Last March, police in Coralville, Iowa, investigated a bomb threat targeting a junior high school. Authorities brought in specially trained dogs to sniff for explosives and started looking into why someone might try to target the community’s teachers and students.
Law enforcement quickly determined that the threat was a hoax. Detective Hanna Dvorak from the Coralville Police Department arrived at a theory.
“It appears this all stems from a post made earlier this week by Chaya Raichik and her ‘Libs of TikTok’ account,” Dvorak wrote in a report to her superiors.
Raichik, 29, is not accused of making any bomb threats in Iowa or anywhere else. But about a day and a half before authorities responded to the threat at Coralville’s Northwest Junior High, Raichik posted that the school offers a “pornographic” book in its library that “teaches kids about gay sex.”
“These are the books they’re giving your kids to read in school,” she wrote on the social media platform X. People have frequently targeted the book in question, “This Book Is Gay,” a coming-out guide for LGBTQ teens, with book bans going back years.
The Coralville detective wrote in her report that one of Raichik’s supporters could have had a role in the bomb threat.
Coralville was not alone. Officers and government officials in four other jurisdictions — Burbank, California; Minnetonka, Minnesota; Oklahoma City; and Tualatin, Oregon — told NBC News they believe Raichik sparked threats in their localities with her posts on social media that digitally heckle people such as drag performers, LGBTQ teachers and doctors who treat transgender patients.
While the direct inspirations for the threats are not known, the timing suggests that Libs of TikTok posts have been used to pick targets.
NBC News identified 33 instances, starting in November 2020, when people or institutions singled out by Libs of TikTok later reported bomb threats or other violent intimidation. The threats, which on average came several days after tweets from Libs of TikTok, targeted schools, libraries, hospitals, small businesses and elected officials in 16 states, Washington, D.C., and the Canadian province of Ontario. Twenty-one of the 33 threats were bomb threats, which most commonly targeted schools and were made via email.
NBC News emailed Raichik on Monday seeking comment on the threats. She did not respond directly, but said in a post on X that NBC News was working on a “hit piece.”
“They do it to try to paint me as an extremist to discredit me. This ‘b*mb threat’ narrative is really getting old,” she wrote, adding a yawning-face emoji.
NBC News identified the threats in a review of local news sources, social media posts and interviews with experts and victims.
The 33 threats drew both local and national resources. Law enforcement agencies in at least 13 jurisdictions reported receiving FBI assistance to find the responsible person or people. A police spokesperson in Burbank said he believed the FBI still has an open investigation into an incident there.
In an emailed statement, the bureau said it has, in general, observed an increase in threats of violence targeting institutions like hospitals and schools.
“As a country and organization, we have seen an increase in threats of violence targeting government officials and institutions, houses of worship, schools, and medical facilities, just to name a few. The FBI and our partners take all threats of violence seriously and responding to these threats ties up law enforcement resources,” the FBI press office said.
“When the threats are made as a hoax, it puts innocent people at risk, is a waste of law enforcement’s limited resources, and costs taxpayers. The FBI and our state and local partners will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators of these threats — real or false — and hold them accountable,” the bureau said.
The FBI did not respond directly to questions about Raichik or the status of cases related to the 33 threats.
Prosecutors have pursued charges in only three of the 33 instances NBC News reviewed: At least three people have been charged with threatening Boston Children’s Hospital or Boston doctors, a juvenile was arrested after being accused of making a threat at an Oregon middle school, and five members of the white nationalist hate group Patriot Front were convicted of conspiring to riot at an Idaho Pride event.
The charging documents associated with those prosecutions did not mention either Libs of TikTok or Raichik.