A social media user from Maine has been convicted of transmitting a threatening interstate communication after posting to X (then known as Twitter) that he was going to murder Jewish people with an AR-15. Brian Dennison, 25, first posted the threat in 2021 on an anime-focused account that had just a handful of followers.
Dennison, first came under FBI scrutiny on September 8 of 2021 almost immediately after posting a tweet which said “I’m building a pipe bomb.” After that tweet was flagged, an FBI Counterterrorism Watch Officer scrolled through his account, which used the handle @Ma1lus, and noticed another tweet which read “I’m going to kill jews with my ar15 tomorrow.”
That tweet was available for approximately 40 minutes before Dennison allegedly deleted it. A social media expert would later testify in court that no more than 10 people would have viewed the post in the time frame, one of whom would have been the FBI agent investigating him.
A search warrant was executed at a property in Buxton the next day, at an address where Dennison lived in an apartment attached to his parent’s house. The FBI seemingly obtained Dennison’s information directly from Twitter within hours of launching their investigation.
Among the items recovered at Dennison’s property were approximately 1,700 rounds of ammunition that could be fired from an AR-15-style rifle.
Another search was conducted the following day, and agents discovered an AR-15-style rifle and ammunition in a case that had been hidden in the woods behind the residence.
Dennison was indicted by a grand jury on September 22, 2021, despite prosecutors admitting that they had no evidence to demonstrate that Dennison had been planning to commit a shooting of any kind.
Dennison’s defense lawyer repeatedly attempted to have the case dismissed, arguing that the tweet Dennison had made did not constitute “true threat” speech that would not be protected by the First Amendment.
“Because Mr. Dennison is charged with a pure speech crime, First Amendment protections apply requiring proof of a ‘true threat,'” his lawyer wrote in the motion. “Mr. Dennison asserts that the alleged Twitter language does not state a true threat because there is an unconstitutional lack of specificity of the target and location of the threatened conduct. As a result, an element of the crime is lacking in the indictment.”
Dennison’s lawyer pointed to a 1995 precedent in which a man was charged after communicating a threat via email to “sadistically router 14- and 15-year-old girls.” The case was ultimately dismissed because the court determined that the lack of specific location, combined with the generic nature of the alleged targets, made it impossible to proceed with the indictment.
“There is no discernible difference between ’14- and 15-year-old girls’ and ‘Jews’ in this context. Both cases lack a sufficiently identified target group which would reasonably experience fear of bodily injury or death,” Dennison’s lawyer stated.
But the motion to dismiss was ultimately rejected, with the judge writing that a jury had to decide whether Dennison’s tweet met the standards to be considered a “true threat.”
On December 7 of 2023, following a lengthy trial, a jury found Dennison guilty on one count of transmitting a threatening interstate communication.
Dennison is now awaiting sentencing, and faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He will be sentenced after the completion of a presentence investigation report by the U.S. Probation Office.