The FBI Is Now Investigating the Steubenville Backlash

On Wednesday night, reports surfaced that the FBI had opened an investigation into threats on Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla's family and a suspected computer virus that targeted Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty.

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It's probably fair to say that things have gotten a little out of hand in Steubenville, Ohio, where two high school football players are accused of raping a 16-year-old while she was drunk. If you've read anything about the investigation and court case that's now unfolding you'll know that what started out as a suspicious sexual assault has turned into a national outrage, and local authorities are dealing with some pretty serious backlash that includes death threats being made against their families. On Wednesday night, CBS News reported that the FBI had opened an investigation into such threats on Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla's family and a suspected computer virus that targeted Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty. It's unclear who the suspects might be, and the FBI isn't commenting on the probe. (The agency had said over the weekend that it was providing "some technical assistance" in the case, which an FBI spokesman described as routine.)

The small, football-crazed city of Steubenville obviously has been overwhelmed since scrutiny from Anonymous has been helping to elevate the rape investigation to viral status on the web. The firestorm of attention came to a head last weekend when 1,300 protesters descended on the town's city hall for an event dubbed Occupy Steubenville. Sheriff Abdalla even made an appearance, after having said on the radio that he was "coming after" Anonymous. (Since Anonymous doesn't take too well to threats, this might've had something to do with the death threats that he received over email and social media in the days after the rally.) Then, on Tuesday, police reported "some type of shooting threat" being made on social media prompting a lockdown on all local schools that lasted nearly two hours.

So you could say things have been tense. The more we learn about Steubenville and its long history of corrupt leadership, though, the more we can understand how this rape case pushed people over the edge. As recently as 1997, the Justice Department found the city's police department to have "have engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States." And close ties between Abdalla and the Steubenville High football coach Reno Saccoccia have led many, especially those in Anonymous, to believe that the corruption never went away.

Who knows what the Feds will find when they take a closer look at the threats being hurled at local law enforcement. They might even find out something about the things the local cops are doing to attract such hatred. Then again, they might just be in the mood to arrest some more Anonymous members.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.