In an online world where anyone can hide behind a mask of virtual anonymity, it can be easy to get carried away and do things deemed unconscionable in real life. However, one Mississippi man is facing up to ten years in jail after a half-hearted threat made in a game brought the federal authorities to his door.
In October 2012, Josh Pillault, 19, was playing Runescape—an online, multiplayer fantasy game in which users all over the globe interact and fight in a virtual world—when a fellow player antagonized him so badly, Pillault threatened to perpetrate a Columbine-like attack on his local high school.
Soon after, federal officers searched Pillault’s home and arrested him in connection with the threat, despite not finding any materials he could have used to attack the school, nor any reason why he actually would.
“His doctors have said he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else,” wrote Stacey Pillault, Josh’s mother, to The Daily Caller. “We actually have teachers who were willing to testify that they knew it wasn’t a true threat as soon as they found out it was Josh. Even his fellow inmates and guards have commented on how they can’t believe he is still in there.”
Even so, the authorities retained him, and Pillault plead guilty to a charge of that can land him in jail for the next decade and levy a $250,500 fine with the hopes of a lighter sentence.
Pillault’s case is strikingly similar to that of Justin Carter, a Texas man who has been incarcerated since February after jokingly threatening an online video game competitor on Facebook that he would “shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts.” Austin police later arrested him for “making a terroristic threat” merely two months after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Again, a police search found no weapons, nor motive.
“Even if one considers that Carter’s joke met the “imminent lawless action” threshold — which I absolutely do not,” wrote Charles C. W. Cooke for National Review Online, “— the subsequent search and questioning of the suspect rendered it demonstrably clear that Carter did not present anything close. That the case has been carried beyond that point is astonishing — and unconstitutional.”