Jordan “Kootra” Mathewson has been killed. At least, that is what his screen says. It shows his dead body zoomed out, lying spread eagled on the ground. Kootra flips from screen to screen while playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, showing his friends getting gunned down one by one by the other team. He stares on and rubs his nose as the notice calls up “Counter-Terrorists Win.”
His head turns it towards the door. The Livestream is still rolling, and only Kootra can hear what is happening. He turns back towards the camera. “They’re clearing rooms,” He turns his head again. “What in the world, I think we’re getting Swatted.” Strangely, he doesn’t seem afraid or angry. Instead his expression shows a cross between confusion and amusement. A second later, several police officers break open his door, guns pointed in his direction. Kootra stands up, smiling to himself as he raises his hands and gets down on his knees.
While cops are often a cause of anxiety on highways and at local parks, a police raid, especially at home, is simply terrifying. Swatting is the term used by pranksters who trace a person’s residence by looking it up or by tracking their IP address, call up local police, usually using untraceable/disposable phones or Skype, and either take the role of a fake shooter or a concerned citizen that has heard threats of a shooting. The police come in full force, like they are trained to do, and find that the only sounds of shooting in the building is the digitized sound coming from a monitor or a television screen.
Swatting is the outcome of when a post 9/11 police force meets an online culture where repercussions are rarely felt. All a swatter really needs is a click towards Google, five minutes to look up what to do and a heavy grudge that’s looking for an outlet.
“With the advent of Youtube more and more people are googling how to do things outside their knowledge base,” said Assistant Dean of eLearning at St. Johns University and Stony Brook professor Edwin Tjoe, his head nodding because he himself has played Counterstrike in the past, and understands what communities crop up from these types of games. “Moreso, the younger generation in fits of anger will rage to the point of harassment, instead of self-reflection to get better at the game.”
In April 2014, a swatting took place in Long Beach, Long Island. 17-year-old Rafael Castillo had been playing a match of Call of Duty. Another player called up the local police on Skype, pretending to be Young Mr. Castillo and said that he had killed his mother and would kill more people. The police broke down the door to his home while Rafael was still playing, not knowing what was going on.
Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tagney remarked that the system for Swatting was “very sophisticated. Unfortunately, it’s very dangerous.”
What is causing so much grief and what allows the swatters to be so effective is that while local police forces have, over time, become increasingly militarized, the federal government has done little to aid departments in dealing with cybercrime.
The war on drugs and anti-terrorism efforts have changed the mindset of many local police stations. After a congressional mandate in the 1990’s, police stations have been receiving surplus military grade hardware including automatic rifles, armored trucks and even grenade launchers. At the same time, the number of SWAT raids have increased dramatically in recent decades. According to criminologist Peter Kraska, the number of SWAT raids is in the realm of 50,000 to 80,000 per year.
Most Swatters use techniques to fake phone numbers, such as Skype or other spoofing techniques to mess with the 911 tracking system. Sometimes swatters are placing calls from states and even countries away.
Swatters have already targeted multiple celebrities including Clint Eastwood, Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.
In terms of internet celebrities, swatters have targeted several live-streamers and internet celebrities including nothingtv’s Jordan Gilbert, Creatures LLC, Starcraft 2 streamer Swifty and Minecraft mod CraftBukkit creator Wesley “wolvereness” Wolfe. Another livestreamer, Alexander “Whiteboy7thst” Wachs, was swatted, and when the police found 30 grams of marijuana inside the house, they arrested him anyway.
At this time, only a few swatters have been arrested, and most have only been so because of continuous and repeat offenses. Matthew Tollis was arrested Sept. 12 in connection with a Xbox Live group called TeAM CrucifiX or Die which has used Skype calls to carry out a number of internet pranks with varying degrees of severity including several bomb threats, according to ABC News.
Internet culture is born out of anonymity, and when one someone get’s a sense of animosity against another player or a desire to prank those with some sort of public image, there is hardly any way to stop it other than the luck to realize what is happening and the time to contact the police before the assault starts.
“I was watching his (Kootra’s) Twitch feed as it was happening,” said Professor Tjoe, who also had a warning for other people who continue to stream on Twitch. “People who are performing on Twitch should consider masking their IP’s so no one knows who they actually are to avoid swatting.”
Kootra seems so calm as the police picks him off the floor. Cops circle him as others search the room. Thousands of people watch through Twitch, posting comments, mostly different flavors of shock. They sit him up on the floor. One cop asks in the voice of a man doing his best Jack Bauer impression, “What about this is funny to you?” Kootra sounds like he is laughing when he says “What, I’m not doing anything that’s funny.”