A week after the FBI arrested a Maryland man for allegedly cyber-stalking a prominent journalist, a county grand jury in Dallas County, Texas, charged the suspect with a separate state crime with a hate-crime enhancement.
The unique case — generating headlines worldwide — involves the allegation that John Rayne Rivello sent a Tweet embedded with an animated flashing strobe light image (GIF) causing author and journalist Kurt Eichenwald to suffer a sudden epileptic seizure.
Charging documents allege the suspect knew Eichenwald, who has been a frequent critic of Donald Trump, was epileptic and Jewish.
“You deserve a seizure for your post,” the suspect told Eichenwald in the flashing GIF Tweet, court document say.
The 55-year-old journalist’s wife found him on the floor of his home office, called medics and responded to the sender “@jew Goldstein”: “This is his wife. You caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”
On Friday, the FBI arrested Rivello, 29, at his home in Salisbury, Md. He was indicted earlier in the week in the Northern District of Texas on a federal charge of cyber stalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm. He will be taken to Dallas for arraignment in U.S. District Court. If convicted of the federal charge, Rivello could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison.
The federal charge alleges Rivello knew Eichenwald suffered from epilepsy and that a flashing strobe could trigger an epileptic seizure. Proving “intent to commit a crime” is an essential component for a successful prosecution.
In a related development, a county grand jury in Dallas County indicted Rivello on Monday on a state charge accusing him of “intentionally, knowingly and recklessly” causing bodily injury to Eichenwald, a disabled person.
The defendant, knowing his intended victim “was susceptible to seizures,” used a “deadly weapon, namely a Tweet and a Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) and an electronic device and hands during the commission of the crime,” the state indictment says.
In adding the hate crime enhancement, the state indictment alleges Rivello intentionally selected Eichenwald “primarily because of the defendant’s bias or prejudice against a group identified by race, ancestry or religion — namely persons of Jewish faith or descent.”
The federal case against Rivello apparently will proceed first, with the state prosecution to follow.
Dozens of people — some expressing assorted anti-Semitic rants — are rushing to pay Rivello’s legal bills.
Rushing to his defense, a woman identifying herself online as “Becky Barnes” set up a fund-raising site, describing Rivello as a friend and former Marine who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“For months now, John Rivello has been swamped with legal fees so his friends are starting this bounty in the hopes to ease the financial burden,” Barnes wrote. “If this goes to trial, it will redefine ‘trolling’ and what it means to troll online.”
As of today, the site shows $12,538 had been raised for Rivello.
But many aren’t just sending money, they’re filling social media with anti-Semitic comments directed at Eichenwald. And at least 40 other people also have re-sent the strobe-light tweet to him.
One Twitter user wrote: “Yep, this disgusting Jew is trying to ruin a man’s life for sending him a [Twitter] gif. How [is] this even an offense? My anti-Semitism got 10ft higher.”
Another called on President Trump to come to Rivello’s defense: “Jew Goldstein is innocent … did nothing wrong. @POTUS must not allow anti-Semite Kurt Eichenwald to get away with this.”
Still another called Rivello “a hero” and used the anti-Semitic “echo” image ((())).
We won’t let (((Eichenwald))) get away with this! Donate!!!”