Broadway theatre faced with Twitter gun threats

Judd Hollander
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New York police have been forced to obtain a subpoena for the social media site Twitter to make it release personal information about a user who made repeated threats to bring a loaded weapon to and start firing on the audience at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre.

The user in question, who goes by the Twitter handle @obamasmistress, had apparently been addressing profanity-laced death threats to many celebrities’ Twitter accounts over the last few months including reality TV stars Kim and Khloe Kardashian, singer Justin Bieber, gossip columnist Perez Hilton and Twilight actress Kristen Stewart. As recently as Monday, a death threat had been tweeted to actress Ellen Page.

But it was the specific mention of the Longacre Theatre, currently home to Undisputed Truth, a one-man show starring former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and directed by Spike Lee, that caused the New York Police Department to spring into action. On July 29, @obamasmistress tweeted: “I might just shoot up this theater in new York (sic) I know they leave their exit doors unlocked. Ha now I gotta plan it step by step.”

On July 30, they tweeted: “Planning a murder is harder than I thought but people are going to die, just like they did in the theater,” referring to the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado where 12 people were killed and 58 wounded when a gunman started firing in a cinema during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

Then, on August 2, @obamasmistress tweeted a response to the fashion designer Nicole Miller, who had just tweeted that she was in the audience at the Longacre to see Tyson, and that she was sitting behind director Lee: “Well ima shoot that theater up tonight trust me (sic)”. Responding to another Twitter user, @obamasmistress tweeted: “no once again it’s not a joke I even got a hit list wit all the people ima kill on it. (sic)”

In response to the threats against the Longacre and audiences, the NYPD deployed an elite Hercules security unit and armoured vehicles to provide intense security around the theatre. The NYPD has also increased its presence in the theatre district and around Times Square.

According to NYPD deputy commissioner Paul Brown, the police first became aware of the threat at the Longacre in the late evening/early morning hours of August 3 and 4.

When the NYPD made an emergency request online to Twitter for @obamasmistress’ user information in order to trace the threats, the website refused, replying: “We appreciate the timeliness and sensitivity of this matter, and have reviewed the reported Twitter account… while we do invoke emergency-disclosure procedures when it appears that a threat is present, specific and immediate, this does not appear to fall under those strict parameters as per our policies.”

This prompted Brown to tell CBS News in New York: “I’m not quite sure what their level would be when this person is threatening to go into a theater and kill people. It’s certainly enough for us. We’re getting a subpoena to order Twitter to produce that name.”

By late Tuesday afternoon, Twitter had received the subpoena and provided the information the NYPD requested. Around 1pm New York time on August 7, the @obamasmistress account was either deleted by its user or suspended by Twitter itself.

Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement: “Broadway is a community and we work together very closely to ensure the safety and security of our theatregoers and employees. In all situations impacting security, we coordinate our efforts with the New York City Police Department and the Security personnel of the Times Square Alliance. Individual theatre responses are activated as necessary based upon the direction given by the NYC police and the specifics of the situation. Broadway has extensive security procedures in our theatres and in the theatre district with the primary purpose of protecting our theatregoers and employees. We are devoted to ensuring that Broadway theatres remain safe spaces where audiences can enjoy our performances.”

Twitter has declined to comment on the matter.

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