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'Massacre' threat forces Anita Sarkeesian to cancel university talk

'Massacre' threat forces Anita Sarkeesian to cancel university talk

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Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the popular Tropes vs. Women video series, is at the center of yet another death threat. The Standard Examiner reports that the director of Utah State University's Center for Women and Gender, along with several other people, received an email promising a mass shooting if they didn't cancel a speaking engagement for Sarkeesian, who was scheduled to talk at the center on Wednesday morning.

Sarkeesian later announced on Twitter that she had been forced to cancel the appearance because of security fears; requests for firearm searches at the venue were turned down because of Utah's relaxed open-carry laws. A member of the Center for Women and Gender confirmed to The Verge that the threat was real, although she and campus police declined to provide more details.

The letter references the deadly 'Montreal Massacre' of 1989

The Standard-Examiner has printed what it says are excerpts from the letter, in which the unknown author (who claims to be a Utah State student) claims to have "a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs." More specifically, they threatened to carry out a "Montreal Massacre-style attack" against Sarkeesian and anyone who attended the talk. "Feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge," reads the email. The Montreal Massacre, carried out in December of 1989, was a mass shooting directed at engineering students in Montreal's École Polytechnique. The killer, who also claimed that his life had been ruined by feminists, singled out women and murdered 14 before killing himself. Today, its anniversary is commemorated in Canada as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

The threat is far from the first directed at Sarkeesian and anyone around her. Organizers of the Game Developers Choice Awards confirmed in September that they had received an email in which an anonymous critic threatened to bomb the ceremony if they did not revoke an award they were giving to Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian herself has been the subject of a virtually nonstop harassment campaign since 2012, and in August, she called the police and left home because of very specific and violent death threats.

Sarkeesian isn't the only woman in games to have been harassed recently

Nor is she the only woman in games to have been harassed over the past three months. Game developer Zoe Quinn left home in August after an ex-boyfriend posted details of their relationship online, implying (intentionally or not) that she had started romantic relationships to get good press coverage. While these claims were debunked almost immediately, she's remained a major figure in the "Gamergate" controversy that's taken over large parts of the gaming community.

Gamergate, a loose movement whose members say they want stricter ethics policies for journalists and an end to "political correctness" in games writing, has nonetheless fostered a group of angry trolls who have prompted some people to leave the industry because of harassment. Most recently, game developer Brianna Wu left home after a series of violent threats to both her and her husband, apparently because she had tweeted images making fun of Gamergate. These messages have included personal details like addresses and the names of family members.

Some members of Gamergate have accused women in games of going so far as to fake threats in order to get attention, or others of carrying out "false flag" attacks to damage the movement's reputation. But a police spokesperson confirmed that Sarkeesian had filed a report with them in August, saying that the case had been referred to the FBI (which neither confirms nor denies that it is investigating it.) Earlier in the summer, the FBI met with the International Game Developers Association to address online harassment of developers, whether as a result of political differences or simply changing a game's balance. So far, none of the messages to Sarkeesian and others have been acted upon, but this is unlikely to be the last time someone on the internet threatens to murder women who make or talk about video games — and anyone who supports them.

Update, 10:10PM ET: This article has been updated to reflect that Sarkeesian has canceled her talk.