ISIS Fan Faces Federal Charge After Reblogging A GIF On Tumblr

Prosecutors say Ohio man allegedly solicited a crime of violence by reposting a GIF.

WASHINGTON -- A man from Akron, Ohio, who has supported the Islamic State online was arrested by federal authorities Thursday and charged because he allegedly "reblogged" a GIF on Tumblr that called for attacks on members of the U.S. military.

Terrence J. McNeil, 25, was charged in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio with soliciting a crime of violence. An affidavit shows that the feds were watching as McNeil allegedly cycled through a variety of Twitter accounts, and they also kept close tabs on his Facebook page. They first made a request to Twitter about information on one of McNeil's accounts in early August 2015 after he tweeted things that appeared supportive of the Islamic State.

In one post on Tumblr, he wrote "Happy 9/11!!!!" and posted photos of a strawberry dessert, and also posted a photo of a cake with Osama bin Laden’s image and candles that wrote out "9/11." Those posts were intermingled with images of elephants, cats and baby sloths.

But McNeil was ultimately charged for an action he took long after he apparently popped up on the FBI's radar, when he reposted a GIF from another Tumblr account onto a Tumblr account he allegedly ran. The GIF, under the banner "Islamic State Hacking Division," reportedly loops through "several dozen photographs, purportedly of U.S. military personnel, along with their respective name, address and military branch," according to a Justice Department press release.

"Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe," the GIF reportedly stated. McNeil allegedly reblogged the GIF on Sept. 24.

A review of the Tumblr site McNeil allegedly ran shows it is filled with images of Islamic State fighters, the smoking World Trade Center buildings, Anwar Al-Awlaki, Osama bin Laden, and memes from South Park. It even includes an image that a Huffington Post reporter took of a detainee during a trip to Guantanamo Bay. According to an affidavit from an FBI agent, the Tumblr account also apparently featured a photo of McNeil in hospital scrubs.

Terrence J. McNeil, seen in a photo he posted, is facing federal charges for reblogging a GIF on Tumblr.
Terrence J. McNeil, seen in a photo he posted, is facing federal charges for reblogging a GIF on Tumblr.

The FBI has pointed to retweets from suspects in support of terrorism charges against several individuals in terrorism cases. But this appears to be the first time they've charged an individual who reblogged a GIF on Tumblr. In a statement, a FBI agent said McNeil's decision to reblog the GIF went beyond speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

“While we aggressively defend First Amendment rights, the individual arrested went far beyond free speech by reposting names and addresses of 100 U.S. service members, all with the intent to have them killed,” Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI's Cleveland Division, said in a statement. “We will remain vigilant in our efforts to stop those who wish to support these despicable acts.”

When The Huffington Post asked this summer whether reposting material alone could warrant federal charges, FBI Director James Comey said it would depend upon the individual circumstances and the "mental state" of the individual doing the reposting.

"I can imagine an academic sharing something with someone as part of research would have a very different mental intent than someone who is sharing that in order to try and get others to join an organization or engage in an act of violence," Comey said. "So it's hard to answer in the abstract like that."