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Threats to dictionary publisher land man a year in prison

Merriam-Webster
Posted at 1:54 PM, Apr 13, 2023

A California man who made violent anti-LGBTQ-related threats against dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster Inc. over its updated gender definitions was sentenced Thursday to a year in prison.

The sentence imposed on Jeremy Hanson, 35, by a federal court in Massachusetts also included 30 days of home confinement, three years of probation and mental health treatment.

Hanson pleaded guilty last year to interstate transmission of threatening communications in connection with threats made to the Springfield, Massachusetts-based dictionary publisher and to the president of the University of North Texas.

In court documents, prosecutors said the Rossmoor, California, man has a history of making “threatening communications, nearly all of which were motivated by ... biases based upon race, gender, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation.”

Those other communications were directed at the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Land O’ Lakes Inc., Hasbro, a nonbinary rabbi and others, prosecutors said.

In a remote hearing Thursday, prosecutor Steven Breslow asked for an 18-month prison sentence, in part to serve as a deterrent to others at a time when violent rhetoric is becoming more common.

Hanson’s defense attorney, Marissa Elkins, asked that her client be sentenced to the time he has already served, citing his history of emotional and behavioral issues, including anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

More time behind bars could negatively affect his mental health, she said.

Judge Mark Mastroianni in U.S District Court in Springfield acknowledged Hanson's medical history and said he had no intent or capacity to carry out his threats, but called his actions “disturbing and terrifying.”

He noted that Merriam-Webster management was “fearful that Hanson would come to their office and cause harm,” and said internal company communications referenced the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo offices in France, where terrorists killed 12 people who worked for the satirical weekly newspaper.

Hanson sent Merriam-Webster threatening messages and comments between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8, 2021 using the website’s “contact us” function, where he commented on word entries such as “girl,” “woman,” and “female,” prosecutors said.

“It is absolutely sickening that Merriam-Webster now tells blatant lies and promotes anti-science propaganda,” Hanson wrote, according to prosecutors. “There is no such thing as ‘gender identity.’ The imbecile who wrote this entry should be hunted down and shot.”

Twice he threatened to shoot and bomb company headquarters, prompting Merriam-Webster to close offices in Springfield and New York City for several days, prosecutors said.

Hanson also wrote an email to the president of the University of North Texas in 2022 that said “You ought to be shot in the head and have your offices set on fire," for supporting transgender students, prosecutors said.

Hanson, who appeared at the hearing remotely from a California jail, declined to address the court when given the opportunity.