John Rivello was arrested by the FBI on Friday on suspicions that he was Twitter user @Jew_Goldstein, the person who sent a GIF that Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald claims caused him to have a seizure. Eichenwald’s attorney, Steven Lieberman, named the suspect and an anonymous law enforcement official confirmed the name, Newsweek reported. Rivello appears to have wiped much of his social media presence after the incident with Eichenwald.
Here’s what we know so far.
1. Rivello Was Arrested in Salisbury, Maryland on Charges of Cyberstalking
Early Friday morning, FBI officials arrested John Rivello, 29, in Salisbury, Maryland. In 2014, John Rivello was named to the Dean’s List for Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury. According to Newsweek, he did not graduate. The Department of Justice released a statement about the arrest, stating that he the federal complaint charged him with cyberstalking.
Eichenwald said he received a tweet on December 15 from @Jew_Goldstein with a GIF of a strobing image and the tweet read, “You deserve a seizure.” Eichenwald’s Twitter feed later read, “This is his wife, you caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”
Eichenwald said it was assault because people knew he had epilepsy and strobing lights could cause him to have a seizure. Since the incident, he’s received more than 40 other strobing GIFs and gave details about those to the FBI:
The @Jew_Goldstein account has since been suspended on Twitter. It’s unclear if the FBI is following up on the other 40-plus people who sent strobing GIFs to Eichenwald, since the FBI doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations.
2. It’s Not Known How Eichenwald Discovered the Twitter User’s Identity
Eichenwald’s lawyer had sought Twitter’s help in uncovering the person’s identification, but @Jew_Goldstein’s lawyer said the lawsuit was an attempt to “chill the First Amendment.” They later withdrew the request for Twitter’s help, saying they had figured out the person’s identity by themselves. His lawyer would not share how they did so.
Eichenwald’s lawyer said the case wasn’t about trying to stop someone from sending persuasive communication. He said they were focused on the tweet because it was intended to physically hurt Eichenwald.
“t wasn’t the content of the communication that was intended to persuade somebody or make them feel badly about themselves; this was an electronic communication that was designed to have a physical effect.”
It is, indeed, possible to induce seizures from certain types of strobing lights. In fact, the term photosensitive epilepsy refers to seizures that are triggered by visual stimuli, like flashing lights. For example, a Pokemon episode sent nearly 700 Japanese children to the hospital in 1997, Kotaku reported. The episode used a strobing technique that flashed red and blue lights to create a virtual explosion. Some children seizures, temporary blindness, blurred vision, nausea, and some passed out.
According to the press release from the Department of Justice, a search warrant of Rivello’s Twitter account revealed that he knew Eichenwald had epilepsy. He messaged others on Twitter, the DOJ said, writing things like: “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and “Spammed this at [victim] let’s see if he dies” and “I know he has epilepsy.” Rivello’s iCloud account also had a screenshot of Eichenwald’s Wikipedia page, showing a fake obituary for December 16, 2016, and a screenshot of seizure triggers. The press release emphasizes that these are accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
3. In December, @Jew_Goldstein Said Eichenwald Needed to Be Reported for ‘Fake News’
The Twitter account @Jew_Goldstein became a hero of sorts on social media, praised by Trump supporters for being “high energy.” Although the Twitter account has since been suspended, a search from Internet Archive revealed the tweets and conversations making the rounds online after the tweet was sent. @Jew_Goldstein said that he “Fake news like Kurt needs to be reported.”
He also noted on Twitter that he had voted for Bernie Sanders, not Donald Trump. Public records show Rivello is registered as a Republican.
After news about the GIF came out, @Jew_Goldstein tweeted to Eichenwald:
Archives show that he didn’t even create the account until December 2016.
4. Rivello Could Face Federal and Possibly State Charges
Although Rivello might ultimately face both federal and state charges connected to the tweet, he has only been arrested on a federal criminal complaint charging him with cyberstalking. He will be appearing in a federal court hearing in Baltimore Friday afternoon, Newsweek reported. There is also a possibility he may face state charges too.
Meanwhile, people on Twitter are reacting to the news, some not so favorably:
5. Eichenwald Was at the Center of Multiple Controversies During the Presidential Campaign for ‘Fake News’ Claims
Eichenwald drew the attention of Trump supporters during the presidential campaign for his unabashed support for Hillary Clinton and for sometimes reporting information on Twitter that was later deemed incorrect. Heavy reported on one of these incidents in October, when Anthony Weiner’s laptop came under renewed scrutiny and Eichenwald quickly tweeted that NBC said there were only three emails. This wasn’t accurate, but the information circulated quickly anyway. It was later surmised that someone had gotten the three emails marked “c” from a July investigation mixed up with the emails in question from the new investigation into Weiner’s laptop.
The Intercept reported in October about how Eichenwald started some of the Trump-Russia rumors with a later disproven fact. When John Podesta’s emails were released by WikiLeaks, one email showed Sidney Blumenthal pasting a link and the contents of an Eichenwald story in an email to Podesta. In his story, Eichenwald defended Hillary Clinton but noted that one criticism about her handling of Benghazi was rational. In one of its early articles, Sputnik incorrectly attributed the article to Blumenthal instead of Eichenwald and later removed the story. Trump read the early version of the Sputnik article during a rally and incorrectly stated that Blumenthal had criticized Clinton. The Intercept reported that later that day, Eichenwald had posted three dozen tweets about the Sputnik article, misunderstanding or misrepresenting what had happened and saying it was proof that Russia had put forgeries in WikiLeaks’ archives, and then claimed it showed Trump working with Russia:
These were not the only times he came under scrutiny. In September, Eichenwald kicked off a rumor that Trump had spent time in a mental hospital. He tweeted that “Trump was institutionalized in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown in 1990.” However, he had no evidence for this and later claimed it was a series of jokes and a “signal” to a source, Business Insider reported. He came under fire in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Carlson told Eichenwald during the December interview, “I don’t mean this in a cruel way, but I would have real concerns if I were one of your editors, and I mean that.”
We will update this story when we have more information about Rivello and the case.