Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald has long been open about the fact that he has epilepsy, but it wasn’t until recently, he said, that his detractors tried to exploit his condition with the specific intent causing him physical harm.
In October, shortly after publishing an article about president-elect Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest, Eichenwald said he received a video from a Twitter user named “Mike’s Deplorable AF” that contained strobe lights, flashing circles and a picture of Pepe the Frog flying at the screen – images, he said, that were designed to trigger an epileptic seizure.
Eichenwald, a Trump critic who frequently ridicules the Republican businessman’s supporters online, said he avoided injury by dropping his iPad facedown on the floor. Writing about the incident in Newsweek at the time, he predicted more attacks would follow.
Last week, Eichenwald said, someone sent him a similar message – and this time, he said, it worked.
Eichenwald had just finished a contentious interview on Fox News Thursday night when a Twitter user with the handle @jew_goldstein tweeted him a flashing yellow and orange starlike image reading “you deserve a seizure for your posts.”
Eichenwald said the tweet sent him into convulsions.
“This individual did something clearly knowing his actions could injure me, and he succeeded,” Eichenwald said in a Newsweek story describing the alleged attack.
Now, Eichenwald is pursuing civil and criminal cases against the user. On Tuesday, he tweeted links to court documents seeking subpoenas compelling Twitter to reveal the identity @jew_goldstein, whose account has since been suspended. Twitter has agreed to comply with a judge’s order to turn over the information, Newsweek reported. The publication said Eichenwald has also filed a criminal assault complaint with police in Dallas, where he lives.
In an interview Tuesday with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Eichenwald said the incident had spurred numerous copycats whom he accused of targeting him because of his reporting on the president-elect.
“It is amazing to me that simply because I am a political reporter, simply because I write about Donald Trump that we have become so sick and twisted in this country that people think they have the right and obligation to inflict potentially very serious injury,” he said.
Eichenwald, his attorneys and representatives from Twitter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday night.
Eichenwald’s stories on Trump – and his jabs at Trump supporters – have brought him death threats and other abuse online. He described some of it in Newsweek in October:
“I have received innumerable death threats, sometimes just general invocations that I should die, sometimes more specific threats that I should be shot or ‘lynched,’ as one Trump fan wrote. I have been called ‘kike,’ ‘Jew’ and ‘anti-American Zionist,’ even though I’m Episcopalian with a Jewish father (as if that makes a difference). I have received video cartoons that look like they are from Nazi Germany of hook-nosed men dressed in Jewish garb rubbing their hands greedily over piles of money. I have been told to go back where I came from, whatever that means.”
“I write this knowing that it will spur more vile and violent online attacks on me. I have warned my children and my wife to be extra careful. And now that I have revealed how easy it is to inflict an injury on me, until this election is over, I will not be pushing PLAY on any unsolicited video I receive. It’s simply too dangerous.”
According to Eichenwald, the tweet that triggered his seizure came shorty after he left a Dec. 15 interview with conservative editor Tucker Carlson, in which the Fox News host grilled him over a tweet he posted – and later deleted – claiming then-candidate Trump was “institutionalized in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown in 1990.” The Sept. 13 tweet drew broad criticism for its lack of attribution or supporting evidence. As The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote at the time, “Eichenwald’s tweet appears to cross the usual lines. It is an unsupported and potentially inflammatory claim about a leading presidential candidate in the midst of a campaign.”
In the Fox News segment, Carlson asked Eichenwald repeatedly if he could substantiate his claim.
“Was he in a mental hospital or not in 1990,” Carlson asked. “You alleged that he was. Was he or wasn’t he?”
Over and over, Eichenwald skirted the question, at one point holding up a white binder reading, “Tucker Carlson Falsehoods” and accusing the host of talking over him.
“You’re not fooling anybody,” Eichenwald said. “You’re trying to stop me from giving the answer.”
“I don’t mean this in a cruel way,” Carlson said at the end of the segment, “but I would have real concerns if I were one of your editors.”
That night, Eichenwald was at home sitting at his computer and checking his Twitter mentions when he saw the flashing image from @jew_goldstein, Eichenwald told The Daily Beast. His wife, Theresa Eichenwald, said her husband called out, and she found him turned away from the screen, “incoherent” in his chair.
“I knew right away what was going on. I quickly got the image off the screen. He did not have a grand mal seizure,” she told The Daily Beast, referring to the most severe, potentially fatal type of seizure. “He had a localized seizure. All you can do is make sure the person is safe and wait it out and tell him he’s OK. My response was more anger than anything else.”
She said she tweeted from her husband’s account that she had called police: “@jew_goldstein This is his wife, you caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.”
Earlier, Eichenwald had posted a string of tweets about his spat with Carlson, some of which he went on to delete. One of the tweets he left up said that “Fox News viewers” were threatening his children over the interview: “As expected, Fox News viewers going after my kids online because of my confrontation with @TuckerCarlson. Classy bunch of fans u have.”
In his appearance on ABC Tuesday, Eichenwald responded to criticism about his claim that Trump was institutionalized, telling host George Stephanopoulos that he intended it to be a “signal to a source.” He said he was trying to poke fun at Fox News for its allegations about Hillary Clinton’s health while she was campaigning for president, including the incorrect suggestion that she was having seizures.
“There was a reporting purpose for that tweet going out,” Eichenwald told Stephanopoulos. “I was writing a series of jokes leading up to that with the intent of sending that tweet, which was a signal to a source to talk to me.”
Stephanopoulos didn’t follow up.
In the same segment, Eichenwald said he’s taking a break from Twitter, although he has posted multiple updates about his legal cases in the past two days.
“I can’t look at my Twitter feed anymore, but apparently a lot of people find this very funny,” he said. “A lot of people who identify themselves as Trump supporters are loading up my feed with more strobes.”
“I’m very public about the fact that I have epilepsy. I have a lot of people who follow me who have epilepsy,” he added. “Now my Twitter feed is dangerous for them.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Derek Hawkins