Zerlina Maxwell is a feminist writer and frequent guest on Fox News. Last week, while a guest on Sean Hannity’s show, Maxwell argued that arming women is not a way to solve the problem of rape. Among other things, she pointed out that “if firearms were the answer, then the military would be the safest place for women, and it’s not.” You can watch her full segment below:
In the wake of her appearance, Maxwell was bombarded with harassing messages calling for her to be raped or murdered, often in explicitly racist terms. She provided ThinkProgress with screenshots of three examples:
These kinds of online threats are not simply cowardly and repulsive, they also may be criminal. In New York, where Maxwell resides, a person who “[w]ith intent to harass, annoy or alarm a specific person, intentionally engages in a course of conduct directed at such person which is likely to cause such person to reasonably fear physical injury or serious physical injury, the commission of a sex offense against, or the kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment or death of such person or a member of such person’s immediate family” is guilty of stalking in the third degree, and may be punished by up to one year in prison. At least some of the attacks on Maxwell also could qualify as hate crimes, which would lead to a higher sentence.
Additionally, under federal law, “[w]hoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
Although the First Amendment normally forbids prosecutions for speech, the Constitution does not “encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”