Yesterday, a 911 caller reported someone with an armed weapon inside the home of David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and leading gun-control activist. A police SWAT team in full gear descended on the house. But there was no one home. The call was a hoax.
This is "swatting," an online trend which some call a prank, others terrorism. Either way, it can be deadly.
What is swatting?
Swatting involves reporting a fake emergency, often involving hostages, to encourage a large number of armed police to show up at a residence and create a scary, embarrassing scene for those inside. It's named for the heavily armed SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams that report to hostage situations.
Online harassers often use voice over internet protocol addresses (VoIP) to look like they're in the same area code as their victims. Because 911 can only be accessed locally, they often call non-emergency phone lines and ask to be transferred, the "Guardian" reports. Because of online encryption, investigating a swatting incident can be time-consuming and expensive, costing a police force $100,000 per case.
Have there been fatal swatting incidents?
Last December in Wichita, Kansas, police shot and killed 28-year-old Andrew Finch when he answered his front door. Finch's roommate had gotten into an argument with another man online while playing a video game; the aggrieved player swatted the house. Finch was not involved.
The swatter has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm and interfering with law enforcement.
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Why do people swat?
Swatting happens for a variety of reasons: Harassment, revenge, intimidation, even blackmail. In 2015, the New York Times Magazine reported on a serial swatter who did it to try and coerce girls into sending him nude pictures. "He called their cellphones repeatedly and sent 'text bombs' of hundreds of messages at a time. If all else failed and the main couldn’t get a hold of a woman, he would start threatening to dispatch a SWAT team to her house, or her parents’ house, or her college — a kind of intrusion that couldn’t be ignored," the magazine reported.
Swatting is illegal, and some cases have resulted in prison sentences: A year in jail for a Connecticut man and a five-year term for a member of a swatting ring, "Vox" reports.
David Hogg says he doesn't know who could have swatted his house this week. “I think it’s really a distraction from what we’re trying to fix here, which is the massive gun violence epidemic in this country,” he told a local TV station.