In a recent post, I mused about whether some of the recent acts of harassment faced by women like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Brianna Wu might be thought of as acts of terrorism. After all, the harassment represented an organized campaign designed to scare these women (and others who witnessed what was happening to them) out of participating in gaming culture.
We typically think of terrorism as an act committed in the context of what we call the War on Terror: we imagine terrorism to be something exclusively done by Middle Eastern religious extremists. We forget that it is a tactic used by extremists of all races, creeds, and political bents. We forget about the routine acts of terrorism faced by, for example, reproductive health centers and abortion doctors, or by civil rights activists and demonstrators of all sorts.
Well, today’s events at Utah State University serve as an unfortunate example of why we might need to start rethinking the events of #GamerGate and the other related sexism in gaming scandals through the lens of domestic terrorism in addition to that of trolling.
An email sent to Utah State University officials threatens to terrorize the school with a deadly shooting over a talk to be delivered by feminist critic and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games creator Anita Sarkeesian, Polygon confirmed with the school’s Center for Women and Gender Studies.
“If you do not cancel her talk, a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as students and staff at the nearby Women’s Center,” the message reads. “I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs.”
The Montreal Massacre, also known as the École Polytechnique Massacre, took place in 1989 in Canada. Marc Lépine, who the email references, killed 14 women, injured 10 and killed four men in the name of “fighting feminism” before committing suicide.
The sender claims to be a student at the school, and adds “you will never find me, but you may all soon know my name.”
The Standard Examiner posted an image of the email sent to the Department of Public Safety:
Sarkeesian ended up canceling her talk in the wake of the threats.
Whether or not this anonymous troll actually planned to carry out this threat, the message is clear: stop talking about gender equality, stop pushing for feminist reforms, or we will find you. We will hurt you. We will kill you.
This is the trouble with trolls: they might begin their campaigns strictly seeking out “the lulz,” looking to agitate and upset others for their own amusement. But every once in a while, some unfortunate will latch onto the people the trolls target and feel justified in upping the ante. It becomes difficult to distinguish between a real death threat that someone actually intends to carry out and that of a troll.
While I am glad that Sarkeesian put her own safety first, I am saddened by the fact that the cancellation of her talk might be seen as a victory for those who would use such tactics. I worry that others will become emboldened by today’s events. I worry that I might have to right about a troll-related act of domestic terrorism someday soon.