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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Can you define ‘woman?’ One man may go to jail for his answer

Jeremy Hanson is charged with threatening to blow up a dictionary’s offices because he didn’t like its inclusive update of the entry.

BOSTON (CN) — A California man accused of threatening to blow up the offices of the Merriam-Webster dictionary because he objected to the use of the term “gender identity” in its definition of the word “girl” appeared Friday in federal court via Zoom in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the dictionary is headquartered. 

“You evil Marxists should all be killed. It would be poetic justice to have someone storm your offices and shoot up the place, leaving none of you commies alive,” Jeremy David Hanson of Rossmoor, California, allegedly posted on the dictionary’s “Contact Us” page. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson ordered Hanson, 34, held in home detention at his mother’s house. He is banned from internet access and may be required to submit to a mental health evaluation.  

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Hanson made threats not only to the dictionary publisher but to the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Land O’ Lakes, Hasbro Inc., IGN Entertainment, the president of the University of North Texas, two professors at Loyola Marymount University and a New York City rabbi. No details about these other threats are included in the charging papers.

The dictionary entry that apparently upset Hanson defines “girl” as “a person whose gender identity is female.” The dictionary defines “female” as “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male.” 

“There is no such thing as ‘gender identity,’” Hanson allegedly posted last October 2 in a comments section. “The imbecile who wrote this entry should be hunted down and shot.” Six days later Hanson allegedly posted another comment and threatened to “bomb your offices for lying.” 

Merriam-Webster took the treats seriously and closed its offices in Springfield and New York City for five days. 

The definition of the female sex has been in the news lately after Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was unable to define “woman” at her confirmation hearing. “I’m not a biologist,” Jackson explained. 

But in threatening violence over the dictionary's definition, Hanson “crossed a line,” said FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta, who runs the bureau’s Boston Division. “Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but repeatedly threatening to kill people … takes it to a new level.” 

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins added that “hate-filled threats and intimidations have no place in our society.” She described Hanson’s rants as “despicable messages related to the LGBTQ community.” 

Hanson’s arrest comes in the wake of the Biden administration’s declaration that domestic terrorism is “the most urgent terrorism threat the United States faces today.” President Biden’s national-strategy framework promises a crackdown on “anti-government or anti-authority sentiment.” 

The framework created controversy after it was revealed that the Justice Department was reviewing strategies for using federal law enforcement against parents in the wake of a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland from the National School Boards Association that likened certain parents to domestic terrorists. The school board group later apologized

In his other posted comments, Hanson claimed the dictionary’s definition “promotes anti-science propaganda … as part of the Left’s efforts to corrupt and degrade the English language and deny reality.” 

Hanson is charged with one count of interstate communication of threats to commit violence. He faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 13. 

Hanson is also the subject of a bench warrant in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for making similar threats. 

Hanson told the FBI on October 27 that he has obsessive-compulsive disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, anxiety and depression, and struggles with impulse control. He said that he knows his comments are illegal but he can’t stop himself, according to MassLive.com. 

Hanson’s mother told the FBI that he had no access to weapons, MassLive reported. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary, now owned by the Encyclopedia Britannica, is a direct descendant of Noah Webster’s landmark 1828 “American Dictionary of the English Language,” which is widely credited for popularizing non-British spellings such as “center” rather than “centre” and “color” instead of “colour,” and which Emily Dickinson considered her favorite book. 

But while the dictionary is known as a standard reference, it also has a history of controversy, including what were seen in recent years as a series of anti-Trump tweets. The dictionary responded to Kellyanne Conway’s use of the phrase “alternative facts” and Trump’s own misspelling of “hereby” on Twitter. And it highlighted he word “Götterdämmerung” immediately after the 2016 election and the phrase “crocodile tears” after Kyle Rittenhouse cried in court. 

The dictionary also recently published an article on the uncertain etymology of one of President Biden’s favorite words, “malarkey.” 

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