Michael Roberts is the Founder of Rexxfield, a company that assists and supports individuals who have been the victims of online lies, defamation, and privacy invasion by “rendering all reasonable assistance in order to have deceptive materials retracted or hidden from the public domain and the victims’ good name and reputation restored.”
He understands first-hand what being a victim feels like, having been on the receiving end of character assassination and defamatory attacks by his ex-wife, who is now in prison for a murder conviction, and others associated with her case or seeking to capitalize upon it.
CiviliNation: Tell us about your company Rexxfield and what let to its creation.
Michael Roberts: To understand why Rexxfield was created, you first need to understand what happened in my personal life, which is a long, convoluted and incredibly complicated story.
In December 2000, my now ex-wife Tracey Richter murdered 20-year-old Dustin Wehde in what was described by one prosecutor as an execution-style killing . She claimed self-defense, and despite contradictions in her testimony and evidence to the contrary, I believed her – perhaps because at the time I couldn’t emotionally fathom the fact that she actually murdered someone in cold blood. Then in early 2004, after I discovered her affair with another man, she attempted to kill me, first by drugging me and then, when I was semiconscious, by suffocating me. By the grace of God I survived the ordeal but to this day I’m still struggling from the injuries sustained from the attempt on my life. Thankfully, the Iowa Department of Justice, crime victims compensation fund paid for my associated medical expenses.
I finally wised up, saw her for the person she really is, and filed for divorce. But notwithstanding the evidence that she had killed one man and attempted to murder another, the Family Court judge in the subsequent divorce case gave primary care of our children to my ex-wife time and time again. This just goes to show that domestic relations courts are seriously flawed and that some judges make highly questionable decisions that have serious and negative repercussions on innocent lives.
Finally, in the summer of 2011, 10 years after killing Dustin Wehde, Tracey was finally arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She was convicted unanimously by a jury of 12 on 7 November and is now in prison serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Fortunately, after her incarceration, I was able to obtain primary custody of our children.
What does all of this have to do with the creation of Rexxfield? Everything, I would say.
Right after I filed for divorce in 2004, my ex-wife began a relentless Internet smear campaign against me, my business, and any individual that offered any kind of support to me, whether financial, emotional, vocational, or otherwise.
My business at the time was mile2, and the relentless attacks on my reputation and, by association, my business, brought mile2, which designed, developed and delivered information security training and information assurance services, to its knees. I was forced to sell for a fraction of what it would’ve otherwise been worth had it not been for these attacks. Even then the flaming aspersions continued until July 30, 2011, the day Tracy was arrested on first-degree murder charges.
She is actually now a 3 times convicted felon; in 2009 she also received felony convictions for both perjury and fraud by trials in Iowa and Nebraska, respectively.
Rexxfield was founded in 2008 in response to understanding what character assassination and unfounded attacks on businesses can do. I had experienced first-hand the devastation that these types of attacks can cause and that, in most cases, neither law enforcement nor the civil authorities and judiciary can relate to this issue.
Instead, what I’ve frequently found is that the very entities that are supposed to help people who have been wronged seem to take the position that “sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you”. In my case, I had to fully prove that all of these anonymous attacks in fact originated from my ex-wife before anyone would even listen to me. So, in the process of having to convince the legal system to take my situation seriously, I developed some proprietary techniques, technologies, and methods for getting behind the cloak of anonymity in ways that ultimately helped inexorably link Tracey to the poison-penned attacks.
Unfortunately my breakthroughs were too little and too late to prevent the damage to my own name and business, but as I started blogging about my experiences I found myself being inundated with desperate cries for help. These requests ranged from tearful calls from parents of cyber bulling victims to the CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies. Realizing the desperate need for these types of services, Rexxfield was born..
CiviliNation: What kinds of people typically seek Rexxfield’s services?
Michael Roberts: Calls for help are incredibly diverse. Some are relatively simple and yet emotionally devastating because they come from teenaged cyber bullying victims, and others originate from from powerful people in multinational corporations. We also receive many calls from frustrated law-enforcement officials who are trying to investigate serious crimes. I’ve helped law enforcement investigate in cases of rape, robberies and even death threats against police officers who are living in fear despite their station in life. In all of these situations, without exception, the Internet service providers were not willing to reasonably cooperate with the investigations – I have found Google and Facebook to be quite notorious in this area.
I was recently invited to teach some of my methods to members of a joint federal and state task force whose mandate is protecting children from exploitation. I showed them some of the techniques we have developed and how the task force can implement those techniques into their own investigations. The group then shared some horror stories with me, including a case involving Facebook where a teenage rape victim was involved in a chat through Facebook less than half-an-hour before the crime took place. In that case it took months before Facebook complied with the requests for the originating IP address, by which time the evidence had perished because the ISP providing the connectivity to the suspect had subsequently purged the log file records. And to think the loss of this information could have been easily avoided with the proper cooperation.
In addition to helping private individuals and businesses, I am also assisting members of State House of Representatives in drafting new laws that will force Internet service providers to retain this perishable evidence for at least 2 years, because currently there are no laws addressing this obvious need. Obviously this needs to be balanced with people’s desire for privacy, so I want to make clear that through these proposed laws we are not asking to give Big Brother the keys to everybody’s Internet activities; on the contrary, we want the Internet service providers to remain the sole custodian of these confidential records and to only provide information in instances of legitimate civil and criminal warrants or subpoenas. In other words, we simply want to help avoid what happened in the rape case I described above.
CiviliNation: How have the attacks against you helped positively influence your work at Rexxfield?
Michael Roberts: Had I not gone through this fiery trial, I would’ve been like so many other people and considered the issue of online attacks and character assassination a mere trifle not worthy of serious attention. I would probably have also dismissed the victims who issue anguished cries for help as thin-skinned weaklings, as seems to be the reaction by most people who have not experienced this tragedy firsthand and simply refuse to see what is happening online.
CiviliNation: What is your response to people who claim that online reputation attacks against adults are rare and not something that most people need to worry about?
Michael Roberts: I would encourage such people to take a course in critical thinking, sympathy, empathy, and to open their eyes. I’ve found that until somebody has experienced this issue first-hand, or even second-hand through someone they love, they simply cannot relate to the devastation it causes.
Anonymous free speech is a wonderful privilege and should be preserved. In many cases horrible problems have been avoided by the ability to communicate anonymously, such as in situations involving whistle blowing of white-collar crimes, community awareness of when sexual predators move into the neighborhood, and many other alerts that are of great community benefit.
However, like all good things, anonymity is subject to abuse. There is no such thing as “free speech,” there is always a cost. Sometimes that cost is acceptable, moreover desirable, particularly in the case of positive community awareness. However, often there are many false rumors and libelous attacks, which are motivated only by hatred and vindictive antisocial promptings. More often than not, these serial cyber defamers have some type of antisocial personality disorder. They have nothing better to do than hurt other people and in fact are fueled by other people’s pain. Normal people cannot begin to relate to how these people think, yet they exist and they are out there, spreading their destruction online.
Let me give you a simple example. If a farmer has his livestock destroyed and his barns and fields burned by a vandal, not many people would struggle with the assertion that his livelihood has been utterly decimated. However, if an individual, who relies on his or her reputation to obtain and remain employed comes under attack, through Internet harassment and defamation, most people that have not experienced this firsthand will probably dismiss their anguish and complaints as petty and not worthy of the legal system or our sympathies. Yet, in practice their livelihood may have suffered catastrophic damage. At least the farmer can grow new corn and raise more cows.
CiviliNation: Do you believe that social networking and other websites have any responsibilities to help stem online attacks?
Michael Roberts: The 18th century statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for a few good men to do nothing”. A quick Google search of the many variations of this quote returns approximately half a million occurrences and can be reasonably embraced as one of the benchmarks, insomuch as it is possible, for determining what enables evil. But therein lies our tough philosophical question: “Does doing nothing, constitute doing evil, if evil is a reasonably predicted outcome of inaction?” I would argue strongly that inaction by those Internet service providers that are in a position to act, in these instances is very wrong.
CiviliNation: Why do you think there is a frequent lack of understanding by law enforcement and the legal system about the depth and breadth of the problem of online attacks and cyber-bullying against adults?
Michael Roberts: Well, as I mentioned before, many people don’t relate to this problem unless they’ve personally experienced it or had someone close to them go through it.
With respect to law enforcement, even if officers sensitive and sympathetic to the victim’s plight wish to take action, they often do not know where to start. And if they do find somebody with high-level skills needed to track the attackers down, they are usually so overwhelmed with what they consider to be “more serious” crimes such as fraud and extortion, that the defamation and harassment cases sit in the bottom of the case backlog file. By the time the cases are seriously addressed, the crucial forensic evidence, for example IP address log files, have long since perished.
CiviliNation: What role do you believe the law should play in helping reduce online attacks and adult cyber-bullying?
Michael Roberts: I would like to see a hierarchy of young and technically capable power users within law enforcement put in place, at a minimum to know the basics of evidence preservation and who to call for advice when they are in over their heads. I’m currently working with a few politicians and law enforcement personnel to develop some simple self-study video tutorials on these fundamental gaps in knowledge.