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Swatting: A New Weapon of Political Warfare?

Giving it a fresh new name doesn’t change what it is.

On Christmas Day, police in Georgia were called and told by a man that he had just killed his girlfriend and that he was about to turn the gun on himself. He gave his address as that of Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. According to the congresswoman, this was perhaps the eighth time that law enforcement had been called to her family home with a similar hoax story.

By alerting police to an apparently highly violent situation, a caller prompts them to send SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) officers to a location. The purpose is to put the officers on guard and more likely to lead with their firearms. This practice is termed “swatting,” but such a catchy name distorts what heinous practice is truly taking place. This is clearly a method of targeted harassment, but could there also be a more nefarious motivation? It would not be going too far to suggest swatting could be a means of attempted murder by proxy.

The intention behind sending SWAT to someone’s home is – at the very least – to create a dangerous situation and, at worst, the hope that someone is killed during the event. And yet, somehow, such incidents are often dismissed as minor crimes.

A Rose by any Other Name…

New banner Viewpoint with compassThose making the anonymous hoax calls are often people who disagree with the target’s politics.

On December 25, the caller who provided Greene’s address contacted the Georgia suicide hotline shortly before 11 a.m., saying that he had killed his girlfriend and that he was about to kill himself. The call was transferred to the police, who recognized the address. As this was apparently not the first time such a target has been drawn on the Georgia politician’s back, the matter was resolved on this occasion without police visiting her home.

Also on Christmas Day, New York GOP Rep. Brandon Williams became the target of another swatting. There was a report of a shooting at his family home, to which officers responded. Deputies called in advance as this was again recognized as a potential “swat,” and the situation was resolved without any serious danger. And yet, that doesn’t mean the intent behind the call was not malicious.

Such events have become so ubiquitous that in May 2023, the FBI formed a national database to “facilitate information sharing between hundreds of police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country pertaining to swatting incidents.” Fatalities may be rare in such situations, but they do happen.

Swatting is quickly becoming a tactic of the political left. Right-leaning podcast hosts, presenters, politicians, and pundits are targeted in their studios and at their homes. And remember, according to the narrative of the far left, any engagement with law enforcement can be seen as potentially lethal.

The Law on Swatting

As the availability of technology increases, so too does the ability of deceptive callers to mask their identities. Such anonymity has led to a massive increase in people being swatted. Lauren R. Shapiro, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says hoaxers all too often elude punishment. “Without a statute in place, there’s no designated resources or training for investigating swatting incidents,” Shapiro told NBC News in June. The “False Information and Hoaxes statute” is most commonly used in these prosecutions, she explained, but “Too often, perpetrators are getting a slap on the wrist compared to the consequences suffered by their victims.”

One of the more high-profile swattings, however, was not for political purposes but rather in the name of cold, hard cash.

In April 2020, armed police turned up at the Tennessee home of 60-year-old Mark Herring, responding to claims of a murder and pipe bombs on the premises. Confronted by police officers’ drawn weapons, Mr. Herring suffered a heart attack and died. The fatal call was made by Shane Sonderman, who did not have a political disagreement with Herring and, in fact, did not know him personally. His target was Mr. Herring’s Twitter account name “@Tennessee,” which he intended to sell on the open market.

Sonderman engaged in a campaign of harassment against at least five individuals with the purpose of having them abandon their online handles in his favor. He hunted out their addresses and began targeting his victims with messages, threats, random deliveries, and any number of other nuisances. When the targets refused his advances, he sent in the police to terrorize them.

Sonderman was sentenced to just five years in prison for conspiracy after initially being charged with wire fraud/conspiracy, interstate communication of threats, false information and hoaxes, and conspiracy. The observant reader may note that none of these charges relate to the death of Mr. Herring.

Pick Your Poison

What would it take for Swatters to stop targeting politicians like Taylor Greene? Presumably, if she were to step down from office and withdraw from the public eye, these attempted attacks would cease. So what is it that we call people or groups that insist on silence under fear of potential death? For all the talk of “civility” and “unity” in modern politics and the halls of media, it seems that swatting is neither regarded as terrorism nor attempted murder.

One might wonder what moral malaise is infecting the nation when people consider murder by proxy a legitimate form of political protest. It seems that a “by any means necessary” mantra has become the guiding light for sick individuals intent on harm; calling it “swatting” instead of what it really is provides a thin veneer to those who put innocent lives at risk and yet still consider themselves on the side of right.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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