Sock puppet harasser heads to prison

Another dip into the archives. This time our voyage in Time’s charabanc takes us to November 2010. The post was Tragic end of a sock puppet.

A sock puppet goes to jail.

A lawyer was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail after being convicted of an ultramodern crime that was all about antiquity: using online aliases to harass people in an academic debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Oh gosh, who would use online aliases to harass people in an academic debate? I never heard of such a thing.

Prosecutors said Golb crossed the line between discourse and crime by using fake e-mail accounts and writing blog posts under assumed names to discredit detractors of his father, a scholar. Golb said the writings amounted to pointed parody and academic whistle-blowing that he felt were protected by free-speech rights.

The New York Times now revisits.

“This has nothing to do with scholarly debate,” said Lawrence H. Schiffman, vice provost of Yeshiva University and a widely published authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, who became the prime target of Mr. Golb’s online activities. “It has to do with criminal activity.

“Fraud, impersonation and harassment are criminal matters,” he continued. “This was actually designed to literally end my career.”

Using free speech, which is totally ok. Or not.

He started a blog; then another and another, each under a different name. The aliases begot other aliases, known on the Internet as sock puppets: 20, 40, 60, 80. The sock puppets debated with other posters, each time linking to other sock puppets to support their arguments, creating the impression of an army of engaged scholars espousing Norman Golb’s ideas. Using the alias Charles Gadda (from the Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda), Raphael Golb published articles on the citizen news Web site NowPublic and linked to them in comments and blog posts written under other aliases. The writings all championed Norman Golb as an honest scholar bucking a well-financed, self-serving conspiracy.

Fraud, in other words. Is that protected free speech? I don’t know, but I have a hard time thinking it should be. I’ve been arguing about this for years, because I think actual falsification shouldn’t be protected free speech, but there are those who think it should. I’m not saying it should get jail time, but should it be grounds for firing for instance? Yes. If David Irving had had an academic job, his falsification of history should have been grounds for firing. Raphael Golb doesn’t have an academic job, but what he was doing was fraudulent as hell.

One of Mr. Golb’s targets was a graduate student named Robert R. Cargill, who created a virtual tour of Qumran for the San Diego museum.

Norman Golb posted an article on the Web site of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago complaining that the film’s script ignored his theory.

Raphael Golb went further, sending pseudonymous e-mails to Mr. Cargill’s professors at U.C.L.A.

“I said this person should be compelled to answer the published criticisms of his work at his Ph.D. defense,” Raphael Golb said. Some of the e-mail messages suggested that Mr. Cargill, who describes himself as agnostic, was a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-Semite.

Mr. Cargill, who is now 39 and an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, remembered Mr. Golb’s campaign as a frontal assault meant to thwart his career.

“Any time someone hears the name Robert Cargill, they hear, he’s anti-Semitic,” Mr. Cargill said. “Let’s say I’m applying for a job and I’m in a pool of 10 finalists. When they do background checking, they see this Cargill looks like he’s being criticized as anti-Semitic. We don’t know if it’s legitimate, but it’s safer to go with someone else.”

This is what people are trying to do to all of us: put enough garbage out there that some of it will stick no matter how fraudulent it is.

Cargill traced Golb’s emails to his IP address. Golb pretends that is harassment.

Ronald Kuby, a lawyer for Raphael Golb, last week disputed Mr. Cargill’s characterization of himself as an innocent victim, writing in an e-mail message that “he played a vile role in this case. Among other things, Cargill spend hundreds of hours obsessively tracking down ‘Charles Gadda’ because of the latter’s online criticisms, engaged in his own sock puppetry while concealing it and condemning Golb for the same thing.” Mr. Kuby added, “Cargill is probably a lot of fun to chat with, but he is more than capable of using his hurt puppy persona to manipulate the criminal justice system.”

Mr. Golb put it this way: “Cargill was stalking me.”

Omigod. Yes, the way I “stalk” my harassers to correct their lies and protest their harassment. It’s not the same thing. At least the New York prosecutors get that.

There was this guy Schiffman the Golbs were mad at.

This time, in addition to using sock puppets, Raphael Golb said, he created an e-mail account with the address of, and wrote to Dr. Schiffman’s employers, colleagues and students at N.Y.U., “confessing” to having plagiarized Norman Golb in developing his own ideas about the scrolls.

“Apparently, someone is intent on exposing a failing of mine that dates back almost fifteen years ago,” one e-mail read. “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments, and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man, I would have been banned from conferences around the world.” The e-mail was signed, “Lawrence Schiffman, professor.”

Sitting among stacks of papers, books, conga drums, assorted sneakers and other clutter in his Greenwich Village apartment, a stone’s throw from N.Y.U., Raphael Golb said he had intended the e-mails as obvious parody — that no sentient person would believe a professor would write such things, or sign his missive “professor.” The distinction was important, Mr. Golb said, because the First Amendment protects parody. “I didn’t realize I was dealing with idiots,” Mr. Golb said.

Oh pu-leeze. No, that is not parody, any more than those two Twitter accounts that send tweets under my real name are parody. Parody would not use my real name; parody would not use Schiffman’s real name.

But people did believe the e-mails were real, Dr. Schiffman said. “I was walking out of my office and a graduate student says to me, ‘I got your e-mail from last night.’ I said, ‘wait a minute, what e-mail?’ ”

Dr. Schiffman went to the F.B.I., contacting an agent he had advised on a prior case. “You know how the F.B.I. says, ‘once you’re one of ours, you’re always one of ours?’ ” he said. “It’s totally true. They told me the assistant D.A. to call. ‘Tell him you spoke to us.’ ”

Raphael Golb was naked and asleep when police officers came to his apartment early on the morning of March 5, 2009, arresting him on 51 charges of identity theft, aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, forgery and unauthorized use of the computers in an N.Y.U. library. He had been up all of the previous night writing comments or blog posts under his various aliases. The officers seized Mr. Golb’s computers and led him handcuffed from his building. Waiving his rights to a lawyer and to remain silent, Mr. Gold denied sending any bogus e-mail messages, telling the investigators that Dr. Schiffman had filed a false complaint “out of maliciousness toward my father.”

[pauses to gaze dreamily into the distance for several minutes]

Mr. Golb remains disappointed that First Amendment advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, have declined to support him, though they were asked. “I’m astonished at their silence,” he said. “I don’t want to inflate myself, but the consequences of this are obvious. When we start to allow prosecutors to act on behalf of resentful professors to whom no harm was done at all, it’s frightening.” Harm was done, you piece of shit. I hope your prison food is full of weevils.

The district attorney’s office declined to speak on the record about a pending case, but in a statement after the verdict in 2010, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney, said, “Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster,” adding: “It is true that the vast majority of identity thieves seek to steal their victims’ money, but in some cases, identity thieves maliciously intend to damage their victims’ reputations and harass them, while cowering in anonymity. Such was the case here.”

Weevils and the feces of weevils.




  1. Thomas Hobbes says

    Reading this, I feel I need to confess something. (Perhaps because I was raised Catholic). I previously posted here as “anon1152”. I did this because that was a name given to me by another blogger months (or years?) ago. I started an email address,, which I used to post here as anon1152. Recently, I logged in to using my gmail account. It posts with the name “Thomas Hobbes”. There’s no way to change that, as far as I can see. “Thomas Hobbes” was the name I used when starting my anon1152 account. Thomas Hobbes is one of my heroes.

    Anyway, I apologize if that appears to be “sock puppetry”. That was not my intention, and I wanted to make that clear.

  2. says

    Thank you. Lots of people have more than one name, for reasons of that kind. It’s not sock puppetry unless it’s done to deceive for malicious or self-serving reasons.

  3. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    But, but, butbutbut…. Frreeeeeeze Peeeach!!!

    How DARE they infringe on his not-god given right to impersonate someone for the purposes of fraudulently destroying that person’s reputation!? HOW DARE THEY

  4. left0ver1under says

    When I saw only the headline, I thought it was going to be about Dennis Markuze.

    Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly) there are plenty of other nutbags out there besides Markuze who are willing to stalk, harass and/or hurl death threats at other people.

  5. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Oh gosh, who would use online aliases to harass people in an academic debate?

    Waa-aay too many people, sadly.

    Dunno what if anything can be done ’bout it but tracking down and publicly arresting those who do it deliberately and maliciously and cause actual harm seems a good first step and hopefully will act as something of a deterrent.

  6. says

    The attempt to destroy Cargill’s reputation does not seem to have been ended by the sentencing in 2010. A “concerned” blogger abruptly popped up in 2011, attacking him for his involvement in the Golb prosecution. The blogger claimed to be an Iowan, where Cargill had gone to teach. The name of the blog was “paulkeres”, presumably after the 19th century Chess grandmaster Paul Keres. There were only two entries, both attacking Cargill.

  7. says

    For what it’s worth, Thomas Hobbes, as far as I can tell you don’t get to change your WordPress name, but you can change your ‘nickname’ and that allows you to change the name your posts appear as, so if you’d rather be posting here under your real name, that should help you do it.

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