U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Man threatens to blow up Dallas magazine for publishing controversial columnist

Incident Details

Screenshot via Motherboard/2017

Barrett Brown, left, is interviewed for the news site Vice at D Magazine offices in Dallas, Texas. A bomb threat was directed at the magazine for running Brown's work late last year.

— Screenshot via Motherboard/2017
November 13, 2018

On Nov. 13, 2018, the Facebook account “Wesley Taylor Jr.” posted a bomb threat on the Facebook page of D Magazine, a magazine based in Dallas, Texas. The Facebook post warned that the magazine’s offices could be blown up if the magazine continued to publish columns written by controversial freelance writer Barrett Brown.

Brown told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that Tim Rogers, his editor at D Magazine, first reached out to him the day the bomb threat was posted to tell him about it and ask him whether he knew Taylor. According to Brown, Rogers also said that the Dallas police and the FBI had advised him not to report on the existence of the threat and asked Brown not to publicize it.

Brown was concerned that the police had not contacted him about the threat and suspected that they were trying to cover it up. He tweeted about the threat — without specifying which publication had been targeted — and then asked Philip Kingston, a Dallas city councilman, to try to get more information from the Dallas police department.

On Nov. 18, Dallas Assistant Police Chief Lonzo Anderson emailed Kingston an update on the investigation:

On November 13, 2018, a subject made a veil threat [sic] on social media Facebook to the Dallas Public Library located at 1515 Young Street. The Facebook post reads as follows:  “If you Democrats don’t stop this conspiracy shit I’m gonna blow your fucking library up”. Intelligence detectives were immediately notified and also the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. Dallas Police Fusion monitored the subject’s social media accounts for intelligence.  Dallas Police Explosive Ordinance [sic] and Dallas Security conducted a search on the library and no bomb was located.

In addition to the library, the subject made a similar threat to an employee at the D Magazine office. The D Magazine Office received a bomb threat via Facebook. The message stated that if they continued to publish Barrett Brown that he was going to blow up their office. A Terroristic Threat F/3 Charge will be filed for the Dallas City Library and a Misdemeanor class A charge will be filed for the threat made against an employee of D Magazine.  A DPD CAD Bolo was entered on the suspect for situational awareness. An information bulletin was also disseminated by Fusion to all DPD officers. On November 15, 2018, DPD took the subject in custody for a DPD alias warrant. The subject was interviewed at headquarters.  The investigation is on-going. I will contact Intelligence for any further updates.

Although Anderson’s email, which the councilman forwarded to Brown, stated that charges would be filed against Taylor, no charges were ever filed.

On Nov. 26, shortly after Brown tweeted out excerpts of Anderson’s email, D Magazine published a post about the bomb threat. A few days later, the post was abruptly deleted without any explanation. Rogers told the Tracker that he could not comment on what had happened.

For months, Brown continued to try to get more information about the police investigation. On Dec. 5, he spoke at a city council meeting and asked the mayor to explain why he had never been notified about the bomb threat. On Feb. 24, 2019, he sent assistant police chief Anderson copies of more evidence he had dug up on Taylor — screenshots of Facebook messages that Taylor had sent to Brown’s girlfriend asking about him, and photos from Taylor’s Instagram page that shows him posing with a gun. He also posted the photos and screenshots on Facebook and Twitter. In response, a former DPD officer left a comment saying that Brown “has a smug, punchable face.”

On Feb. 26, Brown spoke with Sheldon Smith, a DPD sergeant overseeing the investigation, about the current status of the case. In the conversation, which Brown recorded, Smith told Brown that the DPD investigated the bomb threats against the Dallas library and D Magazine, but ultimately determined that there was not enough evidence to charge Taylor.

“Initially, we believed that we would have enough information to file those charges on the individual that we’re talking about, just based on the preliminary information,” Smith told Brown, according to a recording of the conversation. “But after we conducted a thorough investigation, we didn't have the elements needed in order to actually file the offense for that.”

Smith offered two explanations for why charges could not be brought against Taylor. First, he said, Taylor had never said that he would personally blow up D Magazine’s building, just that “someone” could.

“He didn’t say that he would,” Smith said, according to the recording. “And the element we needed was if he had said, ‘I’m going to blow the building up.’ But when he said ‘someone,’ that’s why we couldn’t physically charge him.”

Brown pointed out that this explanation couldn’t account for the decision not to charge him for the bomb threat against the Dallas library, which contains the explicit statement, “I’m gonna blow your fucking library up.”

To that, Smith offered a second explanation for not charging Taylor. The problem, he said, was that the police could not be sure that Taylor was actually responsible for the threat posted from his Facebook account.

“We did extensive research on his Facebook account and we could not confirm that it was actually him that said that,” Smith said, according to the recording. “It may have been him, but we weren’t 100 percent sure that it was him. It would be as if you left your phone sitting on the counter and someone’s gonna send messages from your number.”

Brown is an independent journalist, essayist, and media critic who is best known for his close association with the online movement Anonymous. Although Brown is not a computer hacker, he embedded himself as a journalist with a hacker collective tied to Anonymous. In 2012, as federal authorities stepped up operations against the hacking group, the FBI raided Brown’s house and his mother’s house.

Later that year, Brown was arrested for allegedly threatening one of the FBI agents who had raided his mother’s house. In 2013, a federal grand jury indicted Brown on a number of charges related to trafficking in stolen information, for allegedly linking to information that hackers had already stolen. Most of the federal charges were later dropped, and Brown ultimately accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to five years in prison. While incarcerated, he wrote a National Magazine Award-winning column on prison life. After being released from prison in late 2016, he briefly covered Dallas city council meetings for D Magazine while living in a halfway house, and he has continued to freelance for the magazine.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].