The summer of 2016 has been a roller coaster of emotions, and that bumpy ride continued when Pokemon Go, the A+ all-ages trend of the summer, resulted in an arrest. Nathan Cerda wrote on Facebook that he would “purge” players participating in Pokemon Go events in downtown Harlingen and at the McAllen Convention Center. According to The Monitor:
“In his threat, Cerda warned that he and his friends were going to ‘purge’ those who were participating in the event,” police said in a statement.
“The threat mentioned the use of ‘modified’ paintball guns and warned everyone ‘not to be walking around.’”
Pokémon Go events were scheduled for yesterday in Downtown Harlingen and at the McAllen Convention Center.
Police said they took the threat seriously. Harlingen police Sgt. David Osborne said that because events were happening across the Valley, including Harlingen, the contents of the Facebook page were enough for police here to act.
“Due to the credibility of the threat and in the interest of public safety, the Harlingen Police Department in partnership with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office initiated a criminal investigation on Cerda,” the statement said.
This is plenty disturbing in a summer that saw the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Although we don’t know much about Cerda, the “modified paintball guns” he claimed to have prepared, or whatever other information the police may have uncovered in the investigation, this is a bad time to make threats of violence against people online.
The Pokemon Go phenomenon plays slightly differently in some parts of Texas than it does in others, of course. Vice‘s Motherboard blog explored what the game is like to play in Goliad, where people post threats to shoot trespassers who are just looking for the Pokemon gym nearby. But using the word “purge,” which invokes the film franchise of the same name (the latest installment came out a few weeks ago, in this violent summer of 2016), about normalized mass violence in the streets is a different thing altogether.
For his part, the 29-year-old Cerda was charged with a felony for making terroristic threats. That’s likely a reasonable charge. Texas’s “terroristic threat” law has come under fire before for being too broad when it’s been used to target people whose statements didn’t include a specific, serious threat of violence. This, though, was specific, appeared serious, and seemed to satisfy at least three of the conditions of the statute. Tensions are extremely high this summer. This Pokemon thing is helping people enjoy themselves outside during a heatwave in scary times. So posting threats to “purge” them on social media not only is it likely to get you arrested, but make you come come off like a jerk in the process.