On Wednesday, Ken Paxton took to social media to say that police had descended on his McKinney home—which was empty at the time—after a caller made a 911 call falsely claiming that a life-threatening situation was taking place at the address. The practice, known as “swatting,” has long been a favorite among those seeking to move online harassment of an individual into the real world. The FBI began using the term as early as 2008, and the practice escalated in 2015 as the “Gamergate”campaign used it against critics; an Oklahoma police chief was shot several times after entering the home of a swatting target in response to a fake call. The term entered the Oxford English Dictionary that year, and it has remained a common tool in the belts of those seeking to harass, extort, or threaten others.
As 2023 rolled over into 2024, a rash of swatting attempts targeting American political figures began, and Paxton joined Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville, Boston mayor Michelle Wu, Florida senator Rick Scott, Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Maine secretary of state Shenna Bellows (who recently removed Donald Trump’s name from her state’s primary ballot) on the list of those who were subjects of the dangerous hoax. A representative for the McKinney Police Department confirmed that officers did respond to a call at Paxton’s address on New Year’s Day, prompting an investigation in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety. Officials in McKinney told Texas Monthly to contact DPS for additional information; DPS instructed us to contact the McKinney Police Department for details.
In his tweet about the incident, Paxton took the opportunity to condemn the harassment tactic for slowing response times and potentially endangering the responders themselves. In fact, swatting has been known to turn deadly for victims. In 2017, a Wichita, Kansas, man was killed by a police officer who entered his home after a swatting call; three years later, a 60-year-old Tennessee man died of a heart attack as his home was swatted as part of an extortion attempt to get him to surrender his Twitter handle.
But Paxton also, in the same tweet, decried “disgraced Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, his lieutenants, and the Dallas Morning News,” suggesting that documents in the impeachment case that were made available to the public and included his address were to blame for the incident. The facts in evidence don’t support this implication, however—as Konni Burton, a former GOP state senator, noted in a tweet, the address included in those documents had been for Paxton’s Austin residence, not his house in McKinney.
If Paxton emerges from this incident with a newfound interest in curbing swatting, that would be a silver lining in what’s otherwise yet another depressing story about the volatility of our current political environment. Given that his response was to fuzz the facts in order to attack his political opponents, however, we won’t hold our breath.