As online trolls attempt to exert control over real life, they’ve been “swatting,” a practice where someone calls in a fake threat and police surround the target in a SWAT-team-style response. Tyler Barriss, a 22-year-old unemployed Halo enthusiast made a name for himself by swatting television stations, Net Neutrality hearings, and Call of Duty tournaments at the Dallas Convention Center. At Wired, Brendan I. Koerner reports on how Andrew Finch was shot by Wichita, Kansas police after Barriss called in a fake threat to the wrong address in a bid to get revenge on a fellow gamer.
Barriss quickly became addicted to the thrill of swatting. “It was like a kind of online power,” he says. “Knowing that you’re breaking the law, and knowing that they won’t be able to find you, and knowing you just sent the SWAT team or bomb squad somewhere, and knowing you could do that over and over again.” He crowed to his grandmother about his achievements and described himself to her as a “hacking god.”
Barriss became so renowned for his swatting skill that he was able to parlay it into a business. If a client sent him an agreed-upon amount via PayPal—usually $10, but occasionally upwards of $50—Barriss would swat a victim of their choosing; for a price he would also call in bomb threats to schools, though he typically charged a 200 percent premium for that service. Demand swelled whenever he gained fresh notoriety by pulling off a major operation; the week after he twice evacuated the Dallas Convention Center, for example, he claims to have made more than $700. (His only other source of income was $220 a month in government benefits.)
Some people who’d been tracking Barriss’ malicious deeds questioned why he’d been allowed to act with impunity for so long. Barriss had been frank about his crimes as they’d escalated in frequency and ambition, but law enforcement had seemed in no rush to prevent him from weaponizing the country’s emergency services with fake information. One Twitter user said he’d alerted the Dallas police to Barriss’ activities on December 10, right after the second bomb threat at the Call of Duty tournament. “@DallasPD ignored this and 2 weeks later this same person swatted someone and a father was murdered,” he wrote. “This death could have been prevented on so many levels.” (A Dallas police spokesperson says the incident was turned over to the FBI but declined to say when that occurred.)