April 18, 2024 1:04 pm

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Swatting incidents surge as a means to threaten journalists and public officials

Swatting incidents, targeting public officials nationwide, are on the rise exhausting first responder resources and leaving their victims feeling threatened and harassed. Swatting is both a state and federal crime.

Inside the alarming trend of swatting | NBC News

Swatting is a criminal harassment act of deceiving an emergency service—usually law enforcement—into sending a police or emergency service response team to another person’s address with the intention of “harm or death by cop.” The act gets its name from the “SWAT” teams that often are sent to an address to respond to serious calls often involving shootings, killings, or bomb threats.

According to an article published by national news agency Reuters earlier this month, there have been at least 27 incidents of swatting targeted against politicians, prosecutors, elected officials, and judges since November 2023, many of them bearing a striking resemblance in nature.

On Christmas Day of 2023, Jack Smith, the special prosecutor in two criminal cases involving the 45th President of the United States, Donald J Trump, was swatted at his Maryland home.

On December 26 an unknown caller dialed the Roswell Police Department to report he had shot and killed his wife, demanding $10,000 or else he would shoot himself as well. The caller gave Georgia Republican state senator John Alberts’ address.

On December 27 a swatter targeted the Florida home of Republican U.S. Senator Rick Scott weeks after his endorsement of Donald J Trump for presidency.

On December 30 Republican candidate Nikki Haley was swatted when an unknown 911 caller falsely reported a shooting incident occurring at her South Carolina home.

On January 7 a swatter targeted Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, also a Trump supporter, claiming a similar thing—that he had shot his wife and threatened to kill himself. He gave a specific address at the state capitol building.

Again, on January 11, Gabriel Sterling, a top official at Georgia’s secretary of state’s office, was targeted when a caller falsely reported a shooting at his Atlanta suburb home. Sterling is a Republican who has received numerous threats for denouncing Trump’s false voter fraud claims following the results of the 2020 presidential election.

That same morning a bomb threat was dialed into Nassau County police giving the Long Island address of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the civil court trial involving Trump and his family real estate business.

Days before that, Washington D.C. police responded to a false shooting report at U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan’s house who is hearing the criminal case of Trump allegedly to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

Swatting
Journalist Tim Poole swatted at his home in 2022. SOURCE: Tim Pool Swatted (youtube.com)

In the first couple weeks of January multiple bomb threats were called in to local police agencies in Minnesota, Arkansas, Maine, Hawaii, Montana, and New Hampshire, just to name a few, sending first responders to court houses and state Capitol buildings. The facilities were evacuated and promptly searched for explosives, but none could be found.

Just as recent as Monday, January 29, the home of Ohio Representative Shontel Brown (D-OH11) was targeted in a swatting attempt. Local police were directed to her address by a hoax message. Representative Brown was in Washington, D.C. when the incident occurred. 

“No one deserves this, and it puts so many people at real risk, including family members, neighbors, law enforcement, and others,” Brown released in a statement.

Just two days earlier, the home of House GOP Majority Whip, Tom Emmer (R-MN06), was raided by Wright County Sheriff’s Office due to a swatting incident involving a 911 prank call.

The surge of swatting incidents are not just targeting Republicans and Trump supporters, however. Shenna Bellows, Maine Secretary of State and a Democrat who is attempting to remove Trump from the ballot under the U.S. Constitution’s insurrection clause, was also targeted.

Other high profile swatting incidents involve U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, and even President Joe Biden on January 15.

Recently, CNN Senior Reporter, and former Illinois Republican Congressman, Adam Kinzinger, wrote an opinion piece for CNN that chronicled his first-hand experience being swatted back in 2011—about a year after he was elected to Congress. During his experience he wrote he was awakened twice by SWAT teams with guns drawn, demanding he tell them where “Tina” was. Both incidents occurred at his Washington D.C. apartment.

It later turned out the swatting incident had nothing to do with Congressman Kinzinger’s political affiliations and that a “scorned lover” believed his ex-partner still lived in the building. Still, Kinzinger wrote that the effects of the swatting attempt were everlasting.

Kinzinger does have a point that there can be irreversible, and even fatal, consequences. In 2017 a swatting incident targeting a Wichita, Kansas, man named Andrew Finch resulted in him being gunned down by a police sniper as he knelt to the ground in surrender. The caller had falsely reported Finch had shot his father and taken the rest of his family hostage, but this was quickly realized to be untrue.

The FBI reports that these callers tend to use caller ID spoofing technology which appears as if the call was made from the address of their victims.

“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 issued in a statement.

The agency announced earlier this year that it is working on a national database to track swatting incidents in response to the surge of swatting cases. Up until now there has been no central agency that has tracked swatting incidents or victims in the U.S. making statistical information difficult to gather.

Some states have cracked down on swatting penalties recently to combat the influx of incidents. Just last year, Ohio made it a felony to call in a fake emergency if it leads to emergency responder dispatch and that same year, Virginia made swatting punishable up to 12 years in prison.

According to a report by the National Defamation League an estimated 1,000 swatting incidents have occurred domestically each year since 2019 costing, at minimum, $15,000 each in emergency response. This does not include the subsequent dollar amounts of investigations, property repairs, or counseling.

Washington man connected to extensive “swatting” scheme

Ashton Connor Garcia, a 21-year-old Bremerton, Washington, man pled guilty on January 25 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to four federal felonies stemming from 20 extensive illegal harassing activities known as “swatting.” He targeted victims in California, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington, and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Garcia now facing up to four years in prison, is currently detained at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

From early June 2022 through March 2023, Garcia used voice over internet technology and social media platforms to make false emergency calls to dispatch services while urging others watch his illegal activity via social media. Garcia admitted he intended his calls to cause a large-scale deployment SWAT, bomb squads, and other police units with malicious intent to harass, intimidate, and retaliate, and to obtain items of value through extortion.  He demanded money, virtual currency, credit card information, or sexually explicit photos from some of the people he threatened.

Garcias swatting events not only tied up law enforcement resources that could have been used for actual emergencies, in some instances, law enforcement entered the victim residence with weapons drawn and detained people at the residence, DOJ reports.

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