Emergency first responders were sent to the White House on Monday following a prank call from someone claiming the residence was on fire and victims were trapped inside.
The call came into the Washington, D.C. area 911 center around 7:00 a.m. in what appears to be a “swatting” incident, or where an individual uses an untraceable number to wreak havoc with threats of violence or false claims of catastrophe. President Joe Biden was at Camp David and not home at the time.
“Fire in the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” a DC dispatcher said at 7:04 am. The “all clear” was given by 7:15 a.m. after 13 units had responded to the site.
Respondents at the 911 center returned a call to the inbound number, though a person who answered the line said they did not place the call. Law enforcement determined the number was “spoofed,” or when a phone number for an unsuspecting victim is used to mask the identity of a swatting caller.
The holiday season was a busy one for swatting victims. Both Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Biden Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith were victims of the prank, as was Democrat mega-donor George Soros. The dangerous trend has resulted in deadly consequences for some; in 2017 a dispute between online gamers led to the death of a victim who was killed by responding SWAT agents. The prankster who initiated the ruckus was sentenced to 20 years.
The heightened tension of an election year is to blame for the rise in swattings, according to the FBI, U.S. Marshals Office, and other domestic law enforcement organizations. Following the swatting of U.S. District Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing former President Donald Trump’s New York real estate trial, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said public figures should be especially cautious of the emerging threat.
“At the same time that we are seeing an encouraging downward trend in violent crime, we are also witnessing a deeply disturbing spike in threats against those who serve the public,” Garland said.
President Biden is scheduled to return to the White House on Monday afternoon after attending a Philadelphia event in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.