Monday, September 6, 2010

The Life and Death of Jonathan Rees

When Jonathan Rees died in November 2008, almost nobody noticed. Jonathan Rees had been in the news because he was a candidate for Ward 3 City Council (garnering only 24 votes). But Jonathan Rees was a lot more than just a failed political candidate. Jonathan Rees was evil and smart, and he knew how to wield the Internet to deceive and hurt people. Rees died of lung cancer. During his dying days, Rees was kicked off a lung cancer support forum. I don't know what he said to have been exiled from an online cancer community, but it wouldn't have surprised anyone who knew Rees that he was removed from such a group.


For years, Rees had been cyberstalking and harassing Washington, DC residents, candidates for City Council, judges, a law professor and bloggers. Jonathan Rees always just barely avoided crossing a line that would have caused him to be arrested.

It would be simplistic to say that Rees was just mean and mentally unstable. Those who were attacked by Rees, including me, are familiar with his background, which includes sending every judge on the DC Superior Court a "vulgar" (a judge's description) email during Rees' divorce proceedings. Rees created numerous blogs attacking his enemies and posted literally hundreds of harassing messages on Craigslist -- so many that Craig Newmark, the founder and owner of Craigslist, personally devoted time to trying to thwart Rees.
Among his favorite ways of hurting people was to accuse them of being pedophiles. He'd repeat this message over and over again on email lists (not the Cleveland Park Listserv, where he was banned), Craigslist, and other online forums. As you can imagine, it's horrible to have messages strewn about the Internet claiming that you're a pedophile.

One of the many people whom Rees has attacked was his ex-wife's divorce lawyer: He sued her (as well as nearly a dozen other people -- all those suits were dismissed), and impersonated her, posting fake personal dating ads of a highly sexual nature. Twelve years after his divorce, Rees was still harassing the lawyer.

When Rees learned that a Washington Post reporter was investigating him, he posted that reporter's name and home address on the Internet. The reporter never wrote that story about Rees.

Jonathan Rees was a sociopath. He was somebody without a conscience, whose greatest joy was to hurt other people. It's hard to describe somebody who has no conscience, but without the ability to feel empathy and with the desire to ruin people's lives for the pure sport of it, Rees had a great deal of power. (You might want to see the DCist article and comments, which gives a snapshot of Jonathan Rees.)

When Jonathan Rees was a candidate for City Council in the District of Columbia, some people figured out that he was mentally unbalanced, evil and had no chance of winning. Some list and forum owners noticed that when anyone posted a negative opinion about Rees on a local listserv or blog, Rees went into attack mode, usually through one of the 100-plus aliases he created. In 2006, one of the people who was attacked by Rees compiled a list of his aliases, which is posted at http://aliases.wordpress.com. (Rees frequently tried to join the Cleveland Park Listserv using new aliases; we zapped each of those aliases).

Rees posted contradictory and false information about his family, his education, his campaign, his job, pretty much everything. He fabricated a company identification card to "prove" that he was employed at a hospital. Rees even impersonated a Washington, DC police officer online, posting a pro-Rees campaign message in that officer's name. These are just some of the things that Jonathan Rees did.

What does this have to do with technology? Two things. First, Rees made amazing use of email, listservs, blogs, e-newsletters, and other online forums. He had many online supporters, virtually all of whom were fabricated. He posted often and widely, magnifying a voice that should never have been heard.

Second, Rees deceived a lot of people. While we were vigilant about deleting all of Rees' messages, and while the editors at DCist, were bravely willing to incur Rees' wrath for telling the truth about Jonathan Rees, most other email list moderators and e-newsletter editors published his homophobic and racist rants. Why? Partly because they felt he had a right to speak. They believed that in the marketplace of ideas, good ideas and thoughts always win. Never mind that Rees accused people of pedophilia and other crimes -- the publishers of these online forums, newsletters and email lists thought that his voice was worth hearing. Never mind that he invented easily checkable facts about his marriage, job, and background: According to the editors of these online publications, telling big lies about yourself and others has nothing to do with your "message."

Rees posted on his blog, "It is estimated that 40% of the Jews in DC are Gay, Lesbian or Bi-Sexual with the majority being bi-sexual. What is the driving force behind GLBT Jews moving into DC? Some use to believe that Jews came to DC to be a part of various non-profits organizations geared toward promoting Israel and social justice causes but another look says, they see DC as prime territory to achieve their ultimate goal of a place in America that is receptive to same sex marriage." This is the man who some online forum and newsletter owners considered a serious candidate for City Council, and who was entitled to be heard. Those newsletters that published Rees' words were deceived and they were wrong. Jonathan Rees was the voice of nightmares.

Don't believe everything you read on the Internet. And be careful in cyberspace. There are other Jonathan Reeses out there.



1 comment:

  1. All I can say after reading this is that you're probably glad he's gone. I read the comments on the DCist and he sounded like a real loon.

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