Federal authorities charge former UCLA lecturer with making violent threats
Federal prosecutors have charged a former UCLA lecturer with making criminal threats across state lines in connection with a video he sent students and faculty referencing a mass shooting, which in turn prompted a campus shutdown.
Matthew Harris, 31, was charged in U.S. District Court in Denver, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The charges were filed earlier this week but were only made public Thursday.
Harris was apprehended Tuesday in Boulder, Colo., by a police SWAT team after a three-hour standoff at his apartment building, authorities said. His arrest came after he sent the video by email to members of UCLA’s philosophy department.
Included with the video was an 803-page manifesto written by Harris with more than 7,500 references to “kill,” according to an FBI special agent’s affidavit.
“Burn and attack Boulder outside by the university,” the manifesto said. “Hunt them where they work ... Kill their children at freshman orientation. Shoot them at the opening weekend, Bombs at middle schools, no threats, Shot gun columbine university slaying, Kill the board of trustees at every university.”
“The level of violence we saw in the manifesto was obviously alarming,” said Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold. “It was very violent and it was very disturbing.”
Former lecturer Matthew Harris was found in Colorado after making threats, authorities said. His motives, and UCLA’s response, are not yet clear.
Within hours of his arrest, Harris was turned over to federal authorities. He made a brief appearance in federal court Thursday and answered yes as the magistrate judge asked him questions about understanding his rights. A prosecutor asked that he be held without bail, and a hearing on the issue is set for Tuesday.
Harris’ arrest was the culmination of more than a year of incidents that saw him pose an escalated threat to his colleagues and students, authorities said.
In her affidavit, FBI special agent Stephanie Benitez said Harris informed his mother in emails in January 2021 of his plan to shoot a UC Irvine professor with an MP5 submachine gun “for giving me schizophrenia.” He graphically described shooting the professor in the head.
Then in March, he informed his mother that he planned to shoot himself, then asked when UC Irvine was reopening, according to the affidavit. His mother did not inform law enforcement officials about the threatening emails at the time, according to the document.
In the emails, Harris compared himself to the shooter who massacred 26 people, most of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 and Christopher Dorner, a former LAPD officer who killed four people and wounded three in a series of Southern California shootings in 2013.
Harris was let go by UCLA last year following numerous complaints about his bizarre behavior as a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy. In 20 emails to various female students in his research group, he sent links to YouTube videos with titles such as “Training Little Girls” and “Beat a Feminist Unconscious.”
Former UCLA lecturer in custody threatened to kill female professor, May court filing says
A former UCLA lecturer taken into custody Tuesday for threatening mass violence was barred by a Los Angeles judge last year from going near a University of California professor he vowed to kill.
The University of California later got a permanent restraining order against him after he threatened to kill the UC Irvine professor, according to court documents.
In April 2021, Harris’ mother warned the professor he had threatened to kill and informed UCLA faculty about the threats, sharing the emails, according to the FBI agent’s affidavit. She told a UCLA official that she had not seen her son for five years until he turned up at her North Carolina home that month and that their relationship in the two previous years had deteriorated due to threats he made, according to the affidavit.
Colorado neighbors of arrested ex-UCLA lecturer echo students’ anger over lack of warnings
Matthew Harris’ neighbors in Boulder, like UCLA students, criticized authorities for not informing them more promptly of the threat he may have posed.
The UC Irvine professor he threatened first met Harris at another university in 2013, according to court documents. Harris reached out to her again for career advice in September 2020, but after increasingly aggressive emails, the professor began to fear for her safety and asked him to stop contacting her in March, according to the documents.
Within days of learning of the threats, UCLA police working with the FBI got his mother to have Harris involuntary committed for a month in North Carolina, according to an affidavit.
But when UCLA learned on May 12 that he had been released from the mental health facility and was flying back to Los Angeles, a UCLA police sergeant got a gun violence restraining order against Harris preventing him from carrying or buying a firearm.
In a court filing the next day for a separate restraining order, a UCLA attorney noted that Harris had “steadily escalated from reported incidents of conduct with students involving graphic materials of a sexual and violent nature which resulting in him being placed on investigatory leave … to now outright death threats to petitioner’s employee.”
In June, L.A. Superior Court Judge David Swift issued a three-year restraining order against Harris.
On Sunday, Harris sent an email just before 1 a.m. to some of his former UCLA students, replete with racist slurs against Jewish and East Asian people.
“The videos depicted Harris speaking, playing instruments, and describing plans to harm others,” according to an affidavit for his arrest, which said the videos also showed footage from the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting and from the 2003 film “Zero Day,” which was inspired by the Columbine High School shooting.
Harris’ YouTube channel contained more than 300 videos, the majority of which were uploaded Monday. By midnight, the channel displayed a message saying that the account had been terminated.
Prior to Harris’ arrest this week, Boulder police said they made contact with him in October but did not elaborate on the encounter.
His mother told an FBI special agent she learned that he had moved to Colorado sometime in the summer of 2021. In an affidavit, the agent said Harris obtained a Colorado driving license in November and attempted to buy a .38-caliber handgun at the Silver Bullet Shooting Range, declaring he had not been admitted to a mental health institution. He was unable to buy the gun because of the California restraining order.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the LAPD became aware Monday night of “online media posts involving YouTube videos and a manifesto” from a former UCLA lecturer, indicating that he was “potentially planning for a mass violence or shooting event at UCLA.”
The chief said the department’s mental evaluation unit had had contact with the individual in the spring of 2021 but did not elaborate.
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