By JESSICA HARDIN AND JUSTIN DENNIS
In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, authorities decided they could not wait to act on the results of a six-month investigation into the internet activity of Justin Olsen.
In posts and comments on iFunny.com that were deleted Tuesday, Olsen, 18, advocated shooting “every federal agent on sight” and praised the Oklahoma City bombing as an example of “a viable method of political change.”
As Boardman Detective William Woods wrote, “I believe that Justin Olsen is planning a terrorist attack in the United States.”
Olsen’s prior appearances in The Vindicator deviate starkly from his mug shot. Photos depict the 2019 Boardman High School graduate striking a tennis ball and playing in the band.
Olsen was arrested Aug. 7, just three days after the Dayton shooting.
In many cases, said John Iannarelli, former FBI special agent, anonymous criminal activity like Olsen’s is obscured by a veneer of normalcy.
“They may still enjoy all the other activities we see them engage in,” Iannarelli said.
The investigation originated with an FBI complaint filed in Anchorage, Alaska, regarding Olsen’s online activity. FBI and local law enforcement officials executed search warrants Aug. 7 at the Presidential Court home of his mother Melanie Olsen and the Oak Ridge Drive home of Justin Olsen’s father Eric Olsen, where Justin was arrested.
When asked about the posts, Olsen admitted to making the comments, but claimed they were “only a joke.”
On Tuesday, The Vindicator obtained the returns on the search warrants that include a list of the items confiscated in the search.
Authorities recovered 23 guns, including at least five assault-style weapons, multiple gun accessories and electronics. Investigators also found a machete in Justin Olsen’s car. A federal affidavit filed Monday noted that 10,000 rounds of ammunition were also found.
“I believe posts made from Olsen’s account that he is currently in the process of and researching further, the ability to ‘stockpile weapons’ for his attack,” Woods wrote.
After Olsen’s arrest, Boardman police Chief Todd Werth said though authorities seized a substantial number of firearms, there’s no evidentiary link yet between the guns recovered and Olsen’s online conduct. Authorities did not confirm whether Olsen owned the guns or whether investigators had determined to whom the guns belong.
“I stress our concern was his access to those weapons – whether or not he was the owner of those weapons,” Werth told The Vindicator on Tuesday.
Olsen was arraigned Monday in the Thomas D. Lambros Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse downtown on a federal charge of threatening to assault a federal law-enforcement officer. He will remain in the Mahoning County jail without bond at least until his continued detention hearing Friday, Magistrate George J. Limbert ordered.
As of Tuesday morning, Olsen had posted 202 memes on iFunny.com with the username “ArmyOfChrist,” starting in Nov. 9, 2018. Throughout Tuesday, the most threatening images were deleted, until the account was suspended Tuesday night.
His page had gained 1,400 followers since the story broke. Olsen’s posts are rife with praise for mass shootings and hatred of Muslims, gays and women.
One post depicted a video of a man shooting multiple guns with the words: “Me walking into the nearest Planned Parenthood.”
In another post, he lists his top seven least respectable jobs. “Journalists” comprise three of the seven, in addition to “ATF Anything Employees.”
Olsen also posted a photo of a gun, with the words “[Republish] if you would take liberty into your own hands with your male subscribers.”
A concerned Indianola Road resident questioned Werth on the investigation time line during a Monday evening meeting of Boardman Township trustees.
Werth said though he advocates for free and independent speech, “there’s a clear line in our society we can’t cross.”
Justin Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said criminal cases regarding threats aren’t often clear on who is being threatened or the seriousness of the threat.
“We have a specific statute that addresses threats against law enforcement, and this particular threat involving Mr. Olsen was as clear as you can get,” he said.
FBI Anchorage investigators reassigned Olsen’s case to local feds Aug. 2, the day before the mass shooting in El Paso, which killed 22 people, and two days before nine people were shot to death in Dayton.
“[Mahoning Prosecutor Michael McBride] agreed that in light of the recent mass shootings in the United States that we could not wait to act on this information,” Woods wrote in the search warrant.
“Regardless of El Paso or Dayton – as tragic as those cases are – it’s still a case that would have merited federal prosecution because of the threats against law enforcement,” Herdman said.
Between February and July, the Anchorage FBI office used Olsen’s iFunny.com account to identify him. Boardman School District was notified Aug. 6, said Superintendent Tim Saxton.
Olsen’s last iFunny.com post May 29 explains he created a Discord.com server ”to allow for better dialogue.” Discord servers provide private chat rooms differentiated by topic.
Iannarelli explained that, in situations like these, law enforcement gets involved when threats become specific.
“You have First Amendment rights to say things, even if they’re things other people might find offensive or disturbing,” he said. “But you have no right to threaten other people or intend to go forward and commit violence against other people.”
After news broke about Olsen’s arrest, information has been shared by national gun-control advocates on Twitter.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, tweeted a quote from one of Olsen’s posts: “don’t comply with gun laws, stock up on stuff they could ban. In fact go out of your way to break these laws, they’re [expletive] stupid.”
The affidavit references posts indicating that he had been accepted to the ROTC program at University of Texas at Austin. The Department of Military Science at the University of Texas at Austin, however, told The Vindicator Olsen is not enrolled.
In light of the national anxiety regarding shootings, especially in schools, Saxton said students are a “great first line of defense.”
He encourages students to tell school leadership if they observe or hear something suspicious.
To parents and students experiencing anxiety about returning to school in light of the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and the news of Olsen’s arrest, Saxton said, “Sit down with principals. Let people know. Meet with people. Talk to people.”
Werth said township officials have discussed coordinating community forums on the issue.
Herdman added residents should be alert to potential threats, but also consider whether their observances are specific or unambiguous and appropriate to report to law enforcement.
“It usually helps the person who reports the information to vet how serious the threat is,” he said. “If we have something specific that was said or some sort of planning underway, that really does assist us.”
Contributor: Staff writer Joe Gorman