Swatting, a scare tactic on the rise, may see harsher punishment in WA – Crosscut

Posted By on March 9, 2020

The desire to get back at a gaming competitor through swatting has had deadly consequences. In 2017, a Wichita police officer shot and killed 28-year-old Andrew Finch after someone falsely reported a hostage situation. The caller had claimed Finch had shot his father in the head and was holding his family at gunpoint. When Finch answered the door, an officer shot him after he mistakenly thought Finch had reached for a weapon. Tyler Rai Barriss, a Call of Dutyplayer who, as it turns out, erroneously gave police the address of someone not involved in gaming, was last year sentenced to 20 years in prison for making the false call.

Locally, a Kenmore man who works in the video game industry,and who asked to remain anonymous, has twice been the victim of swatting, most recently last fall. In the first incident several years ago, three to four officers with automatic weapons showed up at his home as he and his wife were about to sit down for dinner. When his wife answered the door, she slammed it shut before she turned to him and said Its for you. The Kenmore man went outside with his hands up and answered the officers questions to stop the situation from escalating.

The Kenmore man said he considers swatting an occupational hazard. Gamers, he said, tend to be both passionate and tech savvy, but not always part of the social mainstream.

It isn't just gamers or broadcasters who are impacted by swatting.The practice has become more widespread, with white supremacists and others targeting vulnerable communities based on their religion, race or LGBTQ status.

Many people who are using swatting as a weapon are focusing on people they consider othered, said Monisha Harrell, chair of Equal Rights Washington, an LGBTQ advocacy organization. Its about taking peoples safety away from them. Its about taking away their safe spaces, without picking up a weapon.

Rules surrounding political discourse have changed, Harrell added.A lot of it has been weaponized. They only talk so much, she said. Swatting is a weapon against those with whom you might disagree.

State Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, one of the sponsors of the swatting legislation, attributes the increase in incidents to both emerging technology and the current political climate.

The president of the United States has given at least tacit permission for the alt right and white supreamcists to be more out in the open than they used to be, Salomon said.

Just last week federal prosecutors charged five people tied to the neo-Nazi groupAtomwaffen with engaging in a campaign to intimidate and harass journalists and others, including a member of President Donald Trumps cabinet, in part through swatting. Chris Ingalls, an investigative reporter with KING 5, and members of the Anti-Defamation League in Seattle, were among those targeted.

Attacks like these have led the Anti-Defamation League to become a champion of swatting legislation in Washington state andelsewhere. Kendall Kosai, the leagues associate regional director in the Pacific Northwest, said eight other states have passed some kind of swatting legislation: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and New Jersey.

Seattle was the first city in the country to create an anti-swatting registry.People who have been victim of a swatting incident can register their address with police. When a 911 call taker receives a report of a critical incident, the operator can dispatch help while simultaneously checking onwhether swatting concerns have been registered for that address. That information is then shared with the officers responding to the call. Other cities like Wichita, where someone was killed as a result ofswatting, have created their own registries.

There are some concerns that elevating swatting to a felony will only contribute to the problem of mass incarceration. Alison Holcomb, political director ofthe American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said criminalizing any activity, whether drugs or other activities, never works.

It never actually deters the activity its intended to deter, Holcomb said, noting that the onus should be on officers to learnbetter deescalation tactics.

Others, such as anunidentifiedvideo game streamerwho last year was a victim of swatting,believes the new legislation is absolutely necessary.

Swatting is something that is high impact with very low risk. Someone doesn't even need to use their real phone number to make the call to 911, she wrote in an email to Crosscut. So if there's someone that you don't like, or if there's someone you just really want to scare or harm, you don't need to turn up to their house yourself, you don't need to interact with them yourself at all, you can call 911 and have the SWAT team do it all for you.

These people know that there are no consequences and that's allowing this to run rampant.

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Swatting, a scare tactic on the rise, may see harsher punishment in WA - Crosscut

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