There's a reason society has made threatening to bodily harm someone a punishable crime: Even if a blow is never landed, sometimes living with the fear that it could come at any moment is worse.
Perceived threats are what motivated Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) to seek law enforcement help over a dozen times since February 2013, as seen in a file obtained by the Arkansas Times from the Arkansas State Police under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (see a full summary of the file below). None of the information forwarded by Rapert has resulted in criminal charges, according to the State Police.
Several of the messages reported by Rapert are vulgar and disturbing, including an expletive-filled email from a person who says he wishes that Rapert's wife would be assaulted and that Rapert would "die in a fire"; a message that includes a snippet from an NBC News story about Serbian war atrocities with the postscript, "What I wish for you & your family"; and another note to Rapert's campaign page describing how the writer's uncle killed an annoying evangelical Christian in Vietnam by cutting off his head with a bayonet.
However, several of the incidents Rapert reported to law enforcement seem to be writers using ill-advised turns of phrase to relay hopes that his agenda would fail, including an October 2014 phone message in which a caller said: "I hope the power of the Constitution kicks your ass" and a June 2015 Facebook private message exchange in which a Jonesboro man told Rapert to be careful "or you may find yourself on the wrong end of the gun you are holding to the heads of the American people," before the argument escalated into the man inviting Rapert to engage in fisticuffs. Other incidents:
Feb. 2, 2013: Rapert turned over screenshots of the Facebook page of an Iowa woman, who had posted a meme featuring Rapert and a quote from his 2011 Tea Party rally speech in which Rapert said he wouldn't let minorities run roughshod over what his constituents believe. In sharing the meme on Facebook, the Iowa woman wrote: "What? I'm no pro-gun moron, but somebody needs to shoot this bastard ASAP." She was eventually contacted by Iowa State Police and said she had never been to Arkansas and didn't want to actually harm Rapert or anyone else.
Feb. 11, 2013: Rapert, acting on a warning relayed from the wife of Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville), reported posters on the Arkansas Times blog for discussing where Rapert lived.
Sept. 23, 2014: Rapert reported an October 2013 incident in which a UCA student said, "Can't we just assassinate him?" during an online chat on how to unseat Rapert. A few lines later, the student apologized and said that the statement was not meant to be taken seriously before adding, "I would never wish harm upon anyone under any circumstance." In September 2014, a fellow student who was involved in the chat turned over screenshots of the chat to police. The case was investigated and the student who made the comment said he had no intention of harming Rapert. Citing the fact that the comment had been made almost a year before, Faulkner County prosecutor Cody Hiland refused to issue a subpoena requested by the State Police for phone records in the case, and no charges were ever brought.
Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said that because the agency doesn't keep a database on threats against public officials, there is no easy way for him to determine whether the number of incidents Rapert has reported is higher or lower than the number reported by other Arkansas politicians. However, in an October 2014 email to another investigator, ASP special agent Jassen Travis, who received many of the initial reports forwarded by Rapert, wrote that "due to the high nature of complaints Senator Rapert made involving social media," he was actively monitoring Rapert's social media accounts as part of his job duties. "I felt this was the best way to manage the evolving complaints and keep up with them in real time in the event an actual death threat occurred," Travis wrote. Sadler said there is currently no employee of the Arkansas State Police who monitors Rapert's social media accounts as part of their job duties.
As seen in the file, Rapert often kept tabs on the progress of investigations. After being told that there would be no charges in the Iowa meme incident, Rapert wrote to ASP criminal investigation division commander Maj. Henry La Mar: "I want charges filed on every case on which we have evidence to move forward," Rapert wrote. "When people are not held accountable, they do worse in the future."
Arkansas Times emailed a series of questions to Rapert, including questions about whether he agreed with the outcome of the police investigations, whether he believed investigating these incidents was an appropriate and justified use of taxpayer dollars and police time, and whether he believed his prolific and often argumentative Facebook and Twitter presence made him a lightning rod for comments from angry or unstable people.
In a response emailed Tuesday, Rapert said the Arkansas State Police "has details confirming that we were indeed informed of what was deemed credible threats on 02/02/2013 and I have personally spoken with law enforcement officials confirming everything I have said." Based on the date of Feb. 2, 2013, Rapert appears to be talking about the Iowa meme case, which was closed without charges. He refused to confirm that in a follow-up email.
Rapert went on to say that the reporter's questions "are so off-base they do not warrant any comment from me. I have followed the direct instructions of law enforcement in reporting and handling any and all e-mails, written comments and phone calls that we have received that reach the level of a threat. Communications that are merely hateful or negative do not get reported."
Rapert closed by saying Arkansas Times should be ashamed for the "appalling" attacks on him, adding: "If I were you, I would hold off on your article until you see another statement on this matter. It will save you further embarrassment."
Later Tuesday, ASP spokesperson Sadler passed along the following statement: "Upon receipt of the threat information in February 2013 from Senator Jason Rapert, as in all threat investigations, the threats were treated as credible threats by all law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation. The law enforcement agencies discussed preventative security measures with Senator Rapert while these threats were being properly investigated."
The Times' Max Brantley, who has been reporting on Rapert on the Arkansas Blog, asked Sadler, "The lack of pursuit of charges would indicate that no agency found a credible threat of imminent harm to Rapert in any of the threats?"
He responded: "I believe you'll find the answer to your question within the files provided to you last week."
On Wednesday, Rapert responded to the reporter's earlier questions via email, saying that the statement from ASP spokesman Bill Sadler should set the record straight. Rapert asked that his responses be presented in full "so that no misrepresentation is made."
Questions from the Arkansas Times are below in bold, followed by Rapert's response:
1) In your opinion, at what point does a comment that is critical of you and how you do your job become a threat that deserves to be reported to the authorities for possible criminal prosecution?
I welcome any and all comments from constituents whether they agree with me on an issue or not. I was advised by law enforcement to report any communication written or verbal that appears threatening and let them be the arbiter of what is a serious threat or not. I forward information to them as warranted and definitely do not forward comments that are simply negative or hateful. I take the safety and security of my family and those around me very seriously. Recent reports of armed attacks on news reporters, college professors, public officials and others are proof positive that we all must be cognizant of the dangers unstable people pose to the general public. The Arkansas Times should prevent the inflammatory personal attacks that are made on people without cause in their publication — it is often those outlandish personal attacks that cause anger against a public official such as myself. Truth should take precedence over bombastic comments written only to stir anger and generate revenue for the Arkansas Times. I would hope the management of the Arkansas Times would set the bar higher for their publication.
2) The State Police investigative files are the record of multiple officers apparently spending dozens or hundreds of man hours investigating issues related to your perception that an email, call, comment or tweet is a threat against you. Included in the file, for example, are details on police discussions about your report that a caller had left a message allegedly saying, in part: "I hope the power of the constitution kicks your ass." Another includes a report from a contract behavioral analyst. In another case, you turned over information about people on the Arkansas Blog discussing where you might live. As none of these complaints ever rose to the level of criminal charges, do you believe that these investigations were an appropriate use of police time and/or a justified expenditure of taxpayer funds?I reported information to law enforcement authorities as directed and followed their instructions in every regard. I choose to follow the counsel of those investigating threats who are trying to ensure our safety.
3) Several of the alleged threats against you seem to be either the direct or indirect result of posts you have made on social media — Facebook and Twitter. Do you believe that you are turning yourself into a lightning rod for criticism and threats from unstable people with your heavy social media presence? Have you ever thought about scaling back your social media presence or the opinions you express on social media as a result of these alleged threats? More plainly put: I believe wholeheartedly in your right to say whatever you want to, whenever you want to. But should the taxpayers of Arkansas have to pay for an police investigation every time you get on Twitter or Facebook and rile up a nut to the point that he or she makes what you believe to be a threat against you?
Actually, most of the activity that has ended up prompting people to make horrible statements, with some leading to actually threatening language, have resulted not from what I have personally said or written, but rather on several occasions those threats have resulted directly from what Max Brantley and the Arkansas Times have written about me. What I say or do and what the Arkansas Times claims that I have said or done are two very different things. Unfortunately, I am not the only one who has been unfairly maligned in your publication. I believe that the Arkansas Times would have more respect if it actually reported facts and the news rather than allow itself to be used as a platform for personal attacks against public officials by Max Brantley and others like him.
4) At one point in the file, an investigator says to another that when they tell you that an incident doesn't rise to the level of a crime, you might "make a call down the hall ... further down the hall." That, to a lot of people, might imply the investigator was worried you'd call her boss. Have you ever said or implied there would be political or legislative consequences for a law enforcement agency — Conway Police Department, Arkansas State Police, etc. — if they didn't thoroughly investigate your claims of threats, and/or when their investigators told you that the alleged threats against you didn't rise to the level of criminal charges?
No. I have several family members who have served in law enforcement and I was named Legislator of the Year in 2014 by the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police and received the Advocate of Justice Award in 2013 by the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association — I have a great relationship with law enforcement and proudly advocate for them. I am grateful to the Arkansas State Police, Capitol Police, Conway Police Department, Faulkner County Sheriff's Office and the Perry County Sheriff's Office for the great job they do in protecting every Arkansas citizen and public officials when necessary. I reported information to them as directed and followed their instructions in every regard. I never made the statement you mention, so I have no response to that.
5) I understand that you believed at the time that everything you turned over to the police was a threat to your safety or that of your family. In hindsight and having heard from the investigators in those cases, do you agree with the finding that none of those alleged threats should have risen to the level of criminal charges? Does the fact that none of the incidents resulted in criminal charges make you more reluctant to report other emails, calls, etc. which come close to or step over the line of being a threat?
There is no doubt that some of the threatening messages were harassment and/or terroristic threatening with a clear intent to try and intimidate me and scare my family. The only concerns we had were those that threatened to harm my family. I will not repeat the details of the most threatening messages myself but I have noticed that some of the more threatening messages sent to the Arkansas Times were purposely not reported by Max Brantley and the Arkansas Times. I have no doubt that if your readers were personally able to read some of the more pointed threats that they also would find them threatening and worth reporting.
What follows is a timeline of incidents included in the Arkansas State Police threat file on Rapert.
WARNING: some of the following entries are sexually graphic or disturbing in nature
2/1/2013: Rapert turns over an email to police that reads: "FUCK YOU U RACIST PIECE OF SHIT! I HOPE YOU DIE IN A FIRE AND YOUR WIFE IS RAPED BY A THOUSAND BIG BLACK COCKS AND YOUR DAUGHTER COMES HOME WITH A MANDINGO WITH A COCK SO BIG SHE CAN TASTE IT IN THE BACK OF HER THROAT. YOU ARE THE BIGGET [sic] PIECE OF SHIT THAT IS WALKING ON THIS PLANET. DIE MOTHERFUCKER!!! DIE!!" Based on an online search for the name in the email header, Conway PD initially believes the email came from an inmate incarcerated at the federal prison at Forrest City. In an email on Feb. 27, 2013, however, Arkansas State Police Special Agent Jassen Travis wrote to another investigator that the suspect from the federal prison had been cleared.
2/2/2013 – Rapert forwards to law enforcement a screenshot of a Facebook page featuring a meme of Rapert's face and the 2011 Tea Party rally quote in which Rapert promised to "take this country back for the Lord," and said he wouldn't let minorities run roughshod over what his constituents believe. In sharing the meme, the poster — who turned out to be an Iowa woman — wrote: "What? I'm no pro-gun moron, but somebody needs to shoot this bastard ASAP." In an email from Det. Jason Cameron of Conway Police Department to Special Agent Jassen Travis of Arkansas State Police, discussing the meme, Cameron wrote: "Sen. Rapert just sent this to me. He's worried at what point he should try to move his family for protection." Later the same day, Maj. Henry La Mar with the Arkansas State Police emailed to Mark Johnson, also with ASP, saying: "This will be viral soon if it isn't already. If the Senator doesn’t feel his family will be safe, he should move them." The documents on the Iowa meme case include an email from Arkansas Fusion Center director Richard Davis, who said ASP Major Henry La Mar contacted him to say: "They are looking at providing personal protection at this point for the AR senator Rapert, over 'threats.'" Davis asked a Fusion Center employee to coordinate with Iowa's fusion center to ID the Facebook poster, directing the employee to "locate/obtain her ID, photo, last known address, etc." Davis also wrote to Criminal Investigation Division chief Maj. Henry La Mar and said: "US Secret Service has case files on [the Facebook poster]." On Feb. 27, 2013, Maj. La Mar relays to State Police director Stan Witt a series of texts between himself and Rapert from February 15, in which La Mar tells Rapert that the woman who posted the meme was contacted by Iowa State Police, who told them that she was opposed to violence and never intended to harm Rapert. Rapert's texted response, according to La Mar: "Thank you. In regards to the threatening communications via phone, email, blogs or online – what statues apply regarding criminal penalties? Is it terroristic threatening, harassment, etc. ??!" After La Mar told him that charges would depend on the content of the communication and that the ASP would pursue charges on any cases that were felonies, Rapert replied: "Major – I want charges filed on every case one which we have evidence to move forward. When people are not held accountable, they do worse in the future."
2/11/2013 – Rapert contacts Det. Jason Cameron of Conway PD, saying that Rep. Bob Ballinger's wife noticed that people on the Arkansas Times blog "were trying to locate my home address." He goes on to say that "The Arkansas Times has fabricated several offensive articles about me and incites people to say awful things on a regular basis. The references are very clear – they were trying to locate me and had gone to trouble to do so. Please share this with State Police." Rapert himself did so within 15 minutes, forwarding the message to Maj. Henry La Mar.
3/11/2013 – Lt. Kyle Drown, Asst. Troop Commander with ASP Troop J in Clarksville writes an email to several recipients, saying, in part: "We need to increase our patrol and presence around Sen. Rapert's resident. Do this the same as we did before… Again, be seen often in the area when possible. Let's plan on doing this through Friday at this point."
3/15/2013 – Rapert meets with ASP Special Agent Jassen Travis at Rapert & Patillo Financial in Conway. Rapert lets Travis listen to and record two voice mails. In his report, Travis describes the first as "distraught and anger driven in nature," but said the call did not warrant a felony investigation. Travis called the second message "slightly more derogatory." "I then assured Rapert," Travis wrote, "that I, and the Arkansas State Police, take all matters seriously and have looked into the more 'distasteful' calls and emails." Travis explained the laws about terroristic threatening and harassing communications to Rapert, and asked him to only communicate with Travis in the future because multiple recipients "causes the flow of information to be distorted."
7/14/2013 – Email from Jassen Travis to Rapert in which Travis said he had reviewed a meme sent to Rapert which features what Travis describes as a "white female, possible European decent, and who appears to be in her late twenties, smoking a cigarette" accompanied by the caption: "I will watch you burn." Travis to Rapert: "I cannot see where you or anyone else was directly tagged in an effort to imply a 'death threat.'" Rapert, in forwarding the message to Travis, had said: "The person below sends messages constantly to me. They are typically messages with subtle meanings. The one below isn't very subtle."
12/20/2013: Arkansas Fusion Center Director Richard Davis writes to Capt. Steve Coppinger, Asst. Division Commander of the State Police Criminal Investigation Division, telling Coppinger: "Bill Beaumont [ed: apparently a reference to an intelligence analyst with the Arkansas Fusion Center] just called me and briefed me on what was going on with the State Senator and social media. As I understand it, I was wondering if Hoyt's section might be able to track the author of the anti-posting comments through the IP address, etc…. that is, if ASP is attempting to ID the person. I'm assuming, from Bill's brief summary, that the person of interest is currently unidentified." The next morning, Coppinger replies to Davis, saying: "I asked bill to just search open sources as that is what the senator and his staff would have access to. Given that the posting did not contain a threat I did not want cyber or fusion using tool reserved for criminal work to look into while inflammatory, protected speech. If rapert does not want such language on his twitter acct he should take it down."
8/23/2014: Rapert reports an October 2013 incident in which a UCA student said, "Can't we just assassinate him?" during an online chat on how to unseat Rapert. As seen in included screenshots, a few lines later in the chat, the student apologized to those sharing the chat with him, and said that the statement was not meant to be taken seriously before adding, "I would never wish harm upon anyone under any circumstance." In September 2014, a fellow student turned over screenshots of the chat to police. The case was investigated and the student who made the comment told officers he had no intention of harming Rapert. Citing the fact that the comment had been made almost a year before, Faulkner County prosecutor Cody Hiland refused to issue a subpoena requested by the State Police for phone records in the case, and no charges were ever filed.
10/6/2014: Lt. Stacie Rhoads with ASP sends an email to Maj. Henry La Mar to update him on Rhoads' conversations with Rapert regarding the UCA case. "He is upset that nothing is being done because he 'just found out.'" Rhoads wrote. "I explained to him my conversation with Cody Hiland. I told him that we are currently working a harassing communications case at best. I have a feeling he will make a call down the hall… further down the hall."
10/8/2014: In an email from ASP special agent Jassen Travis to Lt. Stacie Rhoads, Travis says that he has been actively monitoring Rapert's social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter, "due to the high nature of complaints." "I felt this was the best way to manage the evolving complaints," Travis wrote, "and keep up with them in real time in the event an actual death threat occurred…. My focus was to hopefully give Senator Rapert a peace of mind knowing that someone was tracking and watching his social media feed since, according to him, this was his biggest source of harassment, and that required active monitoring as part of my job."
10/16/ 2014: Email from Lt. Stacie Rhoads to Cpt. Steve Coppinger, Asst. Division Commander, CID: "I wanted to give you an update on the Jason Rapert investigation in case you get contacted by the administration because he might since I sent him an update and he generally isn't happy with my updates." Rhoads goes on to discuss a phone message left for Rapert back in August where a caller said "I hope the power of the Constitution kicks your ass." "The call did not contain an overt threat," Rhoads tells Coppinger. "Senator Rapert felt it might be related to the terroristic threatening case that we are currently working," Rhoads went on to say, "but there is no indication the two are related and [Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney] Cody Hiland declined to issue subpoena because there was no basis for it. I found this out today and I have to agree."
9/29/2014: Rapert reports two tweets, one which says: "My favorite gun is the mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. What's urs @jasonrapert." Followed by another tweet that said: "AKAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAKA or mmmmmmmmmmmmmm? U decide, @jasonrapert."
6/11/2015 – WARNING GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS: Rapert receives an email what what investigators called a "well masked" address that says: "During the war in Yugoslavia, a squad of eight Serbs captured a famous Muslim soccer player, his wife and their two young children. The Serbs chained the player to the radiator pipe and sliced off his eyelids. Then, they repeatedly raped his wife and children. And nine. When all eight Serbs were spent, they gutted the mother and children as though they were freshly caught bluefish, piled their entrails on their faces and let the three of them bleed to death. What I wish for you & your family. The sooner the better." Rapert reports the message via a group email to Major Henry La Mar with Arkansas State Police, as well as the State Capitol police, the chief of staff for Gov. Hutchinson, the secretary of the Arkansas Senate, Senate president pro tem Jonathan Dismang, Conway police chief A.J. Gary, Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock, and Perry County Sheriff Scott Montgomery. The ensuing investigation into the email finds that the description of the war crime was cut and pasted from the text of an NBC News story. Included in the file is a report from a contract behavioral analyst who consulted on the case, with the analyst writing that while the email was likely written by someone for whom English was a second language, and was "a cyberterroristic/terroristic use of the internet" intended to evoke fear, he added: "I do not believe that the writer is a real threat." The person who sent the email was never identified.
6/14/2015: Rapert reports a man to the Arkansas State Police for what Rapert said were "harassing and threatening remarks" on Facebook, and includes several screenshots from his Facebook page and private Facebook messages he received from the man. As seen in the screenshots, the poster said: "You Christians aren't the majority any longer, and that is your own fault. Be careful, very, very careful, or you may find yourself on the wrong end of the gun you are holding to the heads of the American people." Rapert responded with Psalm 14:1: "A fool says in his heart there is no God." At that, the man replied, in part: "A loudmouth politician is about to get his ass handed to him, so keep running your mouth. I'll be happy to shut it for you… Call me a fool again, motherfucker you aren't untouchable by any means. I'd be perfectly happy to have you try and say this shit to my face, you fucking coward." RAPERT: "Save yourself some trouble and don't you ever send me a threatening message again. If you want to be prosecuted, just keep pushing and I will be sure you are." The poster then denied that what he said was a threat, saying: "This is political speech you fucking moron, and I have the right to tell you to shut the fuck up if I want to, especially when you are telling the world people like me don't have the right to exist."
7/1/2015 – WARNING GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS: Rapert (cc'ing to A.J. Gary, Andy Shock, Scott Montgomery, Cody Hiland, Darrell Dedden, Jonathan Dismang ) reports a "direct message – which is threatening." Included is a screenshot dated June 30 that reads: "Fuck off you retarded fucking moron. Die painfully, okay? Prefearbly [sic] by getting crushed to death in a garbage compactor, by getting your face cut to ribbons with a pocketknife, your head cracked open with a baseball bat, your stomach sliced open and your entrails spilled out, and your eyeballs ripped out of their sockets. Fucking bitch. I really hope that you get curb-stomped. It'd be hilarious to see you begging for help, and then someone stomps on the back of your head, leaving you to die in horrible, agonizing pain. Faggot. Shut the fuck up faggot, before you get your face bashed in and cut to ribbons, your throat slit."
7/18/2015: Rapert forwards an email to Maj. Henry La Mar, with Rapert telling La Mar: "I have no idea what prompted this. Just received this evening out of the blue." Text of the email: "As you block people with differing views on your Facebook page, just wanted to let you know that while my uncle was in Vietnam, he was continuously harassed by an Evangelical Christian. My uncle got fed up one day and sliced off his head with a bayonet. The Evangelical was NOT denied his religious rights; rather was a piece of garbage who tried to force his sh*t on others."
9/1/2015: Rapert reports a message to his campaign website from a sender calling himself "Joe Blow" which says: "And we don't need forced f***ing Jesus. The day that happens is the day everyone will use their second amendment rights and gun down every goddamn spiritual rapist." Henry La Mar wrote to Rapert saying the email will be assessed and forensically examined to determine origin before being added to the file on alleged threats against him. "However," La Mar wrote, "there is not sufficient information to obtain a subpoena for subscriber information." RAPERT: " When you say you will add this to the file, what exactly are you doing? Someone stating they will 'gun down' another seems to be over the line. Will your team try to discover who would send something like this to an elected official. Do you think the website host where the contact form was filled out might have an ISP address associated with the person who filled out the form? I look forward to hearing from you because I want to be certain I understand what you are or are not doing."
9/7/2015: Rapert reports an email sent to the his Rapert Financial account. "You deserve all the negative publicity you're about to get. This ain't going away soon you fucking loser."