A Maryland man has been arrested on federal charges that he intentionally used an animated tweet to trigger an epileptic seizure in a Newsweek reporter who had been critical of President Donald Trump. The reporter, Kurt Eichenwald, was at his home office in Dallas on December 15 when he clicked on a Twitter message sent him by a man using the pseudonym “@jew_goldstein.” A blinding strobe light began flashing on his screen, sending Eichenwald — who has openly discussed his epilepsy — into a seizure. His wife found him on the floor.
The Justice Department said yesterday that it had arrested John R Rivello, 29, of Salisbury, Maryland, on a criminal complaint from Texas charging him with cyberstalking with the intent to kill or cause bodily harm. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison. An affidavit filed with the complaint said that a search of Rivello’s Twitter account showed he had sent other messages about Eichenwald saying “I know he has epilepsy” and “I hope this sends him into a seizure.”
The authorities also found an altered Wikipedia page in Rivello’s iCloud account that showed a fake obituary for Eichenwald with a death date of December 16. Eichenwald’s lawyer Steven Lieberman said the use of a strobe light against a known epileptic was “no different than a bomb sent in the mail or anthrax sent in an envelope,” according to The New York Times, where Eichenwald spent years as an investigative reporter.
That made the incident different from other cyberstalking cases, where the intent is to cause psychological — not explicitly physical — harm. Eichenwald, 55, has some 319,000 Twitter followers. He had been critical of Trump throughout the presidential campaign last year. When his wife found him on the floor on December 15, she first called 911, and then alerted the authorities to the message from “@jew_goldstein.”
Eichenwald was incapacitated for days, lost feeling in one hand, and had trouble speaking for weeks, his lawyer told The Times. Since the attack, Eichenwald said, 40 more accounts have sent him strobe lights. He has passed their information to the FBI.