Iowa college student facing charges of posting threats on Internet

IOWA — A Grinnell College student will go to trial on charges of making terrorist threats following a post he left on an Internet message board in March that police said was meant to incite violence against law enforcement officers.

Paul W. Wainright, a philosophy major from Glendale, Wisc., will face charges in Poweshiek County on Sept. 13 for posting a message that his friends claim was not meant to be taken seriously. The message was a response to complaints made by fellow students on Plans, a message board used by students and alumni of the university, about drug arrests made before spring break.

“Please come back to school armed with whatever lethal weapon you have access to,” the message read. “If we can’t depend upon the administration to protect the bubble we were promised and that they are selling us for 34,000 goddamn dollars a year, then we will have to take matters in our own hands.”

“That means violence and bloodshed,” the message continued.

The message also told readers to murder narcotic police officers responsible for arresting students on campus for drug possession.

Cassie Donnelly, a friend and classmate of Wainright’s, argues that the reaction to the posting was blown out of proportion.

“There probably was not any intention [behind the message] except to make a satirical comment about what was going on at our campus,” she said.

Donnelly said students were upset at the school’s Safety and Security Department because they felt it had been gradually referring more incidents on campus to the Grinnell Police Department. Grinnell College does not have a campus police department.

“The security department got a lot more authoritarian and a lot more like campus police,” she said.

The Grinnell College Safety and Security Department’s purpose is “to protect persons and property while maintaining an atmosphere of order on the Grinnell College Campus,” according to its mission statement.

Michael Mahaffey, Poweshiek County attorney, said he could not comment on the case because it is ongoing but said the posting is a serious matter.

“Obviously we reviewed this very carefully and think it’s more than sarcasm,” he said.

Al Willett, Wainright’s lawyer, said Wainright served a brief suspension from the school after the incident but finished the spring semester and will return to Grinnell for the fall semester.

Willett would not make additional comments on the pending case.

Wainright faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $7,500 if convicted of the felony.

–Mike Hart