Dennis Markuze (aka “David Mabus”) pleads guilty for the second time

Dennis MarkuzeEarlier today in Montreal, Dennis Markuze – better known to skeptics and atheists online by his online persona “David Mabus” – pled guilty to three counts including harassment, threatening a police officer, and breach of probation. The victim of harassment in this case was the author of this blog.

Paul Cherry in the Montreal Gazette was in court and has the full story:

Dennis Markuze, 43, a man who often uses the alias David Mabus when he makes threats, appeared before Quebec Court Judge Jean-Claude Boyer at the Montreal courthouse on Thursday where he entered a plea to three charges in all, including a breach of his probation.

The breach of probation charge was from his first guilty plea on May 22, 2012 and was what led us to campaign for his arrest the second time back in November 2012.  As my earlier blog post explained, the authorities were not supervising Markuze, and seemed unaware that he had resumed posting online in violation of his plea agreement.

The news article has more on Markuze’s mental state:

On Thursday, Markuze’s lawyer, Richard Bellefeuille, told Boyer that a psychiatrist who evaluated Markuze in February again attributed his actions to an abuse of cocaine and alcohol. The psychiatrist also noted that Markuze is being treated for a delusional disorder “which could explain his Internet activities.”

An expert at the Philippe Pinel Institute who examined Markuze earlier in the current case had determined that Markuze’s mental health problems could not be used as a defence if his case ever went to trial.

I had been told of the additional threats Markuze made at the time of his second arrest, but not their exact nature.  The article reveals that he told the police officer, “You bitch. The same thing will happen to you like what happened to the (World Trade Centre) twin towers in 9/11.”

As in previous stages of this long case (in which skeptic activists had to exhibit patience at every step) we will have to wait for a full resolution. Sentencing has been set for November 21 (six months from now) to give time for the Crown to verify that cocaine and alcohol abuse “are the only problems Markuze has.”

I sincerely hope that investigation will finally result in Markuze getting the treatment he clearly needs.

The Block Bot is unsuitable for general use in its present form

TwitterReaders of this blog know that I have experience dealing with trolls and spammers on social media. One of the most popular posts on this blog is my how-to guide to preemptively blocking spammers using various Twitter clients (which is sadly in need of updating). I’ve also written on how to report suspicious emails.

Most notably, I’ve successfully helped get one user who personally threatened hundreds of people (including me) arrested by the police in Montreal – not once, but twice. (That case is still ongoing, and I may still have work ahead of me – including potentially testifying for the court case).

Back in the heyday of that person’s serial Twitter spamming, some of us would literally receive hundreds of tweets in a row from this man. Usually his account would be disabled, but he’d return with another one within minutes. Even simply hitting the block button to keep your mentions column clean became tedious because of his tenacity.

At one point Daniel Pope and I considered building an automated piece of software (often known as a bot) to automatically block his accounts on behalf of other users. That way the first person to notice each new account could block him, and then the new account would be preemptively blocked for anyone else who chose to opt in to this service. Ultimately we decided it would be too much effort aimed at just one person. I was also concerned it might run afoul of Twitter’s terms of service, and the work creating it would be for naught. Soon he was arrested and the point became moot.

Early this year something very similar to that proposed bot was actually built and deployed by an atheist in the UK. This week, it got major publicity in the UK news media, trumpeting it as a potential solution to an ongoing harassment problem on Twitter. I assume this has resulted in a flood of new users for the service.

I believe there are serious flaws in how this service is designed and operated that make it a poor solution for most Twitter users. The media, focused on the larger problem of harassment, are not covering these operational issues. I will detail them below.

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Content Roundup for November and December 2012

You may have noticed a lack of activity on this blog. I’ve been taking a break over the holidays. It was sort of a “skeptic sabbatical” to recharge my batteries and come up with a game plan for 2013. Regular posts will resume here presently.

I wasn’t totally idle during the last two months.  Not only did the Mabus story leap back into the headlines, but I was still doing Virtual Skeptics and some other stuff.  So here’s a rundown of what I did post or create during my so-called sabbatical.

Below are links to the content I’ve been involved with in the last month. It includes this blog as well as the material I post on other blogs, my podcasting activities, my best posts on Twitter as well as key shout-outs or mentions elsewhere.

In an effort to practice what I preach, I also document on a monthly basis what my contributions are to several skeptic-relevant crowdsourcing projects.

Read on to see what you might have missed…

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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.

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Content Roundup for October 2012

October climaxed with CSICON in Nashville, which was a blast.  But it also saw the beginning of my Morning Toolbox posts and the continuing resurgence of David Mabus who has returned to harassing skeptics, atheists and others online via email, Twitter and elsewhere.

I did miss out on two episodes of Virtual Skeptics, due to CSICON travel and other outside events. Rest assured, I will reappear!

So if you missed any of that action, here’s a way to catch up. Below are links to the content I’ve been involved with in the last month. It includes this blog as well as the material I post on other blogs, my podcasting activities, my best posts on Twitter as well as key shout-outs or mentions elsewhere.

In an effort to practice what I preach, I’m also trying to document on a monthly basis what my contributions are to several skeptic-relevant crowdsourcing projects.

Read on to see what you might have missed…

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How To Report A Suspicious Email

© Copyright Patrick Mackie and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Royal Mail … Junk Mail (Patrick Mackie) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Skeptics sometimes must deal with threats and harassment in emails. This week, our old friend “David Mabus” has started using email again, which means I’ve been sent all manner of reports. While I appreciate these reports, most of them are merely forwarded emails. It turns out that forwarded emails are are all but useless to a forensic investigator.

When you forward an email, key details of where it originated and how it was delivered are left behind. These details are exactly what an investigator needs to do their work. So forwarding doesn’t help.

Thus it is very important when you report a suspicious or threatening email that you use the right method, that captures all the forensic information. This method is not always obvious in modern email clients.

I will show you the method for common email clients in this post, and provide some links to other resources. Read on.

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Virtual Skeptics webcast – August 15

Here’s the first edition of our new experiment, a live webcast with a panel of five skeptics – Virtual Skeptics.

The panel, from left to right:

We plan to continue with new episodes being webcast every Wednesday at 8 PM EDT (Midnight GMT).

Click through for the links from my stories.

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There is no #AntiAtheistCampaign on Twitter. It’s just a crackdown on spam.

I happened to stumble across a few Tweets yesterday that contained the hashtag #AntiAtheistCampaign. Hashtags are often used to organize on Twitter. This appeared to be some people organizing against some sort of oppression against certain Twitter accounts. Was it widespread? Was it orchestrated by the religious?  I delved in further.

What I found was a disappointing lack of skepticism, a great deal of conspiracy mongering and very little evidence.

Now, clearly there were in fact some Twitter accounts that had been disabled, the evidence of that is undeniable. But with a little bit of awareness of what these folks were doing with their accounts, along with quick scan of the Twitter blog and even the tech news sites, one can piece together what is happening.

Bottom line: there is no evidence at all that Christians are ganging up on atheists on Twitter in an organized (and successful) campaign to get their accounts disabled. There is a much simpler explanation. Read on.

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Content Roundup: August 2011

This blog is only one of the places I post content online regularly. Another is Twitter, which you see at the right. But I also post things at other blogs, on Wikipedia and elsewhere.

I’ve decided to do a monthly wrap-up post with links to the main things I’ve posted or created online in the previous month. If for some reason you haven’t gotten your fill of my nonsense lately, it’s a handy way to catch up with what I have been up to in the last 30 days or so.

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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…

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