Schools in Charlottesville, VA, are closed for the second day in a row today as police investigate a racist, violent threat that surfaced online promising an “ethnic cleansing” of Charlottesville High School.
The original threat, which surfaced Wednesday on various social media sites, was widely circulated as a screenshot of a post from what appears to be 4chan’s /pol/ board, which is often filled with racist and white supremacist discussion. The post specifically referenced Charlottesville High School and used racial slurs to describe targeting black and Latino students, warning white students to stay home.
As Charlottesville’s Daily Progress reported, police have not confirmed this specific threat is the one under investigation, but details of the 4chan post match descriptions of the threat by Charlottesville school administrators, who acknowledged the threat was “racially charged.”
Per the Washington Post, Charlottesville officials made the decision to shut down schools pending a full investigation by state and federal authorities:
In a message to families, Rosa Atkins, superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools, said an investigation involving state and federal authorities remains active, necessitating the unusual step of keeping schools closed.
“We would like to acknowledge and condemn the fact that this threat was racially charged. We do not tolerate hate or racism,” Atkins said.
“The entire staff and School Board stand in solidarity with our students of color — and with people who have been singled out for reasons such as religion or ethnicity or sexual identity in other vile threats made across the country or around the world. We are in this together, and a threat against one is a threat against all.”
Albemarle High School, which is in the suburbs just outside Charlottesville, was also the target of a separate threat on Thursday night, although police are not treating the two cases as connected. As the Charlottesville paper reported:
Late Thursday night, Albemarle Superintendent Matt Haas said a threat was posted on social media earlier in the day that referenced Albemarle High School. He said the increased police presence implemented Thursday would continue at county schools on Friday.
Haas said there was no evidence linking that threat to the one received by Charlottesville City Schools. City police are working with state and federal agencies on the investigation.
According to the local NBC affiliate NBC29, police announced Friday morning that they had made an arrest in the Albemarle threat, and the teenage suspect was charged with one felony count of “threats to commit serious bodily harm to persons on school property.”
Part of the difficulty in the Charlottesville case has been verifying the credibility of the threat. Sites like 4chan and 8chan, where the New Zealand mosque shooter posted links to a livestream of his massacre, are notorious breeding grounds for white supremacy and extremism mixed with general shitposting, and it can be hard to tell the difference.
Jennifer McKeever, chair of the school board, told the Post the decision to cancel school for some 4,300 students was made out of an “abundance of caution.”
“We just didn’t have any additional information, and it was clear that we were not going to get any additional information,” she told the paper. “As laypeople, we could not determine the credibility of the threat.”
The community is also still coping with the scars left by the violent 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, where a white nationalist murdered anti-fascist counter-protester Heather Heyer.
According to the Daily Progress, police are working on getting search warrants with the cooperation of “the majority of the sites” involved in the case, although they did not specify which sites were being investigated.
Update, 12:00 p.m. ET: Charlottesville Police announced they’ve made an arrest in the threat against Charlottesville High School at 6 a.m. this morning. The suspect, a 17 year old boy, is being charged with felony and misdemeanor charges.