A California man admitted this week to threatening to attack the offices of Merriam-Webster and kill its editor in a string of violent messages targeting the inclusion of gender identity in the dictionary’s definitions of “female” and “girl.”
Jeremy David Hanson pleaded guilty in federal court in Massachusetts to one count of interstate communication of threatening communications.
The 34-year-old from Rossmoor, California, also pleaded guilty to an identical charge in federal court in Texas targeting the president of the University of North Texas and students who support transgender rights.
Prosecutors said Hanson’s threats, which prompted Merriam-Webster to shut its offices in New York City and Springfield, Massachusetts, for nearly a week, were fueled by hate for the LGBTQ+ community. They are seeking an enhancement on his sentence because they said he selected his victims based on their identity. Hanson’s plea agreement says he may contest the enhancement at sentencing.
“Every member of our community has a right to live and exist authentically as themselves without fear,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement “Hate-motivated threats of violence that infringe upon that right are not tolerated in Massachusetts in any capacity.”
Sentencing is scheduled for January. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. An attorney representing him did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
In interviews with FBI agents last year, Hanson said he struggled with several psychological disorders, according to an affidavit in the case. He told agents who visited his home that he understood the remarks he made were illegal but was not able to control his rage, the affidavit said.
His mother told that her son had become “fixated” on transgender issues and is prone to what she described as “verbal hyperbole,” according to the document. She said she believed he would not act on his threats “because he is reclusive, she supervises him, and he has no access to weapons.”
Debate over gender-affirming language, therapy and medical care has taken an increasingly volatile turn as conservative politicians and right-wing influencers have intensified focus on how society should treat people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
Other high-profile institutions have faced what they said were violent anti-LGBTQ+ threats in recent weeks. On Thursday, FBI agents arrested a Massachusetts woman who they say called in a false bomb threat to Boston Children’s Hospital after a far-right social media campaign criticized the hospital’s transgender health program.
Several other children’s hospitals, including Children’s National Hospital in Washington, say they’ve received a crush of threatening emails and phone calls related to their care for transgender children and young adults.
Merriam-Webster has faced outrage over a number of revisions to its definitions involving gender that it has made as language conventions surrounding gender have changed and gender-nonconforming identities have become more visible.
The dictionary’s current definition of the word “girl” includes both “a female child from birth to adulthood” and “a person whose gender identity is female.” Its definition of “female” reads, in part, “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male.”
Prosecutors said that in October 2021, Hanson sent several violent messages through the dictionary’s “Contact Us” page and made threatening remarks in the comments sections of those words.
“I am going to shoot up and bomb your offices for lying and creating fake definitions in order to pander to the tranny mafia,” he wrote in one message, according to court documents. “Boys aren’t girls, and girls aren’t boys. The only good Marxist is a dead Marxist. I will assassinate your top editor. You sickening, vile tranny freaks.”
In another message, he allegedly wrote: “It is absolutely sickening that Merriam-Webster now tells blatant lies and promotes anti-science propaganda. There is no such thing as ‘gender identity.’ The imbecile who wrote this entry should be hunted down and shot.”
He sent similar messages to the University of North Texas president in March after students protested a campus appearance by a political candidate who opposes sexual reassignment surgery, prosecutors said.
Authorities said he has also sent threats to organizations across the country, including Disney, Land O’Lakes, Hasbro and DC Comics. His guilty plea does not involve any of those alleged threats.