Want the best from VICE News in your inbox? Sign up here.
Charlottesville, Virginia, police arrested a 17-year-old boy Friday morning in connection with online threats of “ethnic cleansing” against a local high school.
All schools in the Charlottesville City Public School District closed Thursday and Friday after police received an email from a concerned citizen citing threats on 4chan to target minority students at Charlottesville High School. The threats had specifically warned white students not to come to school that day.
The Charlottesville Police Department launched a “full and robust investigation” with the cooperation of the FBI and other local police after being notified about a post on 4chan that “contained vile, racially charged language that targeted African-American and Hispanic students," said Police Chief RaShall Brackney at a press conference Friday.
Tracking the origin of 4chan posts is challenging, as Brackney noted, because the image-board site is considered part of the dark web, and posters' IP addresses are not readily obtainable.
Brackney said police believe that the suspect, who was not part of the Charlottesville school district, was acting alone. He’s been charged with “threats to commit serious bodily harm to persons on school property,” which is a Class 6 felony, and harassment by computer, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
In a separate incident, police in Albemarle County, which encompasses Charlottesville, said they’d worked with the FBI to identify and arrest another teenager Friday morning who'd allegedly made threats to attack the local high school on social media.
The abrupt closure of Charlottesville’s schools, which police described as a “precautionary measure,” shows that the specter of the violent “Unite the Right” rally two years ago continues to haunt the Virginia college town. The August 2017 rally drew hundreds of white supremacists who carried tiki torches and chanted racist slogans like “Jews will not replace us.” The event left counterprotester Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured.
“We want the community to know that hate is not welcomed in Charlottesville, violence is not welcomed in Charlottesville, and intolerance is not welcomed in Charlottesville,” said Brackney. “We stand very firmly in stating: There are not ‘very fine people’ on both sides of this issue,” presumably referencing President Trump's controversial comments after the Unite the Right violence.
The suspect had claimed to be a student at Charlottesville High School.
“It is troubling that a person who is not part of the Charlottesville school system made such a hateful, divisive threat, under the guise of being a Charlottesville High School student,” Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins said. “Since August 2017, our community has made a good faith effort to have these difficult conversations about race and equity, and build trust in our school systems and in our community.”
The arrest also comes just a week after a white supremacist opened fire on two mosques in New Zealand, leaving 50 dead and broadcasting the whole shooting on Facebook Live. Before he carried out his deadly attack, the shooter posted a link to his live broadcast on 8chan.
Correction 3/22 1:00 p.m. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the location of Albemarle County.
Cover image: RaShall Brackney speaks after being sworn in as Charlottesville, Va., police chief in the City Council chambers on Monday, June 18, 2018. Brackney formerly worked at the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and was George Washington University police chief. (Zack Wajsgras/The Daily Progress via AP)