The saga of cyberstalker Chuck C. Johnson takes another dark turn today, as Buzzfeed’s Jessica Testa reports: Someone Impersonated Me to Trick a Sexual Assault Victim.
In a piece for Jezebel, a woman using the name “Josie” wrote about her experiences at Columbia University, when she filed charges for sexual assault against student Paul Nungesser, who was also charged with rape by Emma Sulkowicz. (Nungesser was found guilty of assaulting “Josie,” but later appealed and got the conviction reversed.)
“Josie” published her piece anonymously — and this immediately drew the attention of Chuck C. Johnson, because he’s long been obsessed with outing sexual assault victims, and is especially obsessed with the case of Emma Sulkowicz, tweeting dozens of hateful comments about her.
Here’s a screenshot of a tweet posted by Johnson on May 22:
And on May 23, Johnson tweeted about it again, issuing a clear threat this time (the tweet isn’t available to embed because he was suspended, but this is our text copy of it when it was posted):
Johnson didn’t carry out this threat when he said he would (he was suspended permanently by Twitter the next day, May 24), but the timing of these tweets is very interesting — because shortly after that deadline, in the middle of the night at 1:23 AM on May 25, someone emailed “Josie” with the Gmail account “firstname.lastname@example.org,” claiming to be Buzzfeed reporter Jessica Testa.
Jessica Testa explains:
Josie — a media savvy writer, who once “updogged” writer Cathy Young — was pissed. She didn’t know how I got her name or email address, and she said she felt “betrayed.” She was mad at the Jezebel writer she thought might have given it to me. She was mad at me for the “weird” request, which should have gone through Jezebel — not her directly.
The only thing is: I didn’t email her.
I found out that someone emailed Josie with my name only after Erin Gloria Ryan, the Jezebel editor who published Josie’s story, contacted me. I learned from Ryan that the email to Josie came from “email@example.com,” an address incorporating my Twitter handle — but certainly didn’t belong to me. Until that Monday night, I didn’t know Josie’s real name.
After reading the email, Josie — still thinking it was me — had replied right away: “How did you get my name?” That was at 6:41 p.m. on Monday. Seven hours later, there was a story on GotNews’ website, identifying her by name. When he published her name, Johnson said gotnews.com had obtained Josie’s identity “thanks to some high level sleuthing and the contributions of .” (The sentence doesn’t end.)
Testa emailed Johnson several times about this, receiving very evasive answers:
There was speculation that Johnson was involved, so I asked him if he had anything to do with the posters or their complementary Twitter account @fakerape. (Johnson has also registered the domain fakeraperegistry.com.)
“I thought we were clear,” Johnson replied. “I don’t answer inquiries from a cat pornography site that doxxed an innocent man for exercising his constitutional rights.” (He was referring to a BuzzFeed story from last fall that reported a member of the fraternity at the heart of the Rolling Stone University of Virginia story had hired a lawyer known for representing college men accused of rape.)
“Good luck on your witch hunt,” he wrote. “I wish you nothing but failure.”
I called Johnson on Monday, about a week after learning about the email sent to Josie. He hung up on me as soon as I explained why I was calling. Then he texted me: “As a rule I don’t participated in any interviews with BuzzFeed. Cat pornographers aren’t journalists.” Over text message, I asked him three more times if he impersonated me using the address firstname.lastname@example.org. As before, Johnson didn’t take the opportunity to deny he impersonated me using that email address. He restated his refusal to answer the question. I emailed him again to let him know this story was about to be published.
“Once again I do not answer inquiries from BuzzFeed,” he replied. “I would be very careful if you accuse me of committing a crime with the lack of evidence you’ve presented here.”
But the really interesting part of this shabby story is that if Johnson did send that email impersonating Jessica Testa (and we don’t have conclusive evidence that he did, I must point out), he would have broken the New York law against criminal impersonation.
The law requires there must be “intent to obtain a benefit or to injure or defraud another.” When I told a commercial litigator who’s worked on online crime cases and used to prosecute sex crimes for the Manhattan district attorney’s office about the email, she said she thought an “argument could be made that the email was sent with the intent to defraud [Josie] — certainly to convince her she was disclosing her identity for a purpose that was unintended.”
If the case was taken to them and they found it actionable, prosecutors would likely begin fact-gathering with subpoenas for information about the Gmail user.
“If the person is unsophisticated, they’re sending emails from their home computer,” the former prosecutor said. “But sometimes very sophisticated people are doing this and they have all sorts of means of re-routing and sending the information.”
The crime is a class A misdemeanor, punishable with a $1,000 fine or a year in jail. The lawyer said she couldn’t imagine someone “would be subjected to that extreme a penalty, even if prosecuted.” It may be a crime, but not a very serious one, particularly without threats of violence.
That’s where the story stands at this time. Testa has not contacted prosecutors about the case, although the lawyer she spoke with urged her to do so, and Google probably will not give her any information about that email account without a subpoena. But the connections are difficult to dismiss, and it’s very troubling indeed that someone is impersonating her for the purpose of causing harm to women who speak out against sexual assault.
Wow. And now, according to Buzzfeed’s Ellie Hall, Chuck C. Johnson just essentially confirmed he was the one who sent the impersonation email, with a post on his Facebook page crowing, “The girl’s name is [redacted]. Buzzfeed just confirmed it.” Here’s a screenshot of this Facebook post:
And obviously, the only way he would know this is if he were the one who sent that email, or was closely associated with someone who did. There’s no other way he’d know the name of the person who received it.