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Racist threats posted to Harvard’s Instagram account lead to 15 months in prison for Arizona man

An Arizona man who called for a mass shooting at a 2017 Harvard commencement event for black students and also encouraged bombers to target the Ivy League campus was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in federal prison.

Nicholas Zuckerman, 25, pleaded guilty in US District Court in Boston in February to two counts of transmitting in interstate and foreign commerce a threat to injure the person of another, records show.

Prosecutors said Zuckerman threatened the Harvard Black Commencement that had been planned for May 23, 2017. Zuckerman spotted a posting on Harvard University’s public Instagram account about the event, and created an Instagram account of his own.


“The defendant’s post read: #bombharvard and end their pro-black agenda,’’ US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office wrote in court papers. “Zuckerman uploaded the threatening comment ‘#bombharvard’ to other users’ posts approximately 11 times, over a span of about four minutes.”

He also posted on the Harvard account, prosecutors said in court papers. “If the blacks only ceremony happens, then I encourage violence and death at it. I’m thinking two automatics with extendo clips,’’ Zuckerman wrote, according to court papers.

Zuckerman’s public defender, Cara McNamara, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment Thursday morning.

McNamara filed a motion last week to submit the defense’s sentencing memorandum under seal, citing “personal information that should not be made part of the public record.” The motion was granted.

Lelling’s office said in court papers that Zuckerman — who wasn’t in Cambridge in the days before the Black Commencement and wasn’t spotted by authorities monitoring the event — had unsettled the community with his criminal behavior.

“The divisiveness of our public discourse does not excuse making any group of people feel unsafe,” Lelling said in a statement Wednesday. “We will investigate all threats that cross the line of free speech and infringe on the safety and security of members of our community, especially when those threats are based on race or other immutable characteristics.”


A concerned citizen who saw the posts reported them to the Harvard University police, who ultimately referred the case to federal authorities. The case was then investigated by the FBI.

“It’s sadly ironic that Nicholas Zuckerman would turn his chilling threats of mass destruction and vile words against graduates at Harvard University, an institution that has molded some of our greatest orators,’’ Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston office, said in a statement.

He added, “Let today’s sentence serve as a lesson to all that no hate monger hiding behind a social-media pseudonym can stop others from celebrating the diversity of some of our area’s best and brightest minds.”

Federal prosecutors had urged an 18-month sentence, but US District Court Judge Indira Talwani instead sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release when his incarceration ends.

A plea agreement filed in the case said Zuckerman had faced a maximum prison term of 10 years, though the prosecution and the defense agreed that a “reasonable and appropriate disposition” would be 12 to 18 months behind bars, records show.

The parties also agreed that Zuckerman should receive a fine of “$5,500 to $55,000, unless the Court finds at the time of sentencing that [the] Defendant is not able and, even with the use of a reasonable installment schedule, is not likely to become able to pay a fine,” the plea deal said.


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.