In mid-September, a man who went under the Twitter handle “Australi Witness” was charged with illegally distributing information relating to the creation of explosives in a plot to bomb a 9/11 memorial ceremony in Kansas City, Missouri, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 842(p). This arrest was the result of a FBI joint investigation with the Australian Federal Police.
However, all is not what it seems. Australi Witness was an atypical Australian jihadist. In fact, Australi Witness turned out to be neither Australian nor a jihadist. He was instead 20-year old Joshua Goldberg, a U.S. citizen from Florida. Goldberg was an Internet troll who delighted in creating controversy and upsetting his fellow Internet users.
This was not the first time Goldberg has created a controversial persona online. Goldberg made several online posts under a number of different pen names. He posted to The Daily Stormer as white supremacist Michael Slay, and contributed to Daily Kos and the feminist blog Feministing under the name Tanya Cohen. Using the Cohen persona, he outed a game developer as transgender. He is also suspected of several accounts on Reddit that likewise espoused troversial ideas.
Sometimes Goldberg impersonated real people in an attempt to ruin their reputation. He had previously created a blog on the Times of Israel under a well-known lawyer’s name to post an article calling for the “extermination” of the Palestinians. He also reportedly set up a fake Twitter account in the name of anti-sexual exploitation campaigner Caitlin Roper to send out tweets that targeted the transgender community; this was in reaction to Roper’s support for banning the sale of the video game Grand Theft Auto V.
Under the Australi Witness persona, Goldberg described himself as originally working for Amnesty International and claimed a friendship with Mariam Veiszadeh, an anti-Islamophobia proponent, to smear her reputation. His trolling fooled activists, journalists and even Intelligence analysists, such as Rita Katz of the SITE Intelligence Group, into believing his various online personalities.
Goldberg finally crossed the line with the posting of instructions for the creation of pressure cooker bombs similar to the oneused in the Boston Marathon bombing and for encouraging others to use them in an attack. He is not the first troll to be arrested and prosecuted, and he will not be the last. This case demonstrates how the Internet can allow people to assume other personalities. Unfortunately Goldberg used this ability to harm the reputations, and threaten the safety of, others.