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Threats targeting UNC students take new meaning with connection to actual violence

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Content Warning: This story includes slurs referring to individuals' race, sexual orientation, religion and other sensitive material.

An onslaught of death threats, sexual harassment and exposure of personal information from obscure corners of the internet has become a routine expectation for some UNC students who engage publicly in activism. 

But with the recent discovery that the online account most involved in posting about UNC students is also the account most frequently interacted with by Robert Bowers  — the alleged murderer of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue last month — fears of what may be coming to Chapel Hill have become more vocalized. 

“We joke around about them being basement dwellers like, living in their mom’s basement,” said Alyssa Bowen, a graduate student in the UNC Department of History. “But I think a lot of that is just to mask this anxiety we have, because any of these men could have been Robert Bowers.” 

The specific account that has focused in on students like Bowen uses the alias “Jack Corbin” on numerous social media websites like Gab, which was created in 2016. 

Corbin has over 2,000 Gab followers, where he promotes discriminatory murder and conspiracy theories, praises past hate crimes like the Orlando nightclub shooting and advocates white supremacist activity throughout the country, including in Chapel Hill. 

“I’ll be protected by 100 cops, who will be beating the f*** out of Antifa and arresting them,” Corbin wrote months ago about his interest in coming to a Silent Sam rally. “Oh but if Antifa ignore me, then I’ll just start promoting White Nationalism on campus. They can’t win no matter what they do now!” 

An analysis done by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that before his mass shooting spree, Bowers reposted and replied to Gab posts by Corbin, whose real identity is unconfirmed, more frequently than he did any other user. 

Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said the type of rhetoric that Corbin commonly spreads has become more accessible than ever before through the internet, providing a universal platform for public posts and one-on-one discussions. 

“White supremacists are being radicalized online in the same way that ISIS radicalizes recruits,” Beirich said. 

In one post, Bowers said he looked forward to an altercation between Corbin and a female activist from Charlottesville, Va., who has been involved with the movement against Silent Sam. Corbin responded saying he may make an effort to confront her. 

On another occasion, Bowers replied to a post by Corbin in a way that hinted at his inclination toward real violence. 

“I used to have more of a live and let live view on things but now I know that is impossible after their forcing it down everyone’s throat," Bowers wrote. "Now I lean toward the (L)ets (G)o (B)eat (T)he (Q)***** movement."

After a failed attempt to organize an opposition to a UNC activist event at Orange County Courthouse earlier this month, Corbin expressed outrage on Gab toward “weak, unreliable” members of the white nationalist movement. 

“Also I didn’t have anything to do with what Robert Bowers did, but I will say he has more balls than most of you all,” Corbin wrote. “God bless that man. I’m out.” 

At Friday's Board of Governors meeting, students addressed the online harassment during a public comment session

In a statement from UNC Media Relations, associate vice chancellor for Campus Safety and Risk Management Derek Kemp said any students who feel threatened should contact UNC Police and the department will follow up with any reporting person. 

A UNC faculty member that Bowen declined to name alerted UNC’s Criminal Investigation Division about threats toward Bowen in early September. She did not receive a follow-up from UNC Police until Oct. 30, which was three days after she posted on Twitter that police had never acknowledged the alert. 

Bowen is one of numerous UNC students whom Corbin has targeted. After creating two Twitter accounts near the end of October, he began privately messaging her and referring to her as “sugartits.” In a Gab post a couple months ago, Corbin took a more aggressive tone toward Bowen. 

“I’m interested in getting you removed from UNC Campus and North Carolina for good,” Corbin wrote. “Take your communism to Venezuela you f****** whore.” 

In a Gab post directed at Lindsay Ayling, a history department graduate student who has been involved in Silent Sam activism, Corbin referenced the type of car allegedly used by James Fields in the murder of activist Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. He told Ayling that she can ride in his “Gray Dodge Challenger” but that her “fat n***** friend” Maya Little, another history department graduate student, can’t join. 

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For Ayling, the harassment has gone beyond just insults. She said her personal information has been spread by users like Corbin, and that one Gab user, who uses the alias “Lucius Seneca,” actually attends activism events at UNC to gather personal information on those present. 

“I saw Lindsay Ayling today, and I now know why she wears sunglasses in all of her photos. #BeadyEyedBitch,” the Seneca account wrote after supposedly attending an event that Ayling was present at late last month. 

In a post from last weekend, Corbin mocked the death of Ayling’s brother. 

“I think she’s just paranoid because her late brother had a little train mishap,” he wrote. 

Corbin has also consistently claimed that Ayling is both an “Antifa” leader and Jewish, two things he consistently targets her for. Ayling says she is neither. 

Ayling and other activists, including Bowen and Little, have received threats of assault at their on-campus offices. Little also said her old home address has been spread online, along with the identification of her family members. 

“It’s really easy for people to say, ‘Oh, it’s probably annoying, but these are just threats that are online,’” Little said. “Does it have to be the point when people do something about it when someone’s murdered?” 


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