Christchurch messages on facebook lead to charge of lying to FBIhttps://indianexpress.com/article/world/christchurch-messages-on-facebook-lead-to-charge-of-lying-to-fbi-5659679/

Christchurch messages on facebook lead to charge of lying to FBI

The FBI used Facebook messages to map out weeks of racist conversations between the two men, who appeared to share a specific hostile fixation on Muslims, according to the complaint.

Christchurch messages on facebook lead to charge of lying to FBI
A New Zealand flag hangs on a fence as part of a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Christchurch mass shooting, in front of the Linwood Mosque, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Adam Dean/The New York Times)

Written by Liam Stack

A New York man who discussed an American re-enactment of the New Zealand mosque massacre with white supremacist friends on Facebook was charged Thursday with lying to FBI agents, law enforcement officials said.

According to the criminal complaint, Thomas Alonzo Bolin, 22, was charged on Wednesday with lying to federal agents in an interview last week about whether he owned firearms, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York said. He was already in custody on state charges filed Saturday.

The office said the FBI had been investigating Bolin, who lives in the Rochester suburb of Greece, New York, for possible violations of federal civil rights and firearms laws.

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It was not clear on Thursday whether Bolin had made any specific plans for violence. But in Facebook messages he had praised the March 15 mass killing of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to the criminal complaint. He also discussed his desire to commit acts of violence in the messages, which were intercepted by law enforcement officials.

The FBI said Bolin used the alias Peter Vincent to share video of the Christchurch attack, which was livestreamed by the shooter on Facebook and spread to Twitter, Reddit and YouTube. Bolin also used that alias to be active in white supremacist Facebook groups and discuss potential violence with his cousin, Austin Witkowski, the agency said.

A law enforcement official said Witkowski, who used the Facebook alias Ragnar Odinson, had not been arrested. The official said his whereabouts was unknown.

The FBI used Facebook messages to map out weeks of racist conversations between the two men, who appeared to share a specific hostile fixation on Muslims, according to the complaint.

On the day of the Christchurch attack, the two men also talked to each other about the manifesto published by the gunman and shared their hope that a similar massacre would happen in the United States.

The FBI said Bolin talked to his cousin about the New Zealand gunman, telling him, “Brugh dude killed 40 muslims.” Witkowski responded with a heart emoji and the word, “Lovely.”

Both men talked to other Facebook users about the Christchurch attack, the FBI said, and their desire to emulate it in the United States, although those other users are not identified in the criminal complaint.

Talking about the shooting with one of those unidentified Facebook users, Brolin said “there is a war brewing” and “realistically this was a small piece of a bigger picture now we wait for the retaliation.”

The criminal complaint alleges Witkowski made more specific threats. Speaking to an unidentified Facebook user, Witkowski said he wanted to see the Christchurch attacks copied in the United States and then said he was willing to “do something as of next week” in Baltimore.

The complaint said Witkowski told the other Facebook user to buy firearms, ammunition and food, and said that he would travel to meet him the next week. The complaint does not say if the meeting ever happened.

The day after the shooting, Bolin and Witkowski expressed frustration to each other that they had not been able to carry out an attack. According to the complaint, Bolin said he had broken his arm in a car accident.

Using an expletive, Witkowski responded that the broken arm would complicate an unspecified plan they had made. Bolin then reassured him, saying it only “takes one arm to flue a Glock.”

Witkowski wrote back saying he would carry out their plan himself. “I’m not waiting months and months or a week,” he said. “It was supposed to be done by Halloween.”

Later that day, Witkowski wrote to his cousin: “Words aren’t going to help. Violence is the key.” The FBI said Bolin then cautioned his cousin not to say anything more on Facebook.

“Yoooo chill,” he wrote. “Not on the fed book.” Witkowski replied that he did not care.

Using the Peter Vincent alias, Bolin managed a Facebook group called Odin’s Warriors, which did not appear to be active on Thursday. The FBI said Bolin and his cousin were members of a neopagan religious group called “Folk Odinism” that worships the gods of Norse mythology and limits its membership to white heterosexuals.

The criminal complaint said investigators linked Bolin to the Peter Vincent account by combing through Facebook messages, where Vincent once told someone that his “real name is Thomas Bolin, Peter Vincent is a character from a horror movie.” (That was most likely the 1985 vampire movie “Fright Night,” or the 2011 remake.)

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Facebook provided the FBI with Bolin’s messages on March 21 as part of a “voluntary emergency disclosure of subscriber and content information,” the agency said. Representatives for Facebook, which has taken steps to ban white supremacist content on its site, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.