Enemy of the People
What Jarrod Ramos, the Capital Gazette shooter, revealed in his Twitter account
While winding down after a Thursday I thought would never end, I caught the initial news reports releasing the name of the individual who’d allegedly gunned down and killed five people working at the Capital Gazette newspaper earlier that day. My curiosity took over and I went looking online for traces of this monster. I did a quick search on Facebook to see if his name came up. Nothing. But Twitter was a different story.
Jarrod W. Ramos’ Twitter account was listed under his name, exactly as it was reported on the news: Jarrod W. Ramos, but the Twitter handle was @EricHartleyFrnd.
I knew I’d likely found the right person, because the news had also reported that Ramos had a grievance with the Capital, and among the first items in his Twitter media were various scanned photos of court documents against the Capital. Details continued coming over the course of the evening, and it was an awful story — one that sounded as if, maybe, this tragedy could’ve been prevented.
In 2012, Ramos filed a lawsuit alleging defamation against Capital Gazette Communications, former Capital staff writer & columnist Eric Hartley, and Thomas Marquardt, Capital’s former editor and publisher. The year before, Hartley had written an article titled “Jarrod wants to be your friend,” which detailed the allegations of a criminal harassment case against Ramos. The article described how Ramos had stalked, harassed, and threatened a woman over social media and email.
The story started with a sense of familiarity; Ramos was attempting reconnection with a former high school classmate, so he reached out over Facebook. In his initial message, he thanked the woman for being the only person to have ever said hello or been nice to him in school. She did not remember him, but upon doing a Google search realized that indeed, they’d gone to the same school at the same time. Thinking it was just a friendly exchange, the woman responded and they communicated a little bit online.
He eventually told her about some of his troubles. At one point, the woman recommended that he seek counseling, and she tried cutting off communication. It was then that the nightmare began. Ramos commenced tormenting her with many months of emails in which he alternately asked her for help, called her vulgar names, and told her to kill herself. Additionally, he emailed her company and tried to get her fired.
The emails desisted for a few months after the woman contacted police, but later started up again, even worse than before. Among public court records and interviews, how the woman (and others) described Ramos’ behavior sounded frighteningly psycho, as if it could be a classic stalker story from the archives of Ann Rule.
Ramos pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge, and shortly after, the Capital Gazette published that article written by Eric Hartley. Eventually, in 2015, Ramos’ defamation suit against the Capital was dismissed. Ramos then appealed, but the appeal was rejected.
The person in the above profile picture is not Jarrod Ramos; it’s a doctored image of Eric Hartley. The banner photo includes Thomas Marquardt, and the Capital’s former owner, Philip Merrill, whose 2006 death while sailing alone on the Chesapeake Bay was ruled a suicide. This is Jarrod Ramos, in a photo he posted on Twitter in June 2013:
Ramos used Twitter to repeatedly chastise the newspaper, as well as the prosecutors and the judges in his case. He also verbally attacked and threatened journalists by name, and generally spouted a lot of rambling nonsense and vitriol. Knowing his account would likely disappear soon, I began taking screenshots. What first struck me was that his account appeared to have been silent from January 21, 2016 until Thursday, June 28, 2018. Then, just an hour before the deadly shooting, he sent out a single tweet, reading only F*** you, leave me alone.
As I scrolled back, tweet after tweet revealed a person possibly on the edge; any reasonable person could discern as much. Over the next two days more information came out regarding Ramos’ troubled past with Capital Gazette and others. This story is worth examining, because here was a guy — with something obviously very wrong — and he was hiding in plain sight. There are five people dead because of this guy, and he was hiding in plain sight.
Social Media sites remind users to report inappropriate content, to report any individual who we believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Twitter and Facebook make it easy enough with pull-downs containing the “report” option right there on user accounts. But how often do we actually do this? Did anyone on Twitter ever report Jarrod Ramos? At the same time, we’re also cautioned not to report the same person repeatedly, or report just because we took personal offense over something a person had posted.
Obviously Ramos was a social media nuisance; as I continued scrolling I saw that he posted screenshots of various Twitter users who’d blocked him. I wondered if those people took the time to also report him after blocking him. If so, what actions did Twitter take? Not that they could’ve stopped the Maryland tragedy from happening, but could anything have been done? Ramos had demonstrated a clear pattern of making threats to specific people and businesses — and it was all there, in documented form, for anyone like me to see with the naked eye.
This seems to beg the question: when someone can hide in plain sight like that, when they have a history and pattern of posting intolerant hate speech, harassment, and even feasible threats targeting specific people and businesses, at what point should they lose the privilege of having a social media platform? Especially considering every time there’s a mass shooter, their social media sites only seem to be viewed and analyzed ex post facto, which doesn’t do anyone much good… case in point, right now.
This really speaks to the efficiency of the “reporting” feature on social media sites. It speaks to Twitter’s and Facebook’s ability (or inability) to police user accounts. With all the data we know they collect, it seems there just has to be a better way to spot potential lunatics who might go over the edge and act on a previously made threat.
I know there’s a fine line resting between censorship and sensitivity, but there’s got to be a more clear baseline. (Though, common sense tells me that standard is gone when we have a President who has been able to maintain his personal Twitter account and an official government account, where the lines of business and personal often cross one another.)
Over the years, I’ve done my due diligence in reporting a handful of people who have been red flags, or in absolute clear violation of the community guidelines. Every time, though, the response came back along the lines of “we have not found this person to be in violation of our rules and guidelines…” (more on this another day).
I decided to refresh my memory on Twitter’s guidelines. Their rules on Abusive Behavior include (but are not limited to) the following:
We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue, but that means little as an underlying philosophy if voices are silenced because people are afraid to speak up. In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we prohibit behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.
Context matters when evaluating for abusive behavior and determining appropriate enforcement actions. Factors we may take into consideration include, but are not limited to whether:
* the behavior is targeted at an individual or group of people;
* the report has been filed by the target of the abuse or a bystander;
* the behavior is newsworthy and in the legitimate public interest.
Twitter’s rules regarding Violence and Physical Harm include (but are not limited to):
Violence: You may not make specific threats of violence or wish for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening or promoting terrorism. You also may not affiliate with organizations that — whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform — use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.
Twitter’s rules regarding Abuse and Hateful Conduct include, but are not limited to:
Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.
Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. Read more about our hateful conduct policy.
Finally, I reviewed the Hateful Conduct Policy. Here are few things listed under that policy which Twitter states they do not tolerate:
- violent threats
- wishes for the physical harm, death, or disease of individuals or groups
There are several others.
As for how Twitter’s enforcement works, they state that “context matters,” in that some tweets may seem to be abusive when viewed in isolation, but may not be when viewed in the context of a larger conversation. Twitter also states they “focus on behavior,” and that they have a “range of enforcement options,” which varies based on the severity of the violation, and the person’s previous record of violations.
Here is just a small sampling of screenshots I took of the Capital Gazette shooter’s tweets over the years.
Content Warning: Many of these tweets are laced with profanity, vulgarity, sexism, etc., and some people may find them disturbing or offensive.
Many of the tweets I captured and chose to show here seem to be in clear violation of the Twitter rules. There is behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice. There are violent threats. There is engagement in the targeted harassment of someone. There are specific threats of violence, and wishes for the serious physical harm, death, or disease of an individual or group of people. There are tweets promoting or encouraging suicide or self-harm. Take your pick; he’s got many of the bases covered.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But this account also appeared to highlight someone more than just an internet troll; he appeared to be one offline as well. Even if nobody knew that he pleaded guilty to a criminal harassment charge, he kind of removed all doubt with having several scanned images of court documents and cases he’d filed against other reporters and journalists, lawyers, and judges — all of whom he seemed to erroneously believe wronged him in some way — linked to his Twitter page and visible to all.
There also appeared to be other people who had filed harassment cases and temporary restraining orders against him. He clearly exhibited patterns of tweeting with vulgarity, using verbal threats, and tendencies toward violent ideation. And he had a known, years-long vendetta for the Capital Gazette and its employees — that was one of the first things we learned about him — where he strategically carried out a targeted, planned attack that killed five and wounded more.
Now we also know, due to various news sources, that Ramos’ Aunt described him as intelligent but a loner, and said he was “distant from family.” Former classmates have remembered him as “a weird kid,” and “a loner” who was also “obsessed with his reputation.” The lawyer who represented the woman in the harassment case that led to Ramos’ guilty plea described Ramos as “the most dangerous person I’ve ever dealt with.”
We’ve also learned that Tom Marquardt, the retired former publisher and editor of the Capital said, “I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence. I even told my wife, ‘We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.’” Further, Marquardt remembered telling the Capital’s attorneys, ‘This is a guy who is going to come in and shoot us.’”
Sadly, he was correct.
A report out Saturday stated that Ramos was fired in 2014 from his federal government contract job as a help desk specialist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics because he posed “security suitability concerns,” (according to court documents obtained by CNN.) The concerns were so dire that the federal agency decided that “in order to mitigate potential security risk, Mr. Ramos will not be permitted back on BLS premises.”
All the red flags and warning signs were there. How was this missed?
There’s no doubt Ramos was a troubled person with a dark and sordid history. But one has to wonder, when the President of the United States has been allowed, for well over a year, to falsely accuse legitimate journalists and media outlets as “the enemy of the people,” might that be just enough to push another “Jarrod,” riddled with a persecution complex, over the edge?
A version of this story originally appeared on Gender Creative Life.