26-year-old Joshua Scott Albert is finally shutting up. "My attorney said don't say anything to anyone at all," Albert told me on the phone yesterday. "He said don't talk to your mother, although my mother's been dead since I've been 12." Albert should take his advice. He's currently in about as much trouble as you can be for saying things.
One thing Albert did tell me on the phone, to his lawyer's chagrin, is that after more than a week as a fugitive, reportedly hiding out somewhere remote in New England, he is turning himself into police in Philadelphia today. Albert has been charged with three counts each of solicitation to commit murder, terroristic threats and harassment, for creating Facebook pages advocating the murder of Philly police officers and Mitt Romney—which he claims were acts of "satire."
There's a YouTube video from 2011 that explains Joshua Scott Albert better than a thousand blog posts: In it, Albert walks up to a table at which the popular DJ Diplo is performing in a
New York City Philadelphia club and casually overturns it, spilling hundreds of dollars of equipment on the floor. Diplo's crew immediately begins beating him about the head and torso.
"This was totally intentional and not just some drunk ass," wrote a bewildered DJ who was performing with Diplo that night. Later, Albert would claim he did it because Diplo is "homophobic."
"He doesn't think before he acts," said an acquaintance who met Albert this summer after he'd fled Philadelphia and an entire pissed-off city for New York City. "I think he's just really troubled and doesn't understand the consequences of shit."
"I try to get a reaction out of people, and I try to push boundaries and make people kind of question things," Albert told the Daily Dot in September. In other words, Albert is a quintessential troll.
The serious charges now facing Albert are perhaps the inevitable endpoint of his path towards increasingly outrageous online stunts. Albert's mayhem began in the fall of 2011, when he launched an anonymous blog called Staph Meal. Staph Meal slammed prominent Philadelphia restaurants and restaurant owners with rambling, impish prose. The only thing revealed about its author was that he was a twenty-something restaurant worker in the city. Within days of its September launch Staph Meal set the tight-knit Philly foodie world on fire, as the blog called out well-respected chefs for scumbag behavior, backed by anonymous testimonies from workers and laced with profanity. An early post featured the story of a server who walked into a bathroom to find a restaurant owner "doing coke with another server… at only 9 am."
"Staph Meal has been causing all kinds of trouble in Philadelphia," wrote Eater in September 2011, "taking on some of the city's biggest chefs and restaurants and pissing off a whole lot of people in the process."
Staph Meal uncovered abuse of restaurant workers, but it also pushed past muckraking into borderline cyberstalking: He'd publish the personal information and addresses of his many enemies, with helpful suggestions like, "If you really don't like [Philadelphia chef] Stephen Starr and want to set his $2.5 Million house that's for sale on fire, here's the address." Staph Meal had no boundaries . In one particularly memorable response to his critics, Staph Meal posted a picture of his dick under the headline: "If You Don't Like What I Do Here Is My Dick, Gag On It."
Josh Albert could be as volatile in person as he was online. "Dude was like a real life Eminem video," says a former coworker who worked with Albert under "this big-time douche-bag assistant manager" at a popular Philadelphia restaurant.
"One day, Josh did what all of us wanted to do but didnt have the balls to (or afford to), he spit in [the manager's] face, slammed his apron down during service and walked out (walking by customers on the way out, saying shit like 'Hey, I hope you are enjoying your meal today, which of course I spit into, so please enjoy it w/ your Diet Coke!" with a big smile on his face)."
One of the people Staph Meal pissed off was chef Georges Perrier. After Staph Meal labeled Perrier a racist, he responded with a lawsuit that would eventually unmask Albert. Perrier's lawyer's dogged pursuit of his identity led Albert to preemptively come out as Staph Meal in an interview with Eater, less than a month after he'd screamed onto the scene.
"It's not going to stop," he promised. "There is just going to be a face behind it now. Maybe now I can start making some fucking money too."
But while a crusading anonymous blogger is an intriguging story, a pissed-off 25-year-old restaurant worker with a blog is not. When Albert revealed himself, interest in Staph Meal suddenly dropped off. In apparent bid to recapture his brief flame of attention, Albert began in recent months to lash out with increasingly provocative posts targeted at those most likely to respond. This summer the police became his main target, perhaps influenced by his vague involvement with Occupy Philadelphia. In an Onion-like spoof from July, Albert announced "National Prove that It's Bullet Proof Day," imagining police had encouraged citizens to take potshots at them so they can "bring awareness to the importance of bulletproof vests."
He was becoming increasingly reckless with his attacks on Philadelphia cops, even as he was fired from his restaurant job in New York City and began running out of money, according to his acquaintance. He repeatedly asked her for help covering his rent: "He kept pressuring me because he basically said his only other option was to fuck dudes for money." By late August of this year, she said, Albert had left New York for Vermont and a job at an inn.
It was also in late August that Albert got perhaps more attention than he was looking for after he created a Facebook page supporting Chancier McFarland and Rafael Jones, two men suspected of fatally shooting Philly police officer Moses Walker Jr on August 18th. "This is a page to show support for the two brave men who shot and killed a corrupt Philadelphia police officer (aka doughnut eating shit-face crooked pig)," was the page's description, which went live in mid-August. The banner photo was an image from the Brooklyn artist Dread Scott's controversial 1994 work "El Grito", which showed two headless, armless bodies in police uniforms with bullet wounds in their chest. When outrage over the page went national, Albert double-downed, creating pages calling for the murder of various Philadelphia officials and politicians, including Mitt Romney and the head of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.
At the time, he seemed delighted with the outrage he'd sparked. "I made this page as a joke. It was naturally made to piss people off," he told the Daily Dot on September 5th. "Every piece of white trash Republican has really shown their hand on this matter."
But he quickly changed his tune after a D.A. charged Albert with solicitation to murder and terroristic threats on September 11th. Albert publicly apologized, claiming in a statement on his blog that the pages were "satire." This will be an important point in Albert's case, as convicting someone of solicitation requires proving they actually wanted the crime they were soliciting to occur.
"I don't think he actually intends to advocating for the murder of anyone," said the New York acquaintance. "I don't think he really understands what satire/parody are, but he sees that shit as a joke."
Joshua Scott Albert is what happens when a troll gets his kicks riding waves of online outrage, but can't handle the tsunami when he goes too far. These people flare up and burn out regularly, and there's a tragic edge to many of their stories because for all the horrible shit they say a lot of them have deep-seated personal problems that are fed by and feed their trolling. Saying Joshua Scott Albert had a bad childhood is like saying Syria isn't a great vacation spot. Albert was born to a heroin-addicted father and a stripper mother who fatally overdosed when he was 12, according to Philadelphia Magazine. He grew up in a series of foster homes, started working in restaurants when he was 14. He's done gay porn and escort work when money was especially tight, bouncing around a series of low-paid restaurant jobs around the country.
But even after burning himself so badly, Albert is still seeking attention. A week after he was hit with charges he sent out a mass email to friends and acquaintances, urging them to "like" a Facebook page supporting him.
Someone has made a support page for me and I would greatly appreciate it if you would like it, and share it. My facebook account was hacked ( third time in two weeks) and I currently can't do anything to promote this page.
Right now I am facing 25 years and jail, countless beatings, anal rapings, and god knows what else because I offended some people in power.
I am not asking you to support everything that I do, but anyone who knows me knows I would never harm a fly. All I'm asking is to help make this page reach the maximum audience. As soon as I regain access to my account I will be promoting this as well.
Freedom of speech in this great nation has always included the freedom to offend. Although I do not agree with what my client said, I agree with him that his speech is legally protected and that no crime was committed. It is a dangerous course to charge individuals with crimes for expressing unpopular or offensive opinions.