20 years for swatter who got a man killed

Tyler Barriss, a prolific and seemingly unremorseful repeat swatter and bomb hoaxer whose fakery got a man killed in 2017, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. This hopefully closes the book on a long and disturbing career of random and mercenary harassment and threats.

Not to linger on the crimes committed by Barriss, but to refresh your memory: Barriss accumulated dozens of charges generally relating to calling in fake threats in order to get police or SWAT called to a location or shut it down. Among his bomb threat targets was the FCC, which had to clear the room during a major net neutrality vote because of a call Barriss made.

Nearly at the same time, as part of a conflict relating to a $1.50 Call of Duty bet, he called the police claiming he was armed and had shot his father, and was at an address in Kansas, where he thought his target lived. Unfortunately the target had moved well before, and when the police showed up, they shot and killed the current resident, Andrew Finch.

Barriss was arrested in early 2018 and pleaded guilty to 51 various charges, facing up to 25 years in prison. The sentencing today reflects the defense’s plea that he get 20 instead, no doubt in return for cooperation and the guilty plea.

It should not go unnoted here that Finch was unarmed and on his own doorstep when police killed him — with an assault rifle — reportedly because “he was reaching for his waistband.” Apparently the officer also “believed he saw a gun come up in Mr Finch’s hands.” Well, which was it, up or down? Was he reaching for the gun or raising it? Is it common for Wichita police to shoot someone within seconds of them answering the door, without assessing the situation — for instance, where the children are? As is sadly often the case in such shootings, the police are entirely without credibility here, and the officer involved seems to have faced no consequences. Justice seems out of the question, but the family has filed a lawsuit over the matter.

If the police weren’t already considered a serious danger to others, swatting wouldn’t be a thing. The chance that police will escalate is highly unpredictable, though of course being a person of color adds considerably to that risk, as a fraudulent gun in the call will cause the police to hallucinate weapons with even greater frequency than usual.

The whole case is sad and depressing, from the astonishing pettiness of Barriss and his associates to the total lack of concern over the consequences of his actions — extending, it seems, even to his prison term: he has been in before and attempted to get online and continue his hoax habit even while incarcerated.

Barriss, it seems, is a symptom of internet culture less extreme but as inevitable as the Christchurch killer. All the worst parts about being online rolled into one and given form — and means to kill. Here’s hoping we find a way to reverse the trend.