MEDIA
03/03/2017 03:27 pm ET Updated Mar 03, 2017

Journalist Once Accused Of Making Up Sources Arrested For Threatening Jewish Institutions

Juan Thompson's short, bizarre journalism career ended when he was fired from The Intercept last year.

Juan Thompson, who was arrested Friday for allegedly making threats against eight Jewish institutions in an effort to frame a former girlfriend, also engaged in a “pattern of deception” last year. 

But unlike current allegations, that charge didn’t come from law enforcement. It came from Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of The Intercept. The news site announced in February 2016 that it had dismissed the young journalist after discovering he’d fabricated parts of several stories. 

The Intercept was “horrified” to learn that Thompson had been arrested after cyberstalking a former girlfriend and making threats against Jewish community centers and the Anti-Defamation League, according to a company statement released Friday. 

“These actions are heinous should be fully investigated and prosecuted,” the statement read. “We have no information about the charges against Thompson other than what is included in the criminal complaint.”   

 According to that complaint, Thompson, 31, embarked on a “campaign to harass and intimidate his former girlfriend by making threats in her name in an attempt to frame her for the crimes. He also allegedly made threats in his name and claimed the former girlfriend had done so to frame him.

There have been more than 100 threats made against Jewish institutions this year, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Thompson has been accused of making eight bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the ADL’s New York headquarters.  

The allegations announced Friday have brought renewed attention to Thompson’s brief, bizarre journalism career. He started out as many young journalists do, taking on internships at outlets such as DNAinfo Chicago and NPR station WBEZ and doing freelance writing for sites like Talking Points Memo. 

His career accelerated after joining The Intercept in November 2014. A few months later, he wrote a widely cited story quoting “Scott Roof,” who was identified as the cousin of church shooter Dylann Roof. However, it appears Dylann Roof doesn’t have a cousin named Scott. The Intercept also discovered that Thompson had written articles that included quotes from individuals who later said they had never spoken to him.  

After The Intercept announced its findings last year, Thompson sent a letter to The Huffington Post. He claimed he had previously sent it to Reed, but it appears Thompson sent different versions of the letter to Reed to other reporters.  

In the email provided to HuffPost at the time, Thompson claimed he was undergoing treatment for testicular cancer in St. Louis, where he still appears to live, and couldn’t address the site’s fabrication charges against him because he didn’t have his notebooks.

Thompson admitted he had been “sloppy” in his reporting, but claimed he wasn’t a fabulist. He criticized The Intercept for not providing him, a “cub reporter,” with more editorial guidance, and suggested the site treated him poorly because he was African-American. 

Thompson remained defiant weeks later, telling the Riverfront Times that he wouldn’t “be silenced or cowed by any billionaire’s company or by any of these folk,” a reference to Intercept backer and PayPal co-founder Pierre Omidyar.

“These people have been dishonest,” Thompson told Riverfront Times reporter Doyle Murphy. “They have mischaracterized and distorted many, multiple things, because they know the truth about how an anti-black situation at the Intercept this was, and you can quote me on that. I will say that.”

In addition to The Intercept stories, Murphy looked into other unverified claims Thompson made about himself, such as being accepted to the University of Chicago’s law school and writing a memoir for Crown Publishing.

“The claims about law school and the supposed book deal are like the people the Intercept’s researchers couldn’t find,” he wrote. “Maybe he interviewed those people, and they’re now hard to locate. Maybe the book deal fell through. Maybe he was accepted to law school and didn’t go. But in Thompson’s new reality, doubt covers anything that can’t be pinned to verifiable facts.”

Thompson wouldn’t comment on those seeming inconsistencies at the time, but came out swinging months later in a lengthy first-person piece published on Medium. He again defended his work at The Intercept and claimed mistreatment and insensitivity due to being a black journalist in a predominately white newsroom. 

A persistent theme on Thompson’s Twitter account has been that the “white news media” ― even if characterized as liberal ― both helped elected Donald Trump and is dismissive or disdainful in its coverage of black America. 

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