Education

Man Who Made Racist Threats about Harvard’s Black Commencement Sentenced to Prison

Nicholas Zuckerman threatened violence against black students on Harvard's Instagram page in 2017.


Photo via iStock/travelview

Two years ago, an Instagram user by the name of russian_goalkeeper94 called for a bombing of Harvard and a mass shooting at the university’s first-ever black commencement ceremony. Wednesday, the 25-year-old Arizona man behind the account, Nicholas Zuckerman, was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Zuckerman was arrested in June 2018 and pleaded guilty to two counts of transmitting in interstate and foreign commerce a threat to injure the person of another in US District Court last February, according to the Boston Globe.

In May 2017, Zuckerman commented on a photo posted by the Harvard University Instagram account, saying he wanted to end Harvard’s “pro-black agenda.”

“If the blacks only ceremony happens, then I encourage violence and death at it,” Zuckerman wrote in the comment. “I’m thinking two automatics with extendo clips.”

Zuckerman also posted a similar message on a different photo by Harvard, and then commented “#bombharvard” on 11 other Instagram users’ posts within a 4-minute span. Eventually, a “concerned citizen” reported the comments to Harvard Police, who directed the case to federal authorities.

The inaugural black commencement ceremony went on as scheduled, with an increased police presence. The ceremony, which was approved by the university but planned entirely by students, has been held every year since, as a way to celebrate the accomplishments within Harvard’s black community and recognize the challenges that students of color on Harvard’s predominately-white campus face. It’s typically held a few days before the university-wide commencement ceremony.

An editorial defending black commencement in the Harvard Crimson this year, published shortly after Zuckerman pleaded guilty, made reference to his Instagram comments.

“Zuckerman’s threat against black Commencement only underscores the need for this and other events on Harvard’s campus that are designed to celebrate communities of students from marginalized backgrounds who face challenges both on their paths to Harvard and their journeys through it,” the editorial reads.

The editorial also suggested that students found Harvard’s response to Zuckerman to be insufficient, given the gravity of the threats he made.

“We believe that while such threats take place, the University must offer greater support for cultural resources and affinity groups so that minority students feel more safe and included,” the Crimson‘s editorial staff penned. “The Harvard community must be sensitive to the unique challenges faced by minority groups and work diligently to create a home for those communities within its campus.”

Initially, federal prosecutors pushed for an 18-month sentence for Zuckerman. Instead, US District Court Judge Indira Talwani gave him the 15 month sentence, with three years of supervised release to follow. He may also face a fine upward of $5,500.

“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,” Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston office, said in a statement.