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Threat Assessment

I’ve been in a bit of a flame war on an e-mail discussion list over the last couple weeks. I thought it was all rather silly, but my main combatant sent me a private message last night, off-list, that has really thrown me for a loop. Here’s the pertinent extract:

I am still restrained about this. My options if I want to be a real pain in politics are all off-list and they are real. I do not utilize them very often and I am not always 100% successful, but I do have a voice in circles that matter. That isn’t a threat, that is just to say I am acting with far more restraint than you seem to believe.

It is best to let it go with absolutely no more commentary. This will all layer over and blow away…. But it is not something to continue to pick at.

When I first read this, my gut reaction was, “He says it’s not a threat, but it sure reads like one.” He seems to be saying, “Shut up or else.” I shared it with a couple co-workers, two solid guys who don’t scare easy, and their first reaction was the same.

Now I find myself in a bit of a quandary. He’s gotten in cyber-fights with others on the list before, and now I have to wonder if he hasn’t stooped this low before. It seems like the other members of the discussion group deserve to be apprised of these tactics. But if I share this information, I would undoubtedly provoke him further, and perhaps he makes good on this mysterious veiled threat. This has clearly gotten out of hand, so I should just drop it. But if I do that, without explanation, it seems like he gets a pass, and his bullying is perhaps further enabled.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this?

Published inFriendsGeeky


  1. David David

    My first instinct is to post the entirety of his private message on the discussion board. You know, sunshine being a disinfectant, calling his bluff, etc. But I obviously know none of the specifics. (Though, I’d like to.)

    I’d definitely say he’s threatening you, though. My instinct is to confront him, but if he can actually affect your life in a real way, you’ve got to weigh the options.

    Now that I think about it, a better approach might be forwarding his private message as another private message to key (or all) members of the discussion board.

  2. Sean Sean

    Just let it go… arguments on discussion lists never end on a positive note. Balls are bigger when crouched behind a computer. If you had a face to face conversation it most probably would not have elevated to the same level. Based on my own experience, discuss your issue in person or on the phone if you really want to resolve the conflict.

  3. Well, of course, this has gone public already.

    It is a threat. There’s no other way to read it. Now, whether this person’s bullying is ever backed up with real, “off-list…options,” or if he’s just a blowhard, remains to be seen.

    Unless you feel he is truly confiding with you in a way that reasonably seems appropriate to take off-list in this manner, I would certainly forward his off-list stuff to the list so that everyone can see what he’s trying to do. I would also consider posting the whole exchange up here, since this is a public and permanent forum and, as David eloquently said, sunshine is a disinfectant. It’d take a real idiot to follow up on a threat after everybody knows about it.

    Now, the real tactical trick would be to post up his threat on the list, and then never say another word about it. Let him stew in winning the battle and losing the war. I imagine if your point of view is reasonable (usually the case), others will take up the battle on your behalf and you can wash your hands of it.

    Depending on the context, I would personally consider the option of forwarding the whole exchange to the police as well. I know that may sound like a vast over-reaction….particularly depending on the rest of the tenor and content of the discussion…But I feel in situations like this it’s always better to be safe than sorry. As a journalist, I’ve shared more than one threat from a reader with police. I don’t know if they have done anything with them, but I believe that their simple knowledge of the situation can be useful if any further issues come up.

  4. Michael Homan Michael Homan

    Can you convince him that I am you? I’ll take the unrestrained heat from this person who may have a voice in circles that matter while you focus on the birth of your child. By the way, I could have said a lot more in this email about powerful people that I know, but I too am acting with restraint. Damnit, he’d better quit picking at the scab if he knows what’s good for him… How can we tell who has the more powerful circle without naming names? Here’s a test. If I see Nagin dressed up as Homie D. Clown on the front page of the T-P tomorrow, then we will all know that your combatant is much more powerful than all of us put together.

  5. Hi. I don’t know you, but this caught my attention because I do threat assessment for a living. I hope you don’t mind if I take the liberty of commenting.

    He said,
    “I do not utilize them very often and I am not always 100% successful, but I do have a voice in circles that matter. That isn’t a threat,”

    Well, it IS a threat. BUT the question is not one of whether or not he spoke a threat, but of whether or not he’s going to follow through and what he’s going to do. The other questions are of what he is thinking (and feeling), what he hopes to accomplish by what he’s said, and what reward he has gained by doing what he’s done.

    With the tiny bit of information provided, I can’t tell you a whole lot, but I can say a couple of things here.

    First off, he’s obviously very frustrated and feels that neither the level of his frustration nor his personal “quality” of self-restraint has been truly understood or acknowledged. You can diffuse some of his anger by doing two things:

    1) Prove to him that you see his humanity – validate his feelings, tell him that you understand what extreme frustration feels like, what it feels like to feel that people don’t understand. – In doing this, make sure you don’t lie to him and make sure that you do it in as respectful a manner as you possibly can. Find every way you can to let him know that you see him as a human being with worth regardless of differences in opinion. Also acknowledge his perception of his power (he wants to feel powerful). You can tell him that you wish you had such contacts or influence (only if you really do wish you had the influence that he thinks he has).

    2) Let him see your humanity – Doing the things in point 1) should take care of that if you’re open and genuine. You can also tell him that you’re not willing to lie to him for the sake of keeping the peace, that you’d rather give and hear honest opinions (only if that’s true).

    Also remember that he’s going to want to save face. Some people will argue until the bitter end and even when they know they are wrong and have nowhere left to go they keep arguing because it’s embarrassing (and even humiliating for some) to concede. If you decide to let the thing blow over because you’re allowing him to save face, only you need to know that and you can know that it makes you the bigger person. If you decide to keep quiet because you feel threatened, then you will feel victimized in a way and it will bother you. I can say that without knowing you because that internal reaction is simply a human one. If you feel the need to let him know that you are making the decision NOT because of his words but because it’s YOUR decision, (and that’s probably a good idea – so as not to reward his current behaviour) – you can tell him that you still disagree but that you are letting it blow over because you don’t want to cause another human being so much stress over the issue at hand.

    If you do it this way, one of three things are most likely to happen – one is that it will blow over and be done with; two – you’ll have opened up real dialogue and both of you will have an opportunity to learn something about yourselves if not the issue over which you’re arguing; three – he’ll be a total jerk, misunderstand everything, pick apart your every word and verbally attack you.

    If the latter is the case, then cut off all communication with him. Don’t even read things that he writes on message boards (’cause it will only burn you up and make you want to rip your hair out). That would be a committment you make to yourself (not to read his crap at all).

    In any case, make sure your IP is safe and that there is no way he can find out where you live and/or work.

    There… I’ve said all of this without knowing much of anything about the situation or relationship (unusual for me to do that). I recognize, therefore, that I could be missing some huge factor and what I’ve said could be off-base. I do hope that at least some of it was helpful.

  6. Wow, great feedback.

    HK, I should note that I can’t forward this to the site admin because I am the site admin.

    Laurie, I’m especially thankful for your insights. You make a lot of sense, and your suggestions are eminently reasonable — all the more remarkable since you don’t have much detail to go by. I never expected to get a professional assessment, but that’s the wonder of the internet.

    Unfortunately, since I keep a relatively high profile, it’s virtually impossible to keep my identity and place of residence/employment secret. Plus, this guy has been an acquaintance (I almost said “friend”) for well over a decade. He definitely knows who I am and where I’m at. On the plus side we are almost a thousand miles apart.

  7. M.A.D. M.A.D.

    I used to know a Joe Nickell.

    Hehehe, how ya been, Joe? Come back to the lyst or I’ll pop a cap in yer ass 🙂

    My work related travels have taken me to Nola to visit B, to San Diego to visit Mary, but I still can’t figger how I’ll get a free trip to Montana. I really need someone to teach me how to fly fish.

  8. I thought y’all should know that this guy sent me a follow-up e-mail clarifying that his non-threat was not intended against me personally but (incredible as it may sound) against the city of New Orleans.

    In light of that, I feel it’s obvious that any concerns I had for the welfare of myself and my family were absolutely unnecessary. Plain and simple, I got spooked, and I feel pretty silly about that now.

    I thank you all for your advice.

    I am indeed doing nothing by way of response. It may or may not be the best course of action; it is certainly the easiest. In fact, I’ve realized that the overlap between a respectful response and an honest response is, for me, nil. So I’m going to let this dog lie.

  9. M.A.D. M.A.D.

    B, man, don’t ever get defensive about being “spooked.” Your gut reaction is a good one and it was smart of you to seek the advice of others. Now, if you start getting spooked more often, or over things like how the cat seems to be looking at you like he’s planning on a mass murder, well, that’s another thing.

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