I’m writing this statement after 2 hours of sleep. Forgive me if I’m a little incoherent in places.
First, the timeline of events:
Last night, around 10:20 PM, I received a knock at my front door. I live in a secured building, and it’s rare that I have visitors, so it wasn’t any huge surprise to me when I opened the front door and 6 officers from the Oakland Police were standing outside.
Leo, my golden retriever, followed me to the door, so I only opened the door partially and was blocking him with my body to keep him from rushing out to make friends. One of the officers asked me if I was OK. I told him I was fine, and I immediately followed that up by asking if a SWAT threat had been called in. They confirmed this, and I told them I had a police report filed documenting that people were threatening to call in fraudulent reports.
I told them my dog was friendly, and I asked if I could give them this report. They said yes, and they asked if they could come inside and make sure everything was OK. I agreed. Four of the police stayed outside, and two came in. I was asked if anyone else was here, if I was living alone, why someone would call in a false report, and other various pertinent questions by one of the officers while the other took a look around my apartment.
After they had asked all of their questions and were sure that no one was being held against their will, I was informed that someone had called the police “from an iPad” stating that there was a ransom situation at my address, and they wanted $10,000. When I had opened the door, all guns were holstered. I was told that had I not filed a report back in January documenting these threats, that would not have been the case.
I asked for a copy of the report. They didn’t have one to give me yet, but they did write down the primary officer’s name, K. Kenery, as well as the RD number, 1085.
We spoke for a while about online harassment and the growing issue of SWATing. We discussed OAPI, the need for more training for officers, the problems behind prosecuting the people making these threats, and about specific provisions in California law that deal with online threats. I told them I was sorry that they had been called out, because this is a waste of government resources. They told me that they were sorry that this was happening to me. They now have my phone number, and know that I’m available to them anytime they have any concerns regarding these issues.
This morning, I went to the Oakland Police Department, because I knew they were getting hammered with requests from the media as well as random supporters of GamerGate attempting to disprove that the SWAT incident had happened. I wanted a copy of the report for my own records, as well as time to sit down and talk to a few other people at the station about semi-related concerns. Once I arrived, I was informed that I needed to put in a request for the case details, and it could take up to 2 weeks to receive the information. No one would receive any information before 2 weeks, because that’s how long it takes to put it all together.
That was my experience. Now, let’s look at how this usually goes down. I highly recommend you watch the entirety of this video.
That video was not a dramatization of events. Those are all very accurate examples of what usually happens when someone is targeted for SWATing. So why is my experience different, and how can some targets of online harassment lower the chances of this happening to them?
I filed a report months ago when I knew I was becoming more of a target. See here & here – but careful, those sites are not work safe. It was a bit of a battle to get the police to take me seriously. I even had to talk my way into the building. I came in late at night, and they didn’t even want to talk to me. They had no idea what SWATing was, and they saw threats of calling in false reports as being something that doesn’t happen from online trolls. I persevered, the report was filed, and I received a call from another officer at that station a few weeks later apologizing for the difficulty I’d had.
Be prepared for that. Come in with a clear and simple definition of these terms. If possible, have one or two examples of people threatening you online. SWATing is becoming more common place, and the Online Abuse Prevention Initiative and Crash Override are both working to make these problems more visible to law enforcement, but it’s still a battle. Be calm but firm. Be polite and respectful. Bring a lawyer if you have the resources to do so, because the presence of a lawyer tends to make the police take you more seriously. Officers are still going to have to go check out the situation, but it may keep them from pointing guns at your face.
I believe you should be able to walk into a police station, state that you’re an activist or that you’ve been doxxed, and the police should keep that report in the event of a SWAT threat being called in. I don’t think we’re really in that place yet, and we have to tread carefully.
I was very upfront and public about going to the police early. This is likely what kept these criminals from acting until now. But I’ll be the first to admit that my level of transparency isn’t an option for everyone. My WHOIS records aren’t private. I can’t be blackmailed or threatened with the releasing of information. Everything is public.
Let’s be frank about why I’m targeted. I’m loud. When I see bad things happening, I fight back. I never retreat into a corner. I’m not humble or demure. I’ve got ego to spare.
I’m going to be completely real with all of you for a moment in a way that I usually won’t allow myself to be. Online, I have to be a hardass. I can’t be human anymore. I can’t be vulnerable. There are so many things that I can’t say that I wish I could.
Somehow, I evolved from a DevOps engineer to one of the figureheads against online harassment. Somehow, I ended up becoming a female founder in a Silicon Valley non-profit startup. Somehow, I ended up buying a wonder woman outfit (yes, I’m serious). Somehow, I became a weapon to be used against trolls, a target for trolls to abuse, and in both cases, less of a person. Somehow, somehow, somehow.
I’m learning to be OK with this. I’m trying.
It’s hard. It sucks. I’m tired. I’m angry. I’m hurt. Every mean comment hurts. But I can’t think about it, and I have to keep moving, because I won’t accept violent or sexual threats as being acceptable. I won’t ever accept having to plan for being SWATed as part of being an woman that is opinionated, playing video games, or working in a male dominated industry. Online harassment is a big deal for everyone, but if you look at what’s happening online, the majority of victims are females. Many of the most visible cases are females in tech. And none of them have been able to talk about the abuse they personally have received without other people perpetuating this abuse by telling them that they are lying.
I gave up some of my personal agency to fight for something that is more important than any one person. I don’t want anyone else to have to do the same. There are ways to support our efforts that don’t involve putting yourself on the front lines. We’ll be talking about that next week on FLOSS Weekly, which will be followed by a post here and on OAPI’s site. Stay tuned.
Incidentally, they knew I was home because I’d tweeted that I was playing Heroes of the Storm. Sorry I wasn’t streaming, assholes. You would have seen Leo getting hugs and pets from the police.
For one last thought, I’d like to say thank you to OPD. Oakland Police handled this incident with compassion and respect. My night could have ended a lot differently.