For quite a while, I've decided not to make a blog post about Dennis Markuze (a.k.a. "Mabus"). I thought that the best way to deal with him was to ignore him, since clearly he fed on people's attention. It turns out, that ignoring him was the exact opposite way to handle the whole situation.
Most people reading this blog already know who Markuze is. But for the uninitiated, or those of you in the future, reading this years from now, (newcomers to skepticism hopefully won't have any dealings with him), here's a very brief primer:
Montrealer, and Christian extremist, Dennis Markuze has been sending out reams of harassment emails and comments to skeptics, atheists, and scientists for over 15 years. These went well beyond the typical "troll" behavior we might expect of internet aggression, and eventually escalated into increasingly incoherent ramblings that threatened skeptics with torture, decapitation, execution etc....
He attended the American Atheists Convention in Montreal last fall, where the long-time target of his harassment, PZ Myers, was speaking (tell me of a single internet troll who dares to attempt a physical confrontation). His newfound boldness, coupled with his increasingly explicit threats, pushed people into action in new, and innovative ways.
For more detailed background of this entire Markuze affair, I highly recommend Tim Farley's post on the matter.
Just about every skeptic who has received his attacks knows his tactics, and many of us have to apologize to people for getting these awful messages at unawares.
On July 6, I received this (and many others like it) message. It was unlike the others, because it was an explicit threat, rather than just the insinuation-to-kill that was his usual M.O. I gotta admit: I felt a little nervous. Internet trolls don't talk like that. Internet trolls are paradoxically inventive and crude (as any gamer can attest to). This was pretty straightforward:
"...we are going to torture before we execute you"
Without batting an eye, I called the RCMP, who forwarded me to the Waterloo Region police. After I had spent a long day at work, the police came over to my house and I filed a report. The police officer hadn't been briefed upon the nature of the threat (ie: that it was an internet threat), and my partner and I had to spend about 15 minutes explaining to him what Twitter was, how it's not Facebook, or how it's not email. It was pretty exhausting. Not to mention baffling ("What's Twitter? Oh....it's this...internet....thing that....has hundreds of millions of users....that....are you sure you've never heard of it? TWIT-TER!").
After about an hour and a half, the officer saw my screen shots, seemed to understand what was going on, and he said to me, "My advice to you: Don't worry about it. This guy is just trying to get inside your head, and you're letting him".
Needless to say, I was disappointed at this attitude. I kept pressing him, "Regardless of what we might think his intentions are, he is uttering death threats, and it's my understanding that that is illegal."
He told me that for the the law to be able to act on a death threat, a death threat must have two things: Intention and agency. It's obvious that Markuze meant what he said (and has been saying for over 15 years), but the officer could not reasonably assume that it was a threat he could act on. From his perspective, he sees an internet troll in Montreal, who would have to drive to Kitchener to cause me harm.
As a side note, uttering a death threat does not require the ability to carry out that threat, so the officer I spoke to was wrong (though I didn't know it at the time). See here for the law covering death threats. In Canada, if you utter a death threat, that's a crime. If you utter a death threat and you make a person feel unsafe, that's a worse crime.
The officer left, telling me that he would file the report, assuring me that, "If half the things you're saying were true, then the Montreal Police are aware of this guy, and they are keeping an eye on him." He also told me that more people need to file reports, because it helps build an intelligence file on him. I've been relaying that message on twitter and facebook ever since.
Well, fastforward a little over a month: A change.org petition, a twitter campaign, and some key media involvement later (again, read Tim Farley's post, it's excellent and well-detailed), the Montreal police finally got involved.
Yesterday, at around 6:00 pm, I received a call from a Montreal detective who told me what everyone on Twitter had already been talking about : Markuze had been apprehended, and is in custody.
In all likelihood, he will be released on bail, and with conditions that he not use a computer. Markuze will probably not spend any time in prison, but that's okay: He's not a criminal, even if he has committed criminal acts. It's obvious to anyone with an Armchair Degree in psychiatry that Markuze is not a well man: He is mentally unstable.
If the judge orders him to get psychiatric evaluation, maybe he will finally get the help he needs. He's been making these attacks for over 15 years, with a posting rate that can best be described as 'obsessive'. If he had been identified in 1995 (when he was asking for help in obtaining a bomb to blow up federal buildings), maybe he would have been getting the help he needed back then, and he might now have been a productive member of society.
The Mabus/Markuze story may not be over. It's possible that when he's released, he will be released without conditions that he surrender his computer and stay off the internet. It's entirely possible that in a month, we all may be seeing the same harassment letters we've been deleting non-stop. And yet, I question the wisdom of people demanding his immediate incarceration, and that the full hammer of the law be brought down upon him.
Now that Markuze is in custody, there is a real chance that a mentally ill person will get the help that he needs. For the first time, I have honest, and real hope for Markuze.
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