Cornell student accused of antisemitic murder threats appears in court

WARNING: Distressing content. Patrick Dai, a junior majoring in engineering at the university, charged in federal complaint

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 02 November 2023 00:57 EDT
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A student from Cornell University accused of making violent threats against Jewish students was detained and sent to jail following a court appearance on Wednesday.

Patrick Dai, 21, was earlier arrested for allegedly making “horrendous” anti-Jewish death threats that forced the school to be on high alert over the weekend.

Mr Dai, a junior majoring in engineering at the university, was charged in a federal complaint with “posting threats to kill or injure another” using an online public school forum, according to a statement on Tuesday by the attorney’s office of the Northern District of New York.

The complaint said Mr Dai posted “threatening messages to the Cornell section of an online discussion site, including posts calling for the deaths of Jewish people and a post that said ‘gonna shoot up 104 west’”.

The 104 west is a Cornell University dining hall that caters to students who follow Kosher diets.

The charge filed against Mr Dai carries a maximum term of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to three years.

Prosecutor Geoffrey Brown requested Mr Dai’s detention, emphasising that he had visited a campus dining hall before purportedly making threats to “shoot up” the vicinity.

It was reported that Mr Dai voluntarily waived his right to a detention hearing and was subsequently ordered to be detained without bail, after which he was handed over to the custody of US Marshals.

On Sunday night, Cornell University was placed on high alert after a series of “horrendous, antisemitic” online threats were made against its Jewish community, school officials said.

Mr Dai, a native of New York’s Pittsford, faced formal charges shortly after New York State Police troopers identified a person of interest over online threats to “bring an assault rifle to campus”.

Mr Dai’s father, who requested not to be named, was quoted as saying by the New York Post that his son was battling “severe depression”.

“No, I don’t think he committed the crime. He told us he lost his life goal and motivation. As parents, we tried to give him more love,” the father of the 21-year-old said.

“We remain shocked by and condemn these horrific, antisemitic threats and believe they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Joel Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations.

“We know that our campus community will continue to support one another in the days ahead.”

“Cornell University is grateful to the FBI for working so swiftly to identify and apprehend the suspect in this case, a Cornell student, who remains in custody,” he said in a fresh statement on Tuesday night.

Earlier, Mr Dai had allegedly posted threats under pseudonyms like “hamas”, “jew evil” and “jew jenocide”.

On Wednesday, Mr Dai’s mother was also present in the court in Syracuse, New York state.

A community alert was also sent by the Cornell University Police Department for the entire city of Ithaca after the online threats. The alert said “evidence suggests the targeted locations were intentionally selected because of perpetrator’s bias”.

“Threats of violence are absolutely intolerable, and we will work to ensure that the person or people who posted them are punished to the full extent of the law,” Cornell university president Martha Pollack said in a statement.

“Our immediate focus is on keeping the community safe; we will continue to prioritise that.

“We will not tolerate antisemitism at Cornell. The virulence and destructiveness of antisemitism is real and deeply impacting our Jewish students, faculty and staff, as well as the entire Cornell community.

“This incident highlights the need to combat the forces that are dividing us and driving us toward hate.”

New York governor Kathy Hochul also condemned the posts, calling them “disgusting” and “hateful”.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, a Cornell professor was forced to take a leave of absence after he called the Hamas attack on Israel that left 1,400 dead “exhilarating” and “energising”.

Rows have erupted across college campuses in the US ever since Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel on 7 October.

NBC News, citing Anti-Defamation League reports, said last Tuesday that there has been a nearly 400 per cent increase in reported incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault since the events of 7 October.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations on 25 October said it had documented nearly 800 complaints and reported incidents of bias against Muslims across the nation since 7 October.

It said that “actual numbers may be higher, as hate crimes against Muslims in America remain massively underreported”.

Israel had since the 7 October launched retaliatory attacks on the Gaza Strip. The attacks have killed more than 8,300 people – 66 per cent of them women and children – and left tens of thousands injured, the UN’s humanitarian office said.

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