‘Swatting calls’ target politicians in Georgia and across the nation

Politicians across Georgia and the nation have fallen victim to a surge in so-called “swatting” calls — hoax calls designed to bring armed police to their door, endangering them and wasting emergency resources.

At least four state senators and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene have been targeted this week by individuals calling 911 with fake emergency calls, prompting furious pledges from state leaders to address the issue when the state Legislature convenes next month.

“The dangerous and cowardly acts perpetrated against members of the General Assembly and their families must end immediately,” Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Senate to strengthen Georgia’s laws so that those who commit these crimes can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

State House Speaker Jon Burns called the attacks “shameful, dangerous and reprehensible,” and he vowed to examine the issue for possible legislative action.

“Those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent,” Burns said in a statement Wednesday. “Not only does it put those targeted in extreme danger, but it also subjects our heroes in law enforcement to unnecessary potential injury.”

Among those targeted was Republican state Sen. Clint Dixon, who was watching football with his wife Christmas night at his Buford home when police arrived in response to a caller who said he had killed his wife and was holding someone else hostage. According to a police report, nine officers responded. Dixon told police it was a hoax and took to social media to condemn the attack.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, was targeted by "swatting calls," hoax calls designed to prompt a police response, both on Christmas and the following night. “I plan to address this in our next legislative session; this isn’t a right or left issue. It’s an issue of public safety,” Dixon wrote on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter. (Natrice Miller /  natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

“I plan to address this in our next legislative session; this isn’t a right or left issue. It’s an issue of public safety,” Dixon wrote on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter.

The two-term senator barely had time to recover from Monday’s episode when he was swatted a second time Tuesday evening. This time the caller said he had shot a female victim and was preparing to detonate a bomb in the house, Dixon said.

Even with knowledge of the prior attack, police had to respond, Dixon said. “They sent an ambulance and everything,” he said.

In DeKalb County, state Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, was at home with her spouse and 3-year-old son Tuesday when she saw police officers jumping over her fence. Jackson said she immediately knew what was happening. Just 20 minutes earlier, she had posted on X about Dixon’s Christmas Day swatting.

“I came out with my hands up,” Jackson said. “I told them immediately that we were being swatted.”

Jackson said she was told by police that a male caller had claimed he had killed his girlfriend and was holding her lover hostage and had given Jackson’s home address. Police told her they suspected a hoax but had to respond anyway.

“I don’t pretend to know the minds of people who do heinous things. Obviously, there are political undertones to it because they are only targeting political figures,” she said. “It’s also a vast waste of police resources.”

Dixon said he and Jackson spoke by phone Tuesday evening about the problem. The country is politically divided, but Dixon and Jackson both said this isn’t a partisan issue.

“We all stand together,” Dixon said. “With politics, there are so many partisan issues and divides, but this clearly isn’t that. I guess they are just targeting all of us.”

In Marietta, police responded to a call reporting a home invasion at the residence of Republican state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick on Christmas Day.

“My husband and I were at home, enjoying a quiet holiday, when we received a call from a concerned neighbor informing us that three armed officers were outside our kitchen, responding to a reported hostage situation,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “Upon going outside to meet the officers, it became apparent that this was a hoax — a fake 911 call that led to a significant deployment of resources.”

The following day, police in Roswell responded to a hoax call to the home of Republican state Sen. John Albers. According to Channel 2 Action News, Albers was not at home when police arrived, but his adult son was there when multiple officers entered.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, has been swatted frequently. “I was just swatted. This is like the 8th time. On Christmas with my family here. My local police are the GREATEST and shouldn’t have to deal with this,” Greene wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. (Nathan Posner for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Greene was home with her family in Rome on Christmas Day when someone made a false call to police there. In her case, Rome police contacted the congresswoman’s security detail and determined the call was a hoax before responding.

“I was just swatted. This is like the 8th time. On Christmas with my family here. My local police are the GREATEST and shouldn’t have to deal with this,” Greene wrote on X.

The rash of Christmas swatting incidents targeting politicians stretches across the county.

U.S. Rep. Brandon Williams, a New York Republican, was targeted by a swatting call at his home near Syracuse. In Ohio, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost and a Republican state representative were victims of swatting attempts.

In Boston, Democratic Mayor Michelle Wu’s home was targeted. In Nebraska, the target was a former Democratic state senator.

While there is no evidence linking the hoax calls, the description of the emergency in several of the incidents — a male caller claiming to have killed a wife or girlfriend — is strikingly similar.

Despite the spike in incidents, swatting is not a new problem. The FBI set up a central command to investigate such calls earlier this year.

Swatting is more then a nuisance; it’s dangerous. In 2017, police in Wichita, Kansas, shot and killed a man while responding to a call that turned out to be a hoax. A 19-year-old man in Ohio later pleaded guilty to placing the call.

The Atlanta field office of the FBI declined to comment on whether the bureau has been called in to investigate the calls targeting Greene and others, but spokesman Tony Thomas urged residents to “remain vigilant.”

“The FBI takes all threats very seriously and will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to gather, share and act upon threat information as it comes to our attention,” he said.

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

What is ‘swatting’?

Swatting is the making of a false emergency report for the purpose of generating an armed police response to a home, school or other location where no actual emergency exists.

People who attempt to create a swatting incident generally do so by using technology, such as generating a false or hidden caller ID to hide their identities. According to the National 911 Program, callers behind swatting incidents sometimes do it as a prank, but other times it is in retaliation for a perceived issue with the intended victim.

Swatting goes back more than a decade. A 2008 FBI bulletin about the “new phenomenon” warned that swatting puts victims in danger and advised local law enforcement that swatting schemes often are “fairly sophisticated.”

This past summer, the FBI created a centralized command center to track swatting incidents across the nation as the practice has become more common.