At 2:00 p.m. on Christmas Day, Brandon Williams, RN, received an emergency phone call from his local sheriff’s office in upstate New York: There had been a shooting at his home and deputies were on their way.
Except, that wasn’t true. Williams was home with his family and everyone was safe.
“Of course I told them it was cool out there,” he said, “and I greeted them outside to make them feel comfortable and not escalate.”
Even before law enforcement arrived, Williams, who joined Congress in January 2023, realized he was the victim of a “swatting” attempt, in which a fake call to the police was made claiming a life-threatening situation was occurring. A decoy is intended to attract an armed SWAT team to a specific location, and it sometimes does turned deadly.
Like Williams, other politicians and members of the judiciary have been caught up in the events of recent weeks — products of a hostile political climate during a tense presidential election season, according to law enforcement experts. Among those mentioned in the reports Rap Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who said he also swatted this past Christmas; Boston Mayor Michelle Wu; Senator Rick ScottR-Fla.; Maine Secretary of State Shanna Bellowsmost recently, former President Donald Trump is ineligible to participate in the state’s primary ballot under the constitution; special counsel Jack Smith, who oversaw Trump’s prosecution in two federal cases; and Tanya ChutkanFederal judge involved in Trump’s election meddling case.
Police responded to the home of Judge Arthur Engoro in Nassau County, Long Island, on Thursday morning. Trump’s civil fraud caseafter receiving a make a bomb threat call. A spokesman for the county police department said they are investigating it as a “provocative incident.”
Numerous cases occur against the backdrop of intimidation and harassment of public officials.
Addressing violent crime in the United States last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department is committed to investigating threats against FBI agents, federal judges, members of Congress, election workers and others. pointed to Arrest of a Florida man On January 3, regarding the threats to kill US Representative Eric Swalvely and his children.
“At the same time, while we’re seeing an encouraging downward trend in violent crime, we’re also seeing a deeply troubling increase in threats against those who serve the public,” Garland said.
The FBI added that it “takes these types of threats very seriously because they put innocent people at risk.”
In May, the FBI launched a national online database so that police departments and law enforcement agencies can share information about swatting incidents. Callers often use technology to mask their real voice, the caller’s information and location.
Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director and national security analyst for NBC News, said the FBI database is important for agencies to “connect the dots” about who made the phone calls and whether the incidents are connected.
“You may think you’re anonymous, but the FBI and local police are working together to get to you, and the SWAT team you’re trying to show up at someone else’s house might show up at your house,” Figliuzzi said.
In order to reduce the number of incidents, he added, the callers must be prosecuted.
The legislation was relevant in California, where Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Tom Cruise call home. It entered into force in 2013 requires those convicted of falsely reporting an emergency to pay all costs associated with the police response. Last year, Ohio and Virginia He also tightened the penalties for swatting.
But law enforcement experts say the financial burden and tying up of resources is a small price to pay when people’s lives are at stake. In 2017, A Kansas man killed the police responding to a fraudulent emergency call at his door and in 2021 a A man in Tennessee suffered a fatal heart attack when the police raided his property.
Swatting “creates a dilemma for law enforcement,” Figliuzzi said. “Of course they’re very savvy to the point of increasing poaching, but that doesn’t mean they can’t respond to a call for help, a person with a gun or a hostage situation, so they pay a fine. line here. The good news is that they are so aware of this escalation that they probably won’t respond with a SWAT team. They do it very quietly.”
But Figliuzzi said these incidents could increase as more people “allow the current political environment.”
In Williams’ case, he believes in his open support for Israel Gaza conflict made him a target. The caller to law enforcement claimed that Williams was using a gun at his home and that he was thinking of harming himself. The Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office happened to recognize the address they were called to, which allowed them to contact Williams before he arrived, he said.
“It’s a surprise when it happens to you,” Williams said. “It’s very personal. It’s very disruptive.”
Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck said Wednesday that no arrests have been made and the cause of the false call is under investigation.
“In the cases that we’ve seen with a lot of our elected officials and high-level officials, I think the people who are doing this are trying to create chaos,” Schenck said. “Unfortunately.”