Given what we know about John Edgar Rust, it’s fair to call him a racist. The 26-year-old convicted sex offender admitted in a Virginia court on Tuesday that he was responsible for threatening Howard University students online with violent, racist messages in 2015.
The death threats, made on 4chan and Reddit, declared that “any niggers left at Howard University after 10 tomorrow will be the first to go ... after all, it’s not murder if they’re black.”
The threats were tied to the turmoil at the University of Missouri at the time, and Rust shared frustration about how campus activists had succeeded in getting the president of the university to resign. Rust also wrote, “I’ll go out a hero knowing I made the world better.”
Rust, fortunately, never followed through on his threats, which were taken seriously. Some classes were canceled, and both Washington, D.C., and Howard campus police beefed up their presence on the HBCU’s campus.
Police apprehended Rust in 2017 and charged him with making death threats online.
Given what we know about the case now, it’s also safe to call Rust an idiot.
In determining the source of the threats, authorities were able to trace the IP address back to a Panera restaurant in Alexandria, Va.—because if there’s one thing racists love as much as 4chan, it’s bread bowls and paninis.
According to the Washington Post, police found that Rust had used two devices registered under his name, a MacBook Air and Nokia phone, which were connected to the IP address the same day as the threats. He had also used his credit card in the store.
The problem? Because of his sex offender status, Rust wasn’t supposed to be using the internet, which would seem to make him a natural choice for police to follow up with.
Which they did. And here’s what happened, according to the Post:
He initially denied making the threats, according to an FBI agent’s report, telling law enforcement he used the internet only to look for work and check his email. Later he told his probation officer he went on Reddit only to look at cat videos and had used the Panera Wi-Fi to talk to his girlfriend.
No racism to see here! Just cat videos! Say, officer, have you seen this one of a cat giving its owner dap?
Maybe his cat-video excuse would have worked if Rust didn’t have drafts of the racist death threats on his computer.
Drafts of your crime. Racism receipts. Because he had to know exactly where to place his “hard ‘-er’” for maximum effect.
These are the times I’m grateful that racists have little to no common sense (please see: Dayanna Volitich, the middle school teacher who hosted a white nationalist podcast as a hobby), because it mitigates the danger some of them pose to the world.
Still, even if individual racists get caught and punished, the net effect of the networks they build and the communities they foster can inspire and radicalize others. And then there are the systems—our nation’s education system, our courts—that continually let them off the hook.
Also on Tuesday, Rust’s public defender claimed that her client was struggling with mental health issues, but acknowledged that they did not affect his competency.
As the Post reports, Rust is scheduled to be sentenced July 20.