California man charged for threats to dictionary publisher

BOSTON (AP) — A California man’s online threats of violence against dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster Inc. over updated gender definitions have landed him in a Massachusetts federal court.

Merriam-Webster closed its main office in Springfield, Massachusetts, and another in New York City for five business days last year in response to comments from Jeremy David Hanson, prosecutors said. An email seeking comment was left Monday with a Merriam-Webster spokesperson.

Hanson, 34, of Rossmoor, California also allegedly made anti-LGBTQ threats to other organizations.

Hanson was charged last week with interstate communication of threats to commit violence, according to statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston. He is scheduled to appear in federal court on Friday in Springfield.

Prosecutors say Hanson threatened a shooting and bombing at the publisher, however the affidavit did not specify whether any weapons or explosives were found during the investigation.

If convicted, Hanson faces up to five years in prison.

In an interview with the FBI on Oct. 27, Hanson said he has obsessive-compulsive disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, anxiety and depression, and struggles with impulse control. He said he understands the threatening remarks he makes online are illegal, but is unable to control himself. His mother said in an interview with the FBI in May 2021 that he had no access to weapons.

No defense attorney is listed in court records. A home phone number for Hanson had been disconnected.

Prosecutors say Hanson sent Merriam-Webster threatening messages and comments between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8 using the website’s “contact us” function and in the comments section on its webpages that corresponded to word entries such as “girl,” “woman,” and “female,” prosecutors said.

One definition of “female” is “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male.”

“It is absolutely sickening that Merriam-Webster now tells blatant lies and promotes anti-science propaganda,” Hanson wrote in one comment, according to prosecutors. “There is no such thing as ‘gender identity.’ “

The statements were traced back to an IP address linked to Hanson, the FBI said.

“Some statements expressed hostility toward different gender identities and some threatened bodily harm to people,” according to an FBI affidavit in the case.

The investigation identified several related threats over the past few years, according to prosecutors, including to the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Land O’ Lakes, Hasbro, and the president of the University of North Texas.

“Hate-filled threats and intimidations have no place in our society,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement. “We believe Hanson sent a multitude of anonymous threatening and despicable messages related to the LGBTQ community that were intended to evoke fear and division.”