By Eva Maldonado, news correspondent
Two Iowa men who brought weapons to the Pokémon World Championship in Boston on Aug. 23 are being held without bail following their Sept. 1 dangerousness hearing. The case has spurred discussion about the role of social media in the spread and discovery of threats.
Kevin Norton, 18, and James Stumbo, 27, were both charged with unlawful possession of a firearm after authorities confronted them at the Championship at Hynes Convention Center. The pair have also been charged with carrying illegal ammunition and rifles with illegal capacities.
Boston Police say they were tipped off to threats that Norton and Stumbo posted on social media. According to prosecutors, Stumbo posted a photo in a public Facebook group of a white sedan with two assault rifles crossed over the trunk. The caption read “Kevin Norton and I are ready for worlds Boston here we come!!!”
According to the Suffolk County District Attorney (DA)’s press release, a Facebook conversation between Stumbo, Norton and several other individuals used phrases such as “Columbine pt 2”, “another Boston massacre” and “Boston bombing.” Stumbo allegedly brought up his AR-15 rifle, stating “My AR-15 says you lose.”
Following the discovery of these posts, organizers increased security at the event. Soon after, Stumbo and Norton were stopped while attempting to enter the venue. After a search warrant was obtained, they were arrested at the Red Roof Inn in Saugus on Saturday, Aug. 31.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County DA’s office, said Tuesday that they are being held under the authority of Massachusetts’s dangerousness statute.
“It allows a judge to hold assailants without bail if they pose a certain threat upon release,” Wark said.
The law was updated in 2010 to allow prosecutors to seek pre-trial detention for those charged with a felony for possession of a firearm, according to Wark.
News of the detentions was at first kept quiet by tournament organizers. Security at Hynes was increased without explanation, an action which enthusiasts say increased confusion and speculation.
“My first thought was just, ‘Why would someone do something like that?’” Yihang Li, a freshman computer science major and Pokémon fan, said. “I was surprised that they would target an event that small, as well as one that attracts so many young kids. It’s messed up.”
Li added that she thought members of the Pokémon enthusiast community were, as a whole, shocked and saddened by the events.
In addition to the threats he allegedly posted on Facebook, Norton was banned from accessing a chat room for bullying another individual. He then allegedly wrote, “Oh, ok, that’s fine then I will just shoot him on Friday thanks.”
Those messages may be indicative of how the men wanted to be perceived by the community, said Brooke Foucault Welles, Northeastern University assistant professor of communication studies.
“When someone decides to post anything on social media, they are contributing to their own identity work,” Welles said. “These men obviously felt the need to create an identity to be perceived as a threat, and it doesn’t surprise me that this is a tool they chose.”
Welles also said that the prevalence of both empty and substantiated threats on social media and in specific digital communities speaks to the perceived benefits of the “online shield.”
Despite the enabling power of social media, though, Welles said it is important to remember that it is individuals who are responsible for their own decisions, not the Internet.
“I tend not to side on ‘good’ or ‘bad’ when it comes to debates on social media,” Welles said. “It is a tool that people use for their own purposes, and like any tool, it becomes what humans make of it.”
The two men were ordered held without bail for at least 120 days in connection to firearms charges. No trial date has been set. The men have not been charged for the online threats, though the investigation is ongoing.
Photo courtesy Miki Yoshihito, Creative Commons