A 24-year-old Buffalo man stands accused of creating a Twitter account and posting a threat to “kill blacks” just two days after a gunman murdered 10 Black people at a grocery store on May 14 in a racially motivated hate crime, federal authorities say.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Rolik Walker created the now-defunct Twitter account @ConklinHero on May 16 to post a message threatening to target Black people at various stores, including Tops Friendly Market. Conklin is the hometown of suspected mass shooter Payton Gendron.
As you can see, the Twitter account in question is no longer active:
But the feds say that when the account did exist, albeit briefly, Walker was behind it — both creating it and shutting it down.
Jared Fitzgerald, the FBI special agent on the case, said there was probable cause to conclude that Walker violated 18 U.S. Code § 875(c), which criminalizes the transmission “in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another.”
The statute notes the offense is punishable upon conviction by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The affidavit said law enforcement confronted Walker on July 26 and claims that the suspect made key admissions after being read his Miranda rights.
“WALKER also admitted that he used the VPN service IPVanish to hide his IP address when he created the @CoklinHero Twitter account and the post,” the affidavit said. “WALKER stated that the purpose of the post was to see what everyone would say and if anyone would agree with him.”
“WALKER claimed to want to see how segregated social media was and that once the post was made it spread within approximately thirty seconds,” the affidavit continued. “WALKER stated that the account did not have any followers. WALKER stated that he created an additional Twitter account, @ConklinHeroR1. WALKER claimed he created this second account in an effort to rectify the earlier post. WALKER copied and pasted the same post, removed the statement ‘only looking to kill blacks’ and changed it to ants, spiders, and things of that nature.”
A footnote said that a search of Walker’s phone revealed that he had a Twitter account with the handle @ConklinHero1, and that he “could have just misspoken” when he identified his second account as @ConklinHeroR1.
In addition, the affidavit claimed, Walker permitted the feds to search his cell phone.
Though Walker allegedly claimed that he didn’t know the Twitter post was an illegal threat, the feds argue that the totality of circumstances indicated otherwise.
“However, WALKER took affirmative steps to anonymize his creation and use of the @ConklinHero Twitter account, which he then used to post the threat,” the affidavit said. “In addition, if he did not know it was a crime or did not believe it was a crime to use Twitter to post the threat, WALKER count have posted it without anonymizing himself.”
The investigating FBI special agent said the timing of the anonymous threatening post and the specificity of the content therein shows there is probable cause that a crime was committed:
The suspect made an initial appearance in federal court on Wednesday, court records show.
A minute entry on the court docket says the defendant was advised by the government of “charges contained in the Criminal Complaint and possible penalties.” The defendant was also assigned a lawyer:
Court advised defendant of his rights, including the right to counsel. Defendant requested assigned counsel and was found eligible. Gerald T. Walsh, Esq. accepted CJA assignment.
The court noted that the government did not object to Walker’s pre-trial release on conditions.
Read the Walker affidavit and complaint below.
[Image via John Normile/Getty Images]
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