim 2 in reasonable fear of harm to Victim 2’s minor child. The defendant acknowledged that Victim 2 has been active in countering white nationalist rallies in her community. The defendant admitted that, because of Victim 2’s activism, he began an online campaign to intimidate her and to extort information from her about her fellow activists. This included sending Victim 2 numerous messages over the course of twelve days in which he threatened to sexually assault Victim 2’s minor daughter, who has autism. The defendant admitted that, at around the same time that he sent these messages, he also used the internet to conduct searches relating to sexual contact with girls who have autism. The defendant admitted that his messages reasonably caused Victim 2 serious emotional distress and fear for Victim 2’s child’s safety.
McMahon will be sentenced on July 23, 2020. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison for threatening D.G. and five years in prison for cyberstalking Victim 2.
This case is being investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen of the Western District of Virginia; Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh of the Western District of Virginia; Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel George of the Middle District of Florida; and Trial Attorney Risa Berkower of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.