Student hit with federal charges for online death threats aimed at Cornell Jews

Patrick Dai faces five years in prison after allegedly posting gruesome threats on forum, sparking alarm on university campus in upstate New York

A woman walks by a Cornell University sign on the Ivy League school's campus in Ithaca, New York, on January 14, 2022. (Ted Shaffrey/AP)
A woman walks by a Cornell University sign on the Ivy League school's campus in Ithaca, New York, on January 14, 2022. (Ted Shaffrey/AP)

ITHACA, New York — A Cornell University student is facing federal charges after he was arrested Tuesday for allegedly threatening to kill Jewish students at the school in posts online, law enforcement officials said.

Patrick Dai, 21, a junior from Pittsford, New York, is charged in a federal criminal complaint with posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications, according to a joint announcement from the US Attorney’s office, FBI, New York State police and Cornell University Police.

It was not immediately clear if Dai had hired an attorney. The federal courts website had not yet been updated with the case. Dai did not respond to a Facebook message and his Cornell email address could not be immediately accessed.

The charge carries a possible five-year prison sentence, officials said.

The menacing messages, posted over the weekend on a forum about fraternities and sororities, alarmed students at the Ivy League school in upstate New York. The anonymous threats came amid a spike of antisemitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric appearing on social media during the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas terror group.

Dai is scheduled to appear Wednesday in federal court in Syracuse, New York, before a United States Magistrate Judge.

Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations at Cornell University, said the school was grateful for the quick work of the FBI.

“We remain shocked by and condemn these horrific, antisemitic threats and believe they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Malina said in a statement. “We know that our campus community will continue to support one another in the days ahead.”

A New York State Police Department cruiser is parked in front of Cornell University’s Center for Jewish Living, in Ithaca, New York, Oct 30, 2023. (David Bauder/AP)

The school president had said Sunday that the incident was being investigated as a possible hate crime, which would have carried a 10-year sentence if included in the charges.

The comments this weekend were left on a Greek life website that is not affiliated with the school in Ithaca, New York, about 227 miles (365 kilometers) northwest of New York City.

Dai’s threatening messages included posts calling for the deaths of Jewish people and a post that threatened to “shoot up 104 west,” a Cornell University dining hall that caters predominantly to kosher diets and is located next to the Cornell Jewish Center, according to the complaint.

The messages threatened to “stab” and “slit the throat” of any Jewish males he sees on campus, to rape and throw off a cliff any Jewish females, and to behead any Jewish babies, according to the complaint. In that same post, Dai threatened to “bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot all you pig jews,” authorities said.

The Cornell University Police Department reacted by increasing patrols and arranging additional security for Jewish students and organizations. A state police cruiser was parked in the street in front of the Center for Jewish Living on Monday.

The threats also prompted a campus visit by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“Public safety is my top priority and I’m committed to combatting hate and bias wherever it rears its ugly head.” Hochul said in a statement before the arrests Tuesday.

Antisemitic incidents have spiked in New York City and the United States since war erupted between Israel and Hamas, according to data collated by the New York Police Department and Jewish security groups. Jews are targeted in hate crimes in the city more than any other group.

Hamas terrorists cross the Israel-Gaza border fence on October 7, 2023 (Kan TV screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The war began when 2,500 gunmen from Hamas and allied terror groups broke through the Gaza border in a multi-pronged attack and killed over 1,400 people, most of them civilians slaughtered in their homes and at an outdoor music festival. The assault was carried out under cover of thousands of rocket fired at towns and cities across Israel.

At least 245 civilians and soldiers were kidnapped and taken as captives in Gaza, of whom four have been released by Hamas, while a soldier has been rescued by security forces.

Israel has responded with intense strikes on Gaza and a gradually expanding ground operation, declaring its intention to eradicate the terror group that rules the Strip. Hamas and other terror groups have continued to barrage Israel with rockets.

The Hamas-run health ministry has claimed more than 8,500 people have been killed in the enclave, a figure that cannot be independently verified. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll, and it also does not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives. The terror group has pushed back against such claims, releasing an unverified list of names it says represent those killed. Some of the dead are believed to be victims of Palestinian terrorists’ own misfired rockets.

Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties and urging the civilian population to evacuate to southern Gaza.

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