You know what’s funny? Having a dozen heavily-armed SWAT team officers suddenly descend upon your home after being falsely told there’s a hostage situation there. That’s funny.
The victim of this absolutely hilarious joke was David Hogg, a recent graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who has been tirelessly campaigning for gun reform ever since 17 of his fellow classmates and teachers died in a mass shooting at the school in February.
Deputies from the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded on Tuesday morning to reports of a hostage situation at the Hogg family home in Coral Springs, Florida. According to ABC Local 10 News, Hogg was not home at the time, and deputies quickly discerned that the 911 call was a hoax.
“[The incident is] evidence of the fact of how many people are trying to stop us from what we’re trying to do, which is stop these kids from dying,” Hogg said. “There’s people trying distract from what we’re trying to push here.”
The incident was initially described as a “prank” by several media outlets — but that description downplays the reality of swatting, which is not only a terrifying experience for the victims, but which also creates the risk that they will accidentally be shot by trigger-happy, on-edge police officers.
We need to come up with a different word to describe these calls other than "prank." Anyone who makes this kind of call knows that SWAT arrive to a house with guns drawn and nerves on edge – one man was killed from a "prank" call like this last year https://t.co/I8q5VYooOD
— Kim Zetter (@KimZetter) June 5, 2018
Calling 911 to send a SWAT team to the unsuspecting victim’s house — otherwise known as “swatting” — is a “joke” that began on the internet among gamers and YouTube streamers. One example below, from 2014, shows a gamer playing Counter-Strike before heavily-armed officers burst in and order him to the ground. Other high-profile examples include cops descending on the homes of celebrities Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, and Ashton Kutcher.
But, as is so often the case when troll culture translates over to real life, swatting can have serious and sometimes deadly consequences.
In December 2017, 28-year-old Andrew Finch was shot dead in his home in Wichita, Kansas, by a SWAT team who were told that Finch had killed a man and was holding three people hostage. The prank caller, 25-year-old Tyler Barriss, is currently awaiting sentencing for involuntary manslaughter. Barriss reportedly decided to call police after he got into an argument with Finch while playing Call of Duty online.
Some states have clamped down on swatters. In 2015, a 22-year-old Connecticut man was sentenced to a year in prison for being part of a “swatting” community. The same year a 34-year-old from Nebraska was sentenced to five years in prison for being part of another, unrelated swatting ring. Broward County Sheriff said they were investigating the latest swatting of Hogg’s home.
Of course, this is hardly the first time that Hogg has been the subject to absurd trolling and conspiracy theories. After deciding, along with other Parkland survivors, to advocate for gun reform, Hogg spent weeks after the Parkland shooting being subject to far-right claims that he was a “crisis actor,” that he never survived the shooting, and that he was brought in as a paid actor to make the shooting appear worse than it was.