By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
In a disturbing escalation of swatting incidents, even the White House fell victim to a false emergency call, adding to the growing threats faced by public officials. The incident unfolded on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when a fake 911 call claimed that the White House was ablaze, with a person trapped inside.
Emergency response units, including District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services and U.S. Secret Service personnel, rushed to the scene following the 7 a.m. report. Fortunately, within minutes, authorities determined it was a hoax, averting a potential crisis. During the incident, President Joe Biden and his family were safely away at Camp David.
What’s particularly concerning for authorities is the indication that the callback number for the 911 report was likely spoofed, suggesting a deliberate attempt to conceal the perpetrator’s identity.
The White House event is part of a broader trend where political figures and judiciary members are increasingly becoming targets of swatting. On Christmas Day, Rep. Brandon Williams, R-N.Y., faced a false report of a shooting at his home, and, in recent weeks, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, special counsel Jack Smith, and federal judge Tanya Chutkan have also been ensnared in swatting incidents.
As noted by CNN reporters Josh Campbell and Kat Jaeger, swatting stands as a dangerous criminal deception wherein a fabricated report is orchestrated to prompt law enforcement to a specific location, leading them to believe a grave crime, such as a mass shooting, imminent bombing, or hostage situation, is unfolding.
The deceptive act often triggers an intense response from local police and SWAT teams, as they operate under the assumption that the reported crime is legitimate, resulting in potentially dangerous situations.
The FBI said it’s been monitoring swatting for nearly two decades, with heightened attention following incidents involving prominent celebrities. In a 2008 assessment characterizing it as a “new phenomenon,” the FBI noted that convicted swatters were primarily motivated by “bragging rights and ego” rather than monetary gain, emphasizing their actions were driven by a sense of capability.
Over time, the motivations behind swatting have evolved as law enforcement analysts have identified various reasons. These include personal or societal grievances, disruptions at schools and businesses, diversion of law enforcement resources from other crimes, and, more recently, instances driven by financial motives.
“We have a tendency to view these swatting incidents as not really ‘real’ because, by definition, they are a hoax, but there is nothing funny or pretend about them,” Juliette Kayyem, a national security expert who specializes in threat management, told CNN.
“Rapidly responding police officers coming upon a startled bystander who is totally unaware of what is happening is a toxic mix for misunderstanding and danger,” Kayyem stated.
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