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Yes, coronavirus ‘pranks’ can be prosecuted as terrorism. Here’s why

Joking about spreading a deadly virus isn’t funny — its domestic terrorism

Two men have been charged with making terrorist threats after one of the coughed on a Wegman’s worker and the other licked products in a Walmart.
Two men have been charged with making terrorist threats after one of the coughed on a Wegman’s worker and the other licked products in a Walmart.
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This week, three men in the United States have been charged with making domestic terrorism threats after careless — and in one case malicious — actions at local grocery retailers.

The first, a Missouri man named Cody Lee Pfister, was charged with making a terrorist threat in the second degree by Warren County Police after posting a video on social media of himself conducting a rather reckless “prank” on March 11, Business Insider reports.

In the video, Pfister looks into the camera and says “Who’s scared of the coronavirus? Don’t touch your mouth” and then runs his tongue across a shelf of deodorant.

Monday night, the City of Warrenton Police Department released a statement on its Facebook page, announcing Pfister had been found and taken him into custody after his video received “international attention.”

A local resident who took a video of themselves licking the merchandise after making a "Corona Virus" statement at...

Posted by City of Warrenton Police Department on Monday, March 23, 2020

This would not be Pfister’s first conviction, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports he’s previously been charged and convicted of disorderly conduct, driving under the influence of alcohol, burglary, stealing a firearm and violating probation.

Court documents say Pfister is being charged with terrorist threats in the second degree because he “knowingly caused a false belief or fear that a condition involving danger to life existed” and behaved “with reckless disregard to the risk causing the evacuation, quarantine or closure” of the store, CBS reports.

The second man being charged had more sinister intent.

George Falcone was shopping at a New Jersey Wegmans grocery store on Sunday evening when a female employee asked him to be mindful of CDC guidelines on social distancing and stand farther away from her. Fox News reports that instead Falcone moved closer to the employee, coughed directly on her and joked that he had the COVID-19 virus before insulting her and other employees saying they were “lucky” to have jobs.

Falcone was charged last night with third-degree terrorism, obstruction of law and harassment, NBC reports.

The third man, Pennsylvania resident Daniel Tabussi, has been charged with terroristic threats, simple assault by physical menace, disorderly conduct and harassment for coughing on an elderly man who was recovering from pneumonia, CBS reports.

The elderly man was wearing a mask and medical gloves for added protection due to his numerous high-risk factors as he attended the designated “seniors only” shopping hours at a local Karns grocery store when Tabussi approached him. Tabussi then falsely claimed he had the coronavirus and coughed on the senior citizen while laughing and mocking him for wearing the mask, ABC 27 reports.

Classifying a cough or lick as terrorism could be taking things a step too far, but NBC reports Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen of the U.S. Justice Department say it is not, as under terrorism statutes the COVID-19 virus can be classified as a “biological agent” and thus any threats involving the virus can be prosecuted.