Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), who has pushed Congress to impose harsher penalties on "swatting," has been targeted by a swatting call herself. Clark's office reported today that police in Melrose, MA had received an anonymous emergency call about an active shooter at her address. According to a statement, "multiple police officers" responded to the warning — made late last night — before determining it was a hoax. The Melrose Police Department issued a separate statement about the call, which does not mention Clark by name. "Officers quickly determined that there was no danger or threat to the residence," it says.
While praising the "timely and professional" response from the police department, Clark condemned the attempt to get emergency responders dispatched to her home — an increasingly well-known way to turn online vitriol into physical danger for the targets. "No mother should have to answer the door to the police in the middle of the night and fear for her family's safety simply because an anonymous person disagrees with her," she said in the statement.
Police chief promises "thorough investigation" of fake threat
Clark has been an outspoken critic of online harassment, particularly against women. In early 2015, she called for the Justice Department to pay more attention to "severe harassment, stalking, and threats" issued over the internet. More recently, she introduced the Internet Swatting Hoax Act, meant to close what Clark's office called "loopholes" in the laws against bomb hoaxes and similar threats. The bill, one of multiple similar measures currently under consideration, would let courts punish swatting attempts with anywhere from one to 20 or more years in prison.
Clark isn't the first anti-swatting legislator to be targeted. New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty had police sent to his home after introducing a state-level bill to combat the practice. While some swatting perpetrators have been caught and sentenced, it's often difficult to trace callers, who can mask both their voice and their location. Nonetheless, "we take incidents like this very seriously," says Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle, promising to conduct a "thorough investigation" of the threat.