Evaluating the cost of fear, guns and pranks in a culture where bullets are routinely expected to have the last word.
America’s gun culture has never been limited to the mere pastimes of collecting firearms, using them for hunting, self-defense, summary justice or even the more recent tradition of mass killings to vent one’s frustration. Like any vibrant culture, it invents innovative forms of individual and collective expression.
One of those, which the public learned about at the end of 2017, is swatting, a term cited in this tragic story by the Wichita police. The key to swatting is to find a clever way to get someone with a gun to use it to disturb, threaten or eventually kill.
Here is its 3D definition:
An inventive sport in which the player uses a telephone to trigger a potentially dramatic event that tests the reflexes of armed police officers confronting unsuspecting non-players. The strategy employed aims at inducing strong emotions, especially fear. The possibility of armed struggle and the eventual death of an innocent constitutes the risk factor that makes the game exciting for its practitioners.
According to the article, “the practice known as swatting is more common among online gamers.” It takes gaming to a higher level. According to the Wichita police, the rules of the sport require “making up a false report to get a SWAT team to descend upon a home.” In other words, forceful role play. The perpetrator presumably finds this a satisfying way of getting even with an annoying neighbor or frightening the bejesus out of an enemy.
Wikipedia informs us that “the term derives from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), a specialized type of police unit in the United States and many other countries carrying military-style equipment such as door breaching weapons, submachine guns and assault rifles.”
In other words, swatting combines the pleasures and thrills of US gun culture, mass entertainment, video games, military technology and aggressive military action by men in uniform. All are positives in a large swath of US culture. As with so many “recreational” applications of this culture of violence, the end result is harm to or death of innocents.
Ever since the Hatfields and McCoys, the notion of “getting even” has been an important part of US culture. Many people feel that the concept of justice itself can be reduced to the practice of getting even.
One of the reasons the US has not followed most other developed nations in suppressing the death penalty is that doing so would make everyday killings — whether by individuals getting even for an affront or police officers confronting danger — feel like something more morally troubling than just a form of hurried justice.
Hollywood consistently promotes the idea of expeditive justice. The proponents of gun culture tend to believe in the policy of “being tough on crime,” which generally means showing no pity for the entire class of people they believe to be likely criminals. Most observers have noticed the racial implications of this, easily confirmed by the statistics on incarceration. But the commitment to using force to get even and apply justice far from the courtroom contributes directly to the common practice of law enforcement addressing ambivalent situations with lethal force, whatever the person’s class or race. And the numbers on that phenomenon alone are staggering, with more than 1,000 police killings per year.
According to the police in Wichita, “A male came to the front door, and one of our officers discharged his weapon.”
As the family of Andrew Finch learned on a cold December night, it doesn’t matter if the person suspected is at home minding his own business. Finch’s guilt stemmed from being the one who went to answer the door. The punishment? To be swatted down like a fly in summer.
Under the cover of anonymity, the suspected prankster offered this explanation of his motives: “Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that. But I began making $ doing some swat requests.” The person also noted that the thrill of such hoaxes “comes from having to hide from police via net connections.” The suspect comments that “he didn’t get anyone killed because he wasn’t the person who shot Finch.” He could make the case that it was the culture that got Finch killed and that both he and the police officer were its unwitting agents. One of the other dicta of the culture in today’s gig economy is, if you can find a way of “making $”, follow Nike’s advice and “just do it.”
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.