About two years ago, an FBI agent from the New Haven field office called to let me know that my name had gotten on their radar with regard to a possible attempt to “swat” me. I had never heard of this term before. The agent explained that “swatting” involves someone making a 911 call falsely claiming that the occupant is under some kind of threat or duress, like being held by an intruder at gunpoint. The goal is to mobilize an emergency response – like a S.W.A.T. team – to descend upon the target. He recommended that I proactively contact my local police department to let them know, which, of course, I did. I’m not sure the Hamden Police Department had ever dealt with this kind of threat before because the officer didn’t seem too perturbed and didn’t ask me a lot of questions (he just wrote down my name and address on a piece of paper and told me they’d make a note of it). Whether the department headed off a call at some point or one never came I will never know, but fortunately, the swatting attempt never came to fruition.
Although “swatting” was new to me, and perhaps my local PD, it’s not surprising that the FBI was ahead of it. The Bureau has a bird’s eye view of emerging threats and began alerting the public to this “new phenomenon” back in 2008, likening it to an adaptation of the “phone phreakers” of the 1970s who hacked into public telephones at local malls to make long distance calls. Although swatting incidents may have remained relatively rare in the decade or so that followed, they have increased with alarming frequency over the last year: According to the FBI, which now has a “Virtual Command Center” to track swatting attempts nationwide, there have been over 500 swatting attempts since last May, and more than a dozen public officials have been targeted just since Christmas.
Several of these have been people involved with the cases dealing with Trump, such as Special Counsel Jack Smith, Judge Tanya Chutkan, who oversees his January 6 criminal trial, and Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who ruled that Trump was disqualified under the Fourteenth Amendment from appearing on her state’s ballot. However, this isn’t a partisan occurrence: Republicans like Senator Rick Scott and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene have been victims of swatting attempts, as well.