US politicians caught in wave of ‘Swatting’ incidents as race for Republican nomination turns ugly

Shenna Bellows, the Maine Secretary of State,
Shenna Bellows, the Maine Secretary of State, fell victim to 'Swatting', in which armed officers respond to calls of a fake emergency at someone's home. She was away at the time - Robert F Bukaty/AP
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The state troopers launched into action after receiving a call that a man had broken into the home of Shenna Bellows, Maine’s secretary of state.

The call came days after Ms Bellows had ruled that Donald Trump should be excluded from the 2024 presidential primary ballot.

After gaining access to the property, the officers began to search the house. But it soon became clear that they had been duped when, according to state police, they found nothing suspicious.

There was no intruder. In fact Ms Bellows had become the latest victim of a phenomenon known as “swatting” in which armed police are called to a fake emergency.

The term swatting is derived from the acronym for the elite Special Weapons and Tactics teams who hurtle to homes where it is feared lives are at risk.

Ms Bellows is one of dozens of people who have been “swatted” in recent months, as the tactic has emerged as the weapon of choice for those bearing a political grudge or seeking to intimidate.

Nikki Haley, the Republican presidential candidate, last week said she had been swatted twice, while Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-Right politician, says she has been swatted eight times.

Ms Bellows told The Sunday Telegraph: “It seems very clear to me now that the swatting attempt as well as threatening and abusive communications that came in targeting not only me, but people around me, were designed to scare and to send a message not only to me but to others.”

Wave of intimidation

By chance, Ms Bellows was away when the police turned up. She said the incident came after a wave of intimidation aimed at her and her staff and following the posting of her home address online.

Ms Bellows was at pains to emphasise the danger posed by swatting.

“Just because swatting is a fake emergency doesn’t make it any less dangerous,” she said. “Swatting is very dangerous because in certain circumstances, the consequences can be harmful, and even in some instances deadly.”

In 2017, Andrew Finch, 28, was mistakenly shot dead by a police officer who rushed to his home after responding to a report of a murder and hostage situation.

Swatting has been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2008, according to reports. But its popularity has exploded in recent years after several high-profile cases involving gamers and internet personalities.

An FBI report showed more than 500 swatting incidents nationwide since May, CBS news reported.

Amid a divisive election campaign, politicians and election officials are increasingly finding themselves in the crosshairs.

Swatting, where armed officers are called to fake emergencies, is on the increase. There have been about 500 incidents across the US since May 2023, it has been reported
Swatting, where armed officers are called to fake emergencies, is on the increase. There have been about 500 incidents across the US since May 2023, it has been reported

Adam Kinzinger, the Former Republican congressman, was swatted twice during his time on Capitol Hill.

“Twice in 2011, I was awakened by pounding on the door of my Washington, DC apartment.

“During the first of those incidents, no fewer than five officers stormed in, guns drawn, demanding that I tell them where ‘Tina’ was, and if she was all right,” he wrote.

“Police had closed off the entire street while a helicopter hovered overhead.”

Boston’s Democratic Mayor, Michel Wu, found her house surrounded by police on Christmas Day.

Police explained they had rushed to her house after a man rang to say he had shot his wife and was holding her and another man hostage at the address.

It was not the first swatting incident she had suffered.

“For better or worse, my family are a bit used to it by now,” she told a local radio station.

Other targets have included Jack Smith, the special counsel pursuing the former president, who was also swatted on Christmas Day.

Judges targeted

Swatters have also targeted two judges – Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing one of the criminal trials linked to the 2020 election, and Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over Mr Trump’s civil fraud trial.

“Nowadays if someone feels they disagree with a person, they feel entitled to pursue them,” Lauren Shapiro, a professor at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice said. “Swatters are posting online and incidents are even being live-streamed.”

Tackling swatting is difficult because it is not a crime in itself.

“The authorities have to put together the legal puzzle pieces and see what laws apply which will enable them to charge the offender,” Prof Shapiro added.

Attempts to make swatting an offence have failed to get through Congress, even though members themselves have been victims.

There is almost an air of resignation among politicians as the swatting epidemic shows no signs of receding as the election approaches.

At least Ms Bellows had support from across the political spectrum.

“I’ve had individuals saying, ‘yeah, I’m a Trumper, but we’re good’.

“Another individual made it very clear he disagreed with me, but stopped by my office to give me a hug and some raspberry jam.”

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