Terrence McNeil, 25, allegedly used his Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook accounts to cheer on ISIS attacks in Iraq and Syria. He posted anti-American comments and "allahu akbar" upon hearing of the Chattanooga, Tennessee
, terrorist attack that killed military members at recruiting stations in July.
None of this broke the law.
But in September, authorities say he used Tumblr to re-blog a file that had been posted on the Internet by the so-called Islamic State Hacking Division
, and which contained the names and personal data of U.S. military members. The file included a call by ISIS for attacks on members of the U.S. military.
"O Brothers in America, know that the jihad against the crusaders is not limited to the lands of the Khilafah, it is a world-wide jihad and their war is not just a war against the Islamic State, it is a war against Islam. Know that it is wajib [necessary] for you to kill these kuffar! and now we have made it easy for you by giving you addresses, all you need to do is take the final step, so what are you waiting for?"
John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, said "McNeil solicited the murder of members of our military by disseminating ISIL's violent rhetoric, circulating detailed U.S. military personnel information, and explicitly calling for the killing of American service members in their homes and communities."
The McNeil case represents a small part of a broader effort by the U.S. government to try to silence the prolific social media propaganda machine of ISIS. Officials say ISIS's sophisticated online messaging has helped recruit more than 250 Americans to travel or attempt to travel to join the group.
In late August, the U.S. said one of its military airstrikes had killed Junaid Hussain
, a British man who was one of the best known ISIS online propagandists and recruiters. Last month at the request of the FBI, Malaysian police arrested a hacker who allegedly was responsible for stealing the U.S. military members person data and who then passed on that information to Hussain.
The FBI says that Hussain is one of the ISIS members who then distributed the files of personal information of U.S. military members, which others such as McNeil helped to spread.
Since the death of Hussain, U.S. officials have noted a drastic decline in the number of Americans who have attempted to travel to join ISIS, according to senior U.S. counterterrorism officials. It's not clear if his death and the resulting damage to the ISIS propaganda machine has caused the reduced recruitment, or if the decline is temporary, these officials say.
Some civil liberties groups have expressed concern that the Justice Department may be moving too far into criminalizing activities that should be protected speech.
McNeil isn't charged with material support of terrorism, a more common charge in cases related to ISIS.