At 2 p.m. on Christmas Day, a disturbing incident unfolded for Rep. Brandon Williams, R-N.Y., when he received a call from his local sheriff’s office about a reported shooting at his home.
This alarming news, however, turned out to be a hoax. Williams, at home with his family, assured the authorities that all was well.
Swatting hoaxes impact political and judicial figures nationwide
“Of course, I told them that everything was cool there,” he recounted, “and I greeted them outside just so that they would feel at ease and it wouldn’t escalate.”
This encounter marked Williams as the latest victim of “swatting,” a dangerous hoax intended to provoke a heavy police response.
This incident is not isolated. Recent weeks have seen other political and judicial figures caught in similar swatting situations.
Among them are Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
Swatting cases target legal figures in Trump-related trials
High-profile cases also involve special counsel Jack Smith and Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan, both linked to former President Donald Trump’s legal challenges.
In a related incident, Nassau County police were dispatched to the residence of Judge Arthur Engoron, overseeing Trump’s civil fraud case, following a bomb threat report.
Recognizing this as a potential swatting event, law enforcement took swift action to address the situation.
This spate of swatting cases underscores the rising trend of intimidation and harassment against public figures.
Government’s response to escalating threats
Addressing the broader issue of violence and threats against public servants, Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized the Justice Department’s commitment to safeguarding government officials, including FBI agents, federal judges, and members of Congress.
Garland highlighted recent actions, such as the arrest of an individual threatening Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
The FBI has expressed its seriousness in tackling such threats.
To enhance coordination, the agency launched a national online database for tracking swatting incidents, aiding law enforcement in identifying and linking these events.
FBI’s Figliuzzi emphasizes tracking swatting perpetrators
Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director, stressed the importance of this database for connecting the dots in these cases.
Figliuzzi warns that perpetrators of swatting should not feel secure in their anonymity, as law enforcement is actively working to track them down.
To deter such incidents, he suggests that those responsible must face criminal charges.
Reflecting this stance states like California, Ohio, and Virginia have implemented laws penalizing swatting, with perpetrators bearing the cost of law enforcement response.
Swatting dangers persist despite law enforcement challenges
Despite these measures, the threat of swatting remains high.
Tragic incidents, such as a fatality in Kansas and a heart attack in Tennessee due to police response to fraudulent calls, illustrate the severe consequences of these hoaxes.
Law enforcement agencies face the challenge of responding appropriately to potential threats while being cautious of swatting incidents.
Potential escalation amid political tensions
Figliuzzi warns of a potential increase in swatting incidents fueled by the current political environment.
For Williams, his vocal support on certain issues, like the Israel-Gaza conflict, might have made him a target.
The quick recognition of Williams’ address by the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Office averted a possible escalation, highlighting the importance of law enforcement awareness in such scenarios.