Yesterday, 51-year-old New York native Theodore Shulman was sentenced by Manhattan federal court to 41 months in prison for threatening the lives of two pro-life advocates online after pleading guilty in May.
It all started in January 2010, when Shulman, the son of feminist political activist Alix Kates Shulman, took to FirstThings.com, the religious conservative magazine’s website. At the time, Scott Roeder was standing trial for the 2009 murder of George Tiller, a Kansas physician who was one of only three late-term abortion doctors in the country. Since Tiller’s death, he has been seen as a martyr for pro-choice advocates. In April of 2010, Roeder was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison without parole.
That January, though, Roeder was still standing trial, so Shulman posted on FirstThings.com’s SecondHandSmoke blog, threatening vengeance if Roeder was found acquitted of killing Tiller. He called out two pro-life advocates by name saying, “If Roeder is acquitted, someone will respond by killing Robert George of Princeton University and Frank Pavone of PRIESTS FOR LIFE.”
You can’t threaten someone’s life, so the FBI, NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force and Department of Justice came running to investigate. And though we see worse trolling on a daily basis, the “just kidding” argument fell through once, upon his arrest in February 2011, the Bureau found cyanide, castor beans, and rosary peas in Shulman’s possession.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office was unavailable for comment, but Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara made a statement in a press release, saying, “The vibrant exchange of ideas that is a hallmark of our society does not include threats. As Theodore Shulman’s sentence makes clear, advocating one’s point of view through threats of violence is illegal conduct that will be punished.”
Pavone reacted to the sentencing, telling the pro-life website LifeNews.com, “From the point of view of my work as a pro-life leader, I also take this opportunity to point out that violence and threats of violence against pro-life activists are far more common, yet far less visible in the media, than violence and threats of violence against abortionists and abortion supporters. In fact, the latter have used a handful of violent acts by people disconnected from the pro-life movement to try to tar the reputation of the entire movement, and those tactics should have no more place in the public debate over abortion than should violence itself.”
Shulman was also sentenced to three years of supervised release following his 41-month sentence, and to pile on, fined 100 bucks, proof that, if threatening the lives of people who don’t think women should be able to govern their own vaginas is your thing, you probably shouldn’t leave a trail.