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Is Tweeting Angrily About Ivanka Trump a Crime?

Last night, Justin Massler, a 27-year-old from Reno, Nevada, was extradited to New York City, where today he is being arraigned on misdemeanor charges for “sending” a series of tweets to Ivanka Trump, in which he called her, among other things, “a diseased elitist” who worships “diamonds and status.” Massler’s mother says he is mentally ill, and his behavior is certainly weird: In addition to the Twitter feed, on which he proudly identifies himself as “a celebrity stalker who’s obsessed with Ivanka Trump,” he created a kind of anti-fan site for the heiress, which features poetry and cartoons about Ivanka. (He also apparently changed his name to “Cloud Starchaser.”) But is being weird and railing against what one perceives to be the fake breasts and persona of a public figure on Twitter an actual crime? Out of curiosity, and, we admit, concern for ourselves — we checked in with First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus, who agreed that Massler’s civil rights may be being violated. “I certainly don’t know the guy,” he said, but “I think he’s being prosecuted because he’s basically a mental case.”

If he had a history of sending tweets to, say, Jessica Pressler and then following up and hurting her, that would be one thing,” Garbus said. “Then it becomes less speech and more a traditional harassment case.” But Massler has no prior history of violence. “He has never harmed anyone and hasn’t done anything other than write articles on the Internet,” his mother, Randee Massler, told the Reno Gazette-Journal ten days ago, when Massler was arrested. Nor did Massler, who lived across the country, give any indication he intended to doing anything more. Even at his most volatile, he seemed more focused on doing damage to Trump’s brand than to the woman herself. Here are two of his tweets, rescued from Google cache.

@IvankaTrump I will ruin every brand you build, leaving you with only failure and misery.

It’s possible that the Trumps, like other celebrities, complained to authorities simply to make Massler stop defaming them. But his Twitter account had only twelve followers — it’s not like he was doing widespread damage. Even the cops who arrested him seem skeptical of the affair. “He has been doing postings all over the Internet. (He has done) nothing physical or face-to-face,” police lieutenant Mike Whan admitted to the AP. Garbus, for his part, wonders if Massler should be the one filing charges. “He could sue for wrongful prosecution,” he says. “That’s always an option.”

UPDATE: Ok, we were wrong. This dude is pretty scary.

Justin Massler/Twitter [Google Cache]
Massler’s Ivanka Trump Fan Blog [Official site]
NY hauls in Ivanka tweeter [NYP]

Is Tweeting Angrily About Ivanka Trump a Crime?