Federal prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of 18 months for a man who threatened to bomb Harvard and shoot attendees of the University’s 2017 black Commencement ceremony, according to Thursday court filings.
“The seriousness of his transgression must be met with an equally serious sentence,” the government’s memorandum reads. “Public and official rejection of such behavior is necessary if we are to take serious steps towards curtailing it.”
Federal authorities arrested Phoenix, Ariz. resident Nicholas Zuckerman in June 2018 and charged him with two counts of “transmitting threats in interstate and foreign commerce.” Zuckerman pleaded guilty to those charges in March.
Zuckerman’s attorney, Cara McNamara, did not respond to a request for comment. University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the matter.
Zuckerman commented on the University’s Instagram account in May 2017, threatening violence at Harvard’s inaugural black Commencement, according to the filings. Black Commencement, held annually in May, is an event meant to celebrate black achievement across Harvard’s schools and acknowledge challenges that students of color may face at the University.
“If the blacks only ceremony happens, then I encourage violence and death at it,” Zuckerman commented on one post. “I’m thinking two automatics with extendo clips.”
He later commented “#bombharvard and end their pro-black agenda” on another one of the University’s posts and wrote “#bombharvard” on other accounts’ posts, according to court filings.
U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office wrote in its court filing Thursday that the seriousness of Zuckerman’s threat — combined with the fact that it targeted a minority group — justifies the year-and-a-half long prison sentence.
“It is clear that the defendant acted with purpose and deliberation,” the memorandum reads. “He took steps to find the posts, which were general public celebrations of the history and culture at Harvard, to read through the comments to identify others who disapproved of the Black Commencement, and to engage with them, taking the discourse to a level beyond ‘discussion’ or ‘free speech’ to a place of violence and fear.”
The federal prosecutors added that a substantial prison sentence is necessary to uphold the law and discourage hate crimes.
“An insubstantial sentence for a serious offense can convey to the public that the law does not matter,” the memorandum reads. “This can undermine the public’s respect for not just the law that the defendant violated, but also for the legal system in general.”
The judge presiding over the case, Indira Talwani ’82, is scheduled to decide sentencing on July 17.