Arizona Man is Sentenced to Prison for Making Death Threats Against Black Students at Harvard

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Students of Harvard University gather for their graduation ceremonies on Commencement Day on May 29, 2014 in Cambridge, MA (Shutterstock).

An Arizona man was sentenced to over a year in prison after threatening to shoot the attendees of Harvard University’s first-ever Black commencement ceremony and then threatened to bomb the school. 

Nicholas Zuckerman, 25, was sentenced to 15 months in prison by a federal judge in Boston, MassLive reported. Zuckerman, who lives in Phoenix, was indicted in 2018 after making threats on Harvard University’s Instagram page in May 2017 before the graduation ceremonies.

Under the username “russian_goalkeeper94,” the 25-year-old wrote: “If the Blacks only ceremony happens, then I encourage violence and death at it. I’m thinking two automatics with extendo clips. Just so no [racial expletives] gets away,” on May 23, 2017, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice. Zuckerman wrote the comment on a photo on Harvard’s Instagram page that featured three Black women. 

On the same day, Zuckerman posted the #bombharvard on the social media site and wrote “end their pro-Black agenda” on a separate post on the Harvard Instagram page underneath a photo of the American flag. Prosecutors said he posted the hashtag at least 11 times over a span of four minutes before someone reported him to Harvard University Police on May 14.

Zuckerman pleaded guilty in February to two counts of transmitting an interstate and foreign commerce threat to injure the person of another, prosecutors said. 

In court filings obtained by USA Today, the FBI did not see Zuckerman in Cambridge, Massachusetts or in the days before the graduation ceremonies nor  at the event. In November 2017, Zuckerman was interviewed by the FBI at his home and informed authorities he did not remember writing the hate-filled posts and said someone might have hacked his Instagram account. He later admitted to officials that he “knowingly and intentionally” wrote the racists posts. 

“The divisiveness of our public discourse does not excuse making any group of people feel unsafe,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling in a statement following the sentencing. “We will investigate all threats that cross the line of free speech and infringe on the safety and security of members of our community, especially when those threats are based on race or other immutable characteristics.”

Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in a statement that it was “sadly ironic” Zuckerman “would turn his chilling threats of mass destruction and vile words against graduates at Harvard University, an institution that has molded some of our greatest orators. Let today’s sentence serve as a lesson to all that no hate monger hiding behind a social-media pseudonym can stop others from celebrating the diversity of some of our area’s best and brightest minds.”

The Harvard case comes hard on the heels of other racist attacks. In June, federal prosecutors announced that it had charged a suspect who had been accused of burning down three Black churches in Louisiana with federal hate crimes. Holden Matthews, 21, was charged by a federal grand jury with three counts of intentional damage to religious property, three counts of using fire to commit a felony, and hate crime charges that fall under the Church Arson Prevention Act, a press release from the Justice Department previously stated

Matthews is accused of intentionally setting fire to St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana on March 26, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 4.

“Attacks against an individual or group because of their religious beliefs will not be tolerated in the Western District of Louisiana,” U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said in a previous statement. “Churches are vital places of worship and fellowship for our citizens and bind us together as a community. Our freedom to safely congregate in these churches and exercise our religious beliefs must be jealously guarded. Today we are one step closer to justice for the parishioners of these churches and the St. Landry Parish communities affected by these acts.”

The state’s fire marshal H. “Butch” Browing previously told ABC News that the 21-year-old had ties to “black metal and its association and history with church burnings in other parts of the world.”

 


About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.

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