KALISPELL – On Saturday night, Jonathan Hutson tweeted a link to a New York Times story about the deadly attacks that day at a free-speech event and synagogue in Denmark, using “terrorism” as the hashtag.
He quickly got a response filled with anti-Semitic images.
And then he got more, all from the same Twitter account.
A lot more.
“At first, I dismissed it as your garden-variety Twitter troll,” Hutson says. “He was obviously trying to get my attention. I told him I supposed he was a ‘Holocaust-denying bigot,’ and he stepped it up, with images of a noose hanging from a gallows and a message that said, ‘Time to hunt the Nazi hunters.’ I told him, so now you’re a Holocaust-denying bigot who advocates violence?”
What David Joseph Lenio, the 28-year-old who allegedly sent Hutson the messages, didn’t know was this:
“Of all the people he could have tangled with on Twitter,” Hutson says, “he picked the spokesman for the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence.”
Less than 48 hours after Brady spokesman Hutson tweeted the link to the Times story -- hours in which Hutson uncovered social media posts where the same man said he wanted to put “two in the head” of a rabbi, “shoot up a school” and murder 30 or more grade-school students -- Lenio was behind bars in Flathead County.
The restaurant cook, who apparently only recently moved to Kalispell from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was taken into custody by a dozen local law enforcement officers and three FBI agents late Monday afternoon at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
After allegedly firing off 91 tweets that morning as @PyschicDogTalk3 --Twitter having shut down @PyschicDogTalk2 after being contacted by Hutson -- Lenio spent the day snowboarding.
He faces felony charges of malicious intimidation.
Reporter Bill Morlin first told of Hutson’s role in Lenio’s rapid arrest in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog on Tuesday.
Hutson, who has 53,000 Twitter followers, told the Missoulian on Wednesday he “got a vibe from this guy” as the tweets continued Saturday night and into the wee hours of Sunday morning, and decided to do some digging.
“I waded through mounds of anti-Semitic content before I came to the first post about shooting up a school,” Hutson says. “I was startled and amazed he could be so graphic and vehement about it. Eventually, I found dozens of threats to execute grade-school kids.”
They included ones like this one from the same Twitter account, posted at 2:57 a.m. on Feb. 12: “I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a #school. Sounds better than being a wage slave.”
Less than an hour later, there was this one: “What do you think costs more in most U.S. cities? A gun with enough ammo to kill 100 school kids or the security deposit on an apartment?”
Hutson says after he got @PsychicDog2 shut down, @PsychicDog3 sprang up and tweeted him asking to know where Hutson’s children went to school.
“That turned my blood cold,” Hutson told Morlin, “and kept me going all night to shut this guy down.”
Hutson says he worked quickly to put together evidence that would demonstrate to law enforcement that the poster of the messages should be considered a serious threat.
“It’s hard to explain unless you can lay it all out, with screen shots of the tweets,” he says. “I spent hours putting it together, reading tweets and profiling him.”
Hutson also linked the suspect to 70 YouTube videos made by someone calling themselves “David Dave” and performing slam poetry on subjects ranging from snowboarding to white supremacy.
In one video, the person brandishes a .32-caliber Caltech semiautomatic handgun and says he uses it as his conceal-carry weapon. A .32-caliber Caltech semiautomatic is one of three firearms authorities found when they executed a search warrant on Lenio’s Kalispell apartment, Hutson says.
He came to believe the man was athletic (“He enjoyed snowboarding”), smoked marijuana, worked in low-paying restaurant jobs, possibly as a cook, and owned multiple firearms.
He also believed the man had ties to Michigan and possibly Oregon. A map of Michigan can be seen in some of the YouTube videos, and the man in the videos wears Michigan State University and Detroit Tigers T-shirts.
His Twitter profile said the person attached to the account lived in Cascadia, which Hutson narrowed down to an RV park in Maine or a small town in Oregon.
Early Sunday morning, Hutson contacted FBI offices in Portland, Oregon, with his concerns, and later in the morning called the sheriff’s office in Linn County, where Cascadia is located.
“They did a bang-up job,” Hutson says. “They put an IT guy on it right away,” and by Sunday night the Kalispell Police Department was being contacted. Oregon authorities believed Lenio was behind the social media messages threatening children and Jews, and that he was in Kalispell.
“From Oregon to Michigan to Montana, the federal, state and local law enforcement all took it very seriously,” Hutson says. “They all toiled through the night, shared information with their colleagues, and brought in the resources necessary to make an arrest. It was a huge relief to learn he had been apprehended.”
Hutson says the events over the three-day Presidents Day holiday should not be viewed in pro-gun or anti-gun lights.
“There are thousands of dangerous people carrying firearms who shouldn’t be,” he says, “and I think we can all agree when dangerous people threaten to execute 30 school kids and rabbis, they shouldn’t be walking down the street carrying a gun.”
But he did offer up this:
“Sometimes the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun,” Hutson said, “is a good guy with a Twitter account.”