Case Study: How a notorious spammer was brought down via Twitter

Today the Montreal Police announced that an arrest has been made (in French here) in the “Mabus” case. It wouldn’t have happened but for Twitter. This post explains how.

Twitter has been around for five years now, but there is still much confusion about what it is good for. How can you post anything useful in 140 characters? Isn’t it just people posting what they had for lunch? It’s a massive time waster. Those are typical complaints.

And yet there are several thousand self-proclaimed skeptics actively using Twitter quite effectively as a means of communication and organization. I quite like it myself. Unlike some complicated multi-purpose websites like Facebook, Twitter is dead simple. And you can do amazingly useful things with it.

“Like what?” you might ask. Well in the last week the science, journalism, skeptic and atheist communities on Twitter organized to pressure a law enforcement agency to take action on someone who has been a copious source of spam and death threats on the Internet for at least 15 years. Today’s arrest came about in under 10 days from the first moves.

I think the sequence of events of how this came together are quite interesting, and perhaps an object lesson in online activism. As it was happening I was capturing links to the relevant posts so I could document how it came about. Read on…

Setting the Stage

I really want to focus on the events of the last week, but to understand why so many people were so upset by this case, you have to know a bit of history, which goes back more than 15 years. This is not the story of an over-reaction to a garden variety troll. This person was the source of epic levels of spam, disruption and threats since the mid 1990s.

I’ll try to keep it as short as I can. If you are already familiar with the Mabus story, click here to jump to the end where I tell you about the events of last week.

If you are not familiar with David Mabus, do read through as it is a very interesting story and a pretty quick read. Up until now many of the details have been scattered across numerous blog posts.

Table of Contents

Background: David Mabus

Skeptic and atheist webmasters, forum moderators and bloggers have known for some time of a character by the name David Mabus. He would appear periodically to post long-winded rants as forum or blog comments, or to make various rude threats. His posts would be deleted, his accounts banned, and he’d disappear for a while. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The name Mabus comes from the prophecies of Nostradamus. Believers in Nostradamus claim it is the name of the anti-Christ. Many of the earlier posts from this person would mention Nostradamus, sometimes claiming that he should have won the prize from James Randi‘s Million Dollar Challenge (MDC) and berating Randi for not awarding it.

I only became aware of him in 2008, but better known skeptics have known of him far longer. In a 2008 post James Randi recounts how Mabus made an incorrect prediction of nuclear war back in 1997. And PZ Myers says he has been getting messages from him on a daily basis since 1993. Many of these messages contain quite dire threats. In September 2009 PZ gathered up the threats sent in one evening and printed them out to show them to the police. Even in small print they came to 61 pages. The police were stunned.

In the last few years as skeptic activity on the internet increased, “Mabus” widened his target list. If you put up a blog or site, and your email address was publicly known, eventually you’d start to get the emails from him. These emails would contain rants similar or identical to whatever he was posting to blogs and forums at the time, and would usually be carbon copied to a litany of famous skeptics including James Randi, PZ Myers, Michael Shermer and so on. (Some skeptics, flattered to see themselves listed in such company, would sometimes sheepishly admit to thinking they had “made it” as a skeptic upon receiving their first Mabus email, despite the threatening nature of these messages).

Much of what he posts gets deleted for being off topic, threatening or just plain incomprehensible. And yet all over the net, on various sorts of sites, random flotsam and jetsam of his posts still survives. It’s like the digital version of someone constantly driving around town hurling leaflets out his car window, not caring if anyone ever picks them up.

The emails never made all that much sense, but gradually they seemed to decay even further. I thought about quoting two of them here, but there is no real point. Suffice it to say they started out as semi-coherent rants about Randi or about atheism, and gradually declined to mere shouting. This decay was the first red flag for many of us.

Red flag number two came last October 1st when he showed up at an atheist convention where PZ Myers was speaking and Tessa Brown took his picture. Most Internet trolls would never dream of personally confronting their targets. The fact that he did this set him apart.

Red flag number three came in waves beginning on January 19th, 2011. That was the day David Mabus decided to expand his campaign to Twitter.

And Mabus Twittered

Mabus had apparently toyed with Twitter before. During The Amazing Meeting 7 in July 2009, he set up an account named @davidmabus (naturally enough) and sent some taunts, typically mentioning the JREF MDC. Later that year and the next there is evidence he set up some other accounts but did nothing with them.

But in January he started a Twitter campaign of epic proportions. Because posts on Twitter are by default public, and anyone can send a reply to anyone simply by typing the “@” character appropriately, it is ideally suited for Mabus’ brand of harassment. The 140-character limit of Twitter is not well suited to long-winded rants, but he quickly discovered that you can compensate for that by including a hyperlink.

He began sending links, over and over, to any and all skeptics or atheists he could find on Twitter. Early on the links led to a YouTube of Depeche Mode‘s music video for “Enjoy the Silence” (the one shot on top of the World Trade Center). I’ll explain the significance of this later, but the video had titles added to it which threatened atheists. Later Twitter posts dropped the YouTube link and switched to links to forum posts of the same sort of rants he had been posting all along.

(A post from early in his Twitter campaign – the YouTube link no longer leads to the video it did at the time).

His posts changed from time to time. He would switch URLs when his manifestos were inevitably deleted and he would switch taglines. Early on he used the phrases “clobbering time” and “the end of atheism”.

Some of the taglines didn’t make much sense and became the subject of nervous joking by threatened skeptics. In February he started exhorting people to look into the cornfield, and his manifesto included a photo of a scarecrow (see below). And one of the most famous lines in his emails literally said “GOATS ON FIRE….”

Some tweets were directed at a single person, but a majority included several @ mentions to spam multiple people at once. (He’s nothing if not efficient). Sometimes he would scan down the Twitter page of a particular user and reply to every single post he saw. Sometimes he would search for PZ Myers’ name or his own name and reply to what he saw. Other times he would pick people out of the blue to harass.

A Surlyramic (wearable art) made by skeptics trying to cope with the inanity of the Mabus campaign. Click to see source.

Naturally people would use the block function on Twitter on him when he appeared. When enough people block an account quickly enough on Twitter, the account itself is suspended. But this rarely slowed down Mabus very much. He would create another account and continue.

The volume was stunning and the rate was obsessive, to say the very least. Until the end of February, I tracked what what he was posting on Twitter pretty closely, using the BackTweets service to locate his (often long-deleted) posts via the URL he was using on a given day. In five weeks he went through over 330 Twitter accounts.

Near as I can tell, all this posting was done by hand. The posts would be marked as having come from the Twitter web site, and there is no evidence that he was using a script or a robot to do the work for him. He would just sit there and cut and paste.

He would spend hours at it. For example, on February 25th I found 25 separate accounts he used. Based on the timestamps of the posts, he started around 7:30am, and posted more or less continuously until about 10am. He continued somewhat more slowly until noon, when I presume he took a break for lunch. He resumed at 3pm, and posted until 9pm that night. I counted almost 700 tweets. And because of the way Twitter was deleting each account (and all its output) when they noticed the spamming, all of that output from that day was gone within minutes. Disappeared.

And that was part of the problem. He would post hundreds and hundreds of spams, such as this one above. But mixed in with endless repetitions of that sort of thing, would come the direct confrontations and threats. Here is a relatively tame one directed at me that also still survives on Twitter:

Even just the endless hitting of to the Twitter block button itself got tiring when you have to do it 25 times a day because of changing account names. This led me to write an epic how-to blog (including a demonstration video) on using the filtering functionality of Twitter clients to block Mabus using his URLs.

The Threats

As this story has played out, I’ve seen a few bloggers minimize the nature of the threats. That one above isn’t that bad, after all. Some view a certain degree of this to be part of the wild, anything goes nature of the Internet. I don’t entirely disagree – you have to have a thick skin if you are involved in discussions on the net.

But let me assure you, Mabus’ threats go way beyond the norm, both in content and sheer volume. I talked about the volume above, so let’s see some of the content.

He tells people they are going to die that day or “cease to exist”. He threatens executions. He uses offensive terms starting with “bitch” and getting far worse. He threatens people’s loved ones, such as this one from February 10:

He threatens to cut off people’s heads and tells them they are “finished.” He asks people if they think they “deserve to live”. He says he is going to “pound you into the dust” and that you will suffer the “worst form of torture.” Here’s one threat directed at Michael Shermer from April 18:

He doesn’t limit his threats to well known public figures like Myers or Shermer. He’s even threatened young adults directly. Here’s one of several threats directed at a teenage boy in Wales, Rhys Morgan:

And finally, here’s a particularly nice one directed at me just a few weeks ago:

These are but samples. There are hundreds and hundreds more.

Because of the rules violations of the accounts, the threats would disappear along with the spam. So if you weren’t alert and ready to take a screen shot, these threats would disappear. I collected the ones I saw in time.

I managed to capture about 60 threats to me and about 30 to other people, but I know hundreds of Twitter users were affected by this. Some of the others who collected screen shots and posted them publicly are Heather Henderson and Martin S. Pribble.

In encourage you to click those links and see more. It was a truly sick campaign that went on for more than six months. And the threats were clearly violations of the law.

Finding The Person Behind Mabus

So, how did we put a name to the threats, to even know which police department to call? It was easier than you might expect.

If Mabus had truly wanted to remain anonymous, there are tools and methods to accomplish that quite effectively. Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for him) Mabus didn’t seem to be aware of many of these methods. In fact, he seemed technically inept sometimes. The hilariously awkward titles on his Depeche Mode video hint at this – they were created by screen-capturing a scrolling Microsoft Word window, toolbars and all!

An image of a scarecrow used by Mabus in conjuction with the “look into the cornfields” tagline. (Copyrighted image Mabus used illegally, click for original owner. Fair use of thumbnail claimed here).

He did do two simple things that helped him a bit. He used throwaway email accounts on free webmail services to send many (but not all) of the email spams over the years. And when posting his rants (and, I presume, while on Twitter) he would connect to the Internet using the free WiFi provided at internet cafes, hotel lobbies and college libraries at various locations around Montreal. That made it harder to tie the posts to a particular person such as through an ISP.

In many of the articles to which I link, Mabus’ real name is freely mentioned. This is because Mabus was never too careful about concealing it in his online postings. If I hadn’t already seen his real name in that 2008 post by James Randi, all I had to do was wait. The fifth email he sent me, on May 27, 2009, had his real name in his return address, next to the throwaway email account davemabus8765@email.com. (More evidence of his technical ineptitude).

Once we know his name, and the fact that he posts from Montreal (which the IP addresses on his emails tell us), we can proceed quite quickly. For instance, there are only three publicly listed phone numbers for that last name in Montreal. One of them turns out to be his mom. (Please don’t try to call her, if what she says in this article are accurate quotes, clearly there is no point).

PZ mentioned that Mabus was active on Usenet news years ago, so Google Groups can be used to find his earliest posts. (Be sure to restrict your search to years prior to 2005 or so or else you’ll find much recent discussion of his activities and not much of his own posts).

You can easily find evidence that he has been spamming since 1995 – but in those days it was advertising for various stereo and computer stores he worked for. If you trace through those computer store ads, you eventually come to the one he apparently worked for until very recently. Looking up that store’s domain names in WHOIS will lead you back to the telephone listing for his mom.

One quite frightening thing you can find in Google Groups is him expressing an interest in making a bomb in 1995 and using it to blow up government buildings.

The Beginning of an Obsession

But the most interesting stuff pops up if you add Nostradamus to the search.

It is here that you finally learn the reason for both the name “David Mabus” and his fascination with Depeche Mode. The answer is in Nostradamus’ Quatrain 8,66:

When the inscription 500 A.D. is revealed
Quand l’enscriture D.M. trouvee

In an ancient cave, illuminated by a lamp,
En cave antique a lampe discouverte,

The law, King, & Prince by Roman law are examined,
Loi, Roy, & Prince Ulpian esprouvee,

The House of the Queen & the Duke are overshadowed.
Pavillon Royne & Duc sous la couvert.

The original French is in italics, as you can see a date is represented as “D.M.” in the French. But if you read that Usenet conversation, it appears Mabus somehow became convinced that “D.M.” were actually a set of initials. “D.M.” are his real-life initials, as well that of his nom-de-plume. And in his efforts to find other things they might match, he found Depeche Mode as well.

Seven years later when 9-11 happened, and some people claimed Nostradamus had predicted it, Mabus no doubt flashed back to that Depeche Mode video that was filmed at the top of the World Trade Center. He would at various points make claims that Nostradamus or himself had predicted the 9-11 attacks. It was no doubt all downhill from there.

You can see how all this old research is completely consistent with what we know about the current Mabus. It all fits together.

(In retrospect, when I said I’d try to keep it short I was beyond optimistic. Ah well).

The Complaints

As documented above, Mabus Twitter campaign had him threatening and annoying many hundreds more people than he had ever affected before. When the threats started coming quite rapidly, this led to calls for him to be arrested and so on.

@krelnik I am going to execute you, fucker... The police will not save you...I got some particularly nasty threats early on, and started searching for the appropriate way to complain. Knowing he was in Montreal and even having an address and phone number for his family, I figured the local police in Montreal would be the natural choice. They seemed unwilling to take my call. When I finally did get an answer from them, they said I had to complain to my local police department. Fair enough, my local police can verify my identity more easily, after all.

And so on a Saturday in January, I killed one whole afternoon at my local Atlanta Police zone office filling out paperwork with a detective. She told me I could get a copy of the incident report within a few days at another office.

Others did the same thing. Phil Plait gave a report to a sheriff by telephone. Michael Shermer told me he obtained a restraining order to ensure Mabus would stay clear of him. Canadian skeptic Steve Thoms and blogger Greg Laden also filed reports. There are no doubt others.

On February 10, 2011 I was finally able to get a copy of my report from yet another Atlanta Police office across town. I quickly took it to a local print shop and faxed it to the Montreal Police.

And nothing happened. For me or for anyone else.

Months went by. People got frustrated, and often complained on Twitter. Other victims such as @Inrideo and Travis Roy attempted to interest Canada’s RCMP to no avail.

But the threats continued. If anything, they accelerated day by day. Even when people mentioned contacting the police, Mabus mostly scoffed as you can see above.

The End Came in August

And now we come to the part of the story I really wanted to tell. Many of us knew that getting the local Montreal press involved in the story might be a key to spurring the police into action. Back in February I had attempted to make this happen with this tweet:

By @ mentioning several Montreal journalists, not only was I soliciting a reply from those journalists, but knowing Mabus’ M.O. I expected him to include those journalists in his spams (and perhaps his threats), letting them experience it up close.

@krelnik @ctvmontreal @Global_Montreal WATCH JUDGEMENT DAY (url)

As you can see at right, that did happen. In subsequent days I was able to contact one journalist at CTV Montreal, but he was unsuccessful in getting his editors interested in the Mabus story. It was a dead end.

As it turned out, I had the exactly right idea, but simply picked the wrong journalists.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Montrealer William Raillant-Clark (@wraillantclark) is a press atttaché for the University of Montreal. He would have been the right journalist, had I found him.

On the morning of August 8 he was monitoring Twitter as part of his job. He noticed this retweet by science writer Carl Zimmer:

Since he talks with scientists online all the time, he had seen some of the Mabus posts before. He dug a little bit and found this hashtagged tweet by Heather Henderson, (a singer and atheist podcaster who had performed at TAM last month). It was posted the day before:

His curiosity was piqued. Was this Mabus more than just a spammer or troll? So he asked a question publicly about the situation, and this was what transpired:

As a press atttaché, he is connected in the Montreal press community. He knew that if he got the right journalists interested in the story and they wrote about it, something would happen. So he did some more research online using Twitter.

Canadian Twitter user @Inrideo was part of that conversation as you can see. When he had attempted to report Mabus to the RCMP previously, he had contacted me for additional evidence and information. So around noon on August 8, he contacted me via Twitter to point out that Clark was planning an article. This was key, because since I was not following Clark, I hadn’t seen any of the conversation above.

The Montreal Police have a Twitter account (@SPVM) and they did take notice of the conversation. They sent this message:

The fact that they included their email address will become important in a moment.

I emailed Clark with reams of details about the history of David Mabus, similar to the introductory sections of this blog. Heather Henderson volunteered her screen shots. Clark set to work on a post and making phone calls.

The result was this Tumblr post, which appeared in the late afternoon of August 8: Police Pontificate as Montrealer Threatens to Murder Science Journalists.

Clark tweeted it and I quickly followed:

PZ Myers’ doubting notwithstanding, BackTweets says the post was retweeted over 174 times in the next week. According to a competing service WhoTweetedMe, the post was retweeted over 291 times and potentially reached up to 10,000 different people. (Clark reported on Thursday that the post had been viewed almost 14,000 times).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Remember those two tweets above which contained email addresses? Mabus, noticing that Clark had been conversing with @pzmyers, did what he often does – he spammed. Clark got a copy of Mabus’ usual threatening manifesto via email in the middle of the night.

Picture of a dead bird Mabus includes in his posts near the phrase "Omens of Death"

Picture of a dead bird Mabus includes in his posts near the phrase “Omens of Death”

I got a copy of this email too, as did the Montreal Police themselves since they were part of the conversation. Yes, you read that right – Mabus sent one of his threatening emails directly to the Montreal Police.

I don’t know what Montreal Police’s reaction to that first email was, but those of us who have been getting them all along are a bit jaded by now. We rarely read more than the first few lines, if at all.

But Clark had never received one before! He read it with fresh eyes, and he was shocked by what he saw. He knew what he had to do. He needed to contact the Montreal Police himself. Because he is a local resident, they had to pay attention to him.

By that afternoon, there was a public indication that SPVM was on the case:

Meanwhile, the retweets of the Tumblr post were working their magic. At some point on Tuesday, they caught the eye of Kyle VanderBeek, a skeptic who works for change.org in San Francisco.

Kyle saw those tweets with the emails in them, and knew he had a potential tool right at his fingertips. He created a petition titled “Montreal Police: Take “Mabus” death threats seriously” and configured it to send responses directly to the SPVM public email address (which we saw above).

He, of course tweeted about it to get the ball rolling:

And he made sure to thank people as they signed it, to keep excitement high:

According to BackTweets it was retweeted over 500 times. The competing service WhoTweetedMe comes up with approximately the same numbers, and estimates that an astonishing 450,000 people could have seen those tweets! That’s huge.

In addition, several skeptic and atheist bloggers wrote about the petition. That created more reach and visibility beyond Twitter.

That evening, hundreds of people signed the petition. Every one of those sent an email to SPVM.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On the morning of the 10th, the Montreal Police cried “Oncle!” with this Tweet:

Seeing all this activity and discussion of him online, Mabus was as active as he has ever been during this period. He posted a new version of his manifesto to Google Groups, and was spamming it to anyone and everyone, with copies to @SPVM! (Because of BackTweet’s freemium business model, that link might not show much if you are reading this at or after the end of August 2011).

Kyle VanderBeek became one of Mabus’ targets and he started receiving Mabus threats and spam too.

We felt like we were almost there! But remember I said William Raillant-Clark had press contacts? Those started to pay off on August 10. In the afternoon, I got phone calls from two different reporters and from the SPVM detective assigned to the Mabus case! (One of the reporters suggested to me that the detective called me because he had just called her, but I have no way of verifying that).

The reporter calls would pay off the next day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Thursday the mainstream media went with the Mabus story. First La Presse (the largest French-language newspaper in Canada) posted their story, titled “Die, Atheists, Die!” (Here is a Google translated version of that story in English). This was shortly followed by the Montreal Gazette, whose story is titled “Montreal police start probe of Twitter threats“. I am quoted in both of those stories.

Press coverage continued through the day as the wire services noticed the story and distributed it to papers all over Canada. Here is one from the Toronto Sun titled “Montreal cops probe Internet death threats” for which I was interviewed during the day on Thursday.

And finally, TV. William Raillant-Clark figures prominently in this report (and other versions of it) hitting the CBC evening news that night:

There are other stories as well. One of my favorites was this late-night follow up from the Montreal Gazette entitled “Montreal police goaded into investigating cyber-crank.” I like it because it coins the phrase “truculent cyber-crank” and because its original headline (still visible in the URL) was “Montreal police spammed into submission.” Spamming undid the spammer.

Naturally I can’t give too many details about what was going on off Twitter, but during this period I spoke with the SPVM detective several times, and provided all sorts of evidence in the form of archived emails, screen shots, IP address traces and so on. I also helped find other people who had reported Mabus to the police and get them the detective’s contact info.

But on Thursday evening, something odd happened.

Mabus went silent. One last email was sent around 9:57pm Eastern time. And then, a series of apologies appeared.

Nothing has been heard from Mabus since.

Monday, August 15, 2011

SPVM officially announced that a case had been opened regarding Mabus and investigators were on the case:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mabus is arrested, I was told privately by the detective.

Today, Wednesday, August 17, 2011

SPVM announces the arrest on Twitter:

Update 5:33pm EDT: The story is hitting the news in Canada tonight.

Update August 18, 8:18am EDT: This news story confirms that the petition was key to getting the police moving, they doubted the seriousness of William Raillant-Clark’s complaint at first.

Update August 19, 5:18pm EDT: Mabus appeared in court on Friday and now faces 16 charges. He was ordered to undergo a 30-day psychological evaluation, and will appear in court again on September 19.

Update June 1, 2012: On Tuesday, May 22 Dennis Markuze pled guilty to 8 counts of making threats and received an 18 month suspended sentence.

Update November 20, 2012: Markuze has once again been arrested.

Conclusion

Twitter can be a excellent medium to organize people across time zones and countries to achieve a specific activism goal. Other actions (petitions, emails, official complaints, mainstream press attention) may be required as part of the campaign, but Twitter can be the kickoff point.

People had used blogging and direct contact of the police for years to attempt to get some closure in the Mabus case, to no avail. Harnessing the power of a large number of Twitter users, through the interlocking networks of different people, was key.

A few Twitter tips or “best practices” emerge from how this story went down:

  • The default public nature of Twitter posts is key – it allows people who don’t know you to notice your posts
  • Hashtags (like #montreal) can serve to get attention of those who may not follow you
  • Retweets work to get the word out
  • @ Mentions help call content to the attention of people who wouldn’t have seen it
  • Persistence is key – if I had stuck with my idea of contacting journalists, this would have happened months earlier
  • If you’re trying to get someone’s attention, give them something they want. (Mabus likes to email, two of the posts contained email addresses).
  • Being a pack rat can be useful – all the screen shots and other stuff I collected about Mabus in February were a gold mine.
  • Petitions can work, when properly targeted!

This post has been wildly popular, I hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to show your appreciation, then use the link below to purchase something for yourself or a loved one at Amazon.com. I receive a small commission and you pay nothing extra. Thank you.

Thank you to @wraillantclark, @kvbeek, @HeatherHenderso, @Inrideo and the many other folks on Twitter who contributed to this story through their actions. Without them, we’d all still be deleting Mabus posts and wondering what he was going to do next.

Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter here.

About Tim Farley
Focused on online misinformation, Tim Farley is a software engineer, computer security expert and scientific skeptic who created the site What's The Harm. He is a Past Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

117 Responses to Case Study: How a notorious spammer was brought down via Twitter

  1. Thanks for a great summary Tim, and thanks for all your help. This of course is probably the end of the story for most of the people involved in the Mabus affair, but I get the feeling that for some of us, the story is just beginning.
    William
    http://rwrc.tumblr.com

  2. Ethan Clow says:

    This is an amazing summary of the Mabus situation, thanks for writing this up. I’ve actually tried to explain this to people who are not familiar with him its been quite difficult to get them to understand why so many skeptics are concerned and focused on this. However I think you post will really help people understand and realize why this was so urgently needed, especially in light of him showing up at events.

  3. I’m am glad to see this. I signed the petition from my corner in Northern Patagonia, who would have said that it could have been of any help.

  4. Good heavens, this is an incredible post. I had no idea quite what the extent of Mabus’ output was having only received a handful of peculiar tweets from him over the last year or so.

    Well done to everyone involved in bringing this to a close. Clearly his threatening actions have broken laws but I also hope he gets some professional help too.

  5. He left a comment on my blog, but never threatened me. I guess I should feel lucky.

  6. It sounds like it was the direct threats to a Montreal resident and the SPVM that did it. Before then, I can’t see how Mabus’ actions were really in their jurisdiction. He was committing some kind of international crime before last week.
    It’s a little worrying that a campaign was started to spam the SPVM with petition emails, though. I wouldn’t want my local police department to arrest me just because of pressure from spam emails.

    • mykdowling says:

      I don’t think they _arrested_ him because of the emails. They _investigated_ him due to the emails.

    • Travis Roy says:

      Well @statueofmike what does one do in this case. For me I’m less than a 6hr drive from Montreal. I contacted the Montreal police who told me to contact my local police, and I did. But my local police said there was little they could do except contact the Montreal police.. So round and round we go. So if you’re in Canada, and send death threats over the internet, just make sure you do them to people outside of Canada?

  7. Thanks indeed to TIm for the excellent resource.

    One thing to keep in mind here is that if the police had acted 20 years ago and David had received proper psychiatric care his last 20 years might have a vastly different experience for him (and us, and his family). What a waste of a life and we need to understand that society has a burden to share in that tragic waste.

    I don’t know how we can do better but I know that we are failing people every single day.

  8. Wow, Tim. Excellent account of the whole sorry affair.

    I hope Dennis now gets the help he would appear to badly need.

  9. Pingback: Have we seen the last tweet from “David Mabus”? | Bad Astronomy | moregoodstuff.info

  10. drow says:

    may the FSM touch this person’s head with its noodly wet appendage, and heal him of his madness, amen.

  11. Tim,

    Great summary and an excellent effort by all who contributed. I’m just sorry and amazed it took so long to get him taken seriously by the police, as he clearly demonstrated classic signs of escalation of violence, and I believe it was only a matter of time before he moved to physical confrontation.

  12. Pingback: Markuze rumors | Pharyngula

  13. sgerbic says:

    Great story Tim. I received a threat from him years ago on one of my first YouTube videos that I had posted of James Randi. (in fact I think he was the first person ever to comment on my YouTube account…memories…)

    I remember Mark Edward getting threatened by him on Skeptic Blog and he was fairly shaken as he had never heard of the guy or received anything like that before.

    We have to remember that most of us who have been involved in this for years are probably a bit jaded over his threats. But someone new and more innocent can really be harmed, and stop writing because of someone as threatening as DM.

    I applaud everything you did to make this happen. The skeptic community owes you a big THANK YOU.

    Would really like to understand one thing…

    When he showed up at the atheist convention, how did the photographer know who he was? And if you say because he said his name, then how did we know that it wasn’t just someone playing around saying they were him?

    Hopefully there won’t be someone taking his place, but if there is…we have better tools available to round him/her up and get them some help. Thanks for showing us how.

    Susan Gerbic

    • sminhinnick says:

      @Susan “When he showed up at the atheist convention, how did the photographer know who he was?”

      Click on the link next to “Red flag number two” near the beginning of the article.

      It takes you to PZ Myers’ blog “Pharyngula” where PZ states that this guy “appeared in the hall, ranted and raged and argued incoherently with a few of the attendees, and then…ran away… in his swift and flighty passage through the room, he spotted me and then fled to the lobby to brag online about seeing me.”

      So loopy ranting guy gets photographed, runs away, then blogs about it online, thereby identifying himself.

  14. It is ironic that Twitter et al were used to arrest (but who knows what will happen beyond that) this guy, while at the same time the UK gov and even city govs in the US are trying to ‘switch off’ social media.

  15. Thank you for all your hard work.

    Martin S Pribble

  16. mykdowling says:

    The use of “we” in the apology tweets is intriguing. I never considered it significant in his death threats.

    Myk

  17. As a non-atheist who enjoys skepticism (I know….), it bothered me that perhaps if he was threatening a particular ethnic or faith-based community, the threats might have been perceived as far more menacing by the authorities. You know, hate crime laws and all. Many (not all) atheists rejected the very idea of being perceived as an monolithic group. But you were targeted as sub-human by Mabus for what you believe (non-believe).

    For the naysayers who are concerned that social media could become the modern day equivalent of a lynch mob, that’s a little silly. There is a mountain of evidence against Mabus. Individual complaints were not being taken seriously.

    Don’t confuse this campaign with Lulzsec’s vigilante cyber justice. Yes, THEY are a little scary. It was not “spamming” the police over a few trollish comments here and there. Mabus had already disrupted a conference in person. (allegedly). The police opened an investigation and obtained a warrant for arrest, first.

    I’m very happy to know this potentially dangerous person is in custody. Remember, he will have his day in court. Just think, if he was in the US, the ACLU might be representing him. They can be a pain in the ass, sometimes. But it’s probably good they exist for the people who fear the slippery slope of infringing upon freedom of speech.
    Just think! Now everyone’s tweeting this story. That’s how I landed here!

  18. Nicely done, Tim. As long as you’re crediting the artists he ripped off, the plague mask he used for his Twitter icon for quite a while came from here: http://bobbasset.com/archives/73#comments

  19. Pingback: David Mabus ARRESTED in Montreal | Jonathan Rothwell

  20. MichaelEdits says:

    Should I as a somewhat activist atheist feel left out? I was never threatened.

  21. He once threatened me on twitter when I replied to one of PZ Myers tweets. Seriously a sick sick individual.

  22. Pingback: Have we seen the last tweet from “David Mabus”? | Space Travels - Space Turism

  23. Pingback: DM Arrested! #Mabus | Exploring Our Matrix

  24. A great and excellent story, a true thriller. It makes sad that it has taken so long to eventually terminate these threats. Everyone having contributed to finally locking up David Mabus can be congratulated.

  25. Never had the honour of getting a message from him, hope to get one before he goes to the asylum.

  26. Read the whole story. I’m the president of the Secular Humanist League of Brazil, and I will work to make this case known around here. I had seen that tweet from Zimmer in real time, couldn’t understand a thing at the time. Thanks for clearing it all up.

  27. Thank you, Tim – and all the others who spread the word! That’s a great summary and a fantastic lesson! Best regards: The German Skeptics (GWUP)

  28. Pingback: Can this exist, please? | The Man Version

  29. Just enjoyed this with a cup of tea. I was at a Dawkins event a couple of years ago and during the Q&A someone asked him if he was ever afraid for his life like Stanley Kubrick was after A Clockwork Orange. He said definitely not, but I am worried on his behalf. Great to see these death threats taken seriously at last.
    Gets my vote for Feelgood Hit Of The Summer 2011.

  30. Great post! It’s going to be really nice to not see those threats all the time. Now, if Scienceblogs would just upgrade its spam filter so I won’t have to delete the daily spam comments (pushing handbags and sun glasses and Turkish porn) by hand…

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  33. Pingback: Markuze/Mabus Apparently Arrested | Dispatches from the Culture Wars

  34. Thank you for your article.

    Having had a death threat via email and being blown off by the authorities, the IT firm that I get email through and others it is good to see this unfold this way. I have no time for cyber creeps and threats.

  35. Wow, this is the most comprehensive DM article ever ever. Thanks homie. I only got spammed by him once on twitter (and that sucked) but reading the articles about all the harassment over the years from so many good peeps made me worried. I hope it stops and that dude gets help.

    Thanks for UR efforts.

    Kriss

  36. Pingback: The Downfall of David Mabus | TRiG's links

  37. Great post.

    Petitions actually work! Who knew?!

  38. Pingback: Mabus/Markuze has been arrested! | Dub i nGal

  39. As someone who has received *many* spam tweets from Mabus, I’m glad he’ll be answering for his insanity. I firmly believe he’s in need of some serious mental help. Hopefully he’ll be getting it soon. Thanks for the very detailed description of this man and his harassment.

  40. That was a really good article! Thanks, Tim for your awesome, thorough, detailed explanation of events.


    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  41. Pingback: Skeptic Freethought » Mabus Madness

  42. Pingback: Mabus goes quiet - Butterflies and Wheels

  43. Jim Gardner says:

    I don’t know if I should feel disgruntled that this guy never targeted me or relieved, but I just wanted to say how well researched and pieced together this article is. Top class blogging. Thanks.

  44. dolo724 says:

    As the DH of a Pretty Good Journo, I appreciate your diligence with the press. Thanks for the great narrative.

  45. Pingback: Prolific Web Troll Arrested, With Help From Atheists on Twitter - NYTimes.com

  46. Excellent post about this. Markuze needs some help. Things are far from over, but it’s a step in the right direction to getting him that help. I’m not going to miss his spam!

  47. Pingback: Sanity » Case Wagner

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  49. I don’t know anything about the background of this guy beyond a cursory reading here, but it sounds like a weird reversal – he attacks secular people and yet this is not what a real believer would do in this fashion. It sounds like just long-term unemployment driving him to madness and spite. I foresee in the West a small percentage of people carrying on with these really random, malicious disinfo efforts.

    • monado says:

      You haven’t been around much, have you? Religious people are constantly attacking secular, from “You’ll burn in Hell!” to “Your life is meaningless to you (just ask me)” to “You have no morals and your life is devoted to the mindless pursuit of pleasure.” Not to mention the people who won’t hire, elect, or trust them. Not to mention a handful of actual murders.

    • monado says:

      And before you say I’m just sticking my oar in, I’ve had death threats from this oaf, too. I agree that he’s crazy and not a typical religious person. But to say “no true religious” would threaten people is just BS. If they identify themselves as religious, they are religious. And much of the hatred they spew is religiously motivated: anti-gay, anti-choice spring to mind as prominent examples. By their fruits you shall know them!

  50. Wow. Amazing story, incredible turn of events. Thanks for putting this all together and for helping bring a potentially dangerous person under control. It would have been awful had someone actually gotten physically hurt, although chances are it wouldn’t have actually gone that far. But you never know what may come into an unstable person’s head one day. (For the record, I had seen the crazy “cornfield” stuff and never knew what it meant until I got a message from someone with a “look at the cornfield” statement in all caps…must have been him! And I remember some of the more public people I follow griping about his rude comments.) Creeeeeepy. Thanks again to everyone who helped bring this to a safe closure.

    • articulett says:

      I think I may have triggered the “cornfield” comments by Mabus. I help moderate a site called Debunking Christianity where Mabus often posted his usual schizophrenic screeds. After banning him yet again last February, I joked that I had “wished him into the cornfield” (a Twilight Zone reference)– I noticed that he would occasionally work responses and photos from skeptic sites into his diatribes, and I suspect my reference to the cornfield became a “tomato” in his word salad.

  51. Qohelet says:

    Marzuke’s arrest is the best thing to happen to him. He’s in desperate need of psychiatric help, and his rants and threats are just his way of asking for it. Despite their slow response, the police got to him before he became a danger to others, or to himself. I’m reminded to another internet troll who harassed atheists (and muslims and christians) on internet forums. Since this was the era before twitter, the troll finally snapped and killed himself.

  52. Pingback: A Small Victory - Montreal Manace in the News | Martin S Pribble

  53. I want to say congrats on the excellent piece! I too have been lucky enough to escape Mabus’ threats, at least on twitter, and hope this sociopath will face the punishment he deserves (as well as give us all the peace and quiet we deserve!). Will share and encourage everyone else to do the same!

  54. Pingback: The Cornfields Are Silent and the Goats Are Not on Fire… | Friendly Atheist

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  59. daveprime says:

    Well don piece of blogging! It will be nice to NOT have to ban several ip’s a day! (Though, to be honest, I expect that those of use ‘in the know’ will be using the end of Mabus’ rants as a ‘where were you when’ tide mark for years to come…)

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  76. bayareaguy says:

    This isn’t a case of “a petition working if you do it right.” Most online petitions do not send emails to their targets. So, IRONICALLY, a spammer has been brought down by a large group of spammers.

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  84. thanks for this article. Very informative. I know most about what is written here but the clarity and detail is astonishing. Great work.

  85. Pingback: You can’t keep the crazy down | Chthonic Wildlife Ramblings

  86. Pingback: Dennis Markuze/Dave Mabus Psychological Evaluation « Fledgeling Skeptic

  87. monado says:

    Please let us know how the psychiatric evaluation goes.

  88. Pingback: Dennis Markuze wrap-up « Science Notes

  89. Pingback: Man who long leveled death threats at atheists diagnosed with bipolar disorder « The Atheist Den

  90. his psych test should be done by now. Would love to know what’s happened! Keep us updated if you can.

    • Tim Farley says:

      Interesting you mentioned that today, I just this morning posted an update over at the JREF SWIFT blog. Check it out.

      Short version: he’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, exacerbated by a substance abuse issue. His case has been continued again while he goes through a substance abuse rehab program.

      The next hearing is December 2.

  91. Pingback: Meryl Dorey is not offended by antivax attacks on her friend. | reasonablehank

  92. monado says:

    Any news about Dennis Markuze? Was that a hearing on Dec. 2 or just “in rehab” until Dec. 2?

    • Tim Farley says:

      I contacted one of the reporters up in Montreal the other day to ask about that. He seemed to have lost interest in the story, or perhaps there was nothing to report.

      I will contact the other reporters that covered the story and see what I can find out.

  93. Tim Farley says:

    The update I got from one Montreal Gazette reporter is that Mabus has been given “conditional release” and is due back in court on January 25. I’m a bit annoyed that neither the police nor the crown prosecutor thought it worthwhile to notify the victims of this.

    I’m going to try to follow up on this with the prosecutor on Monday to verify.

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  96. I heard that he piped up once since his release in a mostly non-threatening way on a secondary blog somewhere and then went silent again. I’m guessing someone reminded him of how quickly he could go back to where he was before or reminded him that things really ARE better when you keep taking that little pill.

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  106. So I got what looks like a DM comment today. He may be testing the waters to see if he can get away with making a comeback. Any thoughts about whom to inform, and how?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/08/is-dennis-markuze-back.html

    • Tim Farley says:

      Yes, he’s back and commenting on many blogs, often telling folks to go search for their names on YouTube, where he has been spamming search results for weeks. We are in touch with the police in Montreal, we are waiting for some feedback from a reporter next week. If you want you can send the email address (if you have it), IP, time and timezone of his post to webmaster at whatstheharm dot net and I will add it to our collection of sightings. Thanks!

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