‘Antifa hunter’ gets 3 years for online racist threats

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This Sept. 18, 2019, file photo provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office shows Daniel McMahon, of Brandon, Fla. McMahon, who called himself “the Antifa hunter” as he waged an online campaign to terrorize and harass those who opposed his white supremacist ideology, was sentenced to more than three years in prison Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

A Florida man who called himself “the Antifa hunter” as he waged an online campaign to terrorize and harass those who opposed his white supremacist ideology was sentenced to more than three years in prison Monday.

Daniel McMahon, 32, of Brandon, Florida, pleaded guilty in April to using social media to threaten a Black activist to deter the man from running for office in Charlottesville, Virginia. McMahon also admitted that he threatened to sexually assault the young autistic daughter of a woman who protested against white nationalists.

A federal judge in Virginia sentenced McMahon to three years and five months in prison. McMahon declined an opportunity to make a public statement beforehand.

When FBI agents searched the home that McMahon shared with his parents, they seized his computer and several loaded guns from his bedroom. On his computer, investigators found folders filled with evidence of his harassment campaigns and tokens of his obsession with racially motivated killings, prosecutors said.

Most of McMahon’s cyberstalking victims knew him as “Jack Corbin.” Under that pseudonym, he posted social media messages intended to deter a Black activist, Don Gathers, from running for a seat on Charlottesville’s city council. He called himself “the Antifa hunter,” a reference to anti-fascist, leftist militant activists who confront or resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.

McMahon accused Gathers of “attacking” a white supremacist group member who later pleaded guilty to attacking counterprotesters at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. McMahon called for using a “diversity of tactics” against Gathers, which authorities interpreted as a euphemism for violence.

The FBI notified Gathers of McMahon’s threats. Instead of kicking off his campaign at a January 2019 event, Gathers announced he wouldn’t run for office. “Hail Victory!” McMahon wrote in response.

After McMahon’s arrest, a woman from North Carolina called federal prosecutors to report that he had threatened her and her daughter, a severely autistic minor, over Facebook and tried to extort personal information from her about another counterprotester.

McMahon threatened to sexually assault the woman’s daughter “all in the service of his self-assigned ‘mission’ to hunt down and silence anyone who spoke out against white supremacy,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

“The defendant’s conduct is reprehensible, and it served a despicable purpose. And in the process, his victims suffered real harm,” they added.

Prosecutors say the contents of McMahon’s computer revealed his obsession with racially motivated violence and hatred of Black people, including images of white supremacist James Fields plowing his car into a crowd of Charlottesville counterprotesters, killing a woman.

A folder with a racist slur for a title contained photos of dead Black men, including a lynching victim. McMahon also saved graphic images of Trayvon Martin after the Black teenager was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch member in Florida in 2012, according to prosecutors.

Other folders on McMahon’s computer contained personal information about his targets, including photos of their children. One target was a woman whose child had died, a tragedy that McMahon tried to exploit to extort information from her about antifascists, prosecutors said.

The FBI found 278 files with the word “owned” in the title, signaling that he had harassed that victim to his satisfaction. All told, prosecutors said, McMahon compiled 35 gigabytes of data that he could “weaponize” against his targets.

McMahon pleaded guilty to cyberstalking and bias-motivated interference with a candidate for elective office. U.S. District Judge Norman Moon wasn’t bound by sentencing guidelines that called for a prison term ranging from two years and nine months to three years and five months. Prosecutors recommended the maximum.

Defense attorney Jessica Phillips asked the judge to sentence McMahon to a year and a half in prison and give him credit for time served since his Sept. 18, 2019, arrest.

Phillips said her client made “bad choices” but is remorseful and took full responsibility for his crimes. She attributed McMahon’s behavior to an untreated mental health disorder, alcohol abuse and a “lack of social stability.”

“While he did not realize the impact of his words at the time, he certainly does now,” Phillips wrote in a court filing.

McMahon considered himself an internet celebrity praised by other white nationalists for his obsessive efforts to dig up personal information about political enemies, his attorney said. Phillips argued that incarcerating McMahon would make him an easy target for white supremacists in prison and lead to a “reinforcement of his beliefs, not a deprogramming.”

McMahon was unemployed when authorities arrested him. His mother, Roberta Ann Bartish, told investigators that her son exhibited some of the same characteristics she had seen used to describe mass shooters, according to a sheriff’s office detective.

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