A racist troll in Masachusetts who terrorized an interracial couple with “despicable” slurs and threats of violence days after they announced their engagement was arrested and charged on Wednesday, according to federal authorities.
Prosecutors said that 45-year-old Stephen DeBerardinis, who was set to make his first appearance in federal court in Boston on Wednesday, had threatened the pair with verbal attacks on Facebook Messenger on Jan. 6, and then tried to intimidate them into not reporting the harassment to law enforcement.
He could face up to 28 years in prison on the charges, which include one count of transmitting in interstate commerce threats to injure a person; one count of tampering with a witness and victim by intimidation, threats, and corrupt persuasion; and one count of tampering with a witness and victim by harassment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
DeBerardinis also took part in a “Back the Blue” rally in front of a local police station earlier this month, where he scuffled with a group of protesters, Universal Hub, a Boston-area news site, reported.
In a statement, Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel Mendell said that the threats were “despicable and an affront to American values,” while pledging that his office “aggressively” prosecutes people who make threats of racially-motivated violence.
“We take a hard line on threats and intimidation, and these charges make clear that such conduct will be prosecuted federally,” he said.
According to the indictment, the victims, a 34-year-old white woman and a 37-year-old Black man, whose identities were disclosed to a grand jury but have not been made public, shared photos celebrating their relationship when they announced their engagement on Facebook in late December 2020.
While DeBerardinis did not know the couple personally, he was able to access their photos through mutual friends and responded to the couple’s engagement on Jan. 6 with racial slurs and harassment, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, DeBerardinis said, “EWWWWWWWW YOUR A N***** FUCKER FUCKING DIRTY ASS WHITE TRASH,” and continued to fire off similarly offensive messages.
When the couple told him they planned to report him, prosecutors allege that he sent them a picture of brass knuckles surrounded by the text “snitches get stitches.”
Prosecutors alleged that DeBerardinis’ threats of violence didn’t stop there.
“Read up more on me lol… you will see how me and my crew burn n*****s alive,” he wrote on one occasion, according to the indictment.
He also threatened sexual violence and dismemberment, allegedly writing: “And white whores like you well…. get rape and killed THAN we cut off body parts and mail them to your family lol.”
The victims reported the encounter to local police, who contacted federal authorities.
The charges come amid an onslaught of racially-motivated violence.
FBI Director Chris Wray has repeatedly warned of the threat of racially motivated acts of violence, adding during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March that the number of investigations and arrests related to racially motivated violent extremism has “grown significantly on my watch.”
“I would certainly say, as I think I’ve said consistently in the past, that racially motivated violent extremism, specifically of the sort that advocates for the superiority of the white race, is a persistent, evolving threat,” he said at the time. “It’s the biggest chunk of our racially motivated violent extremism cases for sure. And racially motivated violent extremism is the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio, if you will, overall.”
In a statement Wednesday, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston office Joseph Bonavolonta called the threats “reprehensible.”
“Today’s arrest cannot mitigate the fear that Stephen DeBerardinis caused, and the sense of security this couple lost, but it does bring him to justice for allegedly sending a series of rage-filled messages threatening horrific acts of violence,” Bonavolonta said. “Acts of intimidation and threats of violence perpetrated against people because of their race, ethnicity, color, or creed are reprehensible.”