Mabus Redux: Operation Archangel Gets Dennis Markuze Arrested

On Friday, November 16, 2012 Dennis Markuze was once again arrested by the SPVM (Montreal Police) for violating the terms of his May 22 suspended sentence. It took many people many months to track him down and convince the police to arrest him. This is the story behind that.

For quite some time the most read item on this blog has been the lengthy history of a character named David Mabus (in real life a troubled man named Dennis Markuze of Montreal, Canada). It tells the story of how skeptics, atheists and science writers organized on Twitter to pressure the Montreal police department to take legal action against him, after he made repeated violent threats over many years. It took many cooperating people, several police reports, a Change.org petition, numerous phone calls and faxes and much other work to make that happen.

This post is a continuation of that story.

In recent months, skeptics and atheists started to notice a series of eerily familiar posts posted under various names including “Operation Archangel”. They once again mentioned Nostradamus, James Randi and atheism. They began on YouTube, spread to forums and blogs, and finally arrived on email and Twitter by the fall.

Those of us who followed the case closely knew that Mr. Markuze had pled guilty to eight counts of making threats on May 22. We suspected immediately that it was him again. Others were not so sure. There’s much nonsense on the Internet, and some insisted this must be a copycat or troll, perhaps trying to rile atheists with the spectre of Mr. Markuze.

This post is the story of how those posts once again led to Markuze’s arrest by the Montreal Police. As in 2011 it took quite a bit of work to make this happen. Tedious, painstaking, often thankless work.  But this is the type of work skeptic activists need to be ready to do in order to get results.

You will also learn how the Canadian court system, at least in Montreal, appears to be less than optimal when it comes to finding a positive outcome for cases like Markuze’s.

Table of Contents

Like the earlier post on how we tracked down Mabus, this one is pretty long, covering more than a year of this case. Apologies in advance, but I wanted to get across how much work it took to collect the requisite information and convince the authorities to do something. I hope others tracking down serial spammers or trolls or engaging in other activism involving the police or courts might learn something here.

For easy access, here are links to each section

Markuze Post Arrest – August/September 2011

When Markuze was investigated and arrested in August 2011, there was a flurry of interest in the case in the Canadian press, both in English and in French. Even the New York Times wrote about Markuze, quoting extensively from my blog account, and one writer analyzed the legal ramifications of the case.  Many more articles appeared which are no longer available online.

His initial appearance in court was on August 19, 2011 at which time it was ordered that he undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Philippe Pinel Institute. But until that evaluation could be done, further action was postponed to September 19, 2011. As often happens in cases like these, the press lost interest and moved on to other things.

In the time leading up to his arrest, I had worked closely with the police to gather evidence of his threats including screen shots, network and email addresses used and so on. I also connected other targets of threats with the police detective to get their name on the list of victims.  I probably spoke on the phone with the detective six to ten separate times during that week.

But after that, those of us who came forward to file complaints heard little or nothing further about the case. And because the press had lost interest, we had no idea what was going on – whether Markuze was going to be released, whether a “do not contact” court order would be put in place, and so on. I would regularly get queries on Twitter and via Email about the status of the case, but I had little or no information to relay.

We only discovered what happened at the September hearing because one Montreal crime beat reporter tweeted about it twice.  The only narrative account of that hearing was the one written by me at the James Randi Educational Foundation’s blog.  What we found out was that Markuze had been diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder, exacerbated by a substance abuse. He was referred for substance abuse treatment and another hearing was scheduled.

Then nothing was heard in the case for months. Until…

The First Posts Appear – December 2011

In December 2011 there were some signs of activity. Karl Mamer reported that he had seen indications that one of Markuze’s many Gmail accounts was logged into in mid December.  (You can see when your Google contacts log in through the Google Chat functionality).  And Nicholas Gunther Schaefer and some others noticed that this May 2010 thread on an obscure philosophy forum showed some new activity from the same account which was posting Markuze’s rants earlier.

The posts were under the handle atheistwar3 and an avatar picture of Magneto from the X-Men.  At first glance, that might not seem like Markuze.

But anyone who has seen more than one of Markuze’s email posts in the last few years will immediately recognize the style: a long series of links to blog posts and YouTube videos, interspersed with brash statements about atheism, James Randi, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins and so on.  It even includes this sentence which describes Markuze’s activities to a tee: “Just wanted to let you know I have posted this on every forum on the internet.”

Because he was repeatedly banned from blogs and forums all around the Internet, Markuze would have to choose new names upon his return. So he might use the familiar “David Mabus” the first time he logged on to a given website, but on his second and subsequent visits  he’d need to pick a different name.

During his Twitter campaign in 2011 (which led to his arrest), he went through hundreds of account names with such variations as @orobotsx, @drmabusa1999, @mabusemperor, @warofthemabus, @kingmabus300103, @mabusjudges, @xmabuswar, @judgeday77, @xjusticez2, @zjusticex24553 and so on and so forth.

And as you can see in the threatening Tweets at right (from June 21, 2011, two months before his arrest) he sometimes used the same artwork as his avatar then.

That Dissident Philosophy thread went idle for some months in mid 2011 (while Markuze was largely busy with Twitter), but the posts resume on December 17, 2011. This is during the period when Markuze was supposed to be in treatment.

Because of the lack of communication from the police and prosecutor as well as the lack of media coverage, we had no idea whether this posting (if it was in fact Markuze) violated any sort of restriction placed upon him.  We didn’t know if he was posting from inside the treatment facility, or perhaps he had given his password to someone else to post on his behalf.

I did email the police on December 17, 2011 informing them of this post. I was told the original detective was on leave, and that someone might get back to me.  But nothing came of it.  I also attempted to interest some members of the Montreal press in this development, but it was too little for them to do anything with, especially since the new posts were not threatening.

A few skeptics kept an eye on that thread for the next few months, and noticed that “atheistwar3″ continued to post. It was slow at first – once in December, once in January, three times in March. Then the posts began to accelerate in April. Often when a new one appeared, I would get emails from several skeptics around the web, alerting me to it.

YouTube – March to May 2012

On March 28, 2012 a new video was posted in the YouTube account named “xviolatex” (also called “Dave Mabus”). This is the same account where the famous Depeche Mode video had been posted that was spammed so many times during 2011.  Here is a screen shot, click it to see the actual video (if it is still available):

The screen shot is really all you need to get the gist of this video – the image never changes. It was created by photographing the screen of some word processor.  The titles on the 2011 Depeche Mode video was also created by screen-capturing a different word processor.

There are a few other things worth noting here. It mentions the very same Dissident Philosophy thread on screen and in the text description. Again we see mentions of Nostradamus, James Randi and Markuze himself in the title, as well as an interest in the destruction of the “international atheist movement.”

A second video was posted to the same YouTube channel on May 17 at which time Naomi Baker and others alerted me.  I immediately contacted the Montreal police again, letting them know that it appeared Markuze was using the Internet.

The original detective was still on leave, but her replacement did say that according to his information Markuze was told to “abstain from using the internet or having in his possession a computer or other device for accessing the internet.” He said he would put my new report into the file but that the Montreal police had many higher priority issues on their plate. Indeed, this was the same time as massive student protests in Montreal, some of which became violent.

Around this same time, at least two other new YouTube channels were created.  One is named Dave Johnson and the other Atheistz Hotelz. Each video in them is merely copied from content elsewhere on YouTube, with the titles mentioning various previous targets of Markuze’s ire.  The description below the video always contains a link to the Dissident Philosophy thread. These would be a portent of things soon to come.

Markuze Pleads Guilty on May 22, 2012

Because of the sparse communication from Montreal, we had no idea that these YouTube posts in May were coming just days before Markuze was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, May 22, 2012.  And again we heard nothing about that until an article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on Friday, June 1st titled “St. Laurent man pleads guilty to issuing threats.”  I’d link to the article, but it is no longer available online. (Yet another reason newspapers continue to get trounced by new media – they keep trashing or paywalling content like this that could be bringing people to their site).

The gist was that Markuze pled guilty to eight counts of “uttering threats,” and was given a suspended 18-month sentence as a result. He was ordered to “abstain from particpating in a social network, blog and discussion forum” as part of the sentence.

Some interesting details emerged about Markuze that we hadn’t heard before. For instance, his age (40). Also the history of his substance abuse was detailed:

According to documents filed in the case, Markuze resided at Freedom House, a rehabilitation centre, to deal with problems he had with drugs and alcohol, before he entered his guilty plea. According to the documents, he began consuming marijuana at age 15 and cocaine at age 23. At 25, he started drinking heavily, according to an assessment filed in his case in March. He attributed the drug problem to feeling alienated after his family moved to Montreal, from England, when he was 11.

If Markuze is 40, he would have been 23 in 1995 and 25 in 1997. That corresponds well with what we know about the history of David Mabus.

One potentially alarming thing from this article is the singular focus on substance abuse.  In September 2011 we had been given information that Markuze was diagnosed as bipolar, exacerbated by substance abuse. Where was the indication that he would be getting treatment for the bipolar disorder?

During the hearing Waxman and Nault made no mention of a recommendation made, in Proulx’s assessment, that Markuze be examined by a psychiatrist.

“Since the therapy team at (Freedom House) does not have the competence necessary to make a psychiatric diagnosis, it seems to us that (Markuze) absolutely needs a follow up after he leaves the centre,” Proulx wrote.

“He sometimes makes remarks that leave us perplexed.”

That last line is particularly telling – perplexed is a very appropriate word.  (Suzanne Nault was the prosecutor, Leonard Waxman was the defense attorney, Clement Proulx was Markuze’s counsellor at Freedom House).

Needless to say, many of us were disappointed in this outcome, and particularly that we had to learn about it from the newspaper.  We wanted to ensure that Markuze would get good treatment and supervision, which he clearly needs. This report doesn’t give one confidence that was going to happen.

Both William Raillant-Clark and I were contacted by Paul Cherry of the Montreal Gazette for comments.  William was quoted in the modified article as follows: “I’m extremely annoyed and insulted by this.”

Again because of the lack of communication from the prosecutor, we had to ask Cherry who the victims were in the eight counts of threats. No one had ever told us. He told me it was one count each of threatening the following people:

Other than Raillant-Clark and David Almandsmith, each of these people had been personally referred to the detective by me back in August 2011.

You may recall that Markuze was originally charged with 16 counts, I asked Cherry about this. He said it was originally two counts for each of the eight victims, one of uttering threats and the other of harassment. The harassment charges were dropped somewhere along the way.

After getting our comments, Cherry reposted the Gazette article as “Montrealer Dennis Markuze pleads guilty to issuing Internet threats” on June 4, but that version is also no longer available.  But it ends with this text, referring to the forum and YouTube posts I describe above:

Raillant-Clark and Tim Farley, a resident of Atlanta who was threatened for Markuze “for three or four years” said they believe Markuze resumed his anti-atheist postings even before he was sentenced. Waxman said on Friday that he asked Markuze about the allegation and said his client denied it.

“He said he only uses a computer for work,” Waxman said.

The Posts Accelerate – June and July

After Markuze was released, we noticed the YouTube posts continued and accelerated. All through June and July a long series of new YouTube channels appeared, with names like Michel Nostradamus, Michael de Nostradamus and Michael Nostredame. (All variations of the name of Markuze’s hero Nostradamus, of course).

The videos in these channels are copies of content found elsewhere on YouTube.  They have titles like “Flush Atheism!”, “The End of Atheism,” “Dangerous Atheist Frauds” and so on, all very familiar themes.  Some of them were tagged with twenty or more names of skeptics and atheists.

I suspected that if it was Markuze, he was attempting to obey the letter of the court order against the use of “social network, blog and discussion forum”, while still posting things where they could be seen. After all, YouTube is not a social network nor a blog nor discussion forum, so it must be fair game, right?  (Frankly, most experts consider YouTube to be a social media site).

There was another clever aspect of what he was doing. By posting many different videos in many different YouTube accounts, he was effectively spamming the YouTube search results for many atheist and skeptic keywords, especially people’s names.  For instance, when The Amazing Meeting 2012 was being held last July, searching for information about the event on YouTube would usually lead you to one of the spammed videos. That’s an indirect way of getting attention for his posts, without actually sending anything directly to anyone. He was mildly successful for a while, as some of the videos have several hundred views. (Later, when he started posting on blogs, occasionally he would post something to the effect of: “search for your name on YouTube”)

A few of the videos were threatening in nature.  “Explosive Demolition- 2012 – The END OF ATHEISM” (posted June 16) shows buildings being demolished. The implication is clear. The tags have been removed by YouTube due to the spamming, but originally this video had my name and the name of many other skeptics in the “tags” section below the description.

Another scary one is this, titled “the UNIVERSE vs the JREF – THE AMAZING MEETING LAS VEGAS TAM 10 X X X 2012”  It appears to be security camera footage of some people brawling in the street.  The caption below tells an interesting story:

On the evening of the 4th of March 2006 a group of ‘9/11 Truthseekers’ ambushed some JREF’rs as they walked home from a TAM event. The Truthers gave the JREF’rs a pasting they will never forget. JREF tried in vain to have this footage confiscated. Here, for the first time, is CCTV footage of a fascinating brawl between good and evil.

The problem here is this is complete fiction. There was no JREF “TAM event” on March 4, 2006 and there was certainly no brawl. But again the implication is clear – skeptics are going to be beat up at their events. As a Research Fellow for JREF, I took this one personally.  (If anyone can identify the original source of that security camera footage, I’d be very curious to know. I assume it is somewhere on YouTube but my Google Fu wasn’t with me).

Contacting the Prosecutor – June

On June 20 I decided to take another tack. I called the prosecutor of the case at her office, and left a voice mail. Since she had requested the restrictions from the judge, I figured she might be interested in whether they were being enforced. I encouraged the other people listed in the 8 counts of threats to do the same – at least two did.  We got no reply.

So I tried again to get journalists interested in writing about this story. My contact Paul Cherry was on summer vacation, so I exchanged email with some of his cohorts at the Gazette. They seemed dubious that these posts came from Markuze, but did give it a look.

On July 1st I again contacted the police, and was told to file a new complaint with my local police. Frankly, I didn’t want to go through that again simply to get an existing court order enforced.

I also contacted a Quebec agency called CAVAC, which is focused on assisting crime victims. I had a nice conversation with one of their counselors, and he said he would try to contact Markuze’s probation officer for me.

Not much happened, though, so these seemed like dead ends at the time.

Expanding Venues – July

Just after The Amazing Meeting in July, some Mabus posts began appearing on discussion forum sites. Many skeptics contacted me to point this out. Forums were a favorite posting location for Mabus in the past, as they permit very long posts. Many such sites have very tolerant posting policies, allowing any sort of thing to be posted in the spirit of free speech.

Switching to forums would turn out to be a key mistake. Unlike major sites like Gmail, Twitter and YouTube, most forums are administered by unpaid individuals. To get a source internet protocol (IP) address and other contact info from a commercial site like YouTube, you must at least present a subpoena if not a court order. But these forum administrators were aware of Mabus’ past and the fact that I had tracked him down the first time. When I made the rounds and asked for help tracking Mabus down again, they were more than willing to help.

It took many steps, but they were straightforward. The Mabus’ modus operandi is to cut-and-paste the same post into as many places as possible, as quickly as possible.  Thus once I had seen one of his posts, I had key phrases I could put in a search engine to find other posts. (The phrase in July was the same as in the video: “how the divine pen of Michel Nostradamus crushed the international atheist movement”, though it changed later).

I found many forums he had reached, including skepticfriends.org, project-reason.org, evcforum.net, australasianskeptics.info, rantsnraves.org, rationalresponders.com and secularcafe.org.  (Many of these threads have since been deleted or marked private). Most of these are familiar venues for Mabus, and the regulars on these sites immediately recognized his style.

I must admit I was not even aware of a few of these sites prior to this – I had to create accounts for myself on some of them in order to contact the system operators. I contacted as many as I could to get source information for the posts.

And just a week or so later, I started receiving reports from bloggers that the same posts were being made on their systems as blog comments.  Again, since these are run by individuals the forensic information is easier to obtain. Here is a typical screen shot, this one was sent to me by Hemant Mehta on July 26:

The blurred parts at right are the email address and internet protocol address used to make the post. When IP addresses can be traced to a location, that can be used as evidence. I’m not blurring them for Markuze’s benefit – but I don’t want to encourage any copycats or other foolishness.

As these reports came in, I assembled them into a spreadsheet.  A familiar pattern emerged of varying IP addresses all over Montreal being used along with throwaway email accounts.  It looked exactly like the Mabus evidence I had gathered before.

Verisimilitude – But Could This Be A Copycat?

So it sure looked like Mabus was back at this point. But the police and some of the Montreal press asked me how I knew this was him.  And as discussion mounted in the blogosphere about the return, some noticed differences in his posts this time.  Was it really Markuze posting?

For instance, other than the one Depeche Mode video, he had not shown such an interest in YouTube before.  And when he reappeared on Twitter (see below) and started fairly exclusively using the name “Operation Archangel”, that threw many people off who only knew him as David Mabus.

And finally, some noticed that there are a few posts in that Dissident Philosophy forum thread that appear to be other people expressing support for Markuze in his legal troubles. Could those allies be posting on Markuze’s behalf?

Along those same lines was the repeated use of “we” in his posts, as if it was a group posting.  And then there was  this exchange, which I believe originated in a thread at project-reason.org but was subsequently cut-and-pasted into some other posts:

tell me, krelnik

do you think you can threaten my right to FREE SPEECH?

what if I told you that I am not who you think I am….

Not Dennis Markuze – but a FAN!

Finally, there is quite a bit of trolling and other nonsense that has been going on in the atheist community in particular in the past year or so. (The details of that are not germane to the story here). Some thought that this might be another atheist troll merely trying to simulate Markuze’s return in order to create additional drama.

Why I Was Convinced This Was Markuze

I didn’t find any of the copycat arguments convincing.

He’s varied his strategies, venues, posting names and taglines many times before over the years. The YouTube focus is plausible as a misguided way to stay within the court order. Even the “we” part had precedents – among other things the apologies posted on August 11, 2011 just before his arrest were worded that way. The forum thread supporters appear to be classic sock puppet posts to me – I’ve never seen evidence that Markuze had any assistance.

And as for the “not Dennis Markuze but a fan” line – the police detective noticed that herself and actually laughed about that during one of our phone calls.

Of course, without corroborating evidence such as ISP logs, evidence from the suspect’s computer, or witnesses who personally saw him do it, you can never be 100% sure about posts on the Internet.  But there were several key aspects of this series of posts that convinced me this was Markuze:

  1. The Obsessive Rate.  As in the original 2011 Twitter campaign, these posts often went on for hours each day, and into the wee hours of the morning. Now that we know more about his substance abuse, we can understand how Markuze kept this up. Such a posting rate might have been automated by a technically adept troll wanting to simulate Markuze’s behavior. However it would be difficult to simulate Markuze’s occasional typos and mid-rant diversions to converse with some people.  I catalogued many of these.
  2. The Existing Accounts. In at least three places the posts were made using the very same accounts Markuze used prior to arrest, meaning whoever posted them had access to Markuze’s password:
    • “atheistwar3″ on dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net (joined prior to May 2010)
    • “xviolatex” on YouTube.com (joined November 3, 2010)
    • “davidmabus2006″ on freethought-forum.com (joined May 2008)

    In some cases the same IP address was used to access a “Mabus” named account and a newer name like “Operation Archangel” or “XJustos” close to the same time.

  3. The Montreal IP addresses. I was able to collect from the forum administrators almost a dozen different Internet Protocol source addresses that correspond to Montreal-area locations such as coffee shops. Roaming around and posting from different locations was a habit of Markuze’s for years – he had to do this to avoid having his home ISP service cut off due to complaints.  It would take a considerable amount of effort to simulate this if it was someone else – too much for your average troll. They would have to be based in Montreal.
  4. The Occasional Use of a VPN/proxy. In those same forums, several sysops posted to the effect that they had tracked the post to Montreal and sometimes even publicly posted the IP address. Shortly after that, I noticed the Mabus-like posts were coming from the addresses of known proxies, indicating that the person posting was trying to hide their location. (I was even able to determine what the brand name of the proxy software being used, which I shared with the police).  Why start with uncloaked Montreal addresses but only later switch to a proxy? On a few occasions in October, the poster failed to activate the proxy software, once again revealing a Montreal IP address.
  5. Other key forensic details. Other forensic information I’ve collected matched details of the previous Mabus campaign. For instance, the throwaway email addresses used to register on websites were at the same handful of obscure webmail providers that I’ve seen Markuze use many times before. I’ve never mentioned the names of these publicly.

On the whole, although it seemed like there was a small possibility that someone else was posting on Markuze’s behalf, the evidence definitely points to someone in Montreal, and further someone who is very obsessive, perhaps mentally ill.

Occam’s Razor tells us that it was Markuze.

Convincing the Police of the Judge’s Order

I had repeatedly asked both the police and prosecutor to take action based on the simple idea that it appeared Markuze was violating the judge’s order.  After all, what use is an order from a judge without enforcement behind it?

On July 31 I got a voice mail from the detective in the case. She said, in part:

I checked again – twice, three times. I have the probation order in front of me that was signed on May 22nd, and no – he can use a computer and unfortunately there’s nothing about about not talking to any victims.

I don’t understand why the judge ordered that, but he did and that’s the conclusion they came to.

To her credit, she seemed genuinely frustrated that the court seemingly had dropped the ball on restrictions. Back in August 2011, I had sent her many victims to have them listed in the court documents.  The idea was, whatever happened to Markuze, he would be barred from ever contacting us again. The court had somehow completely neglected to do that, so all that coordination was for nought.

But I knew from Paul Cherry’s report of the hearing, that there were some restrictions put on Markuze.  It appeared that they hadn’t been communicated to the police!  I pointed that out to Cherry and he agreed with me.  But he was away from his notes.

On August 8 Cherry got back to the office, and dug up his courtroom voice recording. He wrote for me an exact transcript of what went on at the plea hearing on May 22. Here is what it said:

Judge Louise Bourdeau agreed to the sentence and set a standard set of conditions (for example that he keep the peace). The judge then asked the lawyers if they were any additional conditions beyond what is standard in such a case.

Prosecutor Nault: “Yes, a condition from abstaining from going to any network website and abstaining from going to any blog. That way he will be able to work with a computer.”

Defense (Waxman): “Can we say any social network?”

Nault: “Social network and abstaining from participating in any blog or discussion forum.”

Bourdeau: “All right do you understand that condition?”

Markuze: “Understood. I understand.”

The judge can be heard making sure that the court clerk was writing down the condition accurately.

The judge then warned Markuze: “If you don’t respect those conditions, the general ones or the specific one, you can be brought back before the court and a judge can impose the sentence that could have been imposed today.”

I quickly passed that back to the detective, asking why her paperwork didn’t reflect that.

Meanwhile, on my suggestion Cherry’s fellow Gazette reporter Marian Scott was working on a possible story about how this part of the case was being handled.  They asked me about what I had found so far, and they contacted the police as well.  I thought this might be a good step in pressuring the police or prosecutor to take action.  (Press attention had been key to Markuze’s arrest in 2011).

But then, another snag – Marian Scott told me the newspaper’s attorney was concerned that we had no proof that this was Markuze online. If the newspaper ran with the story, they might be guilty of libel under Canadian law.  She said she would try to rewrite the story to allow for the libel concern.  But apparently the lawyer won that argument, and the story never ran.

But this led to a breakthrough, of sorts. On August 16 I got word from Marian Scott that in response to her queries the police had gone back over the case materials, and found the restrictions from the hearing.  They admitted they had an error in their data up until that point.

Emails Resume in September

In September, the venues for the spam expanded to include email again, just as Mabus had done for years.

Although I heard some rumors of some Mabus emails being received in August, the first real evidence I saw was sent to me by Travis Roy on September 14.  Quickly I received reports from many skeptic and atheist bloggers that they were receiving these emails too.  I received one myself on September 18, and several more after that.

As before, the emails contain the same material as the forum posts, apparently cut-and-pasted from the most recent post.  They were carbon copied to many different atheists and skeptics, exactly in the manner that Mabus had done for more than a decade.

Because I was receiving many, many reports of these emails, at that time I wrote a blog post on how to report a suspicious email. (There are some tricks to preserve the forensic info that you should know).

I emailed the prosecutor and the police immediately to point out the violation, and the fact that the emails were now going to people listed in the eight counts (i.e. Mabus was mailing his victims).  The police detective called me September 19, reiterating the admission I had heard in August – that they had had the wrong paperwork but had now corrected that error.  But she said he still does not have a restriction against contacting his victims.  But she assured me she would now look into the case.

Twitter Resumes

On September 25, Mabus returned to Twitter.   This made it clearer than ever that if it was Markuze, he was flagrantly in violation of the judge’s order.  Nobody could argue that Twitter was not a social network.

One of the first accounts is still there, it is called @XJustos2. Those are classic Mabus-style posts, mentioning Nostradamus and atheism. As it happened in 2011, these Twitter accounts would send the same thing over and over, to hundreds of different people on Twitter. It was exactly the same pattern as before – going down someone’s Twitter feed and replying to every post, or searching for something (like “Mabus”) and replying to every resulting Tweet.

At some point the accounts started to be called Operation Archangel and featured one of several pictures of angels holding a trumpet as an avatar. Mabus had always had religious overtones in some of his posts, so this was not surprising to me.

Again, in the same style as Mabus in 2011 the posts would rotate their tagline and include a URL to one of various forums where a longer post could be seen. It started with “Nostradamus vs. Atheism”. Later it became “rich millionaires with their heads up the arses”.  Somewhere in there it was “5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet.” And around the time of CSICON it became “you have NOTHING TO DO WITH CRITICAL THINKING join the socialist faith”.  (I never could figure out that socialism bit).

Another account that is still live is @warchimps3.  This is a good example of how there would be a long series of identical posts broken up by conversational replies to other people. Such as this one (click graphic for the actual Tweet, if it is still available):

Some of them were fairly disturbing:

(Yes, that was his email address – the same one used for many the other posts).  Some were loud and rude:

But the vast majority were identical spams using a tagline.  Hundreds at a time.  His final account was created on November 1st and averaged almost 550 Tweets per day until he was arrested.  That’s some 8,700 Tweets – over half of what I’ve sent on my personal account in five in a half years.

In 2011 many of Mabus’ Twitter accounts would get disabled in mere minutes due to the spamming. Although that did occur a bit this time, often his accounts would last many days and he would get up to several thousand posts. Not sure why, it was perhaps because of changes in the way “Twitter jail” will pause your account for several hours if you tweet too much.

I continued to document what he was posting, advising everyone on Twitter of new account names to block (via the #MABUS hashtag) and keeping an eye out for any actionable threats.

Behind the scenes, I had regular contact with the police, who assured me that now that the issue of Markuze’s restrictions were cleared up, they were looking into what was going on.  Unfortunately, this type of work is fairly tedious and time consuming – issuing subpoenas to ISPs and waiting for them to reply, and so on – that it does take time. I tried my best to give them the best evidence I had collected to work with, and let them do their jobs.

But the SPVM was publicly admitting that an investigation was underway at this point, such as with this Tweet:

The End – Markuze is Arrested

On Wednesday evening November 14, I participated in our normal weekly skeptical panel webcast Virtual Skeptics. We hold this live on Google Hangouts on Air in part so others can ask us questions. So of course we promote it on Twitter using the #VirtualSkeptics hashtag.

That apparently got Operation Archangel’s attention, and a YouTube user “Justo XJustice” (with an archangel avatar) showed up and started making rude comments. We had seen what we thought was Mabus leave comments  before during previous episodes.  This time, this is what he said, these comments were interspersed with comments being made by others. The show runs 8pm to 9pm Eastern US time:

8:10pm: u r FINISHED, sh*theads
8:12pm: u r finished
8:15pm: we’re getting rid of all of you… you LOST THE WAR
8:19pm: farley u need a little dose of REALITY sh8thead
8:20pm: the police won’t save you
8:25pm: the land will be bled because of you sh*theads
8:33pm: you have been warned again and again… the LAND WILL BE BLED because of you sh*theads
8:49pm: little sh*ts who think they matter… good riddance JREF
8:52pm: miranda u little blaspheming bitch… feel safe?

(The self-editing to “sh*t” is not my doing – Mabus has done that repeatedly). These were a rare example of Operation Archangel getting into the threats that sounded like the ones Markuze was arrested for in 2011.  Of course, I immediately sent them to the detective in Montreal.

On Friday morning November 16, the latest Operation Archangel account (@Oper443) went silent.

That afternoon, I got a phone call from the SPVM about my report from Wednesday. The detective felt the threats would convince a judge, and needed a statement from me. She assured me that action would be taken within 48 hours, but did not say what.

There was blissful silence all weekend, and then on Monday this announcement from the police:

Around the same time I got a call from Paul Cherry, who told me that Markuze had been arrested on Friday November 16, 2012, arraigned on Saturday and released on Monday pending a hearing. You can read the rest of the details in his account in the Gazette.

There are other news accounts including Ars Technica, CTV News MontrealCanadian Civil Liberties Association and of course Doubtful News.

On Tuesday morning I got a call from the detective. She thanked me for my help but apologized a bit for the court’s decision to release him.  She said, “I’m a little bit discouraged” by the court’s decision.  I hope this is not a sign we are headed down the same path again.

On a positive note, she did say she had confiscated all his computers, and the Montreal police will be going over them for evidence of what he was up to and other victims.

In an unexpectedly creepy development, she also told me she found a paper letter Markuze had written to me at his house.  She couldn’t share the entire contents with me, but said it was written as if Markuze and I had corresponded more than once.  I’ve never contacted him, other than brief encounters online.  I’ve certainly never spoken with him. I have no idea why he was composing letters to me.

Conclusion and Thanks

As we learned in 2011, it can be difficult to get government agencies to act, even when their mandate seems clear. It is sad that we had to involve the police and the courts, when this appears to be a mentally ill man who needs professional help.  But what other avenues are open to anyone outside his family?

The time and effort it took to achieve a resolution should be a lesson.  As skeptical activists, we must be prepared to stick with it and do what is necessary to insure the right thing is done.  It is often incredibly tedious, repetitive work.  But that’s how you get results.

I’d like to thank the many people who provided important assistance at various phases of this story.  Some simply passed along a tidbit of info such as an IP address, or relayed my request to someone else. Some went out of their way to make sure something important got done. But each played a part in getting some action to occur.

Jonathan Abrams, David Almandsmith, Naomi Baker, Derek Bartholomaus, Ophelia Benson, Tim Binga, Bob Blaskiewicz, Glenn Branch, Nelson Brooke, Paul Cherry, Joe Cogan, Derek Colanduno, Greta Christina, Mike Cornwell, Sadie Crabtree, J.D. “Doctor X”, Barbara Drescher, Livius Drusus, “MNMoose” Eckland, John Ellis, Mark Farrington, BlahBlah Ginger, Stephane Giroux, David Gluck, Craig Hansen, Heather Henderson, Matthijs Hilhorst, Sharon Hill, Zinnia Jones, Greg Laden, Mikael Lännqvist, Karl Mamer, James McGrath, Hemant Mehta, Ashley Miller, Rhys Morgan, Nhoj Morley, Orphia Nay, Jenny Paradis-Hagar, L. Petrich, Martin Pribble, William Raillant-Clark, The Radio Freethinker crew, James Randi, Brad Reddekopp, Travis Roy, Martin Rundkvist, Nicholas Gunther Schaefer, Tara C. Smith, Helen Sotiriadis, Steve Thoms, Kyle VanderBeek, Martin Wagner, Seanna Watson and Stephanie Zvan and of course the detectives and investigators of the SPVM who patiently read my emails and listened to my phone calls, even when they thought they had no avenues open to them.

Astute observers of the Mabus saga may notice the absence of a particular name here. While this person has blogged about Markuze many times over the years (even demanding action from the authorities in some posts) I found him to be astonishingly uncooperative during this investigation. With so many others volunteering to help, he stood out in his lack of assistance. Lesson learned – some bloggers are all talk and no action.

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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.

27 Responses to Mabus Redux: Operation Archangel Gets Dennis Markuze Arrested

  1. Pingback: Case Study: How a notorious spammer was brought down via Twitter « Skeptical Software Tools

  2. idoubtit says:

    Thank you is not enough, Tim. THIS was an amazing job. Just incredible.

  3. High-five! Well done, Tim. I do hope that Dennis gets help. If he does, you will have made it possible.

  4. Pingback: Once Again, Dennis Markuze/David Mabus Has Been Arrested

  5. snoma says:

    Nice post, Tim. i’m amazed at the time and effort you’ve bothered putting into this case. I was not a prime target of Mabus. Not by a long shot, I would get the occasional tweet but that was it.

    But thanks for your effort on this case! We all appreciate it!

  6. Geek Goddess says:

    Great work. I’m in awe of your dedication.

  7. sgerbic says:

    Awesome work Tim. Take some time off and enjoy the holidays with Jessica. My best to you both.

    As usual I’m stunned by the amount of detail you put into this, my thoughts throughout were that David gets some help. The obsessing and anger must be really stressful and he is unable to have anything even close to a normal life. Sad, he is only 40 and there is so much more to life.

    The only other very sad part of this story was the lack of help from PZ. He even showed up at a atheist convention PZ was speaking at, which must have been really scary. Actually there are several names missing from that list that are quite telling. Interesting.

  8. Pingback: Mabus re-arrested and re-released | Butterflies and Wheels

  9. monado says:

    Thank you! I got a similar comment on my blog from him since his suspended sentence and I was going to send it, but accidentally deleted it with the other spam. That old phrase, “The police won’t help you,” also dates back to his previous era of spamming and threats.

    Maybe the person who doesn’t want to help this time is just burned out, sick of the publicity, or going through a bad patch. Sometimes troubles attack in force.

    Thanks for doing all this work! The police don’t catch anyone unless they trip over him.

  10. Pingback: Dennis Markuze arrested… again. | The Atheist Experience

  11. Pingback: Markuze: the full story of the second arrest | The Atheist Experience

  12. Thank you for this excellent post, Tim. And, more importantly, thank you so much for putting so much time and effort into this case. We’re all grateful for it & appreciate it (to say the least). ♡

  13. Pingback: Deep-Thought's Nerd and Ant Soup

  14. Thanks again for all your hard work documenting this for all of us. It’s important and the mundanity of regular threats shouldn’t let us become complacent. Thank you Tim.

  15. Pingback: The Full Story of Mabus/Markuze’s Rearrest | Dispatches from the Culture Wars

  16. Thanks for all your hard work, Tim!

  17. Pingback: Sunday links and open thread: debunking myths on Reddit, Mabus update, and more

  18. Echoing the others, thanks again Tim. I had to explain Markuze to a LOT of very confused people I know, thanks to his habit of @-messaging everyone on a target’s follower list. I hope the tweets to SVPM were of some use as well.

  19. I am one of the many skeptics who has pestered you with questions about the case over the past year, and you have always answered with the best information you have (even if it was just “we don’t know”). I want to thank you sincerely for your work in this matter, for putting up with all of us patiently, and for being so thorough in your sharing of information. We’re lucky to have you!

  20. Pingback: Content Roundup for November and December 2012 « Skeptical Software Tools

  21. pithom says:

    Markuze has continued making comments on various blogs on Patheos and the Skeptic Ink network. An example:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/05/05/sunday-favorites-95/#comment-885549759

    • Tim Farley says:

      Yes, he’s out pending trial on his second arrest, and as I write this the next court action is a hearing on June 10. I’ve been in touch with the police this week and things are proceeding, albeit slowly.

    • sgerbic says:

      I got one of these yesterday to my blog. It is toned down quite a lot these days. I hope it happens slowly so that when everything is finished, this man can get some real help.

  22. Pingback: The Block Bot is unsuitable for general use in its present form | Skeptical Software Tools

  23. Pingback: The Science of This vs. That » Skepticality

  24. calladus says:

    Dennis Markuze stopped by my blog on the 18th, and again today. He dropped off a link to his BS about Nostradamus and James Randi. Today he came back to complain that I’d deleted his comment. Now, none of his comments will go through.

    He’s posting as Dave Mabus and as Kookbreakers.

    Isn’t this a violation of his parole? Won’t the Montreal Police Service have something to say to him? He sounds like he is off his meds, and on another tour around the Internet.

    I hope he gets the help he needs.

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